In this article, we are going to discuss all the aspects of equine hoof care and what you should look for after your farrier trims or shoes your horse.
Taking proper care of your horse’s feet is an essential part of horse ownership, but I’m sure you already know that. In this article, we are going to discuss the main aspects of double-checking your farrier’s work and what you should be aware of in regards to your horse’s feet. There is a lot to know, but we are going to break it down into a more simplistic form in this guide to hooves.
Introduction to the equine hoof
Our horse’s feet are broken down into three main sections. These sections are:
The hoof wall is the horny material that makes up the entire outer portion of the hoof. The sole is the under portion of the foot and the frog is that rubbery, V-shaped structure on the underside of their foot. There are many additional structures within the horse’s foot, but those are the basics.
All of these structures will routinely receive maintenance by your farrier. They will trim, rasp, and level these structures to maintain the balance and integrity of the horse’s hoof.
Most of our horse’s weight is positioned on our horse’s front end, roughly 60% of their entire body weight. Structural correctness of the front legs and hoof is imperative to maintaining soundness. Unfortunately, a lot of our horses have incorrect structuring of the column of bone that lies in their front end. One way we can prevent issues or therapeutically maintain soundness in incorrect horses is by hiring a diligent farrier who can slowly work toward correcting the structural and balance-related issues our horses possess. This can sometimes be a lifelong process, but it is one that is worth pursuing.
How do our horse’s feet work?
Our horse’s foot is an amazing mechanical device that consists of ligaments, tendons, cartilage, joints, blood vessels, and bone structures. The hoof is essential for our horse. Horses have been an essential part of human life for a very long time, and people throughout the generations have realized the importance of caring for the equine foot. If you don’t make sure you care for your horse’s feet, they are going to be burdened with lameness and therefore fit for sitting in a pasture hardly able to move without appropriate foot care.
There is an age-old saying that says “If there is no hoof there is no horse.”
The form of our horse’s feet, which involves its structural makeup and the way the anatomical features are arranged, will affect the functionality of your horse in every aspect.
Anatomy and physiology of the equine foot
When viewing the foot externally and laterally (meaning from the side) the front area on the hoof or toe is generally without movement or flex. The back portion of the hoof is extremely flexible. All the essential structures in the horse’s hoof are encapsulated within the horny material that makes up the hoof wall.
Did you know that the hoof wall has both the ability to undergo flexion and maintain its shape under load-bearing performance simultaneously? If you stop for a second and think about that, it is amazing. The hoof can maintain its weight-bearing job while still flexing to absorb shock. Not only that but the back of the hoof is capable of separating and practically dissolving energy and concussion to the foot.
When you have a horse with a correct foot, it will entirely support, protect, and aid in trauma reduction to all the bones, ligaments, and structures within the lower limb. This is why proper farrier work is so essential to the well-being of the horse’s foot, especially considering how large of an animal they happen to be and the amount of weight and stress they deal with when performing even the most minute of tasks.
In simplistic terms, the horse’s foot follows the laws of physics. When you perform changes within the foot, you are directly changing the structures that lie within the foot itself.
What to look for after your farrier trims or shoes your horse
Giving your horse a proper evaluation after each farrier visit is a crucial step that a lot of horse owners will glaze over. Even if you have the best farrier in the world, it is still a wise decision to double-check their work. After all, we are only human. Horses can be sore after a farrier trims or shoes the horse for various reasons, ranging from generalized soreness that is similar to what we may experience after trimming our own nails or actual mistakes made on the farrier’s end.
If you are able to touch base with your farrier after each shoeing or trimming appointment, I recommend you do so. They will be able to give you a rundown of the things they found or potential risks or problems your horse may either have or be prone to. The first thing you want to consider after your farrier visits is the overall balance of the foot.
Questions to ask your farrier after each visit
- What all did you do today during your visit?
- What are your goals for my horse’s feet? Where do they currently stand now?
- Do you have any concerns about my horse’s feet? Did you find anything that is out of the ordinary?
- Do you recommend a change of anything for my horse?
Always remember to thank your farrier for their time and work! If you are able and appreciate their work, or feel they did an unparalleled job, think about tipping them.
Common farrier-induced mistakes
If you happen to notice that your horse is sore after the farrier visits, there is a laundry list of things that can cause the soreness. Your farrier may have had to trim more than initially thought to dig out infections, trim a horse’s foot back slightly differently to begin the change of angulation in the column of bones, or apply a therapeutic aid to your horse’s foot they are not used to. All of these things can cause a horse to be slightly sore for a few days after your farrier visits.
Additional reasons that your horse could be sore include:
- A high-set nail.
- A hot nail.
- The horse was quicked and a nail could be in an abscess pocket.
- Sometimes, shoes can apply pressure to the sole.
- Excessive sole removal.
- Prior lamenesses that have only been noticed after the farrier visits.
- If your horse is barefoot and is slightly sore from a trim. This should resolve in a few days upon the hardening of the sole.
How to deal appropriately and fairly with a farrier who made a minor mistake
There are a few things you want to think about before addressing your farrier. You want to make sure that you always remain calm, collected, and professional when dealing with situations involving any horse professional or another individual for any matter, but it’s understandable that tensions may flare when horses are involved. Step back, think about the situation, and think about how to address your farrier respectfully. Next, you can call them and let them know that there is a problem and that you would appreciate them coming out as soon as they can to take a look at your horse. Most farriers will come out quickly and readily fix the problem or find a solution.
Sometimes, lameness and soreness just happen and sometimes it is definitely a mistake on your farrier’s part. Give them a chance to make it right and fix the problem before furthering any action or harsh talk with them. If they are difficult to deal with, you may need to involve your vet so that you have a medical backup, but most farriers are more than happy to assist with lameness or fixing a mistake they have made.
Assessing your horse’s movement. What you need to look for and signs of potential unsoundness or other lamenesses.
The first thing that needs to be said about addressing movement and confirmation is that these two things tend to go hand in hand with one another. The angulations of your horses’ hooves are critical to their soundness, athletic performance ability, and even the length of their stride and ability to utilize their body…or not.
When you are viewing your horse’s feet there is a general rule of thumb you can follow. If a horse has a long toe and a shorter heel this will create the ability to have a longer stride, whereas if a horse has a shorter toe and a longer heel this will inhibit their movement.
After you assess this, you will want to further judge your horse on the:
- Quality of the horse’s gait or movement.
- Length of stride.
- If the horse moves in a straight line or not.
- How the horse picks their feet off of the ground upon movement.
- How the horse tracks with their hind legs.
You want to evaluate movement from each side and from the front and the rear. This way, you will get an accurate idea of how the horse truly moves. You are looking for a horse who has a decent stride and the ability to cleanly use their body. Ie, you don’t want to see the horse knocking itself with its legs and splaying side to side while they move. You also want to pay attention to the proportions of how they use their front and hind legs, usage should be relatively equal.
Depending on the breed that your horse is will depend on how much knee action and hock action you should see. Saddle seat horses, Arabians, and other hot-blooded horses tend to have much more knee and action than that of a Quarter horse or other stock-bred horses.
Checking for lameness or potential soundness hazards
It is important to keep an eye out for signs of potential lameness or unsoundness. At times, it can be nearly impossible to predict if a horse is going to develop a problem, but there are things you should look out for that may give hints to issues further down the road. Prevention is the best treatment!
Things to look out for:
- Bobbing head movement.
- Limping or occasionally missing strides.
- Hitting their legs.
- Excessive playing- not an indicator of lameness or unsoundness, but a horse that gets rowdy may accidentally hurt themselves on the lunge line, under saddle, in the pasture, etc. So these horses need to be cared for very proactively.
- Heat in the hoof that is excessive.
- Constantly shifting their weight.
- Holding a foot up for an excessive period of time.
- Inability to turn quickly or smoothly, and an overall unbalanced appearance.
- Poor overall conformation, especially leg conformation.
There are times when you may not catch a lameness beforehand and it’s not always possible to catch them prematurely, but constantly keeping an eye on your horse will reduce the risk of lameness going undetected until it becomes a severe problem.
Taking the best care of your horse possible starts with the feet and with your farrier. We hope that this guide has been resourceful and helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask and we will do our best to advise you on each situation you face with your horse. Keep in mind that early detection of problems and understanding what and why your farrier does what they do will take your knowledge, understanding, and horse care abilities to the next level. Wishing you the best of luck with your horse and farrier!
A NOTE TO OUR AWESOME READERS AND AN EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!
We are working on an all-inclusive farrier series aimed at the horse owner and those who wish to become a farrier. If you want a practical and extremely in-depth guide to your horse’s feet, movement, lameness, and soundness issues, and an in-depth look at the farrier craft and trade these books will be a delight to your heart and a guide on your journey in horse ownership and care or guide you in becoming a competent and highly skilled farrier. These farrier books are jam-packed with a bunch of great material. Stay tuned for their release date!