Danny Love's Farrier's Corner - Information Sheet

Corrective shoeing: What it is and what it isn't
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 horses.

At the outset, horses are shod for four basic reasons.

  1. Most commonly, it is for protection of the hooves from excessive wear and tear during use.

  2. Shoeing can enhance traction for performance.

  3. "Corrective shoeing" (which is often erroneously lumped together with "therapeutic shoeing") attempts to solve interference and lameness problems due to faulty conformation.

  4. 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 unchanged.

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 or surgery.

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 conformation.

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 usefulness.

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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