The primary goals of orthopedic shoeing are to provide support, prevent injury, and maintain a functional level of comfort for your horse.
The term “orthopedic” is derived from the Greek words orthos (to keep straight) and pedi (pertaining to the foot). The concept of orthopedics places a major emphasis on the foot and how it relates to the “straightness” or, in some interpretations, the “correctness” of a particular structure or body.
Signs that your horse may require orthopedic shoes include:
- occasional sore back
- intermittent stocking-up of the lower leg joints
- chronic hoof stress (cracks)
A more severe case could present as a developmental orthopedic disorder resulting from nutritional deficiency. Most common are those disorders that involve both muscle and bone. Contracture or laxity of tendons can rate among the most difficult to treat.
In most cases, shoeing options involve extending the surface of the horseshoe to reduce stress or concussion of a particular part of the horse’s limb. Materials used in the composition of the shoe may be aluminum, plastic, acrylic or a combination. These options can offer a great deal of support and comfort for the horse.
Your farrier and veterinarian or equine sports therapist can help you pinpoint the origin of discomfort and recommend viable treatment options, which could be as simple as rebalancing the hooves.
When applying orthopedic shoes to your horse, a good farrier will follow a few basic principles:
- What makes any shoe orthopedic is its ability to support, not only a weakness in a hoof, but also a weakness of the entire limb (bones/joints/tendons/ligaments).
- For the best results, always trim within the guidelines of conformation for the individual horse, watching how he postures and moves.
- Realize that the farther up the leg from the bottom of the foot a problem exists, the harder it will be to treat.
- Specific shoe modifications (extending heels, egg bars, pads), if applied with accuracy, will serve to reduce stress on the horse by reducing the concussive forces or “shockwaves” that may be sent up the leg.
- Shoeing for long-term success never coincides with short-term desires.
- An orthopedic shoe is only as good as the skill of the person who applies it.
In many situations, we long for the next “new and improved” product to come along and be that magic bullet. Many excellent products/shoes are available, but don’t sell-short the power of a well-balanced foot, as part of a routine hoof care program. It can be the best thing you can do to help your horse stay healthy and happy.
Bryan S. Farcus MA, CJF, is the creator of a select line of “Farrier-Friendly™” products and author of the “Farrier-Friendly™” series of articles that appear in horse magazines throughout the US. Bryan currently works with horses and their owners in Ohio and West Virginia. www.farrierfriendly.com
References & Resources:
Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 5th Edition
UC Davis Book of Horses, M. Siegal
The Lame Horse, J. Rooney
The Principles of Horseshoeing (P3), D. Butler & J. Butler