Friday, 9 January 2015

Shoes and Shoeing

Just like our nails, horse's feet are constantly growing.  When left to nature the growth is worn away as the horse moves around, usually at the same rate as they grow.  However, as our horses and ponies are kept in an artificial environment with work and hard surfaces the hoof usually wears away too quickly.  This is why we protect the feet with shoes.
Unfortunately, by adding shoes we also prevent the hoof from being worn away naturally.  Long hooves cause incorrect action and can cause lameness and injury.  It is essential then that horses hooves are regularly trimmed by a farrier.

Structure of the Foot

Hoof Wall (horn)
This grows down from the coronet (coronary band) at the top of the hoof, just under the hair. You can see the coronet clearly on the picture of Basil's foot below (the lighter ring)!  The average monthly growth is about 0.5cm so it can take between 9 and 12 months for a whole new wall to grow.  New growth should be shiny and healthy with no cracks.  I took the picture below last summer when Basil had a hole in the wall of one of his hind feet.  This was probably caused by a knock to his coronet during the late winter which caused damage to the horn.  This has very slowly grown down his foot and has gone completely now.  

The Frog
This is a soft and rubbery section underneath the foot.  The frog helps to absorb concussion and provide grip. It is triangular in shape as you can see in the picture below.  The indentation down the middle is called the cleft.

The picture below shows one of Chesney's front feet, he has been wearing it down unevenly but you can clearly see the parts on the above diagram.

The Sole
This is the main area of the bottom of the foot.  It should be slightly concave (difficult to see in a picture).  If the sole is too flat it will increase the possibility of bruising, injury and concussion.  If the sole is too concave the frog may not come into contact with the ground.

The White Line
This is a thin waxy strip which is just inside the wall and it separates the sensitive parts of the foot from the insensitive.  The farrier will use this as a guide when positioning the nails securing the shoe.

The Bars
These are the continuation of the wall where it turns inwards at the heel parallel to the frog.  These aid grip.

As mentioned at the beginning of today's blog shoeing is necessary to protect the foot from excess wear.  In addition:
  • To protect the foot from damage 
  • To reduce concussion to the foot and leg 
  • To help correct defects in conformation or action 
  • As part of veterinary treatment

A horse's feet should be trimmed regularly if shod or unshod.  This is vital to ensure that no problems arise with the shoes and feet.  Every 4-6 weeks is recommended.  My farrier visits every 6 weeks as Basil's feet don't grow that quickly and we need new growth for the nails!  Chesney and Fidget seem to fit in fine with this with no problems.

There are signs you can look out for on a shod horse to identify that the farrier should be called to re-shoe.

  •  A shoe has been cast ie: has come off completely. 
  • A shoe is loose. 
  • A shoe is sprung ie: hanging on by a nail. 
  • A shoe has worn thin at any part. 
  • The clenches have risen and stand out from the wall.  A clench is the name for the nail where it emerges from the hoof. 
  • A foot is overlong and/or out of shape ie: the hoof wall has started to grow over the toe of the shoe.
These can all usually be seen easily by looking at the feet.  You can often see and easily feel when the clenches are standing out from the wall.  Overgrown feet are obvious although sometimes a farrier will leave the toes a little longer on the hind feet to minimize the damage of over-reaching.  This is when a horse hits his front leg or heel with the toe of the hind!

Sprung shoes can be hanging off the foot, the danger with these is any nails left in the shoe, if a horse stands on one the damage to the foot will be considerable.  Loose shoes can easily be heard when a horse is moving on hard ground or manmade surfaces.  To see if a shoe is worn, lift the foot and look at the groove and the toe.  Usually a worn shoe will appear thin at the toe and the groove will be shallow.

 This picture clearly shows a shoe with a worn toe and worn groove. 

Even if the shoes do not need replacing the feet will still need trimming, the farrier may then replace the same shoes.  Horse's feet tend to grow more quickly in the spring and early summer when the grass is rich.  Having a good farrier who trims a horse's feet every 4 - 6 weeks will reduce the likelihood of a horse suffering from foot problems.

The Shoes
Horse shoes have evolved over the years and remedial farriery includes a huge range of shoes designed to help and support horses through a variety of problems.  However, the most common type of shoe is the Concave Fullered Shoe (Hunter).

On the picture above you can clearly see the groove and the nail holes.  The inner side of the shoe from the ground surface to the part which touches the horse's foot is slightly concave.  This is to imitate the natural shape of the hoof as mentioned earlier and provides grip.  This shape also helps to reduce the suction from wet ground.

Fullered means the groove which is cut in the ground surface of the shoe, providing grip but also making the shoe lighter!  The number of nail holes tends to vary but most farriers will put 7 nails in the foot; 3 on the inside and 4 on the outside.  However, this will vary depending on the condition of the foot, the type of shoe and the type of work the horse is in.  

There is usually one toe clip on each front shoe .....

                                          ...........and 2 quarter clips on hind shoes, leaving the toe free to minimise over-reaching injuries.

Sometimes a farrier will put 2 clips on the front shoes to support a horse with a defect or problem.
Looking after a horse's feet with regular farrier visits in addition to daily picking out will help reduce foot problems.  It will also help with early identification of any problems meaning they can be tackled quickly before they worsen.  Many of a horse's lameness problems can be found in the foot with abscesses and bruising being the most common.  Early identification of abscesses is vital as the infection can go into the bone if not treated early.  

Horses feet vary from breed to breed and horse to horse but nothing can replace regular trimming by a good farrier.  Chesney has always had good strong feet and Fidget has good feet too.  Basil's feet were poor when I bought him but with regular trimming (every 6 weeks) they have improved.  This, in addition, to a feed supplement I give him has made a huge difference - I will be reviewing the supplement  next Tuesday in a blog.

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Until next time!

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