Farriers: Consider More Than Feet When Trimming and Shoeing

Farriers need to observe every horse thoroughly and gather as much information as possible to determine how to trim and shoe that horse, said farrier consultant, clinician, and author Michael J. Wildenstein, CJF, APF, FWCF (Hons.) of Cynthiana, Kentucky.

Wildenstein described how to assess the horse as a whole before shoeing during a presentation at the 2017 International Hoof-Care Summit, held Jan. 23-26, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

As farriers observe hundreds—even thousands—of horses throughout their career, they learn to use all their senses. Evaluations begin with viewing the entire horse. “It’s not what you look at. It’s what you see,” said Wildenstein, who calls farriery a combination of science and art.

Farriers should assess angles and take measurements before running their hands over the horse. They’ll look for muscle issues, lift the limbs in the normal range of motion, and feel joint mobility. They should also talk with the owner about any recent changes in the horses’ condition or routine (including environment, weight, condition, or tack and equipment) or changes in the rider’s weight, skill, or techniques. The farrier’s job is to use information they gather to develop a care plan for the horse.

Wildenstein described the importance of examining the hoof capsule, which can reveal important information about what’s going on with the horse’s body and limbs and what stresses are being placed on the hoof, along with possible pathologies (disease or damage). Additionally, hoof and shoe distortions and wear provide farriers valuable information about the horse.

Farriers also must understand all the limb deviations—that is, departures from ideal conformation and alignment—that can occur and how they affect the horse.

“Deviations affect the entire animal and are reflected in the hoof,” Wildenstein said. “A horse can have multiple deviations in the same hoof. That hoof is a road map of what is going on above. You can see those (spatial) differences if you take the time to look.”

Rotational deviations, which involve the limb or hoof turning inward or outward as viewed from the front or back of the horse, can affect hoof shape, movement, and breakover patterns. If a horse has a rotational deviation, it’s important for the farrier to stand in the direction of the rotation so they can look only at the angular component.

Farriers also need to evaluate the horse in motion. With today’s technology, farriers can use smartphones to record video and apps to slow footage down so they can review it frame by frame.

When the farrier finds a deviation, he or she should ask the following questions:

  • Is it an acquired deviation?
  • Is it new or has it been there for a long time?
  • What can we do to help the horse?

Limb deviations, which can occur in long bones as well as in joints, can result from conformation problems, movement issues, riding methods, body imbalances, muscle atrophy, etc.

Beyond watching, listening to, and touching the horse, the farrier can also use his or her sense of smell; distinctive odors can often tell a farrier if a horse has an abscess or a fungal infection.

Wildenstein, who worked for more than 20 years at a veterinary school, feels that just as important as completing a thorough assessment is working closely with veterinarians and owners as a team.

He stressed that farriers can help the horse over the course of his life to perform better and for longer while improving comfort level. “You want to leave those horses better off than when you came,” he said.