Hoof-care methods may differ, but all aim to keep sound horse
Brian Crandall moved gently as he raised, barely off the ground, the left foreleg of Cheyenne and carefully began to trim the hoof. Cheyenne, owned by Mary and Gerald Story of East Orchard Mesa, is a former barrel-racing horse whose left front leg is severely arthritic as a result of her years in the rodeo arena. She is also a sweetheart of a mare that loves kids and is a family pet. The Storys want to keep her as sound as possible in her senior years.
Until a couple of years ago, Crandall put shoes on Cheyenne and she was still ridable, but as her arthritis progressed, it became too difficult for her to bend her knee far enough and hold it up long enough to be shod. So these days, Crandall concentrates on trimming her hoofs in such a manner that keeps her pain level at a minimum and she doesn’t have to bend the injured leg any more than necessary.
“I try to get the break-over point” — the point where the hoof flexes off the ground as the horse steps forward — “at the right spot so that she does not have to bend that knee as much,” he explained.
Crandall has been doing corrective shoeing and trimming for a decade in the Grand Valley. He also has studied the history of horseshoeing and trimming, and he teaches classes about hoof care at Western Colorado Community College. His next classes begin this Wednesday evening and run the next two Wednesdays at WCCC’s Bishop Campus off 25 Road. They will be repeated in August and are open to all for a fee.
The famous Greek horseman, Xenophon, offered instruction on proper hoof care as early as 400 B.C., and there is evidence of nomadic tribes in Eastern Europe using nailed-on iron shoes as early as 200 B.C. Egyptians, Romans, Mongols and nearly every other culture that depended on horses for military prowess and long-distance travel developed forms of hoof protection, from woven grass boots to leather and metal shoes. But, for almost as long, there has been a debate among equine enthusiasts about whether shoes are really necessary, especially for horses only doing moderate work.
“I prefer to have a horse barefoot if it can handle it,” Crandall said. “But it depends on how much the horse is working, the discipline it is being used for, and genetics have a lot to do with it.”
Also, many conformational defects and temporary problems can be cured or alleviated with corrective shoeing, he noted.
If horse owners are in doubt about shoeing versus barefoot, they should talk with a farrier and their veterinarian about what would work best for them.
For those who opt to leave their horses barefoot, there are a number of different methods of trimming, many of them very similar. For instance, the “mustang roll” that has become popular in recent years, because it is supposed to mimic the shape of wild horses’ feet as they develop through natural wear and tear, is actually nearly the same as atraditional trimming style that bevels the front of the hoof where it rolls over as the horse steps forward.
There are also techniques known as the barefoot trim, which is also based on observations of wild horses, the four-point trim and the natural-balance trim. All have proved successful with many horses, Crandall said. And all of them can create problems if done improperly.
One of the early enthusiasts for barefoot trimming was an Englishman named Bracy Clark, who wrote a treatise on the method in 1809. But, at a time when horses were frequently required to travel long distances, often on rocky roads, he found that barefoot horses didn’t fare well when they were regularly traveling 30 miles or more at a time. His ideas gained little acceptance at the time. Now, when horses are asked to do far less work, there is more interest in keeping horses barefoot.
Barefoot or shod, the old horsemen’s adage “no foot, no horse” remains true today, even if horses aren’t regularly called on for long-distance travel or military service, Crandall said. The importance of sound feet was recognized long ago by people like the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula, Crandall added. When they went to look at a horse to potentially buy, they often had a blanket held up between them and the horse, raised slightly above the ground so that all they could see was the horse’s feet. Then, if the feet appeared acceptable, they would look at the rest of the animal.
But that sort of horse sense is often lost today.
“The American Farriers Journal some years ago did a survey of stallion ads in some of the major breed magazines,” Crandall said. While all of the advertisements displayed the stallions in the best posture possible to encourage breeders to use them, the magazine found that “almost none of them showed the horses’ feet.”
But sound feet and good hoof care are critical to keeping a healthy, useable horse.
“Consistency is the key, whatever method you use,” Crandall said. “It may cost a little more to provide hoof care on a regular basis, but it can save you a lot on vet bills in the long run.”