Ok - hello , If you haven't heard the August Horse Head Hoof Pick winner is none other than the lucky Cheryl Springer of Saint John IN. Congratulations ! enjoy.
One of the most important and probably least understood aspects of proper shoeing of horses is the question of what is balance. Ask a dozen different Farriers and you’ll most likely get 12 different answers. I’ve heard quite a few different ones myself, the ones I have heard just don’t add up. Now you might be asking “well then what makes me any different than the rest”, my answer to that is just read what you see here and draw your own conclusion, that’s really what you’ll end up doing anyway. Right here I’m going to give you as much as I can without going too much into detail for you to get a good grasp on what balance really is – ok ? Let’s go then.
To be quite honest I haven’t counted but if you were to really get serious about balance you’d need X-rays and now you and I would be talking about ( a guess ) maybe 100 different aspects of shoeing that add up to balance- that’s if you really want to be particular, But here for practical purposes we’re going to cover the basics, to keep the confusion to a minimum, but enough to keep your horse going sound and maybe later we’ll get to splitting hairs.
Looking at a starting point it would be good to clear up one of those basic notions – here it is, look at the Hoof Wall as a capsule and this capsule is somewhat moveable. This capsule encapsulates the bones within the foot. Simple, what’s important is to understand that paramount to correct shoeing is taking care of the bones in the foot. If the bones are not straight and aligned correctly after shoeing we’re missing an important piece of balance. Keep in mind there may very well be conformation issues with the horse that no matter how hard you try will not ever be correct and balance will always be somewhat off, the rest however you and I can deal with and make a huge difference.
Yesterday I was out shoeing a horse that has been having some problems just not moving right to the point where the trainer even knew something was wrong (this was all before I started shoeing the horse). When I arrived yesterday the horse was standing with its right leg way out to the side reminding me of a speed skater on ice. When I looked at the foot after picking it up the medial (inside edge) of the foot was much much shorter than the lateral (outside edge) of the foot. When I finished leveling this foot the horse stood very straight. The horse compensated for the short inside hoof wall by placing its foot way out to the side and actually made the adjustment through its knee and shoulder. I need to get on track here though. I do have some video of the horse’s foot I’ll show in another posting.
An out of balance foot can affect the joints seriously. A long toe, what I call “Long Toe Syndrome” slows the foot break over, puts undue stress on the navicular bone as well as the deep flexor tendon many times resulting in navicular disease or a bowed tendon (for starters). Here is a picture showing the long toe.
This foot is out of balance obviously, the horse will labor when it walks due to the extreme delay in the foot breaking over. Usually when the toe gets long as this the hoof wall heel gets dragged forward as well, now you’ll have sheared heels as well. The sheared heels then sink into the ground (no heel support) increasing the stretch on the deep flexor tendon and all the associated stress to the navicular bone as well. Things are already starting to stack up and work against us for the balance of your horse. Here is a photo of a sheared heel. As you can see the heel of the shoe is way forward on the foot, looking like its approaching midpoint of the foot, clearly not allowing for any heel support for the horse. 2 things, 1- sheared heels are one of the most difficult aspects to fix, once that heel has been stretched forward you’re in trouble, 2- a sheared heel is probably one of the only things that can be faked to repair on a horse, meaning the fix is fitting a shoe longer in the heels thereby faking it that the horse has a fixed or good set of heels. Moving forward with the question of balance remember everything we are seeing on the outside of this foot (on the capsule) is just that a capsule, but the capsule effects the bones and joints held within the capsule depending on what we do to that capsule. Now if you’ve read along already with other posts here you’re already aware of another aspect of balance called “level”. This is when the foot is in balance at the hoof wall medially to laterally or in other words side to side. This is a tricky area again with few Farriers understanding what level really is. What it is not is that the bottom of the foot is flat after its trimmed – it’s much more than that. What it is has to do with how the bones in the foot are lined up and working fluidly after the foot is trimmed.
Let’s look at this closely for a minute. Take your shoe for example and let’s add sole to your left shoe but let’s add the sole only on the side of your shoe that covers the baby toe to the heel and let’s add say one inch to that side. Now stand on that foot, would you say that one side of your foot is pushed higher up in the air due to that extra inch? Of course it is. The shoe is just the capsule surrounding your foot / bones in your foot same as the hoof wall to the horse. Now expect to run on your shoe with one side built up and instead of your ankle being nice and “Level” your ankle will be crooked. Wouldn’t that be a pain, and certainly can be a pain for your horse, sometimes a permanent pain.
So you should be able to understand how we trim the bottom of the horses foot, whether the foot is short or long on one side compared to the other side effects whether or not the horse is going to have a twisted ankle or not – in the horses case it would be a twisted coffin bone with undue stress on the navicular bone as well. The coffin bone and navicular bone are made to slide in one direction – back and forth – not sideways or any other way except back and forth as the horse walks or runs. If that foot- if that hoof wall – if that capsule is not trimmed properly the horses joints are binding – and Balance is again compromised and the risk of lameness eminent.
Don’t forget also that we need to keep putting these issues together – connecting them together, one affects the other meaning we really can’t leave any of these steps out when it comes to shoeing correctly.
We’re nowhere near done with this conversation but I need to take this one step farther before I go and pick up where we left off next time. We’re still on this “Level” issue. So in the perfect world with a horse that has normal shaped bones in its foot we simply trim the hoof wall evenly on both sides just as with you and your shoes – you have a normal foot so your shoes are all even on both sides and do not have the one inch build up we previously talked about above. So let’s look at what to do if your horse does not have normally shaped feet. And this is very common.
A lot of horses hang the outside edge of their foot – that is to say the capsule /hoof wall does not set on the foot the same as the other side of the foot. This would be as if your own foot was long on the whole side of your foot from your baby toe to heel for example. If your foot was that deformed you’d be requiring something special be done so when you stand on your foot you’re not binding your joint/ankle. In the case of a horse with the outside of its foot hanging what that calls for when trimming the foot is to trim mostly that side of the foot that is hanging/ or is long. If the horse’s foot were to be placed on the ground with that hanging side not fixed the foot would be pushed up by the long side binding the joint.
By trimming the long side enough and not trimming the short side we put the foot into balance and allow the joint to move in the natural way it was designed to do without any binding of the joint. The trick is how to go about accomplishing the trimming to achieve the joint health. Sometimes what’s necessary is to have the foot when done trimmed that looks uneven and out of balance, but it’s just a visual look from the outside – remember the hoof wall is just a capsule – we don’t really care in this instance if the hoof looks incorrect (it’s just the capsule) what is important is what we end up with meaning the joint is not binding or twisting – that’s the key – that’s what’s important. The photo below shows a foot that hangs on one side and how that side was trimmed more than the other side and the result is what looks like the foot is uneven – but, again, it must be that way if we want the joint (which is most important) to be moving without stress.
You see this foot is trimmed at this point so when the horse stands on it's foot the joint is level irregardless whether or not the foot "LOOKS" even/level, and you can see in this case it is definately not. The result of this trim though is the horse standing without binding and twisting it's joints within that foot - remember this is just a capsule , we need to trim this capsule to achieve the desired requirements for the joints within the capsule. Meditate on this .
Thanks so much - i'll pick up where i left off on the next post - we're not done with this notion of what balance is.
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