Not everyone agrees on the best way to Shoe For A Living

There are many things that hoof-care professional hold in common. But there are also more than a few things in which there are differences in approach. Here are a few of those I noticed while reviewing Shoeing For A Living articles and notes.

Using A Hoof Gauge

I spent days with farriers who checked every hoof with a hoof gauge and days with others who never used one. One school of thought was expressed by a farrier who said, “Eyeballing is just another word for guessing.” But others felt the eye could be trained to see correct angles. Florida farrier Darryl Bean, who did use a hoof gauge, nonetheless felt it was important not to let the gauge dictate your shoeing.

Backing Up The Toe

Mention this one and you’ll get a conversation started — and possibly a fist fight. A lot of this centers around the debate between the Natural Balance approach — in which the shoe is usually set back and the toe dubbed back — and the perimeter fit approach, where this isn’t usually done. And even among those who favor backing up the toe, there’s debate about how, when and how much to do so.

Shoeing Alone

This is one of those things that most farriers say they don’t like to do and some say they’ll never do it. But I rode with a number of farriers who shod most or all of the horses they did during a day without anyone other than me present. (In these situations, I always asked whether they would have worked alone if I wasn’t along, and they each answered yes). Most said they didn’t like working without a safety net, but felt they had to. Usually these situations involved backyard horses, whose owners were away at work during the day.

The Trim

First, let's make the point that every farrier I rode with stressed the importance of a good trim. I heard dozens of minor variations of the “It all starts with the trim,” mantra. But when it came to what made for a good trim, what landmarks should be use, and what red flags to watch out for, there were plenty of different opinions.

At one of the first American Farrier’s Association conventions I attended, I remember hearing a speaker say something along the lines of, “If you put a horse in front of 10 different farriers, they’ll suggest 10 different ways to trim it and they’ll probably all work.” There seems to be some truth to that.

Glue-On Prep

I saw a lot of shoes glued on over the years. (Pat Reilly, then shoeing in New Hampshire, actually used glue-ons on every horse he worked on. The only time he used a nail the entire day was to check the depth of a white-line separation). Most farriers are meticulous in their prep work for applying glue-ons, carefully cleaning the hoof wall, double checking temperatures, mixing and applying carefully (all of which are recommended by manufacturers). If there’s any disagreement among most farriers who use glue-ons, it’s in the details of what solvents to use, how to dry the hoof, etc.

But two veteran farriers — Pennsylvania’s Steve Teichman and Maryland’s Doug Anderson — glued on shoes without much more than a quick wire brushing of the hoof wall.  Both farriers said they had never a glue-on shoe come off before its time.

Hot-Fitting Shoes

The vast majority of the farriers I spent time with hot-fitted at least some of the horses they did. Most offered the opinion that — done correctly — it actually has positive effects on hoof health and also ensures a better fit between the shoe and the hoof wall.

But a few avoided it, usually because they were concerned about the effects of hot shoeing on internal structures and soft tissues within the hoof. And even some who did hot-fit shoes said some shoers might use the practice to “match” the hoof to the shoe, rather than put in the time shaping the shoe to get it as close to fitting the horse as possible.

The Importance Of Forging

I rode with a few farriers who never fired up the forge the entire day (although Pat Reilly, whom I mentioned earlier, did fire up his microwave and a toaster oven while preparing his Sigafoos-model glue-ons). And in all of the 56 Shoeing For A Living days I spent in the field, I’m sure I saw less than a dozen shoes forged from bar stock. (Bill Poor of Houston, Texas, did forge and nail on four beauties for a horse that was being prepared for a show, in not much more time than it would have taken some farriers to nail on keg shoes).

That being said, the vast majority of the farriers I rode with did at least hot shape keg shoes. Some offered the opinion that with the wide variety of well-made manufactured shoes available, there was no real need to know how to build shoes from scratch. But many others — including some who did most all of their work with keg shoes — argued that there were extra benefits to knowing how to forge shoes. These include learning how and why a shoe is made the way it is, the ability to better modify keg shoes and being able to build that unusual shoe you aren’t carrying on your truck that a particular horse needs.

What About Shoeing Competitions?

A related issue is the role of shoeing competitions. I rode along with farriers who had shod in contests all over country and the world, including Colorado’s Jim Quick and Texan Bill Poor. Not surprisingly, they found forging competitions to be valuable educational experiences.

Pete Reynolds of White, Ga., felt that competitions greatly improved his eye, and consequently his efficiency. He found that competing helped him get the fit right in his day-to-day shoeing, often with just one trip to the anvil. That adds up to extra horses over time. However, Pennsylvania farrier Steve Teichman, once an avid competitor, backed away from it in later years, noting that what is really important to the high-end riders he shoes for is that the horse moves well, is sound and its shoes stay on.

I suspect that part of the difference in opinion may be based on learning style. Farriers who learn by doing may be more likely to give competitions higher marks. There’s also the “fun” factor. A lot of farriers clearly enjoy the time they spend at the anvil — throw in the chance to win some money, and maybe a belt buckle, and all the better.

Working Horses Vs. Pets

 This isn’t so much an observation about farrriers as it is about horse owners and the role of horses. A number of farriers I spent the day with had to “shift gears” during a day, depending on how the horse was used.

Horses working in feedlots or on ranches are more likely to be viewed as pieces of equipment by owners. The same is true of racehorses and — perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent — with high-end show horses.

I wouldn’t say owners, trainers and riders of these horses don’t have affection for the horses. But they are much more concerned about a horse’s ability to compete or work. That’s why there’s a mini-industry in the patching of quarter cracks to keep these horses competing.

Other horses are treasured family pets — or maybe even family members. Going from shoeing a working feedlot horse, where the cowboy doesn’t even take off the saddle while the work is being done, to shoeing a backyard horse that its owner is convinced can do no wrong, definitely requires a change in attitude.

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