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Basic Hoof Preparation
Natural Angle, Volume 1 Issue 4 · by Mitch Taylor

The foundation of any shoeing job is the foot preparation. One statistic that all farriers should be aware of is that most chronic lameness is caused by poor or improper foot care. Look at it this way. The horse is stuck with the job you do until the next time he’s shod. Unfortunately, if the work is hastily done and the feet are out of balance that’s what the horse has to work with as a base of support.

 

There are three characteristics of the hoof capsule that you can always count on.
1. It is constantly growing.
2. It is elastic and yields to loading.
3. It will change shape according to how it must bear weight.

Line A shows how far forward the heel has migrated.

 

Line B near the widest point of frog is target for trimming. The excessive growth of this foot gives an extreme but graphic view of what happens to the hoof balance as length increases.

 
Visualize a line from the face of the cannon bone to the heel area.
With half of foot trimmed you can see how much forward the foot has grown.
This view shows you just how much the length of toe and heel has affected the balance of the foot. When fully trimmed the hoof/­pastern axis will be greatly improved.

 

 

By following some basic principles, you can significantly reduce the incidence of chronic lameness.

 

Develop a game plan. Know what you would like to do and how you are going to do it before you start. Don’t just look at the feet from one point of view. Look at the legs and feet from the side, front, back and bottom. Learn to read the hoof. It will give you a lot of information on its health and any stresses it is dealing with.

 

Begin with the length of the foot. Don’t feel you have to take every bit of foot away. My general rule for the active horse is to remove as much foot as possible without compromising the strength and protection of the foot. This can become a little tricky when you are dealing with a poor quality foot. When in doubt, leave foot (wall and sole). If the foot is changing shape or showing signs of stress such as prolapsed bars or frogs, don’t weaken them more by trimming for cosmetic purposes.

 

Look at the toe to heel ratio. Generally, the farther forward the heels land from the perpendicular axis of the center of the cannon bone the more stress they take. The foot will tell you how it is handling the load. Remember that as the foot grows it will migrate forward. In doing so, the weight bearing surface is moved forward, creating an imbalance that makes the foot unable to bear weight properly. The heels often become underslung and the longer toe length requires more force to break over. When trimming to avoid this situation it is important to remove length of toe from the bottom and dress the toe back from the front. This will help restore a good hoof/pastern axis. The heels also need to be trimmed back as close as possible to the widest point of the frog. Be careful not to compromise the sensitive structures but remember that a long heel is a weak heel.

 

Level the foot. Look at how the foot is growing and the wear on the shoe before you begin. Look at how the foot hits the ground before and after trimming. It is always desirable to have the foot land as flat as possible in order to distribute the shock evenly across the bottom of the foot and in the joint surfaces. Just as it is hard to determine if a shoe is level by viewing it from one angle, so it is when trying to sight a foot. In addition to the normal heel to toe view, look at the freshly trimmed foot from the side and toe to heel. You should realize that if the foot has been out of balance for some time it may be level when you put it down after trimming but not when you come back to nail the shoe on. It is not unusual to have to level the foot again.

 

Look carefully at how the feet are changing from shoeing to shoeing. Look at the hoof from all angles. Pay close attention to the hoof/pastern axis, the condition of the heels and the length of the toe. As your eye develops you will be able to understand what the feet are telling you as you begin your hoof preparation. A good indicator for me in determining if the foot has reached a good equilibrium is when no reshaping of the shoes is necessary on a reset.

 

This foot shows the undesirable effects of a long toe and heel. Note the misalignment of the hoof/pastern axis.
After trimming the ground surface and backing up the toe from the front you can see the positive results on the hoof/pastern axis.

 


Mitch Taylor is the owner and director of the Kentucky Horseshoeing School in Mt. Eden, Kentucky. His program focuses on the anatomy and biomechanics of the equine limb as well as the mechanics of horseshoeing and forging.