Farrier Science: Equine Hoof Care and Shoeing

Information provided courtesy of Philip M. Smith, Farrier

A person who trims and shoes horses is usually called a farrier, horseshoer or blacksmith.

Most domestic horses are confined, so that their hooves do not have the chance to wear down through the constant use experienced by wild horses. Many domestic horses are ridden on terrain for which their hooves are too sensitive, or may not have hooves strong enough due to their breeding or their state of health. These horses may require shoes in order to work comfortably. Regular attention from a trained, experienced farrier is necessary to maintain balanced hooves and healthy movement.

The condition of a horse’s foot directly affects the whole body. An unbalanced foot will put stress on the connecting tendons, ligaments and muscles, and can affect the soundness and workability of the horse. Imbalances in the foot can cause muscle soreness and skeletal alignment problems, which can make the chiropractor’s or massage therapist’s job more difficult or ineffective. In turn, a skeletal imbalance or soft tissue damage can affect the way a horse stands or moves, which can distort the growth of the foot making it difficult for the farrier to correct the foot.

Some horses develop special needs due to conformation, neglect, poor nutrition or improper trimming and shoeing. A farrier trained in therapeutic shoeing and trimming is required. A horse that has navicular disease or has foundered requires special trimming and shoeing to make them more comfortable and even in some instances to reverse the damage. Modern technology and research in veterinary and farrier science has greatly improved the quality of life for horses that have encountered such challenges.

A farrier trims the hoof to remove extra growth and to align the bone structure of the leg so it meets the ground squarely. The farrier removes the old shoe, cleans out the dead exfoliating material, and then uses nippers to remove excess hoof wall growth. The foot is then made flat using the rasp. If the horse is to wear shoes, the shoe is shaped to fit the hoof and then nailed on. The nails are driven through the outer layer of lamina exiting the hoof wall, and then bent over to hold the shoe in place.

The farrier should be able to explain the biomechanics of the foot and how it affects the whole horse. He should evaluate the horse’s movement before and after trimming or shoeing the horse. A complete history of any recurring problems should be discussed. The farrier should be available to talk with the veterinarian, chiropractor or other professionals if needed.

A person can become a farrier by attending a specialized school and then apprenticing under an established farrier for up to two years. There are many clinics offered throughout the year to allow professionals to continue learning and to keep up with new technology.

American Farriers Association