I don’t think that any area of the horse gets as much attention as the hoof. With well-intentioned regularity, the horse’s hoof gets picked, oiled, conditioned, supplemented, trimmed, and shod. And, given the importance of the hoof, to a certain extent, that’s how it should be.
The thing is, the hoof is right out there for everyone to see. Furthermore, it’s not like there’s anything that prevents folks from working on, or giving their opinion about, horses’ hooves. As a result, just about everyone has an opinion about them. So, depending on who you’re talking to, your horse’s hooves may be too long, too short, too dry, out-of-balance, low-heeled, long-toed, shod, barefoot, unnatural, or any number of other calamities.
In one page, it is impossible to take on all of the perceptions, misconceptions, truths, and misinformation that’s out there about horse hooves. But on this page, I’m going to talk about a few things about trimming and shoeing that are true, no matter what. If, in spite of everything else, you can manage to get these things done, you’ve got a decent chance of avoiding major hoof problems with your horse.
1. Make sure your horse’s hooves are long enough. Inside the hoofare a lot of important, and very sensitive structures. These structures need protection; that protection is the hoof. Your horse has to have a certain amount of hoof in order to keep the tendons, ligaments, bones, and other soft tissues from becoming bruised and battered.
Think of it this way. Your feet are soft and sensitive. To protect them, you wear shoes; horses grow hooves. If you run around on soft, grassy ground, you can most likely cavort happily in your barefeet. Try the same thing on an asphalt basketball court, and don’t be surprised if your feet hurt in the morning. Ditto your horse. If you persist having your horse’s hooves trimmed too short, pretty soon, his feet are going to hurt.
|Horse Weight||Toe length|
|Small||360 – 400||800 – 900||7.6||3.0|
|Medium||425 – 475||950 – 1050||8.25||3.25|
|Large||525 – 575||1150 – 1250||8.9||3.5|
Measure your horse’s hooves from the hairline to the toe. Make your farrier measure your horse’s hooves from the hairline to the toe. Don’t have your horse’s feet cut too short; it’ll save you both a lot of pain.
2. Make sure there is adequate sole depth. Even if your horse’s hooves are long enough, there has to be a certain amount of hoof material in the sole to protect those sensitive structures. So, see if you can tactfully ask your farrier to avoid scooping out large amounts of sole with his or her hoof knife and, instead, offer them a nice, stiff metal brush to remove the loose sole that is shedding off between trimmings.
3. Trim to the angle that’s appropriate for your horse. Every horse needs to be trimmed in a manner that’s appropriate for him; there’s no manner that’s appropriate for every horse. You used to read things like the “proper” angle for front and back feet; turns out that the old standards were just plain wrong, because they didn’t consider the individual horse. Guidelines such as 48-55° for the front feet, or 52-60° for the rear feet are not appropriate for every horse.
Instead, think of a straight line running down the front of your horse’s pastern, to the ground (this is called the hoof-pastern axis). If you can get your horse looking like this picture, you’re at least part of the way home.
4. Use a big enough shoe that’s fit properly. While the analogy is not strictly the same, the fact is that a shoe that’s properly fit to your horse (assuming you decide to keep him in shoes) is important. You wouldn’t be very happy if you had to run around in a pair of shoes that was a couple of sizes too small; don’t do the same thing to your horse.
In general, I like to try to get the farriers that I work with to fit a horse with the biggest shoe that the horse can practically wear. Obviously, there’s a limit to this, but I think it’s a good idea that the shoe be the largest size as is practicable, to give as big a base of support as possible. In addition, I think that the branches of the shoe should be placed as far back as possible, without being so far back that the horse steps on them and pulls the shoe off.
Lastly, let’s look at if from the inside! Here’s an Xray that gives you an idea of how a horse’s hoof should look when it’s been well-trimmed and had a shoe placed on it properly. The hoof-pastern axis is a straight line, there’s adequate depth of the sole, the foot looks to be long enough (even though we can’t measure it) and the shoe is set properly on the foot. No guarantees, of course, but this looks like a good set-up for a horse to go sound, and stay sound.
Now, obviously, there’s a whole lot more to it than that. If you’re really interested in getting in depth, check out these articles, from Dr. Steve O’Grady’s website -