Need for Heel Support horse hooves
Lack of heel support and shoes that are too small are widespread in all breeds and disciplines.
But why? After all, what’s the big deal about fractions of an inch?
Horses are shod with shoes that are too small for two reasons:
- Many non-professional farriers simply do not understand proper shoe fit, using whatever shoes they have.
- Owners, trainers and occasionally farriers worry that the horse will pull the front shoe off with the hind foot.
Repeatedly undershoeing a horse will lead to pain from concussion in the heel area. To avoid discomfort, the horse begins landing on his toe, loading the leg and hoof differently which can damage the navicular region. Lameness presents as palmar foot pain similar to navicular syndrome. Eventually, the coffin bone will remodel itself.
Proper heel support is essential to a healthy hoof, a sound horse and good performance. It is especially important for hunters, jumpers, horses with long pasterns and those who genetically have low heels.
To achieve good heel support, the hooves are first trimmed to the horse’s conformation. The shoe must be of adequate width and length, ending 1/8” to ¼” past the buttress of the heel on the front hooves, but should not go past the bulbs.
Heel problems can sometimes be difficult and time consuming to correct, whether they are caused by improper shoeing in the past or the horse’s natural conformation. Prevention is always the best approach. Luckily, we have many options such as wider webbed shoes, bar shoes, pads (full and rim pads of various materials), acrylics, urethanes, etc. Wedging will raise the heels, but it will also cause the fetlock to drop further when the horse is in motion; we do not generally use this option. Traction devices and screw-in/out studs should never be placed at the very back of the shoe, but instead at the end of the widest point of the hoof. Otherwise, impact is concentrated on those two small areas of the heels.
RISK OF SHOE LOSS?
Correctly fitted shoes with proper heel support do not increase the risk of lost shoes. In fact, a shorter shoe can actually increase the chances of losing a shoe because the lack of support allows the fetlock to drop further, thus making it easier for a hind hoof to reach up and catch it.
Other common causes of shoe loss include:
- Genetic or environmentally poor hoof condition
- Tired, uncollected horse; riding to exhaustion
- Improper nail size, placement, poor clinching (proper clinch length is the width of the nail and appears square, smooth to the touch and in a neat pattern)
- Wire (especially woven wire) fencing.
- Shoes with the nail holes punched too far to the outside
Tips for preventing shoe loss:
- Safety shoes before nailing them
- Properly condition you horse; keep him collected
- Follow your farrier’s suggestions on hoof care
- Maintain the schedule recommended by your farrier
- Shoes with clips (a clip is equal to two nails)
- Use bell boots and supports during training
- Proper shoe fit
Every horse is different and there are exceptions to every rule. Be sure to consult your professional farrier for your horse’s optimum performance and health! And never be afraid to ask questions or get a second opinion.
T.J. Farley is a professional farrier specializing in performance horses and therapeutic shoeing. He is a graduate of the KY Horseshoeing School with over 20 years experience. Christine Farley has an extensive background in performance events, training, teaching, and conditioning. She is interested in the impact of shoeing and alternative therapies on performance. www.farleysfarrierservice.com