What is shoeing?
A horseshoe is a U-shaped metal protective covering which is applied to the bottom of a horse’s hoof. The process by which the shoe is fitted to the horse’s hoof is known as horseshoeing. Shoes are used to help promote healthy, functional feet and to prevent lameness. There are various types of horseshoe available on the market. A hoof care specialist, known as farrier, can be consulted for expert knowledge on hooves and shoeing.
Anatomy of a hoof
The most distal part of the horse’s limb is covered and protected by a hoof. The hoof wall is about 6-12 cm thick and is formed by a highly modified keratinised epithelial layer. The junction between the common dermis of the skin and the hoof is called the coronet. The hoof has four main parts: the wall, the sole, the frog, and the periople.
The wall is the part of the hoof that is visible whilst the animal is standing. This part of the hoof has three distinct layers: the outer layer (pigmented layer), the water line, and the white line.
The outer layer is the larger part of the wall, and has a high amount of tubules. This layer is the same colour as the cornet. It protects the hoof. The water line is made up of living tissue, and is thicker than the outer layer. This layer is sensitive and functions to support the hoof. The white line is the junction between the sole and the wall of the hoof. It is a soft, fibrous structure. Normally it is white however it can sometimes become yellowish in colour. The wall is an essential structure to understand when fitting horseshoes.
The sole lies between the wall and the frog on the underside of the hoof. It is a slightly concave structure and its surface has a distinct texture. The function of the sole is to protect the sensitive structures within the hoof.
The frog is a pad-like wedge-shaped structure. It projects into the sole from behind. The frog is separated from the bars and the sole by deep grooves. It has a central groove in the midline that extends up to the bulbs. Its main functions are to help absorb shock and to act as a gripping tool for horses.
The periople contributes to the stratum externum of the wall. It is a soft tissue band, very similar to a human’s cuticle.
The steps of horseshoeing
Before you start shoeing, it is important to prepare and clean your horse’s hoof. First, lift the hoof to allow for easy observation. In order to do this, run your hand down the horse’s leg and gently grasp the ankle or fetlock. This will help to allow you to lift your horse’s hoof easily. If your horse is already wearing a shoe, remove this before re-shoeing. Make sure to thoroughly clean the hoof. Mud and other dirty particles can often compact to the bottom of the hoof, and it is important to make sure to remove these things using a hoof pick before you begin shoeing. You should also remove any loose excess flakes from the sole using a hoof knife. Make sure not to trim deep into the sensitive layers of the horse’s hoof. After you have trimmed the hoof properly, you should remove any excess hoof wall with the help of some hoof nippers. In doing so, it is important to ensure that both sides of the hoof are the same length. The final thing to do before shoeing is to level the uneven surface of the sole using a rasp. This should ensure that the bottom of the hoof is smooth and flat.
After you have carried out the above procedure, you are ready to start shoeing your horse. Horses’ hooves vary according to their age and breed. The hind limb hooves and front limb hooves are different in size, so it is important to take care when selecting shoe sizes! If shoes do not fit properly to your horse’s hooves, it is often possible to make some adjustments. You can choose the proper method of adjustment depending on the material of the shoe,. If it is a metal shoe, for instance, you can heat the shoe to adjust it. Try to fit the shoe with a hoof during the adjustment process. If you identify wall areas that are preventing the shoe from fitting properly, you can level out the hoof using a rasp. A shoe will leave a mark on the unwanted part of the hoof, and this can help you to easily identify those uneven parts. After fitting, cool the horse’s hoof to start the nailing process.
Next, drive a nail through each of the the holes in the shoe. This will help to fix the shoe tightly to the hoof. Nails should be carefully fixed into the white line, away from the sensitive part of the hoof. To ensure this, use slightly curved nails, which should drive through the wall. You can then bend the tip of the nail using the claw end of your hammer. Use clinchers and a rasp to smooth the hoof. Doing so will help to reduce any cracking.
Common problems with shoeing
Sometimes horseshoe nails can penetrate the sensitive hoof structures (eg. the sensitive laminae). This is known as a nail prick. A nail prick can cause an increase in pressure within the hoof, forming bleeding points inside it. This is a harrowing condition, and horses with thin hoof walls and poor hoof quality sadly have a strong predisposition to nail pricks, particularly because shoeing these horses can be such an intricate task.
There are many possible causes of a nail prick. Misdirected nails, poorly placed nail holes, poorly made shoes, and either a too-large or a faulty nail are among these causes. A nail prick often leads to lameness in horses. If the nail penetrates the sensitive area of the hoof, the hoof will initially rise in temperature. After 5 or 6 days, the animal will display signs of tenderness in the feet.
Solar bruising can be either focal or general. Injury to the sensitive structures of the hoof cause tiny blood vessels in the sole to be damaged, causing a haemorrhage. If this is not treated quickly it may lead to the formation of a hematoma. This hematoma will place pressure on sensitive tissues, leading to lameness. Depending on the degree and severity of the injury, lameness can either be acute or chronic. Abnormal focal weight bearing on the solar surface of the hoof, improper shoeing, excessive work on hard ground, treading on stone, and excessive wall trimming are the main causes for solar bruising. It is important to determine the exact cause of the bruise in order to provide proper treatment.
Thrush is an infection of the central and lateral sulcus of the frog, caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. This is characterised by the accumulation of malodorous, black necrotic materials. Fusobactriuem necrophorum is the main bacteria involved in thrush. Degenerative changes due to thrush can spread into the deeper structures of the hoof. Poor environmental conditions such as wet pastures, swampy or muddy land, injuries due to shoeing, uncleaned feet, poor hoof conformation, and poor horseshoeing are all predisposing factors for thrush.
Imbalance and asymmetry of the feet are the clinical outcomes of sheared heels in horses. If the weight of the horse is not correctly distributed over the hoof, this will lead to a sheared heel. Sheared heels lead to lameness, quarter cracks, thrush, and bruising. It is therefore important to treat this condition quickly and help the horse to recover before the condition has a chance to progress and worsen.
Hoof wall separation
If an opening occurs in the white line, this may lead to a fungal or bacterial infection occurring in the hoof. An infection can lead to cavities developing within the outer hoof wall and laminae, causing the hoof wall to separate from the hoof. Improper nailing during shoeing and drought conditions lead to cracks and open formations in the white line.
How to prevent these issues
It is always advisable to seek advice from a qualified and well-trained farrier before shoeing, as a good knowledge of shoeing technique will help to prevent the injuries mentioned in this article. Regularly trimming your horse’s hooves is also essential to maintain good hoof health. You should always remove any collected debris in the feet and clean the hooves carefully before starting exercises. You may also wish to use protective hoof pads to cover the entire sole of the horse’s foot. This will help to protect the hoof and reduce any risk to the animal.
The horseshoe is an important piece of equipment that protects the hoof, particularly when horses are working on hard surfaces. There are various types of horseshoes available, and you can choose the appropriate type according to your horse’s particular requirements. If you do not have professional shoeing skills, it is advisable to seek assistance from a well-trained farrier. It is extremely important to fit your horse’s shoes properly, as proper shoeing will help your horse to achieve maximum performance.