Thursday, January 01, 1998

Hoof Care & Shoeing - Fran Jurga

In answer to the question about making shoes last longer, I think you probably should be having your horse`s feet cared for every four weeks if you are training in that terrain. I don`t find it unusual at all for an endurance horse to need re-shoeing at four week intervals, and it is a good idea to have the feet checked often, even if they are slow-growing, given the stress of the work you are doing. You want to be on the lookout for corns, bruising, etc. hidden by the shoe. Better to have a sound horse reshod often than a lame horse standing in its stall!

A more important question is not how long the shoes last, but whether they are wearing evenly or if one portion of the shoe is wearing away more than others. We published an article a year or so ago on how to "read" shoes pulled off horses. It was amazing how consistent different lameness and conformation problems were at wearing the shoes in the same ways. I`d be happy to send your vet or farrier a copy of that article, if he/she/they don`t already subscribe.

The subject of shock-absorption properties in horseshoes is totally separate from the wear properties of a shoe. Most of the research that has been done in this area has been funded by individual manufacturers seeking to claim that their product absorbs more shock than another product, so it isn`t of much help.

You can experiment with different materials and shoes to see if something suits your horse better than what you are currently using, and if you think it is "absorbing shock", sobeit. Call it what you like!

Of great help in this area is new research from Michigan State University. Dr. Bob Bowker, an anatomist there, has done a terrific study comparing the lateral cartilages and digital cushions of two groups of horses, one Arabs and one Standardbreds. The typical Arabian foot is far superior to the Standardbred in its ability to dissipate load. It is a vascular process, based on the construction of the ungual cartilage, and quite complex. The material is capsulized in an article I wrote in the June edition of THE HORSE, which is currently out. I believe the article, which is a summary of information from the 1998 Bluegrass Laminitis Symposium, is available on the their web site at, under "Step by Step" in article archives.

Of course you can`t see inside your horse`s foot, but this may explain why horses have such different tolerances and why some horses perform better in a shoe different from the horse next to it, even within breeds and within bloodlines. Hoofcare is a really inexact science, and sometimes a little experimentation can be very revealing.

The best shoe for your horse provides the right combination of support and protection for its needs according to your demands. If the shoe you are currently using is working well to prevent lameness and bruising, don`t dismiss it because it wears quickly. A thicker shoe may last longer but on such a small foot may completely change some minute aspect of proprioception, gait or timing that will really displease you and cost you time out of training. Wide-web shoes from St Croix Forge do come in 00 for small feet, but that may be too much surface area for your needs, plus you have to be sure the shoe is concaved on the ground surface to prevent sole pressure. "Duratrac" nails from Mustad come in many sizes and have hardened heads that may help in preventing the nail heads from wearing down. Your farrier should know all about these; they just announced new sizes, too.

Adding hard surfacing materials to your horse`s shoes is an option, but it will probably add more to the cost of shoeing than just reshoeing more often would. There is also the added risk of damage to your horse if he interferes at all, or steps on himself during turnout. Stress damage to the legs from hard surfacing seems to be variable from horse to horse and difficult to prove; I have never had any trouble with a horse that has had puddled shoes for at least ten years and is ridden on pavement often. But other horses have serious problems attributed to puddling. I also live in an area where almost all farriers routinely hard-surface shoes for winter riding and they are very skilled at knowing exactly where the apply it, and how thickly. There`s a real art to it. Proceed with caution!

I think it`s great that the endurance community is willing to try new products on their horses, since it is a generally held belief that if it will hold up on an endurance horse, a product has merit. Keep an open mind...there are lots of really sincere people working hard to develop new products that will do a better job to protect and support hooves...and if they last longer, that`s just a bonus!

Good luck with your horse!

Fran Jurga, Publisher
Hoofcare & Lameness
The Journal of Equine Foot Science (email to

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