This weekend I had the pleasure of spending a weekend at Hartpury college, studying Therapy and Rehabilitation with Kathryn Nankervis, osteopath, Liz Launders and Hartpury's resident vet, Mark Georgetti. I learnt a huge amount but the big take away for me was the importance of regular shoeing. This is not rocket science at all but up until now I hadn't understood the huge consequences of inconsistent shoeing, or of leaving shoes on too long. Yes we all know that if you leave shoes on too long, the feet will crack and shoes will get pulled off, along with chunks of the foot and this could cause lameness. But who of you have a nice sturdy cob and know that they can probably last 8 or even 10 weeks in between shoeing, saving you a small fortune. But long term does it really?
One reason for shoeing is that the shoe prevents the feet being worn down as they work a lot harder with us than they would when left to their own natural devices. But the other key reason for shoeing is to promote optimal foot balance, and this is the key reason that horses should be shod every 4-6 weeks and no longer. Any more regularly than this and the hoof wall will become brittle, due to the number of nail holes being created, but any longer than this and the impact will be long term lameness. Let me explain.
The pictures above show how an extremely unbalanced foot (on the left) can be gradually corrected over 12 weeks to produce a much better balanced foot with a straight hoof-pastern axis and with an angle of approximately 50 degrees (the old optimum angle of 45 degrees has now been disproved). Balance in the foot is complex but any good farrier (and this may not necessarily be the cheapest!) will be able to explain to you what they look at in terms of foot balance. Here are a few key points:
1. The feet should be a pair
2. The hoof-pastern angle should be the same and at 50 degrees.
3. The foot should be symmetrical. The image below shows all sorts of variations of foot conformation and you will be amazed how a good farrier will be able to help with corrective shoeing to enable the horse to land evenly on the entire circumference of the hoof wall, not landing on one side and rolling over to the other.
The Foot Affects Movement
We have all heard the saying, 'No foot, no horse', but do you know why? 90% of lameness is in the foot but good regular shoeing can save lameness in the future occurring but not just lameness in the foot. The conformation (shape) of the foot will affect how the horse places his foot on the ground, which in turn affects how much strain, the knee, elbow and shoulder is put under. As the shoulder is only connected to the spine by connective tissue and muscle, this is more susceptible to weakness and injury. These adaptations to how the horses leg is used, will cause the horse to position his body differently, he may fall in on a circle, hold his head and neck differently all because of the way the foot is placed on the ground. Over time, this can cause strain and pain in the limbs, and in the back, ultimately resulting in lameness.
So next time you choose a farrier, please don't choose them because they are the cheapest or they can come out quickly when you call them (could this be a sign that they are not busy, and if not, why not?). Choose a farrier that will listen when you talk to them about foot balance. Start becoming more aware of your horse's foot balance and look at how it changes from when your horse is first shod, to when it is due for shoeing. And where possible, please shoe your horses in that optimum 4-6 week window so that foot balance can be maintained.