AFA Certified Farrier by the
American Farrier's Association
 AFA Member # 7332

Farrier Art   by Chris Minick

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Frequently Ask Questions

Dear Audience,

I've added this Q & A section because some of the questions that I hear are repetitive, and the answers that I've given to my clients might help other clients and equine professionals to understand where I am coming from with regard to specific challenges and issues regarding the best course of action that I believe is necessary to keep a horse sound, comfortable, living well and moving well.

I'm willing to listen and collaborate with veterinarians and clients, however, these answers are my general opinions based on my experience and training.  And, at a certain point I reserve the right to refuse to make changes to a foot that cannot be logically explained to me in a manner that convinces me that I won't be negatively impacting the soundness of the horse.

Chris Minick, AFA Certified Farrier

Raise the Heels?

Question:  My veterinarian has emphasized "shorter toe, not shorter foot" that he/she wants for my horse.  I believe that my veterinarian is looking for a steeper angle on the foot.  Can you do this for my horse?

(This question was from a specific client of mine via email for a specific horse that I had already shod.  I've altered the question and the response a little to leave out specifics, but my answer would be the same for most horses that I find in this condition.)

 Taking away more toe from the distal (bottom) portion of the toe of the front feet is not possible without removing so much insensitive sole that your horse would then have too little or no protection for the sensitive sole.  The sole including the sensitive and insensitive layers on the average horse is approximately .45 inches thick over the edge of the pedal (also known as the coffin bone or P3) bone.  Another way to change the angle (make it steeper) is to remove less heel when trimming before shoeing.  However, often the heels grow slower than the toes, are weaker and tend to crumble and bend in the hind quarters of the hoof area, and it can become difficult to build heels over several shoeings -- if that's even necessary at all in this particular situation.

Another way to change the angle is add a shim pad which would be thicker in the heals than the toe, which would cause the foot to land in the heal area instead of just flat to the ground.  It's also common for raised heels to cause narrower feet for lack of frog contact to the ground along with associated problems with thrush and crushed heels.  In other words, the heels start taking too much of the weight which they cannot support because they are thinner and have less structural support and begin to fold in under the horse, a condition commonly known as "crushed heels".  Because the frog is no longer bearing as much weight as before, the condition becomes even more exacerbated by the lack frog contact.  You can tell if a horse has crushed heels if you see the frog excessively protruding behind the heels (towards the back of the horse) or notice that the angle of the heels is more acute than the angle of the dorsal (front) hoof wall compared to the ground plane.  Healthy heels should be parallel to the angle of the dorsal hoof wall.  Crushed heels are particularly hard to get rid of once the structures have been bent and compromised under the horses weight.  The heels are taking weight from an angle instead of perpendicular to their structure, and they bend from it and fold under the hoof capsule.  Human fingernails are quite strong when pushed on at the end.  Push them from the side even ever so slightly, and they will bend.  The same thing happens to horses' hoof capsules when the angles don't directly support the horse's weight in the strongest possible position to the hoof and its internal structures.

 Another problem with raising the heels is that the fetlock will drop to the ground putting more stress on the suspensory ligaments.  A very simple test to prove this is to take a one inch piece of wood and slide it under both heels on one of your horse's front feet.  You might want to measure the distance to the ground of the fetlock before doing this for comparison purposes.  Notice with the raised heel that the fetlock is much closer to the ground even though the heels are higher.  This differences is even greater when the horse is moving, and in some horses with raised heels the fetlock will even hit the ground when loaded under movement. 

I trim to Uniform Sole Thickness (UST).  Here's a link to my Web site at Uniform Sole Thickness, an article written by Michael Savoldi, Director of Research for the American Farrier's Association, the only farrier organization recognized by the AAEP, (Equine Veterinarians Association) and the organization (AFA) that tested me for my Farrier's Certification.  It's a succession of 3 articles together that shows various stages of a hoof capsule with raised heels being dissected and the damage to internal structures on a horse with them.

Your horse has no more hoof capsule that can be removed from the distal (bottom) toe of without drawing blood.  The toe could be backed up from the dorsal (front) plane, but there is no evidence that the sole is stretched out in front of the frog (dropped sole) or that there is any separation of the hoof capsule away from the pedal bone  -- which is the only instance that I'd move back a shoe from the front to where the break over "should be" in this exception.

The only other way to change the angle would be to apply shim pads or shoes with elevated heels which are contraindicated based on my training and as articulated in the Uniform Sole Thickness article.

 I have a call into your veterinarian, but based on what I have heard so far, I can't follow his/her current directions because they make absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.  There is no room to take more toe from the bottom without making your horse bleed and no room to take toe from the front without moving the shoe back so that the front nail holes will no longer line up with the white line, the only place to drive a safe nail.  Removing hoof wall from the front will weaken the wall.  Placing the shoe over the bone can cause sole bruising (crushing of the solar corium) when the sole flexes toward the ground during weight bearing.

 Hopefully your veterinarian will return my call and we will be able to collaboratively come up with an acceptable solution for your horse's shoeing needs.

Coon Footed?

Question:  Do you think my friend's horse might have a long toe/low heel situation due to the past shoeing .... a couple years?  And, with the protection provided to the heels by your shoeing with frog support pads do you think that the heels will grow out?  I think conformation plays a role here in how we view the foot,  my friends horse being back at the knees and heavy on the forehand???  Impacting how the angle looks since set back from the chest?  I'm particularly neurotic about long-toe/low-heel due to my past experience with another horse's shoeing which caused coon-footedness and resulting pulled suspensory.

Thanks for your explanation, Chris.  It's really hard for all of us when opposing advice comes from different experts.

Answer: I didn't see a long toe/low heel in your friend's horse and thought that his shoeing under the previous farrier was good.  I couldn't find anything wrong with his shoeing.  Your friend's horse  was hitting flat on all four feet when I examined his movement over pavement across the street.  The only thing that I noticed when I shod him was that there was a lot of remedial work that had to be done with regard to retained sole and frog that hadn't been trimmed out in past shoeings.  I believe that not trimming and verifying that there was healthy frog material led to his having the severe thrush problem in his left front foot.  I had to trim away nearly half of his frog on one side down to his sensitive frog, and the center of his frog was left with a deep soft crevice just like your other horse that will heal over time with copper sulfate in under the pad.  The silicone rubber is currently filling the removed frog so that he isn't bearing weight on those tissues in a "lopsided" manner.

Usually when a foot starts looking coon-footed, long and narrow in the heels, there is some stretching of the laminae at the toe and an atrophy of the heels due to low frog pressure.  Most of these types of feet when radiographed will show that the distance from the outside of the dorsal (front) of the hoof wall is greater near the ground than near the coronary band which calls for a backing up of the toe and sliding the shoes back as well.  The nails can be driven inside the white line because the sole has stretched out past the sensitive areas and the hoof capsule is "lying" to the viewer as to where the bones actually are in the foot.  There are several "markers" from the outside of the hoof capsule without taking radiographs that will help an experienced farrier to immediately recognize this condition and not even need radiographs to know that things on the inside of the foot are not what they appear on the outside.  We say that the hoof capsule is "lying" -- to the untrained eye.

Here's what you look for:
  1. Flat sole - no cup to it after verifying with trimming before shoeing.

  2. A longer than normal distance from the tip of the frog to the edge of the white line--sole stretching (and corresponding thinning of the sole which is not visible).

  3. Tip of frog where it meets the sole (and you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins) is not lower than the tip of edge of the front of the foot (higher off the ground).  This point where the frog and sole are at the same height never lies and is about .45 inches from the pedal bone.  It tells you where the bone is in relationship to the hoof capsule which is comprised of the horn, sole, and frog.

  4. The top one inch of hoof near the coronary band is steeper in angle than the rest of the horn at the dorsal (front) of the hoof.  This upper part of the hoof hasn't had time and the pressure needed yet to pull away from the pedal bone.  This is another area that never lies.  Project a line down this straight area at the top and it will dissect a place farther back at the toe down below which would then be pointing to where the edge of the shoe or trim should be.  I can slide the shoes back to this point where it looks like I'm going to "quick" the horse, and it never hurts them because the sole, laminae and whole front are stretched out in front and away from sensitive areas.

  5. Stretched white line.  The appearance of the white line should be about as thick as a human fingernail.  If you see more than this thickness, you are looking at a delaminating hoof wall.  The horse isn't lame because it's not all the way up to the coronary band.  But, you are courting disaster should the horse eat something to make them sick (founder), or they have a big ride on hard ground that causes the rest of the healthy laminae to tear internally all the way up to the coronary band (road founder).

Remember, you cannot get rid of a coon foot by raising the heels.  Although, I can raise crushed heels by transferring the weight to the rest of the foot and particularly the frog with frog support pads and impression material.   Raising the heels without support will greatly exacerbate the crushed heel syndrome.