Corrective Hoof Trimming

The term "corrective shoeing" is often overused and misunderstood. It sometimes implies that the farrier can correct conformational faults of feet and legs. In reality, often very little can be done to change the way a horse is built. Trying to fix a horse's conformation problem via "corrective shoeing" will just put more stress on other parts of the limb.


No horse's limbs are perfectly symmetrical or perfectly aligned and balanced. A fine line exists between acceptable and poor conformation; it depends on how the horse is put together, how he handles his feet and legs, and his use. If he can manage to run, jump, cut cattle, or finish a hundred-mile endurance race without trouble and stays sound, you don't need to worry about "correcting" his faults. You can, however, make small corrections with each trimming or shoeing, to keep the feet as well balanced as possible to prevent limb interference.

Most farriers strive to keep the feet balanced, and only in a few cases try to do "corrective" work. True corrections are generally done by trimming, not shoeing, because true corrections are only effective on foals.

Correcting a Foal

Many small conformation problems can be corrected or kept from becoming more serious with regular, careful trimming when the horse is a foal. Often corrective trimming is simply a matter of balancing the foot. Without proper foot trimming, a leg slightly out of line may get worse as a foal grows. A crooked leg or a foot that toes in or out will produce uneven wear on the hoof, starting a vicious cycle--the more the foot wears unevenly, the more crooked the foot or leg becomes and the more uneven it wears.

The optimum time to attempt actual corrective trimming is during the first four months of a foal's life and definitely no later than twelve months. After seven months, leg bones are not as malleable, and once bones are no longer growing, there's nothing you can do to correct a leg permanently.

However, overcorrection in young horses can be harmful. Lowering a foot too much on one side, for instance, may create pinching of the growth plate directly above it in the pastern or fetlock joint in a still-growing horse. Overcorrection also can cause problems farther up the leg (whether the horse is young or mature), because changing the foot puts the rest of the leg off balance and violates that horse's conformational integrity. Corrections are best done frequently, in very small increments.

Also keep in mind that many young foals toe out at first, due to lack of muscle development. These foals generally straighten on their own as they grow and fill out. If you try to correct them, they will become crooked later, due to interference with their bone growth.

A foal that toes in or out because of bone rotation at the fetlock joint or the entire leg can't be corrected with foot trimming. You must look at the whole leg to determine what should be done with a crooked foot. Knowing what types of deviations can be helped by trimming is very important because corrections may sometimes ultimately hinder or injure the horse.


Interference Problems

Corrective trimming and shoeing can help problems such as forging or interfering. In these cases the farrier is trying not so much to change the foot or leg, but to enable the horse to travel more normally by minimizing the adverse effects caused by the extra weight of the shoe.

For a horse that interferes, this may mean trimming or shoeing so the foot starts its flight straighter (breaking over center rather than to the inside) to prevent hitting the opposite leg. If the foot is off level, a shim or half-rim shoe can raise the side of the foot that is too low. A shoe with inside rims and an open toe encourages proper breakover at the front. However, a square-toed shoe is often adequate to straighten the foot flight.


If a horse forges, striking the front foot with the hind, use lighter shoes in front or hasten the breakover of the front feet by rolling the toe or using a rocker shoe or squaring the toe so the front foot is picked up faster. Front shoes also should be fitted closely at the heels so they are not struck or grabbed by the hind shoe and pulled off.

The hind foot can be shod in a way that shortens its stride, so the toe is less apt to meet the heel of a front foot. Some farriers use heel calks and a rocker toe on the hind feet to create more hock action and less forward movement. Sometimes the shoes on the hind feet are fitted with the toe of the shoe set back (the toe of the hoof extends a little beyond the shoe) so the shoe itself does not hit the front heels.


Stumbling is usually caused by something as simple as long feet (the horse is overdue for trimming) or shoeing, but it can be caused by something as serious as a brain injury or a neurological disease. Have your farrier or veterinarian examine a horse that stumbles frequently. You want to make sure the horse does not have West Nile virus, EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis), encephalitis, or some kind of spinal trauma that might make him uncoordinated. If neurological problems and illness are not the cause, a thorough lameness exam should be the next step. This can uncover or rule out a subtle lameness that might be putting the horse a little off balance. Some horses can still function fairly well with a slight lameness, but it makes them clumsier than normal. As soon as the lameness problem is resolved, the stumbling may stop.

Many horses that stumble are trying to land on their toes because of heel soreness. Toes that are too long and heels that are starting to run under may cause the heel soreness. Some horses shod the "normal" (traditional) way are still too long in the toes, even when freshly shod; the feet are not at a natural angle and balance. For example, when the horse would naturally have a 55-degree angle in the front feet, the farrier may trim and shoe the horse to create a 45- to 47-degree angle. The latter creates a much longer toe, and the horse may stumble.

Horses whose feet grow very fast might need trimming or shoeing a little more frequently to keep the toe short enough. Frequency, however, may depend on whether you can get the feet to balance. Many horses can go eight to ten weeks or even longer between shoeings and still be proportionately normal and well balanced.

You can roll the toe of a shoe to keep a horse from tripping, but how the foot is trimmed and balanced is actually more important than the type of shoe attached.



Purchase a copy of Understanding Equine Hoof Care for $10.95 at

About the Author

Heather Smith Thomas

Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey's Guide to Raising Horses and Storey's Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog,, she writes a biweekly blog at that comes out on Tuesdays.

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