Ask The Vet: Therapeutic Farriery

Answered by, Jillian Mills, DVM, DACVSMR, CERP, CVA, Starwood Equine Veterinary Services, Woodside, CA
Courtesy of AAEP

Question: As I watch my horse walk towards me, I can see that the outside of her left front foot lands first then the inside. She also has a lot of arthritis in her left fetlock area. Can my farrier do anything to make her front feet more balanced? 

Answer: Uneven hoof placement does not necessarily mean that your horse’s feet are unbalanced. Foot fall can also be significantly affected by conformation. The two main means for evaluating medial-to-lateral (inside-to-outside) hoof imbalance include hoof measurements and radiographic evaluation. Radiographs (x-rays) are beneficial because they can make subtle imbalances more obvious and identify other abnormalities that may also require correction, such as a negative palmar angle. A radiographic shoeing consultation will allow your veterinarian and farrier to collaborate on what is best for your horse’s specific ailment.

Abnormal foot fall, regardless of the cause, can result in asymmetric joint loading. Abnormal joint loading has been implicated in the progression of osteoarthritis. Your farrier could apply a shoe with a heavily beveled medial (inside) quarter and branch to aid in medial breakover. This will reduce the strain on the lateral (outside) tendons and ligaments of the limb. To further reduce the concussive forces on the inside sole and limb, the width of the outside branch of the shoe should be widened to aid in redistributing the load.

Question: What should I be feeding my horses for better hooves? What are your thoughts regarding horses going barefoot and the use of boots? 

Answer: In a controlled feeding trial, biotine-supplemented horses had a 15% higher growth rate of hoof horn and dorsal midline hoof wall at 5 months compared to the control group. Cysteine and Methionine are also important components of the hoof wall matrix. Unfortunately, there is no external oversight for human or animal nutraceuticals, so it’s important to go with a reputable company that does internal quality assurance. Nutramax Laboratories, the maker of Cosequin Equine Products, and Platinum Performance are two well-regulated companies.

In regards to going barefoot, that is completely dependent on your horse. Some horses do well barefoot, while others may become footsore. Barefoot farriery and the use of boots is largely dependent on your horse’s job, exercise level, riding surface, and hoof quality. It’s important to note that a barefoot horse still needs to have their feet trimmed on a regular schedule to maintain a healthy hoof.

Question: What can be done to help horses with thin soles? 

Answer: For a horse with thin soles, your goals should be to reduce concussion and redistribute the weight bearing of the foot away from the sole. Vibration frequencies in the foot are significantly lower with the use of polyurethane and aluminum shoes, compared to steel shoes. In a structurally normal hoof, the application of a rim or full pad can help further reduce these forces. Viscoelastic pads have been shown to reduce the concussive forces in the foot by up to 75%. A pour-in-pad should not be used in horses with thin soles. Pour-in-pads disperse the polymer between the branches of the shoe and redistribute the weight bearing away from the walls and further onto the sole.