Keeping Performance Horses Sound, AAEP 2008

James Gilchrist, Certified Farrier, of the Palm Beach Farriery Service in Florida, offered several strategies he finds useful for his high-performance clients during the "Putting Science into Farriery" session at the 2008 Convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. "Not a day goes by that I don't talk to a veterinarian about a half-dozen of these horses," he said. "A team approach is very important to the health of these horses."

He noted that evaluating what trimming/shoeing these horses need requires a combination of gait evaluation; hoof tester examination; discussion of the horse's history with the owner, trainer, and veterinarian; and evaluation of the wear patterns of the old shoes. Proper trimming is key, he said: "It doesn't matter how good the shoe is if the foot isn't trimmed right."

Once the trim is right, the farrier must select right shoe. Gilchrist likes a perimeter-fit shoe (i.e., not one that is squared and doesn't go out to the edge of the wall) with toe clips, a wide web, and a rolled toe for most horses, and he finds that grinding down square shoe edges all the way around helps promote easier breakover in all directions. Half-round shoes are also useful for this; he noted that they might absorb some shock as the shoe settles into soft ground, which is good for sore-footed horses.

He reports using the following tactics for special situations:

  • Lateral extensions on hind shoes for horses that twist at the hocks;
  • Onion heel shoes (modified shoes in which the inner webs at the heel are flattened and spread with the rounding side of the hammer to cover more of the bars--they look like "thumbprints") with a leather pad underneath to help reduce concussion on sore heels;
  • Heart bars to recruit the frog for weight bearing in horses with navicular syndrome, quarter cracks, and heel pain. Gilchrist will sometimes drill holes out of the bar to lighten it and not affect the horse's gait as much;
  • Pads as needed to help support low-heeled feet;
  • "Flip flop" shoes (metal in the front, plastic in the rear) to help rest the heels even while the horse is training.

"Both the vet and farrier have to manage the overall health of these horses' feet," he said.

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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