THE NATURAL ANGLE
By: Alma DeMille, Certified Farrier & Blacksmith
Popular trends or "fads" come and go. Ideas of what's politically right and wrong shift with the times, but some things never change. The laws of Nature are not affected by popular opinion; when Columbus sailed to America the world was already round although the people thought it flat. My message is not one of religion or politics, but the science of common sense horsemanship.
If your horse has problems that cause lameness, you want to correct those problems. If the popular idea of the day is to make your horse do a certain task or perform in any given way, fine. But beware of the consequences you may be inflicting on the animal. As a specialist in physiological shoeing, I have traveled a good portion of The United States correcting numerous problems on horses that have been injured or weakened too much to perform. More often than not, the solution was so simple that any competent horseman should have been able to solve it. Before I state the solution, I'd like to give a couple of examples of incorrect fads which can cause lameness:
It used to be a big problem in the gaited horse industry to "sore" them by actually causing pain in the bottom of the hoof whenever it hit the ground in order to get the horse to lift it's legs up quickly and as high as possible. This practice has been outlawed due to its inhumanity, so I will not address it, but will discuss problems that are still in practice today.
In the Draft Horse Show Circuit animals are being shod with scotch bottom shoes, which turn the toes outward excessively and pull the hocks together. They are also being shod with thick pads and often too severe angles in order to give a lot of action to their step. While a competitor in this show circuit must follow the fad in order to have a chance at all of winning, recognition must be given to the unnatural stress being placed on the horses' joints, tendons, and ligaments. With proper care, and wise training, these magnificent and inspiring animals can be shod in this way with no negative consequences. The real problem arises when people jump on the band wagon wanting their draft horses to perform like the show animals, yet they lack the understanding of what will happen when they take off, up the highway, with these fancy show preparations that are designed to be used in soft dirt. Numerous horses are "road foundered" each year due to this type of activity. When those hooves hit the concrete, pounding down mile after mile, the coffin bone rotates as the sensitive laminae is literally torn away from the outer hoof wall. Many of these animals never recover, and must be put down. They should have been shod with a flat shoe, which would have allowed them to travel with a straight flight pattern, reducing stress to all joints and tissues. The flat shoe also would have allowed the frog to touch the ground as it was designed to do, rather than being suspended way up in the air while such a tremendous weight was bearing down hopelessly seeking support. As a side note, let me say that borium and drill-tech are permissible as they are applied in a relatively low manner that does not suspend the hoof so far up in space.
Another fad which is very common among us that is even taught at some horseshoeing schools, is the idea that a horse should be trimmed to a specific angle in the front and another specific angle in the rear. We have all seen hoof gauges sold in catalogs and tack stores. They are very useful tools when properly used. The problem lies in people thinking their horses should have a certain angle, and then cutting the hooves to that angle whether or not it is the correct angle for that particular horse. Although most horses' angles will be between 50-55 degrees, just anywhere in that range won't do! Each horse has its own natural angle that should be matched. This is the solution which could prevent over 80% of the lameness we encounter regularly. Doing this does much more than prevent and cure problems, very often it increases the animal's performance. This applies to race horses, work horses, gaited horses, pleasure horses, and even brood mares. Many times, when a horse was at the wrong angle, I have felt heat in the coronary band, seen swelling in the fetlocks and knees before I began working on the animal. I correctly trimmed the front and re-shod them, then began with the rear feet. By the time I finished, and again checked, the heat was decreasing and the swelling down significantly, and sometimes completely vanished! I can not stress enough the importance of The Natural Angle. If this one unchangeable law of nature was constantly observed, many thousands of lamenesses could be prevented each year, and millions of horses would have their performance enhanced!
How can I tell if my horse is at the correct angle? Let me give you some steps & pointers to help you tell for yourself. *Pick out the hooves and wipe the outside hoof walls clean. *Put your horse on a flat, hard surface. *Make the animal stand so that both feet are even (side by side) with equal weight placed on both of them. *At this point you take a straight edge and observe from the side. *From the top of the horseshoe (right where it meets the hoof wall) on the bottom of the hoof, follow the straight edge along the hoof wall up over the coronary band, pass the short and long pastern bones all the way to the fetlock joint. (All of this is done directly in front from the center of the toe.) *Observing this line from the side, with the straight edge laid up the front of the hoof and leg you can see if there is any deviation or if it is a straight line with matching angles. If there are any deviations from a straight line, your horse is incorrectly trimmed or shod. If the deviation is where the hoof and shoe meet, the shoe was incorrectly fit or nailed to the hoof, resulting in an "extended shoe" or a "dubbed foot." Both of these are extreme evidence of incompetence on the part of the shoer. If the deviation is along the hoof wall you either have a "dish" or a "bull nose" that should have been shaped with the rasp as much as possible without causing the wall to become too thin, weakening the wall. If there is a deviation at the coronary band, then the angle needs to be raised or lowered accordingly. If there's a deviation along the pastern, the angle needs adjusted; sometimes, this is a sign that the horse has been trimmed incorrectly over a long period of time, and may take several farrier visits to correct. In some cases the correct angle can not be achieved due to low heels or short feet; often a pair of wedge pads can make up the difference.
There are few things in life that bring the satisfaction gained from a well trained and cared for horse. No matter how your buddy at the rodeo, races, or show told you that your horse should be shod, it is your horse and your responsibility to see that he or she is taken care of properly. Don't let fads fool you into poor decisions that the constant laws of natural science have proven.