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Monday, January 3, 2011

Hoof Remodeling

The hoof is an amazing part of the horse.  It plays such an important role to the health and well being of your horse.  If you have an unexplained lameness look to the feet.  It may show up in the back or hind end and be a mystery to your vet but in many cases, the origin is the feet.  A hind end lameness can originate in the front feet.  The hoof is easily remodeled by improper trimming and shoes.

When a horse wears a metal shoe, the hoof is peripheral loaded, meaning the weight of the horse is placed on the exterior hoof wall.  There is much controversy to this subject but if you look to nature, the horse's hoof was meant to walk on the ground.  When we place a shoe on the hoof, it interferes with the natural foot function and now the horse is not walking as intended.  The frog must touch the ground in order to work properly.  Shoes prevent this from happening.

Over time the hoof remodels itself to the metal shoe.  In many cases, the heels become high, the toes long and the joints become stiff and painful.  This changes the break over placing it too far out in front therefore altering the way your horse travels which puts extra stress on the joints and spine.  When you remove the shoe, the horse is sore footed.  The shoe goes back on to keep the horse comfortable yet the shoe is reason why the horse is tender-footed.   The horse appears more comfortable with the shoe on because the horse cannot feel the ground the foot is supposed to be walking on.  Without the shoes, now all of a sudden the horse can feel the ground as a result they are sore because the hoof mechanisms have been damaged.

It takes time and proper trimming to re-shape the hoof and restore the proper circulation so it can start to perform as nature intended. During this remodeling stage the horse will have periods of discomfort and perhaps cannot be ridden.  Most of us don't want to miss our days of riding so we keep the shoes on the horse and continue to ride them.  If you choose this path, eventually your horse will experience some disability such as ringbone, arthritis, back and joint problems.   These problems could mean the end of your horses' soundness.

To avoid reaching a point of destruction, please consult with a hoof care practitioner who can help you to rule out possible problems.  Finding the right person can be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack.  There are so many differences of opinion in regards to how the hoof should be trimmed or treated that as a horse owner it is easy to be confused, not knowing who to trust.  The more you can educate yourself about the hoof, the easier this job can be.

What I find fascinating is the hoof responds much like a plant.  If you put a plant in a pot that is too small for it,  eventually it becomes root bound and grows funny, or parts of it start to die since it can no longer receive the nutrients it needs to grow strong.  The same thing happens to the hoof if it is trimmed wrong or forced to walk on metal shoes.  The change does not show up right away, but it will within a year or longer if not corrected.

On the positive note with correct trimming, exercise and diet, the hoof can grow out and be reshaped within the limitations of the natural conformation and the extent of permanent damage.  During the growth process, the circulation is slowly restored to the hoof and all of it's inner workings.  This slowly allows for a detoxification process or healing to take place.  Give it time.  It can take over a year to remodel the hoof, depending on the severity of the problem.


  1. I like your approach on the natural hoof vs shoeing, however as a professional I can also tell you that training horses on a daily basis without shoes can be impossible. By virtue of humans taking the horse out of his natural environment and subjecting him to a daily unnatural workload we changed practically everything. Therefore most everything we do (boarding,scheduled processed feeding, medications, to name a few) are a very limited attempt to mimic the animals natural environment at best. As much as I like to agree with you on the validity of your argument I can without hesitation say that for a large number of horses that I worked with training and performing without shoes would have been an impossibility. Their feet would have simply worn out faster than they would have be able to grow or they would have disintegrated due to the condition they were in. The reason for shoeing horses in the last few centuries has been a necessity rather than a choice, something I don't think we'll be able to get completely away from as long as we decide to use the animal for any kind of performance.

  2. I agree there are some conditions in which the hoof wears faster than it grows. This is where hoof boots become useful. With new technology, the quality and effectiveness of hoof boots have improved in such a way that allows the hoof to still function in a natural way and then when you are done riding the boots come off, whereas a nailed on shoe stays on decreasing the circulation to the hoof. This has been proven by Dr. Robert Bowker in a thermographic study.

    I have been training horses for over 25 years and during the last 10 years all my horses have been barefoot. They are trained and ridden 5 days a week and I have never had a problem with them wearing faster than they grow. There have been times when they needed hoof boots because of rain softening the hoof making them abit more tenderfooted but other than that I have found that horses that are trained and ridden regulary rarely need any trimming due to the natural self trimming that happens during riding.

    I worked with a 24 year old horse who wore shoes for his entire life and was a jumper. The farrier insisted that he never be barefoot because his walls were too thin and shelly. In one year after pulling the shoes and proper trimming the hoof wall was 1/4 inch thick and had very healthy sheen to it. The white line was tight and dense. It was quite a transformation. He no longer tripped and made a very nice heel first landing. Previously he would make a toe first landing and trip constantly while wearing shoes. There were no dietary changes made. This case and may others like it is proof of how the circulation is restricted by the shoes. A horse of his age was able to recover and grow a thick hoof wall by allowing the circulation back to the hoof. His owner was quite amazed.

    There are more and more performance horses now competeing successfully barefoot in all disciplines. There are endurance horses doing 50 and 100 mile rides barefoot booted.

    This movement towards barefoot is only natural. There are farriers who carry a line of hoof boots to accomodate their new barefoot clientele. The horse owner relys on the professional to advise as to the care of their horses hooves. It is the responsibility of the professional farrier to keep abreast of scientific prove disputing what we have come to believe as necessary. Farriers like Pete Ramey and Jamie Jackson have set the stage for others to easily follow. Pete Ramey has a new book out called care and rehabilitation of the Equine Foot. It is something that all farriers should read. The research that has been done over the past 10 years is quite amazing, now it is our job to change our way of thinking to move forward for the best interest of our horses.