Can Shoeing Improve How Show Horses Move?
A. Shoeing can improve how a horse moves in the show ring in many ways. When we can consider horseshoes’ impact on movement, we must consider three factors: conformation, hoof trim, and type of horseshoe. We should examine them separately so we can understand how each factor contributes to the whole.
Once a horse reaches maturity, there is very little shoeing can do to safely alter a gait related to limb conformation. Trying to alter a less-than-ideal gait can add extra stress on joints, bones, and hooves, so any benefit will be short-lived and ultimately not appropriate for the horse’s health. The same can apply to hoof conformation to a certain degree. In these cases, we need to assess the hoof to discover if a hoof abnormality is due to excess hoof length or inappropriate trimming, which are very fixable, or if a permanent conformation problem exists. An example of the latter is a club foot. These horses tend to have one foot at a lower-than-ideal angle and a club foot with a very upright conformation. The difference in angle between the feet makes it impossible for the two legs to move similarly. Trying to alter the angles can lead to similar pressures on limbs, joints, and hooves as we see when we try to alter gait in a poorly conformed horse. We can try to make them closer to ideal, but usually the change is negligible. Many horses do very well with mismatched feet, but the difference in stride length may have negative effects on hunter or dressage scores.
The key to any shoeing job is how well the hoof is trimmed. The goal is to trim the foot to match the conformation of the leg and offer maximum weight-bearing support under the limbs. Some farriers, usually under the instructions of a trainer, will try to alter the trim (e.g., raising or lowering the heels) to make a stride more appropriate for a discipline. This can give a short-term fix, but when we alter where the hoof should be, we are adding pressure and stress to focal parts of the hoof. This excess force can lead to such problems as quarter or toe cracks, sheared heels, and flared walls. No matter how hard we try, we can’t use trim to overcome the forces of
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