In an age when technology and science are improving the ways we live, work and play, it’s easy to get carried away and rush headlong into new advances. It’s also wise to pull back on the reins a bit and remember the fundamentals of shoeing the sport horse, says Welsh farrier Grant Moon.
“Without our basics, there is no way to implement innovation and science,” the Delta Mustad Hoofcare Center clinician told attendees at the 11th annual International Hoof-Care Summit. “You might want to implement science and innovation into your work, but without our craft skills, we have nothing.”
At the most basic of levels, farriers are service providers who trim and apply shoes safely to horses. Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Within those confines there are a host of duties and skills, and some don’t even involve a hoof knife or an anvil.
Open The Lines Of Communication
While the farrier is the one person applying trimming and shoeing skills under the horse, there are other voices to consider — the veterinarian and rider.
“We’re part of a team,” Moon says. “It’s listening to others. It’s appropriate to listen to everybody’s opinion. The rider rides that horse all the time. They’re entitled to ask questions. They’re entitled to give feedback. It’s up to us to read that feedback.”
That feedback often serves as a warning signal that the horse might be compensating for an injury.
“I don’t know how many times when I was younger and oblivious and someone would tell me, ‘my horse isn’t going like it used to,’” he says. “We have to be very aware when we hear comments that the horse isn’t going good on a diagonal. It’s not engaging behind. It’s starting to refuse different fences. It’s slowing down going into corners. Any of those comments would make me stand up and listen, pay more attention.”
Searching For Symmetry
Trimming horses can mean many things to many different people. Many clamor for specific styles, but Moon suggests concentrating on the needs of the horse first and foremost.
“I trim for the horse,” he says. “I trim biomechanically and appropriately. It’s not just about removing hoof. It’s sometimes preserving hoof. The only thing I will change is if I’ve got some horses working on some really flinty ground, gravelly ground, rocky ground. I’ll leave more sole in. I can either trim it out and then put a pad on, or leave the sole there. I prefer to leave the sole.”
While farriers should remain open-minded to other techniques and styles, it’s vitally important to be aware of how the external horny structures relate to the internal sensitive structures.
“What’s the difference with the modern trim?” Moon asks. “It’s the same as the old-fashioned trim, except now we’re more aware of how the horny structures relate to the sensitive structures. I think that’s the biggest difference. We need to know that we don’t want too much toe, but we also don’t want too much heel.”
A farrier’s trim simply is aiming for symmetry in the foot.
“What we’re looking for is the end of the heels to be somewhere around the widest point of the frog,” he says. “On some feet, you won’t get them there. So, with the Thoroughbreds’ feet, the heel might be a little forward from the widest point of the frog, but you do have to be careful how far in front as these types of feet easily migrate forward.”
Foot mapping is as easy as drawing a few straight lines.
1 Draw a line across the heel, and a parallel line across the toe.
2 Draw two perpendicular lines on the outside of the hoof so they connect the two parallel lines. These lines demonstrate where the widest point of the curve is.
3 Draw a centerline from the heel to the toe.
“It will show us whether we have symmetry,” Moon says. “It’s not always possible to get symmetry. It’s trying to balance the foot into symmetry. What you can’t make up with trimming, it might be useful to have this lined in the center so when you position your shoe, you can position it so you have symmetry. What nature leaves out, you might put in with shoe position. We’re talking maybe 1/16 or 1/8 of an inch of shoe sticking out. We’re just talking a small amount.”
4 Draw a line across the widest point of the hoof. This will indicate the location of the center of the coffin joint.
“What it helps us decide is where we’re going to position that shoe,” he says, noting that what he’s looking for is about a 50% split between the front and back halves of the hoof.
Keeping Things In Proportion
Moon cautions farriers to avoid muddling the process by being overly concerned about accessories.
“Don’t even talk about clips,” he says. “What we should be talking about is shoe position. Are you going to fit that shoe to the perimeter? Are you going to set it half the wall thickness back? Are you going to set it to the white line?”
Don’t fret if a 50-50 split isn’t achieved in the first trim. In fact, there’s a good chance it won’t.
“If we have more than 50% in front, we might have to set the shoe back on a run-out foot,” Moon says. “We might have to set it back to the white line. That’s OK. We probably won’t need to do it indefinitely.
“As the foot normalizes, in a couple of shoeings, we might be fitting the shoe to the midpoint of the hoof wall. And, after 6 months, we might be fitting the shoe to the end of the hoof wall with a rolled toe.”
The key is ensuring appropriate proportion and avoiding any unintended consequences.
“As the proportion of the foot changes, it’s changing the position of the shoe relative to the white line and the end of the hoof wall,” he says. “If you set back the shoe on a foot that doesn’t need it, you’re going to cause hoof distortion. If you have a foot that’s set back too long too many times, the wall will flatten in front because it’s bearing weight on the toe quarters. You’ll start to see distortion in the white line, probably a crack in the toe.”
There are no hard and set rules because every hoof grows differently.
“It means every time you shoe a horse, you’re making a choice,” Moon says. “How much am I going to set that shoe back? Am I going to set that shoe back? Have I got that foot to a point where a perimeter fit is good with a rockered toe? There’s no black and white. You have to make a decision when you shoe.”
Sport horses don’t work standing still, and rarely are they shod on the same surface that they compete on. Walking or trotting a horse on the same type of surface that it’s working on is important to understanding its shoeing needs.
“Concrete will lie to you,” Moon says. “If we walk a horse out on a piece of concrete, you will get a very different picture than you’ll get with a horse that’s being worked in an arena. It’s just like a lady who is wearing stilettos and walking across concrete. There’s no problem. If she walks across a dressage arena, it’s not so elegant.”
Horses are dynamic animals, and they experience a series of different stresses in each stride.
“When that foot hits the ground, it’s not just concussion,” he says. “It’s deceleration, as well. After that, you have loading. The leg loads from the heel of the foot first. Once it gets to center stride, that’s maximum weight bearing.”
When shoeing statically, there are other things that could be missed.
“You know that pretty little pastern angle you see when you’re shoeing the horse?” Moon asks. “It’s not there at mid stride when the horse is trotting or galloping. That fetlock is heading to the ground.
“So, when you’re looking at that long-pasterned horse standing still, his leg vertical, I don’t mind if it’s a fraction broken back. All I have to do is push his withers a little bit, change his weight bearing, and you’ll see that fetlock fall into position. So, don’t believe everything you see statically.”