By: Alma DeMille, Certified Farrier & Blacksmith
"Ring, Ring," sounded my telephone, inviting me to participate in an all too common conversation. "Hello." "Hi, I saw your horseshoeing ad, and was wondering how much you charge and how long it takes you to throw on some shoes?" Chuckling at the lack of understanding proper hoof care that this question evidenced, I replied, "Well, before I give you specifics, let me just say that I will probably cost more and take longer than you are used to."
As I have worked and talked with people from Florida to Oregon, I have been amazed at how many people believe in myths concerning hoof care. I would like to address two of the most common and detrimental misunderstandings, or "myths," as I like to call them. First, I'll discuss how long it takes to shoe a horse. Then I'll address how often a horse should be trimmed or shod.
Myth #1: "The faster you shoe a horse, the better."
How often have you heard someone brag that they can shoe a horse in 20 minutes? A wise and well educated horse-woman that taught horsemanship at Stanford University gave counsel to her student not to let a horseshoer, who brags how quickly he can get the job done, even so much as touch their horses. The time involved shoeing a horse correctly can vary greatly. I have had horses with special needs that have taken over four hours, while others that only need the routine shortening of the hoof and the shoes reset sometimes take less than an hour. To really understand the time involved, one must first realize all the steps that need to be taken in order to achieve optimum results. Let me give a brief overview of these essential steps:
The animal is observed to determine the medial-lateral balance, break-over point, and flight patterns. The old shoes are removed and inspected for uneven wear. The hoof wall is shaped to remove flares and dishes as much as permissible. The sole and frog must be trimmed to remove dead tissue and disease, and in such a way as to compliment the hoof's natural ability to function properly. The underside of the wall must be flattened and balanced. At this point, the natural angle of the pastern and the newly shaped hoof should match. Hoof length is measured in order to even the opposite hoof. The shoes must then be shaped to match the hoof. Proper nailing, blocking, clinching, and finishing follow; each of which an entire article could easily be written about. To sum up the question, let me quote a Master Farrier who has personally trained several world champion farriers. "As a general rule, if a horse is shod in less than an hour, important steps were skipped that may have an impact on the horse's performance or health."
Myth #2: "A horse only needs shoes when being ridden, and trimmed when showing lameness."
Many books and other educational materials are available containing charts and tables on horse care. Included in these are time tables for hoof trimming and shoeing. Many of these sources recommend regular hoof care every six weeks. Although this is a good schedule for some horses, many others can easily go longer between farrier visits and be just as healthy and perform just as well. This recommendation is based upon high feed rations of grain and rich hay as well as daily exercise. Lacking any of these elements slows down hoof growth, while increasing them speeds it up as more blood is circulated through the hoof and nutrition is boosted. Young horses tend to have faster hoof growth than aged animals; consequently, the first year and a half is the most critical time in their life to have proper trimming! At this time, corrections in conformation can be achieved that are impossible later in life when all the joints have hardened. Foundered or otherwise sick horses may have special needs requiring more frequent treatment. Thus, in figuring the time between farrier visits, one must consider how fast the hooves are growing and what you expect from the shoes. Most horses need shod about every eight weeks, although I've seen those that can go twelve weeks and others that need it every month or four weeks. Answer these questions to determine if your horse is due to be shod: Are the shoes worn excessively so that they don't perform their purpose of protecting or offering traction? Do the shoes show any looseness or can you hear the clanking sound of a shoe that is not snug? Are the hooves too long, so that the horse can't travel smoothly and balanced? Are the hooves grown out enough that the natural angle of the pastern no longer matches the hoof angle? Do you see any problems with the way your horse stands or travels? If "yes" is the answer to any of these questions, then your horse is most likely due...No, past due!
If your horse is just out to pasture, should you leave its shoes on? The answer to this question depends on the health of its hooves and the environment in the pasture. I often talk to people who only shoe their horses if it's going to be ridden; which is fine, if the above two conditions are ideal. On the other hand, if you neglect regular trimming, even under otherwise ideal conditions, a horse can go lame. If a horse has unhealthy feet, proper fitting shoes and accessories can often completely correct the problem. I see large numbers of horses each year that are injured because they were running barefoot in rocky, dry, or otherwise hazardous terrain. Many of these could have been prevented by shoeing! I've also seen an occasional situation where a horse has developed problems when turned out to pasture with shoes on; although, being shod was not the cause. Neglect was the culprit! These horses should have either been re-shod or trimmed in such a way as to protect the feet without shoes. It is a false myth that horses are better off without shoes. Properly shod horses are always better off than those going barefoot! But, to save money, it is acceptable to keep horses unshod and properly trimmed if their hooves are healthy and the conditions allow them to stay that way. I've often heard people say things contrary to what I'm teaching here, who are basing their theories on the fact that wild horses never have a farrier! Every time I hear such nonsense I wish I could take them with me to the places I've seen wild horses run. From the mustang herds in the deserts of Arizona to the Brumby mobs in Australia's Snowy Mountain Range, the story is the same. These places are covered with the bones of horses who couldn't run from predators or make the trip between their water and food supply due to hoof injuries...most of which could have been prevented. Don't let anyone fool you with their myths.
In conclusion, consider this: What good is the most beautiful or powerful car in the world if it has bad tires? We tend to take great care of our horse's pretty manes and tails, and work hard to condition them with a magnificent physique and healthy coat; let's not fall prey to the myth that hooves can take care of themselves!