Tom Petersen defines distortions as alterations from the original form. More specific for farriers, common deviations like flares or crushed heels are alterations of the original form of the hoof capsule.

“It may not always mean a bad thing, but we have to address it,”  says the Bozeman, Mont., farrier. “We need to keep the hoof capsule strong and help the horse with its longevity.”

But what causes hoof capsule distortions? The answer may seem like remedial farrier knowledge. However, Petersen says to not dismiss the simplistic. He shared a quick review of the subject with attendees at the early winter Michigan Horseshoers Association annual contest and clinic at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Conformation as a Cause

Petersen says recognizing and accessing conformation can be difficult for the novice farrier, yet its understanding is a foundation for success. Recalling his early career, Petersen now sees how helpful it would be for novices to receive help from seasoned farriers in reading conformational deformities for making swift and appropriate decisions for the horse’s hoof care.

Seasoned farriers will view this as basic information, but Petersen reminds that the basics are the basis of service to the horse.

“Basics are incredibly important,” he says. “Having a solid understanding of conformational deformities allows you to pick them apart rapidly so you can develop a game plan and can execute it with intent.”

Set Goals and Stay Motivated

Tom Petersen has developed a reputation as a top competitor and knowledgeable farrier. His achievement is the result of hard work and dedication. But it began with establishing goals.

Success is achieveing established goals, whether in your personal or business life. Petersen says success is relevant to the individual.

“What does it mean to you?” he asks. “Maybe it means making more money, shoeing for different disciplines or setting up a business in a new area. Whatever that is, you need to develop your skill set to get there.”

Failure to establish goals results in complacency. For Petersen, certification and competition are two strong means to push oneself because of the amount of practice required. They provide him with motivation to want to achieve. Knowing the level of competition he would face motivated Petersen to get out of bed to practice or go to the shop after a long day of work. He realized that is the same behavior of the caliber of farriers he’d have to best at a contest. This dedication carries over to his daily work.

“There is no better feeling than achieving your goals, accomplishing what you set out to do,” he says. 

The End Game

Regardless of the goals established, Petersen says ultimately all farriers should drive for financial stability in retirement. Unfortunately, financial security in retirement is something often overlooked until too late. Instead, too much focus is placed on the day’s earnings rather than contributing to retirement down the road. For some farriers, retirement may come sooner than expected.

“Each one of us has a certain number of horses in our bodies,” Petersen says. “And when we use that number up, we are done.”

For Petersen, analysis of each horse is a balance between thorough and swift. When looking at conformation to determine the effect on the hoof capsule, the farrier needs to conduct a thorough examination and not be complacent, such as trusting what is seen simply by how the horse stands. 

“With some horses standing in a static state, the hoof may not look that crooked or rotated,” he says. “But if you pick it up and flex it, you’re immediately told where the rotation is coming from. We have to take the time to look at the horse when we walk up to it, but need to do so quickly to improve our efficiency.”

Reviewing Other Causes of Distortion

Petersen touched on a number of causes beyond conformation that may contribute to hoof capsule distortions. Again, it is basic information, but if unrecognized, will hamper the farrier’s ability to help the horse.

Excessive length. Don’t only observe the length, but understand why it is present, as there is a reason, such as neglect by the horse owner. 

Environment. The environment a horse is kept in contributes to distortions. A wet environment will greatly affect hoof capsule distortions. 

Work. Understand what is demanded of the horse. Is it a pasture pet that walks around or a high-end Grand Prix jumping horse?

“Which one is going to have higher compression, which one is going to have more leverage placed on the hoof capsule?” he asks.

Farrier. Depending on the outcome, the farrier can be congratulated or blamed.

“At times it can be our fault,” says Petersen. “For example, an imbalanced trim is going to cause distortions. And the farrier can keep perpetuating these if they fail to recognize and correct them. A farrier may be incapable of seeing what they are doing wrong because they are isolated and not seeking opportunities to improve. Instead, they get in a rut and do the same thing.”

Injuries. Petersen says farriers need to understand what they can do in relation to the injury to help the hoof capsule work in uniform with all its structures.

“The hoof capsule itself is a complicated structure, and we need to understand how to help it so one part doesn’t collapse and become undermined by overwork,” he says.

Pathologies. Petersen points to older horses, which start to develop arthritis or become more prone to soft tissue injuries. Pathologies affect the hoof capsule by changing how a horse stands and moves. 

“These are seen in the effects from compensation of lameness, loss of mobility in a joint or the loss of elasticity in soft tissue,” he notes.

No matter what the cause, assessment cannot be ignored prior to your trimming or shoeing plan. Under that umbrella, Petersen has three keys to help you get in the right direction for building a plan.

“Examine how the limb loads, how it flexes and how it lands,” he says. “Gather as much  information as possible so you get out of the horse’s way and do the best job possible.”

In management of hoof capsule distortions, Petersen has a few rules that should guide farriers:

  1. Assess how much depth the foot has to allow for improvements.
  2. Distortions do not happen overnight, so don’t try to do too much with one trim. 
  3. Make a game plan before you take action. Get information from the owner and learn what you can from previous farrier. The more information you uncover, the more likely you’ll take the appropriate action. 
  4. A foot left with integrity improves quicker.

Petersen’s final reminder is to not allow your opinion of what is suitable for you override what is actually best for this horse.

“We often make decisions that are easier for us, but not necessarily what is best for the horse,” he says. “Just because it may be easier doesn’t make it right.”  

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A view of the three-man draft contest inside the Michigan State University’s Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education. Inset: One of the shoes from the 2022 winning team of Craig, Bodie and Levi Trnka.

Unique Feature of Annual Contest

The Michigan Horseshoers Association (MHA) began in the late 1960s, launching its annual contest and clinic in 1972. It is the longest continuous contest and clinic in the United States. In fact, American Farrier’s Association founder Walt Taylor modeled the American Farrier’s Association’s Convention after attending the Michigan event. One of the draws of the contest is the three-man draft shoeing class.

The MHA first implemented the three-man draft shoeing class in 2002 after International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame member Dick Becker of Lapeer, Mich., saw its benefits while competing at a Rocky Mountain Farriers Association contest.    

“It is designed so that in the team’s first go of shoeing the horses, each member is responsible for an aspect of the entire shoeing,” says Jennifer Horn, a certified journeyman farrier from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and one of the event’s organizers. “One will do the floor work of nailing, clinching and finishing, while one builds the shoes and the other strikes.”