Coming up with an accurate diagnosis involves several components. It starts with a thorough history. Next, an overall physical examination of the horse is performed, looking for physical indications of problems such as poor conformation, asymmetry in the body, lumps, bumps, swellings, heat and the strength of the digital pulse.
Next, watch the horse move in a straight line, then in circles over different surfaces in hand, at a walk and trot. Typically horses with soft tissue problems will be worse on soft surfaces, while bone and joint issues show up on hard ground. The horse should also be observed under saddle at all three gaits, and, if possible, doing other activities such as jumping or dressage movements.
“Tests,” which may include hoof testers, flexion tests, wedge tests, nerve blocks, radiographs, ultrasound and MRI (the gold standard), are performed at different times throughout the exam. The process is like making a cake. It takes several ingredients carefully put together before you have a final product.
One test that is directly linked to farriery is the wedge test. I talked to Dr. Tracy Turner from Anoka Equine Veterinary Services, in Elk River, Minn. Turner uses the test regularly in his work-ups. The results enable him to advise his clients on possible shoeing changes.
He uses a discarded hoof knife, heavily taped with Elasticon as his testing piece. He places the knife under the frog, the toe or on either side of the foot. He then raises the opposite foot, making the horse stand on the wedge for one minute.
The horse is then trotted off and observed for signs of increased lameness on the tested limb. Note that when pressure is exerted directly under the front part of the frog, the navicular bone, navicular bursa and the deep digital flexor tendon are stressed. This may give you an indication of how much frog pressure the horse can tolerate.
Be aware that this pressure does not occur naturally so there is the possibility of a false positive.
Turner also advocates placing the knife under the toe, which will tell you if the horse can tolerate having its foot in a broken-back position. A positive response may signal the need for caudal support. The medial/lateral tests demonstrate the horse’s ability to tolerate stress on the collateral ligaments.
These tests can also be done using a No. 4 wedge pad. I find that it is easier for the horse to stand on a pad than a knife handle. Another option is to cut pieces of wood in different widths, with the front tapered to prevent the accentuated pressure at the front of frog.
There are any number of tools you can use to do this test. I urge you to experiment with a vet to see what works best for you. Do not use this test to give medical advice to your clients. Use it to further your understanding of doing the best possible job for that particular horse.
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Items that can be used as the wedge in these tests include a hoof-knife handle, a No. 4 wedge pad or wooden blocks with a tapered front to prevent accentuated pressure on the frog. Red Renchin cut these three wooden blocks to accommodate different sizes of feet.
In addition to conducting a wedge test on the heel, as shown on Page 52, wedge tests can be performed under the toe or on either side of a foot.
Renchin finds that some horses stand more easily on a wedge pad than they will on a knife handle. It’s important to be aware that standing on a wedge may be uncomfortable for horses, so be prepared for some resistance.
Fit With Aluminum
Solid tips from people who have learned
their way around working with these important shoes
Aluminum horseshoes are not new. They’ve been around for several decades now and are the shoe of choice at racetracks and for many disciplines. Trainers choose aluminum shoes when they want less weight, more flotation or because they think they absorb shock better than steel.
And if trainers want the shoes, farriers need to know how to shape and fit them. As with so many things in hoof care, farriers have different ideas about the same things.
If there is a consensus among farriers about aluminum shoes, it’s that you need to practice shaping them and get a feel for working with the metal. It will start out feeling different than steel — but some farriers say once you’ve learned its ways, aluminum is even easier to work with than steel.
Hot Or Cold?
Aluminum can be shaped hot or cold. While the typical thinking might be that racing plates and lighter shoes will be shaped cold, and heavier aluminum shoes like those used for hunters and jumpers will be put in the forge, that also proves to be a matter of personal preference.
Jeff Pauley, a farrier from Burnsville, N.C., and also a clinician for Delta Mustad Hoofcare, says he always heats up his aluminum shoes because of the size and mass of the shoes he most often uses.
“If you’re working with a St. Croix Eventer or a Mustad Equilibrium shoe, you’re working on shoes that are designed for a bigger horse,” he says. “I think the biggest thing is to put a little heat on them, until they get malleable. It’s easier on your hands and your elbows as well.”
Pauley does note that you need to learn how your individual forge and aluminum shoes work together.
“I usually preheat my forge and when I put the shoes in, it doesn’t take long for them to be ready,” he says. “I usually count to 30 and take them out and do the handle test.”
For the handle test, he sets the hot aluminum shoe on the anvil and draws the handle hammer across it. If the resulting mark quickly burns away or is badly smeared, the metal is too hot for shaping.
Pauley shapes his aluminum shoes with the same hammer he used to forge steel shoes. He’s just careful to use lighter hammer blows.
“Aluminum holds heat very well,” he says. “You should be able to shape them with just one heat. And let them air cool. Don’t quench them. If you do that, they can get very brittle.”
Pauley also likes to heat factory-clipped aluminum shoes because it’s easier to fit the clips to the hoof wall with a heated shoe. But while he used factory-clipped shoes, he says forging your own clips on an aluminum shoe isn’t particularly difficult.
“Once you learn how, it’s actually easier than on a steel shoe,” he says. “What I did was buy some aluminum bar stock and forged shoes out of it so I’d learn how the metal worked. That made it easier to modify a shoe like the St. Croix Eventer.”
Dave Farley of Coshocton, Ohio, who also shoes in Wellington, Fla., takes a different approach to using aluminum.
“Buy a stall jack,” he says, when asked what’s the first thing he would tell a novice farrier about using aluminum shoes. “You shape an aluminum shoe no differently than you do a steel shoe, and most of them you can shape cold on a stall jack.”
Farley, a clinician for Farrier Product Distribution, of Shelbyville, Ky., and also vice president of the American Association of Professional Farriers, likes a heavier stall jack than some models, and particularly wants one with a wider shaping notch.
“I like the one that Dave Willis makes,” he says of the owner of Valley Farrier Supply in Beavercreek, Ore. “That has a nice, wide notch that will handle shoes of just about any size and thicknesses of shoe.”
He says that includes wider, stouter shoes, such as a No. 4 Kerckhaert Triumph aluminum shoe, which is close to an inch thick at the web.
While Pauley uses the same size hammer he uses for steel with his hot aluminum shoes, when shaping aluminum cold, Farley wants a heavier hammer.
“We actually have a 2-pound-plus hammer that we refer to as the stall jack hammer,” he says. “With steel shoes that I heat up, I’ll use a lighter hammer.”
Farley, who with his son, Jay, shoes many top hunters and jumpers, estimates that 40% of the shoes they put on are aluminum.
He also hot fits the cold-shaped shoes, using a special hot-fitting plate that goes into the forge instead of the aluminum shoe.
While he says it’s not a problem with Kerckhaert shoes he uses, he does suggest that farriers check the nail pitch on drop-forged aluminum shoes, particularly on nail holes toward the back of the crease. He says putting a bit more pitch in those nails will help you drive a good high nail and get a better clinch, which will help ensure that your shoes stay on.
As you see, there’s agreement on the importance of proper use of the hammer, but a difference of opinion about the weight.
Ed Kinney of Thoro’bred, Inc., has still a different suggestion about hammer use: Go with less weight, rather than more.
“Aluminum is much easier to work than steel if you remember this one simple rule,” advises the president of the Anaheim, Calif., company. “Use lighter blows with your 1-pound hammer. Yes, 1-pound. If you do that, you can make any shape for a horse’s foot that you desire, in hot or cold weather, guaranteed.”
Aluminum At The Track
Aluminum shoes are, of course, the dominant shoe at racetracks. Joe Ludford, a Baltimore, Md., track farrier, and a clinician for Victory Racing Plate Co., says having the right stall jack and shaping hammer is an important aspect of working with shoes such as Victory’s aluminum racing plates.
Like Farley, Ludford notes that racing plates are designed to be fit cold. He also concurs that he wants a heavier hammer for the work.
“Most farriers use a 2- or 2 1/2-pound shaping hammer because it is the weight of the hammer that should be used to perform the ‘bull work’ of shaping the racing plate, not the strength of the arm,” Ludford advises. “Farriers should choose the weight most comfortable for them. Correct positioning of the hand on the shaping hammer is also important. For power strokes, the hand should be placed lower on the handle to get the full benefit of the hammer’s weight. For ‘finesse’ strokes the farrier should ‘choke up’ on the handle for more control.”
Dave Erb, president of Victory, offers these tips:
- Fitting wide-web aluminum horseshoes, such as Elite Competition Shoe products, when they are cold is usually done better on an anvil. Anvils offer more resistance than stall jacks and can make shaping short work for the farrier. Turning cams on the side of the anvil or a turning slot cut into the heel are desirable features for cold turning.
- Sometimes when shaping aluminum racing plates or wide-web aluminum horseshoes, some slight “mushrooming” may take place along the inside edges that come in contact with the stall jack or anvil. A half-round file for filing aluminum does the trick for removing these aberrations.
- Another tip for getting a tight fit on a racing plate is to bend each heel slightly toward the hoof side before nailing them on. Once the nails are driven and clinches made tight, the heel fits snug against the hoof.
Harry Carroll, owner of Charles Town Blacksmith Supply in Charles Town, W.Va., stressed the importance of a horse being in balance and level during a 40-year career as racetrack farrier. One trick Carroll uses to get a snug fit is to place a racing plate hoof-side down on his stall jack and give it a good “lick” in the toe area to create a slight bow, then nailing the racing plate tightly to the hoof, causing the toe and heel to become even with the hoof.
Tom Moran, farrier and owner of Around the Anvil Farrier Supply in Cooksville, Md., emphasizes the importance of fitting a racing plate full to provide maximum protection and support. Moran says that driving “strong” nails is paramount to having success in nailing on racing plates. He defines “strong” nails as nails driven high, and then tightly clinched.