In this blog, I will tell you about the person who works on my feet. This person is called a farrier, and my farrier is Butch. I'm lucky to have him because he does things most farriers don't, like asking my owner to walk me before trimming my hooves. Watching me walk lets him see imbalances in my hooves.
He also checks my back with his hands before working on my feet. Palpating my back and rump gives him information about where I might be sore due to a hoof being out of balance. I heard him tell my owner that hoof imbalance is one of the most common problems associated with lameness in horses. Lameness is when a horse's gaits are abnormal, similar to when people hurt their leg and limp.
Horses' hooves are like people's fingernails and toenails; they grow every day. Domestic horses usually suffer from one of two issues. They don't move enough to wear down their hooves correctly, making regular trimming necessary, or the work humans ask them to do is demanding, causing the feet to wear down too quickly, potentially causing damage.
Farriers use various tools to help them do their job. One tool they often use is chaps. Chaps are leather leggings that cover the front of the legs. Farriers need protection from the sharp tools they use if the horse suddenly pulls its hoof away. Chaps also help the farriers grip the horse's leg.
Farriers also use a hoof stand. The stand holds the foot up so the farrier can work on the outside wall of the hoof. They also use hoof picks, knives, nippers, and rasps. First, the farrier uses the hoof pick to remove dirt and manure from the bottom of the hoof. Removing the debris allows the farrier to see what areas of the foot need trimming.
Next, a knife is used to take off dried sole tissue from the bottom of the hoof. Nippers are the primary tool a farrier uses. They trim the excess growth from the foot and act the same way fingernail clippers work for people. Last is the rasp, used to file the hoof to smooth out its edges.
After trimming all four of my feet, Butch asks my owner to walk me again. He usually makes some minor adjustments until he's satisfied with the balance and alignment of my feet. It's easy for Butch to do my hooves because I'm barefoot. This means I don't wear shoes.
It's common for horses to wear shoes on their front feet, and some horses require them on their hind hooves as well. Horseshoes are similar to human shoes. Their primary function is to protect the horse's hoof from wearing down too quickly. Wear can be a problem in working horses. For example, horses that compete in jumping, eventing, polo, and other strenuous activities.
The shoeing process starts with trimming and filing the horse's feet. Once this is done, the farrier assesses the approximate size of the shoe the horse requires. Most horseshoes are made from steel or aluminum. The material the farrier chooses depends on what function the shoe needs to perform and what job the horse performs.
The shoe is shaped by hammering it against an anvil. An anvil is an iron block. Depending on the shoe's material, it may need to be heated. The farrier checks the shoe's shape against the hoof throughout this process to ensure a proper fit. A hot-shoe pressed against the trimmed foot clearly marks uneven areas that need leveling with a rasp to ensure the proper fit.
Once the farrier is satisfied that the shoe is leveled and adequately placed on the hoof, it is nailed on. The ends of the nails are twisted off and bent over with clinching tongs; the end result is called "clinches." Sharp edges of the clinches are filed down with the rasp, and the hoof wall is filed where it meets the shoe. This is done to reduce the risk of cracks in the hoof.
You might wonder if shoeing hurts the horse. Horse hooves do not contain any pain receptors, so nailing a shoe into the hoof does not hurt. However, an improperly mounted horseshoe can hurt the horse. When a horseshoe is mounted incorrectly, it can rub the soft tissue of the sole and the frog, causing pain and leaving your horse lame.
Uh-oh, I mentioned the frog, and you might think I'm talking about those tiny things that jump and make the "ribbit" noise, but that isn't the case. The frog is part of the hoof. It is the tough, thick, V-shaped structure pointing down from the heel. It protects a cushion beneath it, aids in traction and circulation in the hoof, and partly acts as a shock absorber when the horse moves.
Now you know more about farriers, what they do, and how they help horses.
I like it when my hooves are trimmed. I often groom Butch's back or head while he's working. And sometimes, I let out a big yawn when he's all done. Horses don't yawn when they are tired. They do this when they are releasing tension in their body.
Here's a fun fact, did you know that horseshoes are a symbol of good luck?
Horseshoes have been used for centuries as a protective and good luck symbol. If you want to use the horseshoe for good luck, place the shoe above your front door on the outside.
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Written by Diane R. Jones January 30, 2022