Most veterinarians, farriers and horseman agree that correct conformation is a high priority when assessing the physical ability of equine athletes. We all each seen the crooked-legged horse that defies odds and excels at its discipline. But truth is, it is not just “good fate” for this horse but rather a strong team of trainer, farrier and veterinarian that understands the role of controlling the imminent joint trauma.

The term “use trauma” was coined in the 1960s at an American Association of Equine Practitioner’s meeting, referring to the fact that performance horse joints undergo a tremendous amount of insult with the repeated joint load that training induces. Joint disease in horses is not only of the geriatric but also rather of the physical demands we place on joints, bones and tissue.

When it comes to recognizing and controlling joint insult, the farrier is the first line of defense. A farrier is able to develop a baseline and maintain a balanced joint environment on the young stock as well as seasoned horses.

The joint environment is made of multiple structures of soft tissue, fluid and cartilage as well as bone. It is the integrity of these components that is essential to soundness and peak performance in all equines. Regular and consistent trimming and shoeing offers the farrier a chance to evaluate the wear of the hoof wall as well as the wear patterns of the shoes, which are duly influencing the joint environments. Interpreting that information allows the farrier the opportunity to correct and realign those joint spaces. Assessment of conformation and understanding of each horse’s differing demands allows the farrier to intervene and offer preventative correction to joint damage.

For the joints to maintain homeostasis and normalized joint environment it is critical that the hoof be balanced as it is the start point for balance throughout the limb. A well-balanced hoof from medial to lateral as well as anterior and posterior influences all the joints and offers the proper support for training and competition.

If a soundness issue should arise and a veterinarian is able to diagnosis specific lesions, the farrier is able to assess and discuss the lesions and alter the impact of load and attempt to correct with specific therapeutic shoes or by hand forging their own support and solutions. This symbiotic relationship of trainer, veterinarian and farrier is essential to the long-term viability of any athlete. Farrier and veterinarians are able to document joint health with radiograph and other imaging modalities.


Victoria Maxwell is a technical service veterinarian for Luitpold Animal Health, the manufacturers of the Adequan joint health product.