Foot Dialogue Feeds the Mind

Purina Mills nutritionist Randal Raub, PhD, began his lecture at the 2003 Purina Farriers' Conference with a little-known statistic--horse owners are most likely to discuss their horses' nutrition with their veterinarians, followed by their farriers. Moreover, farriers notice weight gain or loss in the horses they shoe, since they see them regularly. Weight loss, gain, or feeding changes might affect hoof growth. Because of those factors, farriers can encourage owners to seek professional nutritional advice.

Nearly 200 farriers traveled to the Purina Mills research farm near St. Louis, Mo., Sept. 12-13 for lectures on nutritional aspects related to foot care. Topics included feeding in relation to laminitis as well as state-of-the-art treatments for laminitis and club feet.

Scott Morrison, DVM, a veterinarian who works as a farrier at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., lectured and demonstrated with farrier Bob Pethick of Bedminster, N.J.

Morrison performed a tenotomy on a foundered Arabian and demonstrated techniques for alleviating pressure on club feet. (A tenotomy surgically severs the deep digital flexor tendon, relieving pressure on the foot and enabling a more normal hoof conformation to be created and supported.)

Pethick only shoes horses within a 10-mile radius of his home near Gladstone, N.J., and, as a result of both geography and his skill level, cares for the hooves of many top sport horses.

"Horseshoeing is a science... applied by an artist," he said. He noted changes in recent years that he feels are affecting horses' feet, such as the predominant use of rubber stall mats with scant bedding instead of deep, deformable bedding. Stabled horses are now bearing weight differently during the majority of their days, according to Pethick.

He also noted that the popular use of impression materials for sole support is affecting horses' hoof growth. "Normally, hind feet grow faster than fronts," he observed. "But when I use sole support materials (in the front feet), I notice that the fronts grow faster than the hinds!"

He urged owners to shorten shoeing intervals on any horses with imbalanced feet so that the hoof orientation can be adjusted as it grows.

In particular, Pethick noted that principles used in medial-lateral hoof balance discussions on front feet also apply to the hind feet; they also toe in or toe out, and horses can be "base narrow" or "base wide" in the hind aspect as well as in the fore.

The Purina Mills Farrier Conference was sponsored by Farrier Products Distribution of Shelbyville, Ky., and Spanish Lake Blacksmith Shop in Foristell, Mo. Plans will be announced early in 2004 for next year's conference.

About the Author

Fran Jurga

Fran Jurga is the publisher of Hoofcare & Lameness, The Journal of Equine Foot Science, based in Gloucester, Mass., and Hoofcare Online, an electronic newsletter accessible at Her work also includes promoting lameness-related research and information for practical use by farriers, veterinarians, and horse owners. Jurga authored Understanding The Equine Foot, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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