To shoe or not to shoe, that is the question.

Answers vary widely, and often without objectivity. Steve Kraus has developed a protocol that tries to shed light on whether a horse should be shod.

“In the U.S., most horses are not shod,” the head farrier at Cornell University says. “There are about 9 million horses in the U.S. If anyone thinks that all 9 million horses can be treated the same way, come talk to me. We need to straighten you out.”


The contentious debate of barefoot vs. shod often fails to address the true problem.

“The problem is not the horseshoe,” Kraus says. “The problem is not the nail. The problem is not the farrier. The problem is not the trim. The problem is inadequate training of farriers and trimmers. There is no standard for either. I’m not advocating regulation, I’m just stating a fact.”

Another problem is a lack of knowledge by horse owners.

“Most horse owners have only ridden one or two horses, so they don’t know what a good horse is. They don’t know what a good trim is. They think the horse is doing the best he can because they don’t have anything to compare it with.”

Introducing Summit attendees to WIDTH, the protocol analyzes the work, intensity, duration, terrain and the horse to determine its needs.

It’s important to ask what kind of work does the horse do? How much intensity and power is transferred to the ground by the horse? What is the duration — how far, the training or competition, schedule — of the work? What are the terrain and weather conditions? Take into account the horse’s breed, conformation and health.

“So, all of these things need to be taken into consideration when determining whether the horse will be OK to be barefoot, or OK to be shoed,” Kraus says. “You may be able to argue these are things that we shouldn’t be doing, but that’s not the issue. The issue is, we are doing these things. We’re being competitive. It would be like your son’s Little League team not keeping score. It’s not the world we live in.”

Revisiting The Banana Shoe

The banana shoe is not the end-all and be-all, it’s simply a tool.

“It’s like a wedge, it’s like an aluminum shoe,” says Amsterdam farrier Ronald Aalders. “It’s just a tool, but the banana shoe is one heck of an effective tool. I have not seen a more effective shoe.”

It’s not a complicated shoe, either.

“The banana shoe is nothing more than a shoe with a curved ground surface,” Aalders says. “And they have a straight, level foot surface, which is really easy to apply on a small hoof.”

The banana shoe is particularly effective when dealing with low and high heels, he says.

“They look sensational, and they are,” Aalders says. “The banana shoe is so effective that when the horse moves his head a little, you’ll see the foot move, too.”

However, he understands that not everyone wants to resort to a banana shoe.

“If anyone feels a banana shoe is too aggressive, fine,” Aalders says. “Use a normal shoe and start breakover at the 4th nail hole.”

Combating Laminitis

Although advances in laminitis have been made during the past 15 years, what we’ve really learned is that we don’t know a lot, Dr. Raul Bras told Summit attendees.

“All of the information we’ve been able to collect helps us put the puzzle together,” says the farrier and veterinarian at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. “I wish we could prevent laminitis. Obviously, that’s not possible. It still remains the second leading cause of death in horses. We need to understand the mechanisms and whatever failure that horse is going through.”

While there are varied treatments, the adversarial dichotomy between veterinarians and farriers has to be put aside for the sake of the horse.

“There’s a lot of debate when it comes to laminitis,” Bras says. “There’s no other solution. You’re going to have to have your vet work with you, and you’re going to have to have your farrier work with you.”

Because the treatment goals and strategies are different at each stage of laminitis, Bras conducts an examination of the horse, an external examination of the foot, conducts radiology, checks foot support, weighs medication choices and advises strict stall rest.

“I find out more just talking with the client than getting to the horse right away,” he says. “If you even have doubts that this horse is going through any stage of laminitis, just rest the horse until you find a solution.”

Whether you are a farrier or a vet, Bras says the clients always are his main concern.

“I say this because you want to get a better idea of whom you are dealing with,” he says. “These are the people who will hold you back. Clients have to be part of the team.”

Using Acrylics For Hoof Repair

If you decide to repair hoof walls with acrylics, you better be committed, says Smithtown, N.Y., farrier Gary Werner.

“Once you start doing this, there’s no turning around,” he says. “Don’t make a commitment to it if you’re not comfortable with it or it’s going to back you into a corner. If your intuition tells you not to do it, then don’t.”

Most hoof wall repairs result from injuries during energy absorption.

“Most horses need repair on the front feet,” Werner says. “The vertical lift is higher than the hinds. It’s easier to make repairs on the hind foot, but if it’s a medial repair, that too is more difficult than lateral.”

Werner uses a slow-set acrylic to make it easier to move it around, but don’t forget the Play-Doh.

“Play-Doh is essential,” he says. “It’s a dam. It acts as a retaining wall when you use acrylics. If you don’t cover your crease with Play-Doh and the acrylic gets on top of that crease, you’ll bend more nails trying to find that hole.”

The key to properly using acrylics is having a game plan.

“The whole thing is preparation,” Werner says. “Knowing your environment, compression relationship, vertical velocity, whether the footing is bad, whether the slide is nonexistent. Put all those things together and see what you have.”

Shoeing The Performance Horse

Four farriers — two from North America and two from Europe — conducted an intensive panel discussion on laminitis in the performance horse.

Ronald Aalders of The Netherlands; Dave Farley of Coshocton, Ohio; Steve Teichman of Unionville, Pa.; and Grant Moon of Staffordshire, United Kingdom, weighed how farriers from both sides of the pond approach shoeing horses that compete in intercontinental events.

That’s A Wrap

Bob Smith of the Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School in Plymouth, Calif., wrapped up the 11th Annual Hoof-Care Summit with an inspirational talk about the farriery industry.

“It’s amazing to realize that in one location, you could talk with farriers with 10,000 years of shoeing experience,” Smith says.

“There’s a difference between successful people and unsuccessful people,” he says. “Successful people have a vision for their life and they work on it every day.”

Now that the 2014 International Hoof-Care Summit has wrapped up, how will it change your own practice? Share your thoughts below.