There are lots of misunderstandings about shoes and gaited horses. I get a lot of questions, such as do they need shoes, can they go barefoot, do I have to use toe weights, all kinds of things. I’d like to take the time to dispel these myths and to explain what shoeing and barefoot trimming needs are true for gaited horses.
Horseshoe History: the True Reason for Shoeing
One of the most important aspects of shoeing is understanding why horses have been shod throughout time. Evidence of shoeing horses can be traced to before the first century in
Iron shoes came into play after the first century in
The Romans also developed metal and leather “hipposandals” for protection. These slipped over the horses’ hooves and attached with leather straps.
The U.S. Army developed machined mass production of shoes in 1800. Farrier academies also started and began to supplement the difficult apprenticeship process. During the Civil War, the North had a significant advantage over the South due to their horses having better foot care through mass production of shoes. The horses could travel a variety of terrains and did not come up with the kinds of soundness and lameness issues that barefoot horses did. The shoe itself was almost exactly the same in design as it is today, with the inset groove to protect the nail heads and to provide traction. Amazingly, today’s hoof products such as rubber pads, aluminum shoes, and toe clips were found to have been in use during the 19th century by the
The most important aspect in this brief history of shoeing is this: shoeing horses was developed to protect the horse’s hoof. It was not done to enhance the horse’s performance under saddle or to change the horse’s way of going. This is an extremely important fact, especially when dealing with gaited horses.
Shoes and the Gaited Horse
Of course, gaited horses can wear shoes just as traditional breeds can. I’m sure most of you know that shoeing is a big topic in the gaited horse world. However, the truth is that shoeing does not make the horse. The gait is natural in the horse—we don’t have to make it. What we need to do is to preserve the health of the horse’s hoof by having it be shod correct to it’s conformation. Special shoeing should only be used when a horse has conformation or medical issues where it needs help.
One of the problems I frequently run into is that a non-certified farrier will shoe a gaited horse the same way he would shoe a traditional breed. While yes, hoof structure is the same, gaited horses are physically built different than other breeds. Their bone and muscle structure is different because the gaited breeds were cultivated to encourage the smooth gaits. In order for a horse to be able to gait, it’s physical structure had to evolve to move so there is no suspension between footfalls. This changes the whole structure of how the horse is put together. So, shoeing a gaited horse like a traditional breed can change the horse’s capability to maintain that smooth ride.
The way we can avoid this is to make sure to find a farrier that understands that the shoe must be shaped to the hoof and not vice versa. Horses hooves are just as varied as our own feet. Every horse has his own shape in how his hooves naturally grow, and some horses have one foot larger than another, or their back feet are smaller than their front feet. So tacking on a shoe and filing the hoof to match the shoe (known as cold shoeing) can ruin the horse’s natural structure and can cause pain and lameness issues.
It is physically impossible for someone to be able to pound a cold shoe into shape to fit the hoof—a human being just doesn’t have the physical strength to do it. Therefore, a good farrier will be one who hot shoes the horse every time he shoes him. Hot shoeing is where the shoes are heated and then pounded into shape while they are soft. The shoes are then cooled in water and nailed on the horse’s hoof. Please note that I do not advocate "burning" the shoe onto the hoof while it's still hot--this can damage the laminae and hoof wall and cause pain and/or unnecessary lameness to your horse. This is also a shortcut--"burning" the shoe on the hoof creates a flat surface for the shoe to be nailed on without doing the proper balance and trimming work.
I have seen farrier quickly burn a spot on the horse's hoof to create a spot for a clip or other such means to help hold the shoe on. However, it should be done fast and neatly so as not to damage the horse's hoof.
An important note: shoeing a horse hot the first couple of times and then shoeing it cold once the shape has been maintained doesn’t cut it. A horse’s hoof can change with the seasons (moisture, hot vs. cool weather) or with the quality of food it’s getting. So your farrier should hot shoe your horse every time.
If you use a farrier that hot shoes your horses and that is well educated in how to shoe horses in general, he won’t need to necessarily “know” gaited horses. What he should know is how to recognize the horse’s individual conformation and to shape the shoe to fit the horse’s needs.
Let’s take a look at some photos of a poor farrier job versus a proper one.
This is a photo of the front feet of Phoenix's dam, Sophie. She is standing on a level, concrete surface, and this photo was taken about four years ago. This was during a time when she was shod by a farrier who was not AFA certified. And let’s be honest: my friend who owned her was looking for a less expensive farrier than the one she was using to work on her horses.
First, take a look at the overall hooves themselves. They are obviously different shapes and heights. Now, hooves can vary in their shape—even a horses’ two front feet can vary in shape. However, the difference will never be this glaring. The front left has an obviously lower heel angle than the front right foot. Plus, take a look at the heels. The top of the heel is not in line with the bottom of the heel at a natural angle that is the same as the pastern. This is known as an “underrun” heel, and it is not properly supporting Sophie’s heel. She will collapse back on her feet if this shoeing job continues. Second, take a look at the angles of the hooves. The angle of the hoof should follow the angle of the pastern (see below photo).
The problem with this poor shoeing job is that this could put extreme stress on Sophie’s pasterns. Since her pasterns are not being supported correctly, and the pastern bones are connected to the coffin bones, and so on and so forth, (yes, you may sing the song if you’d like), then that means she is not getting correct support on up her entire leg. This can lead to muscle and joint problems over time. Poor shoeing can actually be the cause of soundness issues. The below story about Sophie and a poor farrier job leading to her being sold is proof of this situation.
Downloaded from the Natural Angle website
Here is a great photo of a horse that is trimmed at his natural angle correct to the angle of the pastern. Also note that the heel of the horse also follows that natural angle of the pastern.
This horse is not wearing and shoe in this photo. However, all that has to be done now is the shoe must be heated, shaped to follow this quality trimming job, and then nailed on the hoof. A properly trimmed hoof will easily carry a properly shaped shoe with no damage to the hoof or problems to the horse in the long run.
Barefoot and the Gaited Horse
Never, never, NEVER let anyone tell you that gaited horses cannot go barefoot! There is absolutely nothing wrong with it, and thousands of gaited horses live sound, happy lives when barefoot. The keys to letting your horse be barefoot, though, are proper trimming and proper nutrition.
For any breed of horse, barefoot can be an ideal choice. It saves money on the cost of shoes and saves time for you and your farrier. However, there are lots of things to consider before taking those shoes off and heading down the trail. In order for a horse to be able to properly go barefoot—that is, without any type of hoof protection at all (no boots or shoes)—be sure to consult with your farrier and your vet to find out if your horse is healthy enough to go barefoot. Some horses can have genetic defects that prevent it from going barefoot, or a hard life of difficult riding or having been sored can lead to your gaited horse not having strong enough bone structure or hoof growth to support itself going barefoot. For some horses, this may mean just adding a regular hoof supplement to their diet. For others, it may mean that he will need to wear either boots or shoes whenever he is ridden and barefoot will not be an option.
For example, since our farrier passed away and we want to save money, our horses are now barefoot. My mare Apache has severe hoof issues that have existed throughout her life due to the fact that she has no depth of sole. This is hereditary--her sire had the same issue. Therefore, I have her on a quality hoof supplement and she wears boots whenever I ride on the trails, no matter what type of terrain.
My husband's horse, Red Hawk, however, has incredibly solid hooves that don't require any kind of boots. We have been advised by our farrier that we should have no problems in rocky areas.
Also, realize that if you horse has worn shoes for most of his life, it can take a lot of times for his hooves to “harden” so they are strong enough for heavy trail riding. Depending on the horse’s speed of hoof growth, it can take anywhere from 9 to 12 months for a brand new hoof to grow in that is ready for rocky and difficult trails. Therefore, you should start out in steps. Ride your horse for limited periods on flat trails, and have him wear boots (such as EasyBoots, Old Macs, Boas, Renegades, or any other brand of your choice) on rocky trails. Pay close attention to how your horse is doing. Remember: the shoe was keeping his sole off the ground, so he might be “ouchy” at first. Give him time to rest between rides, and watch his hooves carefully for signs of injuries, such as abscesses.
Trimming is essential during this time for your horse. Be sure your farrier knows how to properly trim a horse to his conformation. Ask him if he thinks you need to add any hoof supplements to your horse’s feed, and let him know if you see any signs of your horse having problems. Your farrier should be able to help you determine when you horse needs to wear boots and when it doesn’t. He should also be able to tell you when your horse is ready to hit the trails with no worries about having to wear boots at all.
Proper trimming will still be important once your horse is able to go barefoot all the time. Just letting him “go natural” is not going to work for a domestic horse who lives in an enclosed area, even if it’s a pasture or turnout, for most of his life. He will not have the capability to naturally wear his hooves the way wild horses do (see my below section on Natural Balance Shoeing). He will need to be well-balanced for his job, just as a horse that wears shoes should be. All horses grow their hooves at different rates, and sometimes even one hoof will grow faster than another. So it’s important that your farrier keep him trimmed every six to eight weeks so as not to cause any injury to his limbs.
Finally, your horse will need to have proper nutrition to help keep him healthy. A steady diet of plenty of grass hay (
Gaited Horse Hoof Myths
Toe weights will square up a pacey horse. This is by far a major misconception that comes from the show ring. Toe weights can have the opposite effect on the foot, especially on the trail. If a horse is not conditioned to carry a shoe with a toe weight, then he will tend to drag his feet and be more apt to stumbling. A toe-weighted shoe is for the show ring only, and even then it’s not necessary. Overall, a weighted shoe should be used to enhance the horse’s gait only, not to force the gait.
If a horse is pacey, proper exercise and training is what’s needed to help teach the horse to carry himself correctly. See my page about the gaits of the Tennessee Walking Horse for more information on how to work with a pacey horse.
Gaited horses need a low heel and a long toe to gait properly. This is also a myth propagated by the show ring horses. Unfortunately, the desire for more animation in the horses’ front end and more “crouch” in the back end has lead to growing an extremely long toe (usually around 5 inches from the cornet band to the tip of the toe) and cutting off the heel. This results in the horse having to pick up his foot higher to “get past” his long toe so he can set his foot back down. It is not a necessary practice at all to achieve higher animation—it is mostly used in the non-sound horse show community.
Left: the long toes and short heels of a big lick horse.
Right: Excellent example of a poor farrier job causing underrun heels (downloaded from www.horseshoes.com)
It is probably pretty obvious why we don’t want this kind of foot on our horses. A low heel or under run heel can lead to serious problems with the horse being unable to support himself, and he can end up with severe tendon and ligament breakdown in his legs. It can also lead to contracted heels, pain in the sole of the foot, and various other serious conditions that are too numerous to name here.
A long toe will not be practical on the trail. You will find that it will constantly break, chip, or otherwise be in disrepair. Plus, it also will not hold a shoe well because a hoof is a lot like our own fingernails as they get longer—they weaken because the ends keep getting further and further away from their base support. A long toe can also lead to problems with the horse not being able to stand properly because his toe is “in the way,” so he naturally stand by leaning back slightly to be able to stand level, putting more pressure on his heel, which is not designed to carry all of the weight of a horse.
The angle of a gaited horse’s foot should be 48 to 52 degrees. Again, another myth. Yes, there are angles that are normal to a horse’s hoof, and most horses are going to fall within a range of angles. However, the angle of a horse’s hoof is based on the slope of his pastern, not what breed he is.
It’s normal for a TWH to have twisting hocks or to forge. No, it’s not. These are conformation flaws that have developed over the years of breeding for higher and higher lift in the Big Lick horses. However, this doesn’t mean that the horse can’t be ridden—it does mean that he might need some corrective shoeing to help himself balance and not develop any serious problems. See my below information on corrective shoeing.
There is a difference between corrective shoeing and shoeing to alter the gait. Usually, your horse’s gait will not need to be corrected by how he’s shod. The way to get a horse to gait correct to his breed is not to alter his feet—it’s to learn to teach your horse to carry himself correctly with a soft mouth and round frame. Then his gait will usually come naturally. Proper hoof care will help him out—he needs to have healthy, sound, and well-balanced hooves to gait correctly.
Corrective shoeing should only be used either when a horse has an injury or chronic condition that requires it (such as laminitis or clubbed feet) or to help him out when he has conformation flaws. Since many TWHs nowadays are breed with the idea that they may eventually be a Big Lick horse, they can tend to pace, twist their hocks behind, be toed out in the front or cow hocked in the back, or forge (where his back feet kick the underside of his front feet as he’s walking). These flaws have been encouraged because that old adage is stack ‘em and sore ‘em and it’ll square ‘em up.
While these kinds of conformation flaws aren’t uncommon, they are still flaws and can cause long-term problems. However, most horses can be sound their whole riding career with some corrective shoeing to help them balance and change those flaws. Some forms of correction are shoes with caulks or trailers (helps with the twisting hocks) or rolling or rocking the toes so the horse’s breakover is sooner (keeps the horse from forging because the front foot gets out of the way faster, before the back foot comes up).
Overall, be sure to discuss such conformation flaws with your farrier to decide what corrective shoeing is best for him. Once again, a good farrier will understand the horse’s whole hoof and leg structure and will know how to help your horse be an incredible riding horse.
Natural Balance Shoeing
Natural Balance Shoeing is a hot topic that I run across on a fairly frequent basis. People have asked my opinion on it, so I decided to research it. I want to point out first off that I have no problem with Natural Balance shoeing and trimming—just like any farrier work, it should be done properly per the training given. More on how I feel about Natural Balance is in the conclusion of this section.
To begin my research, I went directly to the source: the Natural Balance website. I learned that this type of shoeing and trimming of a horse was developed by Gene Ovnicek, a farrier who spent time studying wild horses’ hooves over several years. He discovered that wild horses have a different way of going and are different in how the hoof carries the weight of the horse. Therefore, he modified the farrier work and horseshoe for domestic horses to match the wild horse’s hoof.
The following were the flags that went up for me as I learned more about this practice.
1. How in the heck did he look at these horse’s hooves? Okay, these are wild horses. They are not backyard pets, nor were they horses that were somewhat gentled at mustang roundups or BLM auctions. I doubt very seriously that he was just heading out into these herds and the horses were oh-so-agreeable and picking up their feet for him.
So, after doing some more research, I discovered that Ovnicek had been looking at dead horses. So these were horses that had died of natural causes. However, those causes can vary: drought, harsh winter, or even
Also, statistics tell us that mustangs don’t survive much past 10 to 12 years old in the wild. We know for a fact that hoof shape can change as the horse gets older. So how does he know how to shoe/trim horses over the age of 12?
2. Poor examples of traditionally shod horses on the Natural Balance website. All of the examples on the website of how traditional shoeing causes problems for the horse’s hoof were actually caused by improper farrier work. As far as I could tell, there was no evidence on the Natural Balance website of a proper farrier job compared to a proper Natural Balance job. He was comparing apples to oranges, which is not fair to the farrier community.
We can argue that there are too many bad farriers out there, so why not go with Natural Balance instead? Well, Natural Balance shoers also have to go through training, and if they’re not following the training they’re given, then they can mess up a horse as well. They are not immune to mistakes.
3. Wild horses and domestic horses are completely different. Domestic horses are not comparable to wild horses because they are practically different species. Let’s figure out why. First, domestic horses are bred for certain traits and are hand raised by humans. They live in controlled environments, even if it’s on 40 acres of pasture. Even if someone just tosses their mares out to be pasture bred to the stallion and are not given any extra care while pregnant, they are still in a controlled environment. Those mares are provided with feed (the pasture) and water (ponds in the area). They are not foraging for food, nor are they traversing large areas to find food.
Then we can look at domestic horses that are kept in stalls or turnouts, such as here in
We can also keep different breeds of domestic horses in climates different from where their ancestors lived because we have the capability to accommodate their needs. For example, a heavy-coated Icelandic horse that is built for cold weather can live just fine in a hot climate such as Arizona because we can provide shade, fans, lots of water, and even shave the horse’s coat to make him comfortable.
Wild horses, in contrast, do not stay in one area for a full season. They have to travel to find food in different seasons. In order to do this, their bodies have to be small and compact, their hooves of a different quality to handle this kind of travel. Plus, wild horses’ body conformation and digestive systems are different from climate to climate. Wild horses in the Southwest are small and can survive on less vegetation with hooves shaped more like a goat’s to be able to traverse rocky terrain. These horses do not have the full-bodied, sleeker look of the wild horses in other areas of the
So, how can we expect to shoe and trim our domestic horse as if he runs wild and expect him to stay sound? I don’t know if we can.
4. How does natural balance affect a gaited horse? This is my biggest point I'd like to get across. Gaited horses are physically built differently than traditional breeds. There are absolutely no gaited horses in the wild (and of course, if anyone knows of any gaited herds, please let me know.) We can assume, then, that the horses Ovnicek were looking at were trotters. So these horses’ hooves wore down to the conformation of a trotting horse.
The four-beat gait was bred into the gaited horse using selective breeding over many decades. It is proven that gaited horses need balanced support throughout the whole hoof to move correctly. If we were to change that balance, then the horse won’t gait correct to it’s breed. It’s the same as when we ride them—if the horse is not balanced well in his frame, then he won’t gait correctly. Therefore, if we use Natural Balance shoeing on gaited horses, which was developed off of wild horses that trot, then we’re going to completely change the horse’s way of going and he won’t be able to gait.
A friend of mine who owns various gaited breeds switched to Natural Balance several years ago. To her credit, her Natural Balance farrier is very good—he is properly educated and follows the guidelines set forth by the Natural Balance schooling. However, she has a very nice Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse mare that she was having a hard time getting to gait. All she does is pace. A gaited horse trainer that is schooled in using proper riding techniques to train gaited horses, not using gadgets and gimmicks, saw right away what the problem was: the mare had no toe, and therefore she could not gait. The Natural Balance shoeing was actually causing her to break over too soon and she couldn’t find a four-beat gait. Her feet are now being grown out to a proper length for her conformation to get her to gait properly again.
5. Why change what has worked for thousands of years? Farrier work has improved the horse as a working animal for humans through the evidence in the very history of how horseshoes were developed. Overall, I have NEVER had soundness issues with my horses because I have a farrier who knows what he’s doing. I know others who have experienced the same. Why should I change what is already working?
The more I learn about Natural Balance shoeing and trimming, the more I find that veterinarians, educated farriers, and people educated about hoof care in general don’t agree with it. In fact, squaring the toe like Ovnicek says to do has been around longer than Natural Balance shoeing—it really is nothing new. It just depends on how it’s being used.
So, overall, my thoughts about Natural Balance are as follows:
1. There is no evidence on the Natural Balance website on how it affects gaited horses. Now true, I didn’t go through every single little bit of it. However, since gaited horses are becoming more and more popular, I think it would be very important for them to address this issue directly on the homepage of the website so gaited horse owners can be more educated about Natural Balance. Plus, from what I have seen, it alters the horse’s natural gait and can be a detriment to the reason why we buy gaited horses in the first place: for a smooth ride.
2. When I have asked vets and certified farriers about it, they have not agreed with it. They said it can create the same problems any poor farrier job can create.
3. I don't see any practical reason to change the way a horse is shod. Horses have gone sound with regular farrier work for thousands of years. Why do we need to change this? What I believe that does need to be changed is that in order for farriers to be allowed to work, they should have to be licensed. We hand out a license for people to practice as a vet or an equine dentist—why not the same for a farrier? They have just as much effect on a horse’s health as any vet does. I think that movement alone would help cut down on the amount of horses with poor foot care tremendously.
Overall, I don’t have a problem with Natural Balance shoeing when done properly. Like any farrier work, it’s important for you as the owner to learn what a proper shoeing job is and to watch your horse for any signs of problems with the shoeing or trimming job. But don’t go after something just because it’s a fad. This isn’t like buying the latest color of show blanket—this is your horse’s welfare and well-being. Remember the old adage: No hoof, no horse!
Finding a Good Farrier
After all of that explanation, it is now time to give some tips on how to find a good farrier. Good farriers are in short supply. I have friends who tell me they’ve been told by vets that the vet can’t recommend a good farrier to them because they don’t know of any. This is a very, very sad situation for us as horse owners.
So how do we find a good farrier? Here is some advice I’ve given over the years.
Cost, or You Get What You Pay For. For some reason, I find that most horse owners balk at the prospect of paying for quality farrier service. I am not sure why this is. The only thing I can say to it is that if your horse was bleeding profusely from a gaping wound on his side, would you call the folks down at the tack store to ask them to come stitch it up? I would hope not! So you need to think of farrier work in the same way. If you pay for a cheap job, you will get a cheap job.
Currently, my farrier charges $120 per horse for a full set of shoes. He only does hot shoeing and will not cold shoe horses. It takes him about an hour per horse to shoe it. Any corrective or supportive shoeing is extra. Most people I know think that is too much money. However, let’s look at this a bit closer. My horses NEVER lost shoes. EVER. They also NEVER had hoof problems. They were never lame in their limbs due to shoeing problems. In fact, my farrier continues to correct poor shoeing jobs I’ve had on horses and get them sound again (see the below story about Sophie.)
Now, let’s say you decide that $120 is too much, so you find an ad in the paper for a farrier that’s charging $85. What a great deal, you think. The guy comes out, tacks on some shoes cold, rasps off the extra hoof, and he’s all done in 30 minutes.
A week later, your horse loses one of his shoes. So you have to call the farrier. He won’t be able to be out for another week. Plus, he will charge you $25 to put the shoe back on. Now, you’re not only out riding another week, but you also have now spent $110 on a shoeing job. After the farrier has come out a few times on a regular schedule to shoe your horse (IF he has a regular schedule at all), you notice that you’ve been paying for him to come out and reset pulled shoes each time. So that means that you’re now paying $110 per shoeing job, and you’re out riding time while you wait for the farrier to come back.
After 6 months of using this farrier, your horse comes up lame. You can’t tell why, so you call the vet. The vet comes out ($60 call fee) takes one look at your horse’s feet and finds that your horse is standing on his soles because his heels are too low and his toes are too short. Now your horse has to be on a pain medication for a few weeks ($40 per paste tube of anti-inflammatory/pain killer) and you need to have a certified farrier come out and shoe your horse with pads on his feet every six weeks instead of the usual eight weeks to protect his feet until they grow back to normal ($165 to $185 per shoeing).
So what has happened here? A cheap farrier job in the beginning has cost you a lot more money in the long run. I would rather know that I only pay $120 per horse every eight weeks and have a set date when the job needs to be done so I can budget for it. I have the peace of mind that my horses never lose shoes or has hoof problems, and I will always have a horse to ride.
Certification is not just an option, it should be mandatory. In my opinion, there is absolutely no valid reason not to have a certified farrier. Farriers can go through any type of farrier school to be educated in how to shoe and trim horses. However, there is only one association that offers certification in the
From the AFA website:
AFA CERTIFICATION PROGRAM
Developed in 1981, the AFA’s Certification Program centers around standardized examination processes, designed to assess proper trimming and shoeing. In addition to testing these “hands-on” aspects of competency, the system also includes written examinations designed to test comprehension of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics.
"Certification provides an avenue for farriers to distinguish themselves—to themselves, to the horse owning public, and to others—and to establish that they have a quantifiable level of knowledge and competency in hoofcare.
"Present levels of examinations include AFA Farrier, Certified Farrier, Certified Tradesman Farrier, and Certified Journeyman Farrier. There are also two specialty endorsements offered to Certified Journeyman Farriers: Therapeutic Endorsement and Educator Endorsement.”
LEVELS OF CERTIFICATION
The AFA’s Farrier Certification Program consists of three categories: Classification, Certification, and Endorsement. Within these categories, the Certification and Endorsement designations have associated options and levels of progression.
Certification is at the center of this program, but Classification and Endorsement are integral and valuable components, designed to make the program viable for the entire farrier community. The Classification component provides opportunities for entry-level farriers, while the Endorsement component provides opportunities for farriers who have completed the highest level of Certification.
Click here for the AFA website for more information.
Candidates at each level are expected to display hoof trimming skills and techniques to meet everyday demands of correct hoof care, the skills to apply horseshoes and other appliances to exacting prescriptions, forging skills needed to modify or make a variety of horseshoes, and a knowledge of equine anatomy and physiology. Testing and evaluation are critically applied to maintain the highest standards of workmanship and professionalism.
Click here to do a search for certified farriers in your state. PLEASE NOTE: This list is not necessarily complete. My own farrier is not listed here, due to the website not having been updated recently. Call the AFA if you would like a more updated list.
Signs of a Poor Farrier
I've compiled this list of signs of a poor farrier job to help educate you in what possible warnings can be seen when your horse is not being shod or trimmed correctly. It’s extremely important to note that sometimes your farrier can be doing a good job, and perhaps your horse has a true lameness in his shoulder, joints or back. However, I would say that with about 90% of the horses I see that are lame or uneven in their gaits, it’s due to a poor farrier job.
Your horse’s feet look uneven when you stand him on a level surface (such as a concrete driveway).
So now you’ve gone through this list and you realize that your horse is exhibiting most of them. Your farrier is your neighbor down the road who took a few farrier classes at the local community college, and he’s been trimming/shoeing your horse for about 4 years now. You realize he could be causing the problem, but you don’t want to hurt his feelings and “fire” him.
He loses shoes on a regular basis, especially close to when the farrier is supposed to come again.
He stumbles over himself when being ridden when he’s not tired, lazy or distracted, or stumbles more so when he is.
He has low heels, under run heels, or contracted heels. (Click here for information on horse conformation.)
He is unable to perform the correct gait to the breed standard.
There is imbalance when being ridden at any speed (walk, trot, canter, intermediate gait); he has a “hitch” in his gait.
He acts “ouchy” when you see him walking on a hard surface or having to traverse a rocky area.
He slows down after a long ride even though you haven’t ridden hard and he tends to “pick” his way along the trail.
I have two answers for this:
1. Call a vet who is an expert in horse leg and foot issues and ask their opinion. If the vet says you need to get a better farrier, then it is an easy excuse you can use to “fire” your friend!
2. Tell your friend that you are seeing regular problems in your horse that you want to have a professional farrier look at. You appreciate his hard work, but you think your horse needs something beyond what your friend is capable of doing. Perhaps your friend can come when the farrier looks at your horse and maybe he can learn what to do to help your horse in the future.
Overall, it is NEVER worth it to sacrifice your horse’s health and your riding time due to a poor farrier job. Take the time to find a certified farrier and get a proper job done every time.
Words to Remember, Stories of Proof
Cheap farrier = lame horse
Sophie’s Story. Sophie is the dam of our horse Phoenix and her feet are pictured above, which are way off balance. She actually came to me because of poor farrier care. My friend had sold Sophie when times were hard to a woman who, a few months later, contacted my friend to let her know she was reselling Sophie. She had decided to sell Sophie because her vet had diagnosed Sophie as having a stifle problem, and the vet she could no longer be ridden on much more than light trail rides and was to be a broodmare only. She said Sophie had a “serious stifle problem.” Those were her exact words in her email to me. I bought Sophie based on the fact that I have never, ever seen this mare lame, and from what the woman had described to me (forging, shoes coming off on a regular basis), I thought I knew what the problem was. When I got Sophie home, she was a wreck—her feet were in far worse condition than they were in the above photo. She was in a lot of pain and could hardly walk. My farrier took one look at her and knew exactly what the problem was: a poor farrier job. She was shod to correct her problem, and she no longer has the stifle issue. Exercise and proper shoeing has brought her back around and she is now sound as a dollar. In fact, as soon as our farrier did his first round of work on her and she was in shoes and properly balanced, she no longer walked with problems and was obviously no longer in pain.
The moral of this story is that 1) the poor farrier job caused a perfectly sound horse to go lame, and 2) the vet did not even consider the farrier work as the culprit to the problem (if a vet came to look at the horse at all—I never received proof of that). This is where we need to be vigilant about our horse’s care, even in his hooves.
Bottom line: There are tons of areas in caring for our horses that we can cut costs. Farrier care should not be one of those places.
Shoes should only protect the hoof, NOT make the gait
Red Hawk’s Story. When we were first starting out with TWHs, we bought Red Hawk as our stallion. To promote him, we decided to show him, and we worked with a woman who comes from the “old school” of training TWHs. Her solution to any gaiting issues was to change his feet and the shoes he wore and to experiment with different types of bits. She told us that she liked the angles he was at, but for the show ring he should be wearing a size larger shoe and that he would need caulks on his shoes. Caulks would help him “drag” his feet along the ground better to get more purchase and force his feet to step higher, while the size larger shoe would bring on more weight and toe and would force the gait out of him. Our farrier told us flat out that if we put caulks and a size larger shoe on our horse, then he would lose his shoes when we went trail riding. His feet would not hold the larger shoes because it was just too much weight, and the caulks would get caught on rocks and would pull the shoe off. We decided to go ahead and make the changes anyway because our trainer told us to. Within one week, Red Hawk had lost a shoe. After multiple times of shoeing Red Hawk and having to get shoes reset because they would come off, and since trail riding was not something we were going to stop doing, we told our trainer that Red Hawk was going to have to learn to gait correctly without special shoes. We were able to get him to gait perfectly in the show ring with no problems with regular trail/keg shoes on. Since then, we have also learned methods that help him move his body correctly to get the correct gait, and now he’s moving far better than he ever did, even when we were showing him.
Bottom line: Shoes should not be used to make the gait. The shoes should protect the hoof and we should use methods that encourage a horse to carry his body correctly to get the correct gait to the breed standard.
Switching Farriers Story. Some friends of ours hired a trainer to work with their horses’ gaits. It’s important to note that while this trainer was once a certified TWH trainer, she was certified in the “old school” methods of training, which meant using shoe changes, gadgets, gimmicks, and experimenting with bits to get the horse to gait. These friends used to use our farrier and were regular customers with him. The trainer found out he was the farrier and promptly said she didn’t like him. However, she needed him to make a list of changes to their horses’ hooves so they would gait properly. One of their horses was a formerly sored horse and already needed to wear pads to protect the soles of her feet. When the farrier looked at the long list of changes for her, he told them he could do all of those things but the horse would come up lame. So since he didn’t want to do the changes, the trainer required my friends to change to a farrier that would do all the work she wanted done. A few months after he’d made the changes on the old mare she came up lame. With their other horses, he had made so many changes that they were stumbling on the trails and losing shoes on a regular basis. One day the vet came out to look at the mare because she was having so many problems with her feet. The vet told them to pull her shoes immediately because it was a poor farrier job that was causing her to be lame. They switched back to our farrier and have not had any problems since.
Bottom line: Until your trainer has actually taken real farrier classes (not just a few at the local community college) and has hot shod a horse him/herself, they should never be telling a farrier what to do.
I hope this explanation of shoeing and the gaited horse has helped you better understand why proper farrier care is so important to our horses’ well being. Gaited or not, the most important thing to remember is that a proper farrier job—whether it’s a trim or a full set of shoes—will be worth it’s weight in gold. Not only will your horse be comfortable and have the ability to gait correctly to his conformation, you will also have a sound, healthy companion for his entire lifetime, and you will never have to worry about the health of his hooves.
I used these references to help create these pages. Be sure to consult with your vet or your farrier before starting any new regime in shoeing and/or trimming for your horse.
The American Farriers Association website, http://www.theamericanfarriers.com/
The Farrier and
“The History of Horseshoes,” Rachel Cohen, Equisearch.com, click here for the article
The Natural Angle website, http://www.naturalangle.com/ Check out their Features and Tools and Tips pages for great articles and information.
“The Natural Angle,” Alma DeMille, Certified Farrier & Blacksmith, click here for the article
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://www.wikipedia.org/
Please note: The above information is not to be considered legal advice but as a guide only to understanding shoeing and going barefoot for gaited horses. We are not responsible for any injuries, diseases, illnesses, any hoof problems, or misunderstandings resulting from the above information. This information is not to be used in place of proper AFA-certified farrier work and a veterinarian's professional opinion.