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Some Thoughts on Shoeing the Endurance Horse

Some Thoughts on Shoeing the Endurance Horse
Author: Keith Swann

Over the years countless suggestions as to how endurance horses should be shod have been put forward. Some of these suggestions have been quite radical, some innovative and many quite impractical. Many "new" methods are tried, often with less than satisfactory results. This has led to much confusion among competitors, farriers and also veterinarians.

An endurance horse obviously covers a greater distance in both training and actual performance than horses involved in other disciplines. Does this mean that the endurance horse needs to be shod in a different manner to other horses? The answer is NO and YES.

"No" because the principles of hoof care and shoeing as laid down by the laws of nature and nurtured and fostered by thinking horse persons over several centuries, apply to all horses irrespective of their breed or the discipline they have been required to follow. "Yes" because of the long distances travelled over varying terrain and surfaces, extra protection from wear and concussion may be necessary.

Earliest writings on selection of the horse, and trimming of the foot, indicate that the dorsal aspect of the three digits (ie PI PII and PIII) should lie in line. It is also agreed that the hoof wall should be straight from the hairline to the ground, ie not flared, dished or shaped like a parrot's beak. The foot should also be balanced medio-laterally and land flat. It has always been considered that, if these principles are adhered to, the horse will perform to the best of its ability, why then, is so much said and written about corrective shoeing and the dozens of different types of shoes, pads, wedges and other devices designed to attempt to correct and improve gait and lameness problems. Too often emphasis is placed on treating the problem rather than addressing the cause.

Modern trimming and shoeing techniques are based on the way a foot grows, develops and wears under natural conditions. These techniques have been adapted for domestic horses after studying the feet of wild horses still running in more or less their natural environment. Domestic horses are mostly ridden or driven in harness and are living in a totally different environment to wild horses. Therefore they need ongoing regular trimming and/or shoeing to maintain their feet in a suitable shape and state.

Of the horses presented with lameness problems in any practice, there are three major contributing factors:

* imbalanced feet
* feet that have been overdressed and are too short at the toe
* shoes which are too light for the task the horse is required to undertake.

All these inadequacies lead to soft tissue damage which, if addressed early enough can be resolved with correct shoeing with normal shoes.

The following principles are mandatory for good trimming or shoeing outcomes:

* The foot should be level and mediolaterally balanced
* The hoof wall and pastern axis should be the same
* The plantar surface of the foot should be as symmetrical as possible

When hoof balance cannot be achieved by trimming, the shoe should be placed where the foot should be. This will allow for better weight distribution over the hoof capsule and unless there are serious conformation faults the hoof will eventually assume a better shape.

Many horses with varying degrees of conformation faults can perform satisfactorily if correctly shod to balance the foot. When trimming all flares should be removed and any other distortion of the hoof capsule addressed. Excess horn is removed from the plantar surface and heels trimmed to the widest part of the frog. The shoe is then fitted to this point. This gives the hoof adequate support at the heels and affords protection for the bulbs of the heels.

Because of the distances travelled and the varying terrain covered in endurance riding it is common, and desirable, to fit a plastic pad between the shoe and the sole. Some form of packing between the sole and pad is required to exclude stones and dirt etc. Equthane sole pack (soft) is an excellent product as it sets up very quickly. Silicone roof and gutter sealant is also satisfactory but takes longer to set up. It is necessary to wrap the foot with tape while it is setting.

The theory that the lightest shoe available is best for endurance horses has been seriously questioned with the result that most riders now opt for steel shoes of reasonable weight. An excellent product is the Kerkhart PB classic which is of 20 x 10 section concave. This shoe offers stability and some traction. Some favour wide alumina shoes which are light but not as supportive as steel and tend to allow the horse to slip on many surfaces.

Aytec and Natural Balance shoes have been used by some riders but in most cases do not appear to give sufficient support in that the flexor tendons are unloaded and too much strain is put on the extensor tendons. A school of thought has emerged of late which condemns all shoeing as evil and favours all horses being left unshod. This may be a nice concept but is quite impractical.

Discussions with leading endurance riders and veterinarians heavily involved with endurance riding competitors confirm my belief that the majority of successful endurance horses are shod according to the principles discussed in this paper. Experience has proved that uncomplicated interpretation of these principles ensures the best results and the soundest horses.