Corrective shoeing: What it is and what it
by Kirk E. Adkins
We're not here to debate, terminology but to help clarify what I think
is happening in one facet of the farrier profession. Farriers and
manufacturers are constantly striving to meet the demands of the horse
owner. Great progress has been made in the past few years in providing
innovative new shoes and communicating techniques to others for the benefit
of the client. In fact we may be too good in providing solutions to the
problems we encounter and our clientele has come to trade off good
selection and breeding for our ability to compensate for inferior
At the outset, horses are shod for four basic reasons.
Most commonly, it is for protection of the hooves from
excessive wear and tear during use.
Shoeing can enhance traction for performance.
"Corrective shoeing" (which is often erroneously lumped
together with "therapeutic shoeing") attempts to solve interference
and lameness problems due to faulty conformation.
Therapeutic shoeing" deals with the treating or relieving the
effects of disease and/or injury to the legs or feet.
The term "corrective shoeing" is an overused term that encompasses any
shoeing that isn't plain old flat shoes. If used in it's most accurate form
it's use would be less frequent. "Corrective shoeing" has been used to
describe shoeing treatment for many maladies of the feet and legs, in the
case of mature horses, "compensatory shoeing" may actually be a more
accurate term. The frame of reference is more with compensation for the
conformation deficiencies of the horse then actual correction. Here, the
problems are only masked by shoeing and trimming techniques, for when the
shoes are removed the problem still exists; the horse's conformation is
In the majority of gait problems (interfering, overreaching, forging
etc.), conformation deficiency is the fundamental cause for limb
interferences. And while conformation is at fault "corrective shoeing" in
these instances may only change the horse's way of going to prevent
interference or lameness.
If the horse is a youngster, then conformation change is the primary
emphasis. True correction of a fault is only possible in a narrow set of
circumstances. For a permanent change to be possible in the horse's
conformation, the horse must be young enough to still be growing at the
location of the defect (the physical growth plate). For example, care must
be taken when evaluating foals that are "toed out" to be sure the problem
is indeed an angular defect in the leg and not a rotational deviation up in
the shoulder which doesn't respond to shoeing or trimming.
Within the last ten years "glue on" shoe technology has found a niche
with corrective shoes for foals that is tremendously useful in the early
treatment of angular limb deformities. These shoes can be applied when the
horse is young enough to take advantage of the natural straightening
mechanism in the foals' legs. Extensions on the shoes are positioned to
support the leg and reduce the damaging forces across the growth plates,
allowing the leg to straighten. Often a leg is too crooked for just shoes
and other more drastic measures have to be taken such as splinting, casting
Often the term "corrective shoeing" overlaps with "therapeutic shoeing."
It is possible that the conformation of the horse can lead to injury, such
as the development of a corn in an underrun heel. Here the emphasis is to
relieve the symptoms and to help heal the horse if possible. While treating
the injury you may be doing exactly what is necessary to compensate for the
To confuse matters even more, some people use the term "pathological"
when referring to "therapeutic shoeing". Pathology refers to the existence
or the creating of disease, for example an infection resulting from the
horse being "quicked". Furthermore a pathology report is one that is
rendered after an autopsy by a pathologist. In contrast, therapy is the
treatment of disease and injury, returning the patient to health and
A prime example of "therapeutic shoeing" is the use of bar shoes. The
term "bar shoe" means that the heels of the shoe are connected in some
way other than around the toe. In essence a shoe nailed on reversed
toe-to-heel is an "open toed egg bar shoe". Usually the name of the shoe is
determined by the shape of the shoe; "heart bar", "mushroom shoe" etc. By
uniting the heels of the shoe a stable platform is created. This allows a
redistribution of the weight of the horse upon the shoe while retaining
stability. Pressure can be relieved from various locations of the foot, or
conversely, structures such as the frog can be utilized to a greater extent
as a weight bearing structure. Bar shoes can help the structures farther up
the leg by providing medial, lateral and posterior support to the tendons
ligaments and joints
In the process of trying to help, farriers meet with a full spectrum of
response from horse owners; from "walking on water" and "he can do no
wrong", to "the lowest life form", being blamed for making the horses legs
crooked after one trimming. Farriery clientele suffer from the lack of a
realistic idea of what we can and cannot do. As farrier for a veterinary
school, I feel that the majority of owners I see are placing far too much
hope on our ability to make their horses into the Pegasus they imagine them
to be. We are in a very unenviable position. If the horse doesn't perform
we may be saddled with the blame. If we bring attention to the
shortcomings of the horse we may suffer the same fate as the messenger
bringing bad news from the battlefield. Some owners take personal
criticism better than criticism of their horses.
We farriers are similar to mechanics. Be it a Ferrari or a tractor we
must be able to bring out the best performance possible for that
individual. We cannot change the basic package -- "no silk purses from
sow's ears" here. At least we should encourage owners to make the best
selection possible of their stock by staring at the foundation; the feet.
Contrary to popular belief farriers are not meant to be magicians. they
can, however be expected to be good craftsmen.
Kirk Adkins is the farrier for the Veterinary
Medicine Teaching Hospital, University of California, Davis. The horses are Danny's clients and Danny made and fit the shoes shown.
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