Your farrier arrives to work on your lesson and show horses. A few trims and a dozen new shoes later and you’re good to go for another six weeks. However, do you have any idea what is on your horses’ feet?
Were you aware that just one horseshoe company sells more than 700 different styles of shoes? Aluminum, steel, wide-webbed, square-toe, round-toe, egg bar, heart bar, clips, extended heels, nail on, glue on; the list goes on and on. The number of new products seems to grow every day. There are specialty products for maintaining performance horses as well as ones that address therapeutic issues.
All these choices can simply be overwhelming. To choose the right shoes, discuss your horses’ needs with both your farrier and your veterinarian. Many are now recommending that X-rays be taken of the sound horse to establish a baseline, so should a problem crop up, original X-rays can be used for comparison.
The basic objective of trimming (and shoeing) is to promote a healthy, functional foot, facilitate the biomechanics and prevent lameness. However, controversy over what is considered “normal” means that there are different ideas as to how to properly trim the horse’s foot. Instead of “normal,” veterinarian and farrier Dr. Stephen O’Grady of Virginia prefers to talk in terms of “functional.”
Generally, the hoof angle should be in alignment with the pastern angle. The hoof wall should be thick, with good consistency, and growth rings should be equal. The sole depth needs to be adequate to protect the coffin bone and other internal structures. A solid heel base helps with weightbearing and absorbs force exerted on the foot. It is also encouraged to have a wide frog and open heel.
One method of trimming that has become common is the four-point trim. Farrier John Arkley of Alaska described the principle of the four-point trim at the Bluegrass Laminitis Symposium in 1999. This type of trimming is used to eliminate stress on the hoof that is caused by the common long toe/low heel syndrome. Proponents of the trimming claim that by allowing the weight to be distributed over four areas of the hoof, it naturally stimulates more horn growth. The center of the weight-bearing surface is 3/8 of an inch behind the apex of the trimmed frog. The process also calls for shortening the toe to help speed the foot’s breakover, which, according to proponents, eases stress on the lower leg and reduces the deep digital flexor tendon’s pull on the coffin bone.
Bar shoes may not sound like a new idea, but they have improved over the last few years. Rarely will you find a straight bar shoe anymore. Rather, they have been replaced with egg bar shoes, which are oval in shape and provide heel support with less compression on the heels than straight bar shoes. Bar shoes are beneficial to horses with long pasterns and low heels, sheared heels, heel lameness or bruising, or navicular syndrome. Correctly sized, bar shoes add 25 percent to the foot’s ground-bearing surface.
An extension of the egg bar shoe is the heart bar, which has a metal piece that covers the frog to support the coffin bone area and takes pressure off the hoof wall. It is a therapeutic shoe that supports the coffin bone in laminitic horses or horses with coffin bone fractures. However, because more steel is involved, caulks are suggested to improve traction.
From Dr. Ric Redden, a noted veterinarian and farrier in Kentucky, comes the rock and roll shoe, which gets its name from its curved ground surface. The rationale for this shoe is that it allows the bones of the lower leg and foot to become realigned by putting the breakover point directly beneath the center of the coffin joint; also that it improves the heel environment. According to Dr. Redden, small movements and weight shifting move the tendons, change the load on internal structures and improve circulation in the foot. The horse actually “pulls” his foot into place. Dr. Redden recommends this shoe for horses with crushed heels, long toe/low heel syndrome, pedal osteitis, laminitis, toe cracks, thin soles and quarter cracks.
Relatively new on the market are polyurethane shoes. These shoes are advertised as being lightweight and durable with good traction. They can be nailed on like traditional shoes or glued on. Three companies that offer these shoes are Ground Control Horseshoes, Mustad, Inc., and the PolySteel Plastic Natural Balance Shoes from EDSS, Inc.
For support and protection, EDSS, Inc. also offers steel and aluminum forms of the Natural Balance Shoe. This shoe has a wide web base and rolled toe to properly orient the shoe to the coffin bone and prevent hoof capsule distortion. It eliminates sole contact beneath the tip of P-3 (the coffin bone). The toe portion has greater mass for increased durability, and it allows for some toe wear as the foot grows longer.
SoundHorse Technologies markets the Sigafoos Series horseshoes, which are glue-on shoes with shock reduction. They are traditional metal shoes with a polyurethane rim pad and fabric cuff system. The shoe is fitted just like a conventional shoe, but it is fixed to the horse’s foot by saturating the fabric with acrylic adhesive and then adhering it to the hoof wall.
Glue-on shoes are also available from Mustad, Inc. USA. Their shoes are lightweight and shapable with an inner core of aluminum bonded to 100 percent polyurethane. Tabs extend above the shoe and are fixed all around the hoof wall.
Hoof Armor, from Equilox International, was developed by Pennsylvania farrier Dave Fryer as an alternative to traditional shoes. It is a protective material that is applied as an adhesive coating. It offers abrasion resistance with little weight and, unlike metal shoes, allows for hoof expansion. It is applied in thin layers on the bottom of the hoof from heel to toe to heel. It can be trimmed out and more applied if necessary. It can also be used to fill cracked and broken hoof walls or applied to the sole for thicker sole growth and to provide better protection from stone bruising.
Pads have evolved far beyond the traditional black rubber. One of the newest products is Horse Trax, which is a shock-absorbing pad used to protect legs from forces exerted when racing or jumping. Matt Kriesel, president of Impact Gel, performed a study of feet with Horse Trax pads versus unpadded feet. His study found that those with the pads saw a reduction of 10,000 pounds per square inch of dissipated energy from the ground to the foot. This full pad covers the entire bottom of the foot, and can be shod like a traditional pad or glued on alone.
From Vettec comes Equi-Build and Equi-Pak, instant hoof packing and pad material, respectively. They are both liquid urethane products that are applied to the sole and frog and provide support, protection and help absorb shock.
Bonding and Repair Materials
Equi-Thane, Super-Fast, Adhere (Vettec), Grand Circuit material (Grand Circuit Products Inc.) and HOOF-it (HIMG Inc.) are examples of various bonding and repair products on the market. Some contain polymethylmethacrylates, which are similar to the primary agent in Super Glue or industrial contact cements. Others have acrylic bases. They are all used as general fillers where the hoof wall is broken, or can be used to glue on shoes when there is not enough hoof wall to drive nails. The goal of these fillers is to simulate the natural hoof and distribute weight more naturally. Research is currently ongoing to see if antibiotics can be added to hoof repair materials to help treat and/or prevent infections.
When it comes to hoof care products, this is just the tip of the iceberg. New technologies are making it easier to treat horses with lameness issues. To find what might be best for your horses, it is best to discuss ideas with your farrier and veterinarian.
For More Information
Equilox Hoof Care: www.equilox.com
Grand Circuit: (800) 872-6845
Ground Control Horseshoes: www.plastichorseshoes.com
Horse Trax: www.horsetraxusa.com
Mustad Products: www.mustadinc.com
Natural Balance Shoes: www.hopeforsoundness.com
Rock and Roll shoe: www.nanric.com
Sigafoos Series shoes: www.soundhorse.com
Vettec Hoof Care: www.vettec.com