The primary purpose for any hoof pad is to provide comfort to a horse who may be suffering from either a weak hoof or an unbalanced hoof/limb conformation. Most often, a wedge pad is used to elevate the rear surface (palmar aspect) of a collapsed or crushed heel region of a hoof wall, often referred to as an underrun heel.
A true and constant heel elevation can be obtained by placing a wedge pad between the hoof’s ground side and the horse shoe’s foot face side. This can alleviate pain in the heel region of a foot, while also relieving tension on the entire flexor apparatus of the horse’s limb. It’s important to recognize the origin of a problem and the pathology of a lameness, before applying wedge pads. If applied inaccurately or inappropriately, wedge pads can end up causing more harm than good.
A DOMINO EFFECT
Perhaps the single most important principle to keep in mind when applying wedge pads is that the horse’s lower limb bone column is designed in somewhat of a building block arrangement. If a single block (bone) in the column is misaligned it will cause weakness in the entire structure. Imagine a set of dominos, as one begins to fall it relies on the next and the farther down the line it goes the more rapidly the entire row collapses.
When a farrier assesses a horse for trimming/shoeing, balance is always the main concern but this concept is one with many meanings. Generally speaking, balance is a two-sided situation where both static (standing) and dynamic (moving) views should be considered.
Horseshoeing, whether adding pads or not, should always be approached in a holistic manner; after all, it is, as some would say, “a job title called horse-shoeing, not hoof-shoeing.”
RECOGNIZING A TRUE NEED
Hoof pads can be very beneficial to your horse in certain situations. In cases of weak tender feet, a flat pad made of leather or flexible plastic can provide comfort to your horse and is appropriate as a prevention against hoof bruising. Raised or wedged pads may be used to elevate horses with low or collapsed heels. Weakness in a heel angle can result in excessive limb trauma along with possible tendon, ligament, or bone damage.
Unfortunately, the concept of heel elevation is oftentimes misinterpreted. In an attempt to enhance understanding, I like to categorize heel elevation as either "true rise" or "erroneous rise." If an extension or wedge is placed on the ground face of a shoe, the rise is not a constant.
On a hard surface the desired effect will be present; however, when the horse is moved onto a
softer footing the body weight of the horse will "settle" the foot and elevation is lost. Therefore, shoe applications such as heel caulks, studs, etc. will not provide a constant rise. These are merely traction devices, which result in an erroneous rise of a heel. To achieve a true rise the build-up, wedge or shim should be placed between the horse's foot surface and the shoe's foot face. This union creates a uniform, constant rise regardless of the density of footing.
MISUSE AND ABUSE
Whether using a wedge pad to lift a hoof, realign a horse’s pastern-to-hoof axis, or attempting to artificially enhance the animation of a horse’s stride, it’s important to always recognize the potential risk of an unexpected negative result or a longer term, “down the road” complication.
When attempting to apply wedge pads to horseshoes, success relies on the particular skill level of the individual practitioner. Simply stated, three criteria must be considered: anatomy, accuracy, and appropriateness. It’s extremely important for all farriers to examine the effect wedge pads will have on the horse as a whole. The entire conformation from “nose to toes” should be assessed, both in the immediate term and beyond.
Unfortunately, a myth of correcting a problem/ lameness by simply attaching a “magic” shoe or pad can be a powerful image that many desperate horse owners may fall victim to. In some situations the concept of corrective shoeing can be misleading, giving an impression of an easy one-time fix. Inevitably, this may also tempt an unethical farrier to misuse or even abuse such shoeing methods.
At times, the fad use of pads can become popular in certain circles causing a false sense of security to those looking for a quick fix to their particular training/showing issues. The good news in all of this is that with an increase in horse owner awareness and a commitment of many farriers to educate, cases of misuse and abuse will continue to decrease.
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