Weigh your choices for hoofwear.
By Tom Moates | October 28, 2012
The American Quarter Horse Journal
Hoofwear can be a bewildering subject to research. Expert opinions abound regarding all kinds of shoes and boots and ways to attach them, and they often conflict. Advocates for various products add intensity and confusion to the chatter.
Whether you want your American Quarter Horse simply to have the best hoof protection possible for your particular needs or you are dealing with a lameness issue, weighing the options and educating yourself on just what might be the best choice for your horse’s feet is a necessary first step. Of course, each horse is different, so there is no single answer to hoof protection that works across the board. Even the needs of a single horse can change across time.
To help demystify some trends in the current hoofwear landscape, the Journal visited with one of America’s leading authorities on the subject: Dr. Tracy A. Turner of Anoka Equine Veterinary Services, in Elk River, Minnesota, who specializes in equine lameness and worked as a farrier before entering veterinary medicine; and Thomas N. Trosin, a certified farrier who has been shoeing on his own for 23 years.
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It’s About the Trim
Both professionals stress the importance of the trim before even considering a discussion of equine footwear.
“The trim is the most important thing that happens to the foot,” Dr. Turner says. “That basically is going to determine how the horse’s skeleton bears weight onto it. And with shoes and (other appliances), you can adjust some of that, and make up for some issues, but it first starts with the trim.”
Thomas sums it up: “It doesn’t matter what you put on the foot; if the foot’s not prepared properly, you’re just asking for problems.”
In the realm of “semipermanent” hoofwear, aside from metal shoes, the main innovations recently on the market are horseshoes made from various synthetic materials, typically plastic and rubber.
One of the advantages claimed by synthetic shoe makers include the more flexible nature of them versus metal shoes: Where metal shoes can bend in some circumstances, and need to be removed and replaced, the plastic shoe bends and returns to the shape of the hoof, remaining in perfect condition.
“There’s a huge plethora of plastic shoes,” Dr. Turner says. “These become nice alternatives, but they’ll be marketed as the best thing since sliced bread, and they’ve all got disadvantages to them.
“I think the best thing with the plastic is that on certain surfaces, it certainly gives you different traction, especially for horses that are going to be going on pavement, (such as) horses in parades, horses that drive carriages, even endurance horses that meet a lot of different types of terrain. But how well (the shoes) wear depends on the composite material.
“One of the advantages of them is that where steel and aluminum don’t bend under normal circumstances, the composite materials - the plastics and the rubber shoes - tend to conform more with the foot and can move with the foot. Although that’s not completely true because you still have two different materials forming an interface.”
Thomas offers an additional word of caution: “The big problem with the synthetic shoes that are on the market is you can’t shape them. You can’t get them to fit the foot.
“That’s the beauty of an alloy shoe, and I don’t care if it’s titanium, steel, aluminum, you can manipulate an alloy shoe to fit a foot. With the plastic products that I’ve seen on the market - keep in mind, there might be ones I haven’t seen - you can’t manipulate them enough to where they’re going to properly fit a hoof capsule.
“On a super-slick surface, a rubber shoe is preferable. In the short term, they’re pretty innocuous, but pretty soon, the feet start to take the shape of the shoe, and that’s my issue with them.”
In terms of semipermanent hoofwear, both men find it hard to beat a metal shoe attached with horseshoe nails, in durability and usage benefits.
“A routine trim job, learning to put a (metal) shoe on correctly and keeping it on there, you can’t beat that,” Dr. Turner says. “There are other things out there, but I don’t think they are replacements for the traditional shoe. But they are useful in different spots at different times.
“That’s why it always goes back to the trim. The proper hoof trim basically works with the horse’s conformation and whatever you put on the bottom is an additive.
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Shoe options can have different benefits - better traction on slick surfaces, therapeutic advantages for laminitic or injured horses, and in meeting the needs a horse has in its environment - but a good trim should be the basis for any hoofwear.
“When it comes down to the bottom line,” Dr. Turner adds, “you don’t want to interfere with the horse’s action.
“It gets down to the owner and trainer working with their veterinarian and farrier to find out what works best for them to maintain the normal gaits of that horse, to maintain the normal biomechanics of the joints and tendons, etc. Start changing the biomechanics and you’re asking for trouble.”
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