Basics of Shoeing for Performance and Soundness in Horses

Written by Kent Wollert


Trimming and shoeing are both very important to help maintain your horse’s soundness and ability for it to perform at its best. All horse’s hooves are different, so there is not a cookie-cutter process for every horse out there. Even though I just said that every horse is different, the basic principles of trimming and shoeing will be the same for most horses.


The main thing that must be achieved when trimming or shoeing a horse is balance and proper breakover for the foot to operate efficiently and correctly. The horse’s foot should land flat or possibly slightly heel first from toe to heel. The foot also should land with both sides of the hoof wall hitting the ground at the same time. The horse’s foot should leave the ground heel first and roll over the toe without much effort or resistance. Some farriers will “square off” the toe to cause the horse’s foot to breakover sooner than later to achieve a quicker breakover with less resistance.


Proper breakover is very important. Thus, when your horse’s toe is long due to a lengthy time in between your farrier’s visits, it can cause your horse to be less efficient in its performance and also cause undue stress on the horse’s ligaments. This is just one reason it is important to have your farrier on a schedule for trimming/shoeing your horse. If your time between trimming or shoeing gets lengthy, this can cause issues with your horse’s gait and will also enhance the possibility of a shoe becoming loose or even coming off your horse’s foot.


One way to help achieve a balanced hoof is to follow the system developed by farrier and educator David Duckett in the 1980’s. One of the advantages of Duckett’s system is that it provides a simple rule of thumb to follow to determine the correct breakover point for any horse. To follow this system the farrier first determines the midpoint, or central balance point of the horse’s foot. To find the midpoint simply locate the widest part of the hoof. Draw an imaginary line across the hoof at this widest point. Then trim the hoof to balance the distance from the line to the heel of the hoof and also to the toe of the hoof. Following this simple rule should provide the horse with the proper balance from heel to toe. This will allow the hoof to breakover at the correct point of movement.


The farrier should also balance the foot across the hoof from right to left as well. A visual line across the hoof should be envisioned that keeps both sides of the hoof even all the way down the hoof from heel to toe. This is normally done by holding the hoof off the ground and looking down the hoof to determine if both sides are flat and when placed on the ground will hit the ground simultaneously from the left side to the right side. Remember to perform this task in relation to how the horse’s hoof is naturally placed on the ground. When trimming or shoeing horses it is important to work with the foot in its natural state. Some corrective shoeing can be done, but it must be done to ensure correct and efficient movement of the foot.

Horse’s feet should never be trimmed to fit the shoe when placing the shoe on the correctly trimmed hoof. Always shape the shoe to fit the hoof, not the other way around. The shoe should fit from wall to wall on the hoof providing proper support and protection for the hoof. The shoe should be placed directly below the wall at the toe, even with the wall around the hoof toward the heel, and allow some width at the heel for hoof growth between the next visit from the farrier.


Things to look for to be sure your horse’s hooves are correctly balanced is to examine the hoof periodically by picking up the foot and looking to determine if the hoof is showing any signs of flare or dish at the toe or on either side of the hoof. If you detect any signs of this type of problem, this is an indication that the hoof is experiencing some stress in the area and will need to be corrected. The hoof is “out of balance” and will need some maintenance sooner than later. You also may see some vertical cracks forming at the toe or the quarters if the hoof is not balanced and there is excess pressure in those areas of the hoof.


These are just a few things to be aware of to keep your horse performing well and efficiently and to be sure your horse’s health is as it should be. Most horses do not require special trimming or shoeing. Becoming familiar with a few of the basic concepts of proper horse hoof maintenance and some of the signs that there is a problem, will help keep your horse sound and performing at its best.


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