Hoof Smarts

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Look around the next time you’re at a competition and note the number of horses that compete on mismatched hooves. Some hooves are visibly at different angles or have heels that don’t even come close to matching. I’m not sure if the owners don’t think to look, don’t know to look, or simply assume everything’s fine because the horse is sound for now.

The problem is likely that many people take horseshoeing for granted. There’s a lot more to it than just driving nails, if it’s done right. You need someone who understands your discipline and your horse’s individual needs. Most farriers are well trained and educated in the mechanics of the horse. The problem is that the bad ones can do a lot of damage in a short time, and there’s nothing to stop them except horseowners educating themselves.

Ask your farrier about your horse’s hooves. Find out what your farrier is doing and why. Better yet, look at the shoe yourself, noting worn marks on the shoe in the toe and heel areas. A change in wear patterns or uneven patterns may indicate a potential problem.

Note the angles of your horse’s hooves. They should match: Both front feet should have the same angle and both hind feet should have the same angle. Most experienced farriers match hoof angles visually without the use of a gauge, although you’ll find they also carry one for double-checking when necessary. A proper hoof angle should roughly match the angle of the horse’s pastern, depending somewhat on the horse’s discipline.

If you question your horse’s hoof angle, most farriers will gladly whip out their gauge just to show you how good they are at matching angles. If he or she refuses, ask why. Good farriers will answer your questions and address your concerns.

Do your horse’s hooves look even' Does he land flat' Are the nails well seated' Are the clinches smooth' Is the shoe on straight' A good shoeing job isn’t just one that stays on for six weeks. Good work can still result in a lost shoe. You need someone who can balance hooves, use the right shoe and select the correct nail.

If you’re looking for a new farrier, look at other horses’ hooves, and when you see a good job ask who the farrier is. If you still can’t find someone qualified, check with the American Farriers Association at 859/233-7411 or the Brotherhood of Working Farriers Association 706/397-8047 to see what members are in your area. Don’t simply use the person everyone else is using unless you think the work is good — even if the person is “certified.” And never base your farrier choice on fees. Too many hooves are poorly shod or neglected — sometimes just to save a buck.

’Til Next Month,

-Cynthia Foley