When considering whether or not to shoe a horse there are several factors to take into consideration. Three reasons that we should consider the use of shoes are –
- if wear exceeds growth
- if a change is needed to enhance the foot in regard to the horse’s job, such as changing traction
- if the foot needs to be protected or otherwise enhanced due to an injury or defect
Horses’ hooves are constantly growing and while there are studies suggesting growth rates, each horse does grow at their own rate. Nutrition, exercise, age, and genetics all play a role in determining the rate and quality of hoof growth. As a horse moves across a surface, the foot is also worn down. Obviously some surfaces, such as stone or concrete, will wear the hoof down faster than others such as dirt or grass. If the hoof is wearing as quickly or quicker than it is growing then a change is needed. Either the surface the horse is on must change or the foot must be protected from wear somehow. Any standard shoe will typically provide the protection from excess wear that is needed.
Horses that are performing various jobs may need an increase, or in some cases a decrease, in traction. A trail horse may need shoes not only to protect their hooves from rock but also need added traction to safely negotiate some paths. A reining horse on the other hand needs a decrease in traction on the hind shoes in order to perform a sliding stop. Eventers need differing amounts of traction depending on what they are doing and the surface they are working on. In dressage, a shoe with very little traction is useful whereas on the cross-country course, the horse needs increased traction.
When a horse’s foot has been compromised, be it an abscess or a crack or laminitis or even a broken coffin bone, there are times we need to use a shoe to help protect and heal a hoof or help a tendon or joint above the foot.
If the horse does not meet one of these criteria, shoes are most likely not needed and the horse should simply be trimmed on a regular schedule. Once we have determined if a horse needs shoes then we need to consider what shoes to use.
Shoe selection is a broad topic and there is no one clear answer in all cases. Selecting an appropriate shoe or forging one from an appropriate size of bar stock is as much an art as it is a science. While there are many options available in machine made, or “keg” shoes, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a farrier to carry every shoe that could possibly be needed. This makes it extremely worthwhile to have the skill to forge a shoe so that each horse can have exactly what they need rather than compromising and only being able to use what is on the truck.