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Windt im Wald Farm
Geauga County, Northeast Ohio
since 1995


F. Thomas Breningstall

Overshoes are not those black rubber things with adjustable buckles that Mom made us wear outside if the weather was bad. No, what I'm talking about is nailing on a horseshoe that has been modified more than it needed to be to help a horse with a gait problem.

Here's what I discovered back in the early days of my farrier career. And what I did some of you may still be doing. I was inexperienced, over ambitious, willing to learn, and underpaid. I was taking new accounts (anybody who called) and paying my dues, as we all had to do, and some still are. I got a call from a man who was an endurance rider and needed a farrier as soon as possible. It seems his old farrier stood him up one too many times and he had a ride in a few days. Of course, I took the client on.

The horse was a good-sized Arabian. I put flat shoes with a toe clip on his front feet with no problems encountered. Then I hoisted up a hind foot and found a shoe with a square toe, side clips, heel calks and outside trailer. The hoof wall was trimmed low on the outside and the show was set back on the hoof. I didn't know much about endurance riding then, but I did know that this horse must have a problem going properly. I put the foot down and asked the owner why the horse was shod this way. He didn't know, but he told me not to change anything. "Just shoe him like he is. He goes good like he is and I don't want to risk the race." So I shod the horse like he was, not knowing why, and not trying to find out why. But the horse did well - for awhile, anyway.

I kept the account and over time, lameness came on slow and insidiously. First came the stocking up in the fetlock joints of the rear feet after exercise. This was the first clue something was wrong, but still the owner didn't want anything changed. I should have insisted that the shoeing be changed, but I was new and needed the account. Nowadays, I shoe for the horse's comfort, not the owner's ego. Then along with the swelling came some lameness after exercise. But the horse was okay after resting; still no change. As time went on, the swelling stayed and so did the lameness. Finally, the veterinarian was consulted and he ordered the shoes be changed to flat shoes (no calks, no trailers). Just square toes and the hoof trimmed flat. This helped the lameness some, but the damage was too much for any hope of full recovery. The horse was retired from competition, the owner learned to listen to the farrier, and the farrier learned to listen to the horse.

The damage to this horse's leg was from the repeated twisting action of the fetlock joint as the trailer and heel calk hit the ground. We never knew why this horse was shod this way. Now if I come across a questionable shoeing job, I call the farrier if I can to ask why he shod the horse the way he did.

Now if I have a horse that needs help with its gait, I choose the least change to the shoe with a flat shoe. You would be surprised how many things a good, flat, balanced shoeing job will help. But if this doesn't help, I take the shoeing one step further. For example, I'll add a square toe. If this doesn't help, I'll extend the heels, or just the outside heels, straight back. Okay, he still banks his legs together; then I go with an outside trailer. And as a last resort, I reluctantly add heel calks.

What I try to avoid is the twisting of the lower limb and the tearing of the soft connective tissue of the joints. This type of injury is slow, with an accumulation of small injuries that heal and scar over and over again. If the horse is just used for pleasure or a little showing, then a problem may never appear. But if the horse is used hard (such as for endurance where the competition takes the horse and rider on 25-to-100 mile rides at speeds as fast as possible over a weekend), then problems will show up, as was my experience with this horse. I try my best not to cause more problems with my shoeing than the horse had to start with. So what I'm trying to communicate here is that if you have a horse with a gait problem, start your therapy with a balanced hoof, leg, and horse, and many times that is all that is needed. Then progress one step at a time. Most often you will not needed to modify the shoe or the hoof as much as you once thought. This process may take time and several shoeings to get the results you want. So before you start, consult the owner and explain that the problem didn't start overnight, so it may not be helped overnight, either. We can't just put a wrench on the hoof or leg and crank it around like a mechanic does our truck. We are more like scientists who do systematic studies of the horse and its movements. And from our observations, we conduct experiments in shoeing. We do this on each and every horse we shoe and we are not even aware we are doing all that we do.

Good luck and remember: Sometimes we just have to step back, look, and start over again.

F. Thomas Breningstall is an AFA and MHA certified full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. This article first appeared in Rural Heritage magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

e-mail Editor at Ruralheritage

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