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If the shoe fits


SOME horse owners judge the quality of shoeing by the length of time the shoes will stay on and whether or not their horse is sound.

To an extent this is fair, no one wants lost shoes, or a lame horse, but leaving shoes on too long is a false economy.

But what constitutes a well shod horse and sensible shoeing routine?

The basis of all good shoeing begins with skilled hoof trimming prior to fitting the shoe.

The foot should ideally be centrally positioned below the limb when viewed from either the front or back of the leg.

Effect of gait and conformation:

Ideally the foot should land level, but some don’t as there are horses that have less than ideal conformation that makes this impossible.

The foot touches down on one side and rolls into the centre, but sometimes conformation predisposes the foot to load over the inside heel quarter when moving through the weight bearing

phase of the stride.

This should be shod with the foot bearing surface level with any leading edges rounded to accommodate the horse’s natural gait.

The outline of the hoof is best fairly symmetrical, as asymmetry indicates uneven forces on the foot.

It must be said that many horses, due to their natural conformation, are predisposed to such feet - to a great extent the hoof conforms to the forces it is subject to.

The hoof wall from tip to ground border should be straight without dishes, hollows or flaring.


Shoe fit:

The shoe fit on the front foot should follow the flowing outline of the hoof in the front half.

The back half of the shoe should just frame the hoof, making allowance for the hoof to expand and provide adequate material to stand on for the

duration of the shoeing cycle. A shoe that fits exactly to the outline of the ground bearing surface of the hoof when fitted will soon become

overgrown as the hoof grows down and forward.

This may be seen as safe, and lessen the chance of a lost shoe out hunting, but increases the possibility of corns, and increased strain on the flexors and suspensory apparatus of the


The centre of weight bearing wants to be over the centre of the shoe when the horse is shod.

As the hoof grows forward so the centre of weight moves backward; and as with balance once it is tipped it quickly swings.

Heel pain and other obscure lameness in the back half of the foot become more likely as does Navicular disease as a result of prolonged overloading of the joint.


Length of shoe:

A simple guide is to pick up the foot, cup it in your hands with the thumbs on the bulbs of the heels; the heels of the shoe should be somewhere close – around six mm.

The whole hoof is shod, not just to a point far under the hoof when the under run heels have collapsed. The shoe foot bearing surface should be in contact with the hoof, not a long lever behind the heel to crush it further.

Even hooves that run tight on one side, that are more upright and narrower, usually benefit from subtle enhancing with a shoe that provides more width.

Farriers talk of ‘shoeing to the hair line’, this means the shoe outline fit is taken from the coronary border and not the ground bearing surface in the back half of the hoof.

The distance from the centre of the frog to a point on either side of the shoe wants to be equal.

We talk of symmetry and bilateral symmetry these are ideals but not always attainable or desirable for some horses.


Hind shoe fit:

When fitting hind shoes for athletic horses the toe of the hoof is rounded and the shoe fitted under the toe with quarter clips fitted to allow this, reducing the chance of over-reaching and the risk

of damage to the fore limb or foot.



Six nails will keep most shoes securely in place. They should be well spaced in strong horn and approximately one third of the height of the wall.

Close bunched nails or nailing into already weakened horn is detrimental and will eventually cause problems.

This article first appeared in Horse Health Magazine, June/ July 2009


Well shod front hoof
A hind shod foot, shod to the heel
Hind foot with shoe left on too long and other hoof trimmed
Front left fore showing a contracted lateral side of foot

Well shod front hoof

A hind shod foot, shod to the heel

Hind foot with shoe left on too long and other hoof trimmed

Front left fore showing a contracted lateral side of foot, shoe is fitted to the hair line to provide a central base

Shoeing cycle:

The period between shoeings can justifiably vary from four to eight weeks depending on whether you have a Welsh pony or a shallow footed TB.

The time of year has a great effect on horn growth, spring and summer being the quickest and the winter months slowest.

The horse should be shod before the shoes become loose. Clanking shoes will cause damage to the hoof wall making it harder to find sound horn to nail into next time.

Shallow thin walled feet are not necessarily shod very frequently and if the horn growth is slow and the clenches tight then allowing for some growth before nailing again is very