Category Archives: Hot Shoeing

Hot fitting gives the farrier extra options .

Hoof Cracks: 3 Reasons your horse has them and how to get rid of them

Hoof Cracks: 3 reasons your horse has them and how to get rid of them

Cracked hooves are a common problem that can range from single, shallow, millimeter-wide groove that takes a good look to even notice, to multiple, full thickness splits of the hoof wall that cause lameness by pinching the sensitive structures beneath.  This article explains the causes of these ugly splits and how to reduce and possibly eliminate them through good hoof management strategies.

Note: this article does not deal with the less common “quarter crack“. Quarter cracks extend from the hairline down and are generally the result of chronic imbalance under extreme loads in performance horses. 

The dry hoof fallacy

This “dry hoof theory” is perpetuated by the plethora of hoof oils marketed to to heal split hooves. The ragged, shelly appearance of cracked hooves gives credence misconception that the hooves  lack moisture. Often, under the advice of an otherwise knowledgeable horse person,  attempts to hydrate the hoof  via overflowing water troughs, applying hoof creams, or old timey treatments, usually involving automotive fluids, are made.

Hoof cracks are actually the result of too much moisture. Wet  (anaerobic) conditions are a contributing factor for White Line Disease, the most common cause of hoof cracks . WLD describes a common fungal invasion of the hoof wall. For more on the causes, progression and identification of WLD, check out this.

How WLD causes hoof cracks

WLD fungi seek out deep, damp, airless cavities. Hooves with flares  or other damage to the hoof wall have voids in the hoof wall. These nooks will fill with muck, creating the ideal anaerobic conditions for this horn ingesting microbe to thrive.

Once the WLD has established itself deep within the hoof via the original defect, it will spread to the surrounding horn, eventually making its way to the surface as a hoof crack. The hoof splits from the inside out. This is why  WLD is impossible to eradicate  through topical treatments.

The black lines are evidence of WLD's presence deep within the hoof
The black lines are evidence of WLD’s presence deep within the hoof

Hoof cracks are remedied using a three step progress: address the underlying hoof balance issue, remove the affected, contagious horn and expose the area to air to eliminate anaerobic conditions that perpetuate this hoof funk.

Underlying causes of hoof cracks

1. Flares and hoof imbalance

The coffin bone is the core of the hoof which dictates the shape and size of the capsule that forms around it.  Viewed externally, the hoof wall should slope evenly away from the coronary band so that shape of the bottom hoof should echos that of the coronary band.

this foot is free of flares and reflects the rounded shape of a front coffin bone
front coffin bone photo chestofbooks.com
Ideally, the shape of the hoof will echo that of the coronary band
Ideally, the shape of the hoof will echo that of the coronary band

A flare describes an outward distortion of the hoof wall due to imbalance. If part of the hoof is left longer than the rest,  that longer hoof will yield and pry away from the sole creating a flare. WLD will soon occupy the cavity between the wall and sole. Flares can be blamed on  too long of interval between shoeing/trimming or can be error on the farrier’s part (although some horses have conformation that makes this more complicated).  In either case, When the hoof maintained by a competent farrier and a diligent owner, flaring will be minimized. The emerging, unbent horn will be much stronger and not prone to WLD invasion.

Excess hoof length leads to flares. photo: horsefarrier.com.au
excessive toe length causes this minor toe crack
excessive toe length causes this minor toe crack

 

with shoe removed, the toe is flared away from the sole. There is a deeper crevice at the toe where the WLD is the deepest.
with shoe removed, the toe is flared away from the sole. There is a deeper crevice at the toe where the WLD is rooted.
After trimming
After trimming, new shoe, clearing WLD affected horn and medicating toe crack.
2. Loose shoes

Loose shoes cause  hoof damage, creating ideal conditions for WLD. The constant movement of the nails  erodes the adjacent  hoof wall.   Signs of loose shoes are raised clinches well before the next appointment, hoof wall loss below the nail line, shoe loss, and a ragged appearance.

Loose shoes damage the hoof, perpetuating WLD invasion. photo:horsehero.com

Going too long between farrier visits and wet environments cause loose shoes. Shorting the  shoeing interval by a week, especially during the warmer months, when fungal problems are worst, will help. Don’t keep horses in dirty stalls or mud-lots and pick out hooves regularly.

As with flares, this can also be a result of inattention on the farrier’s part. A slightly unlevel or misshapen shoe can become loose prematurely.

Hot shoeing is a WMD for WLD.  A hot fit, clipped shoe, custom fit and burned lightly to the hoof will remain snug throughout the shoeing cycle.  The searing of the foot also kills any nearby microbes while sealing the hoof against moisture. For more on  hot shoeing check out my post “Hot Shoeing versus Cold Shoeing“.

level foot ready to nail a shoe on\\\\\\\
Hot shoeing is a WMD against WLD!

 

3. Old abscess or hoof wall injury

Cavities created by past abscessing or hoof wall injury host WLD. Many horses have a small degree of this, especially in the center of the toe. This sort of cracking is so prevalent and consistent in location, it  may associated with the mid-dorsal notch of the coffin bone.  An inherent weakness combined with excessive toe length  would explain why horses with no history of abscessing often have these cracks.

small crack from old abscess tract
small crack from old abscess tract or inherent weakness 
entrance for WLD in toe
entrance for WLD in toe

Another source of hoof cracks caused by WLD is past  injury to the coronary band. Trauma to the coronary band can cause scarring. Hoof wall grown under the blemish can be malformed. This horn is very susceptible to WLD.

Injury to coronary band leaves area producing malformed horn that is susceptible to WLD
Injury to coronary band leaves area producing malformed horn that is susceptible to WLD. Timely trimming with attention has allowed for solid regrowth in this case.

Expose WLD to air

Once the underlying hoof balance is identified and addressed, the current infestation of WLD must be debrided as much as possible. This may be achieved  in one session like in the top picture, or an ongoing process depending on the extent of the damage. Clearing of the muck filled crevices in the hoof is  necessary to rid the hoof of the microbes.

hoof crack
Flare combined with WLD and wet conditions caused this superficial crack
After opening up the crack edges to air the crack is exposed to air
After opening up the crack edges to air the crack is exposed to air.
hoof cracks
Muck fills the cavity throwing fuel on the WLD flame. Notice the wall flaring  that  caused this condition in the first place. Treatment of more infested and imbalanced hooves often takes multiple shoeings, however, progress should be evident. Note the new tighter growth emerging from the coronet.
After removal of the majority WLD affected horn.  The WLD extends even deeper up the wall behind the highlighted black void.
clearing smaller sur
clearing smaller surface cracks with dremel tool
Medicate and evaluate

After the farrier work is done, make sure that you evaluate your horse’s home. Remedy wet conditions and make sure to keep scheduled farrier visits  so any new WLD can be dealt with promptly. The damaged hoof wall should be cleared daily with a wire brush to  expose it to air. After cleaning the foot I would recommend applying an antifungal to the area to discourage recurrence.

Thank you for reading my post on hoof cracks. If you liked it, please feel free to share. If you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to post here or contact me directly, or here for information on my farrier service. Don’t forget the number 4 cause of hoof cracks is not following Elizabeth’s Farrier Service via your favorite platform ;). logo best lines only

 

 

Hot shoeing vs Cold shoeing

Hot Shoeing vs Cold Shoeing

I can remember being very nervous the first time I fit a hot shoe to a live horse.  The combination of hot metal,  sharp tools and live horses seemed risky, surely there was good reason. Why do some farriers hot shoe and others  opt out from all the smoke and flame?

hot shoeing vs cold shoeing

In my schooling,  apprenticeships and first years on my own I almost exclusively hot shod.  About five years in, I  became  involved with the thoroughbred racing and breeding industry.  For a variety of good reasons explained later, most race stock, especially, the sales yearlings, and horses in training and racing are shod cold.

hind foot with aluminum racing plate
hind foot with aluminum racing plate

I have shod horses well with and without the use of the forge.  One way isn’t inherently better for every situation, but having a choice lets me  bring more options to my clients.

The benefits of hot shoeing

1. Hot metal is more malleable

Heating the metal prior to trying to change its shape is like letting the butter defrost before serving it with rolls.  The metal is much easier to work with;  the bends and dimensions can be controlled with a much greater degree of precision when the steel is red hot.  If the horse needs a shoe with any sort of modification, ( ex. rocker toe) hot shoeing is in order.

The toe of this shoe has a rocker toe.It would be nearly impossible to get this common modification without the forge.
The toe of this shoe has a rocker toe.It would be nearly impossible to make this basic modification without the forge.
2. Create a perfectly level hoof

A perfectly level foot will hold a shoe much better than one that is almost level.  Imagine a table that isn’t exactly level, and the wobble just a fraction of an inch creates.  It’s the same thing with the shoe except you can’t fix it with a coaster.

level foot ready to nail a shoe on
level foot ready to nail a shoe on

If the foot or shoe isn’t level, it’s obvious, if you are hot shoeing.

I realized the heel of the shoe was slightly bent
the  unburnt hoof  signals  the shoe or foot needs leveling
3. The ability to “hot fit”

When I set the hot shoe onto the hoof, a.k.a. “hot fit,” about 1/8″ of horn is melted. This creates a perfect marriage of hoof and shoe.  The hot shoe has evened-out any variation in the hoof wall and creates a gasket like seal with the shoe.

the seared foot will perfectly match the shoe
the seared foot will perfectly match the shoe
4. Clips work best when “hot fit”

I like to use clips on most horses.  Nails are a necessary evil that damage the hoof wall, to some degree, no matter how skilled the farrier.  Clips help secure the shoe and help reduce the stress on the nails and the hoof.

burn markup

Hot fitting, clipped shoes create a divot that locks the shoe in place.

clip set markup

 

The case for cold shoeing

Some shoes are not made to be heated up and doing so could be dangerous.  The shoes worn by the majority of thoroughbred racehorses become very brittle when heated, and could easily break under the weight of the horse.

2014 11 05_0250

Hot shoeing may not be practical.  Some clients may not want the fire risk involved with hot shoeing.   Having any kind of open flame in a barn setting requires safety precautions.  If a horse must be worked on in a stall or if the barn is littered with hay, I would rather not take the risk of introducing a flame or red-hot metal.

With cold shoeing, the farrier is more nimble and able to service horses without as much equipment.  A skilled farrier should be able to level and fit most shoes accurately, without the luxury of a mobile shop.

2014 11 05_0341
my hot shoeing stuff
tools for cold shoeing
tools for cold shoeing

Lastly, some horses are “non-smokers.”  Some horses may come completely unglued by the sights, sounds and smells of hot-shoeing, even though, the process is painless.  The hoof is an excellent insulator.  Tests have shown that the heat used for hot-shoeing does not harm or involve live tissue, however, some horses still take issue with the process.

"you want to do what!?!"
“you want to do what!?!”

In conclusion,  there are as many ways to shoe a horse as there are farriers. I hope hot shoeing versus cold shoeing has answered some questions you haven’t had the opportunity to ask or given some insight of the possibilities of more advanced hoof care.   As long as attention as been paid to fit, form and function the end result will be a well-shod horse.

Don’t forget the number one cause of lost shoes is not following Elizabeth’s Farrier Service via your social network of choice.

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Please help spread the word 😉

 

Horseshoe Selection: How to pick the right shoe for the job

Horseshoe Selection

I love being able to have choices when selecting the shoe for the horse in front of me. I carry different versions of each size of shoe in order to truly customize the job depending on the horse’s individual needs. How does a farrier or horse owner chose the most appropriate footwear for a particular horse? To have this discussion let’s talk about the terms farriers use when describing a shoe.

Size: The most obvious, big hooves = big shoes and vice versa.  Using too small of shoe is a sure way to rob a horse of years of productivity, one that is too big is more likely to get pulled off, possibly  damaging the hoof, and inconvenience everyone involved.

Big horse, Little horse horseshoe selection matters
Big horse, Little horse, horseshoe selection matters

Usually the small horseshoes are labeled “0” or “00” and pronounced “ought” or “double ought” in reverence of the old fashioned word for zero . I have seen as small as “four ought”. Shoes larger than “0” will be labeled 1,2,3….

Just like any shoe shopping experience, there is no universal system for shoe sizing. Not only is there huge variation in comparing different brands take on what a size one is, but there are completely different systems especially if you are using European shoes, racing or polo shoes.

Material Most commonly cast or machined from mild steel or aluminum. Steel is more durable, easily worked in the forge and less expensive. Aluminum shoes are much lighter, able to be applied with glue and available in many styles for therapeutic applications.

The market for shoes made of even less traditional materials like plastic, rubber and fiberglass or the combination of seems to be growing. I’m sure as 3D printing becomes more accessible, choices will continue to increase.

Web size  describes the dimensions of the metal used to make the shoe. Narrow webbed shoes will sink into the earth easier and give a better grip. Wider ones will float the foot over soft footing, provide a more rigid support, more protection and allow for more slide. A wide webbed also offers more surface area to distribute the horses weight which better mimics the barefoot horse.

This is a racing shoe for a thoroughbred. It is narrow-webbed to sink into the surface and fullered shoe for added grip.
This is a racing shoe for a thoroughbred. It is narrow-webbed to sink into the surface and fullered  for added grip.

 

Weight of shoe: the heavier shoe the higher the arc of stride, the lighter the lower.

drive in studs give extra traction on paved roads
drive in studs give extra traction on paved roads

Traction devices: the shoe can have modifications to limit the sliding of the hoof. A harder metal (tungsten carbide, tool steel, borium) can be attached to the shoe by brazing or welding that allows the animal to be used on pavement. Calks can be built into the shoe or holes can be drilled and tapped to accommodate screw in studs that can be changed by the rider to suit the going.

Plain  shoes give less traction than the barefoot so it is very common for those shoes to have a grove (farriers would called this a “fullered” shoe as the tool used to make the crease is called a fuller). in the ground bearing surface to break up the surface area to prevent the horse from slipping under normal circumstances. The fullering also allows   nails to be removed one at a time.

the grove holds dirt to prevent skidding as well as allowing removal individual nails.
the grove holds dirt to prevent skidding as well as allowing removal individual nails.

 

Reining horses are often fit with plates that increase the slide phase of stride.

Kerrkart Sliding Plate
This is a sliding plate. Its wide web and lack off fullering keep the horse from sinking into the footing and maximizing the slide of the hoof.

 

It is imperative to understand the perils of over-using traction devices as it can negatively effect the shock absorbing mechanisms built into the horse’s limb, especially on young stock. The animals caretakers need to know which horses have special shoes as they can  injure themselves and others without proper precautions.

2014 11 05_0142

Therapeutic shoes: Heart, egg, and straight bar shoes are available off the rack. Shoes with enhanced breakover built into the toe as well as ones with elevation built into the heel can help horses with some types of injury or disease.

plastic heartbar
plastic heartbar shoe for horse with laminitis.

 

Those are the most common ways to classify horse shoes. I am sure that I missed some,  especially now as it seems that there are new brands coming out all of the time. I believe in keeping things simple and mostly shoe with a steel clipped medium-wide webbed shoe until there is a reason to use something else. When an exception comes along it is great to have all of these options to chose from.