shoeing for peak equine performance
Suboptimal shoeing doesn’t always cause obvious lameness. Often, the effects are subtle, such as a limitation in a dressage horse’s ability to move laterally for a half-pass or a jumper’s willingness to turn following a big oxer. Keen observation and attention to the horse’s conformation are key to spotting these anomalies.

“Multiple factors relating to the foot can affect performance, including balance, trim, shoes, pads, support materials, and accessories,” said Mark Silverman, DVM, MS, of Sporthorse Veterinary Services, in Rancho Santa Fe, California. described shoeing horses to optimize performance and extend longevity at the 2018 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in San Francisco, California.

“It all goes back to a performing a complete, basic physical examination and anticipating musculoskeletal problems based on conformation,” Silverman said. “We need to ask, ‘What story is this foot telling us?’”

He said a practitioner’s approach to optimizing a horse’s performance should involve careful examination of the foot, looking for problems such as capsular deformities (e.g., flares, hairline irregularities) and growth ring anomalies, as well as observing how the horse stands at rest—for instance, is he pointing one foot?

After completing a static examination, it’s time to assess landing and loading patterns and focus on breakover (the moment the heels lift off the ground during movement) and the transition between the phases of locomotion. Technological advances help veterinarians with this process and allow them to video or photograph the patient in motion.

“Factors to target when assessing dynamic balance include heel- versus toe-first landing, breakover alignment, limb-flight patterns, and oscillations (movement back and forth) at early flight phase,” said Silverman.

Radiographs remain the diagnostic tool of choice for veterinary podiatrists, providing a “window into the inner details of the foot,” he said.

Podiatrists can subsequently use those radiographs to produce various “metrics,” said Silverman, by measuring and recording:

  • Sole depth;
  • Angle of the coffin bone and dorsal hoof wall;
  • Alignment of the second and third phalanges (coffin and short pastern bones);
  • Heel height and angle; and
  • Angle of deflection of the deep digital flexor tendon at the navicular bone.

“These metrics afford a comprehensive functional examination of the foot to help direct treatment,” said Silverman. “Repeating radiographs, reproducing the metrics, and monitoring the results obtained from shoeing play important roles in optimizing a performance horse’s ability to compete.”