While most farriers agree that a properly balanced diet is the best way to help a horse maintain healthy hooves, there are many other measures that should be addressed when shoeing a horse for endurance riding.

Endurance and competitive trail horses log hundreds and often thousands of miles each year, so it’s important to communicate with the riders. Whether it’s deciding what type of shoe to use, how often to reset or when to use Borium, together you can make every effort to keep the horses as comfortable as possible.

Owners can take many preventive measures to help condition their horse’s hooves—even before a farrier taps in that first nail.

Brian Smith of White Post, Va., was a farrier for the U.S. Endurance Team in 1990 and 1998. He notes that any supplement that includes biotin is helpful in strengthening hooves.

“A good, nutritional diet is the first step whenever you’re trying to increase hoof durability in your horse,” he says.

Kirk Adkins of Vacaville, Calif., is an industry leader in developing horse shoes specific to the competitive endurance horse. He was also a farrier for the U.S. Endurance Team in 1996 and 1998. He agrees that excellent nutrition is crucial.

“A hoof is built from the inside out,” he says. “Any diet that has good sulfur-bearing amino acids will assist with the production of a healthy hoof. A well-balanced ration that has a high level of soybean meal is helpful. Soybean meal is great for hoof construction because it has those amino acids.”

While nutrition is a vital component, a horse’s conformation also plays an important role in the quality of hooves. Both Smith and Adkins agree that an endurance horse with poor conformation is a problem waiting to happen. “Any horse that has crooked legs or interferes severely needs to find another occupation besides being an endurance horse,” says Smith.

“Any abnormalities in hoof conformation will cause more stress on the horse. Usually, a horse that toes in or toes out will not last long as an endurance prospect.”

John Crandell of Star Tannery, Va., both a farrier and endurance rider, is well known in both vocations. Crandell is a four-time winner of Virginia’s Old Dominion 100-mile race and earned a silver medal at the North American Endurance Championships. He notes that corrective shoeing can supplement some less-than-perfect horses.

“In a young horse, imperfections such as slight hoof deformities or some shoulder rotation can be worked through,” he says. “What sets the endurance horse apart from all other types of performance horses is that much of their training regimen is complimentary therapy to the corrective shoeing that’s necessary to solve minor imperfections.”

When searching for an endurance prospect, all three farriers suggest considering proper hoof size as a basic requirement. You want to see a horse with a medium-sized hoof.

“Look at the successful endurance horses—none of them have small hooves,” says Crandell. “Horses with small hooves can’t run long on hard ground. The body weight-to-hoof size ratio is also important. That’s why you don’t find many Thoroughbreds in endurance racing—their bodies are too large for their hooves.”

Adkins notes that a horse with a larger hoof in comparison to its body will fare better in the long run. He said it’s not uncommon for a 1,200-pound Quarter Horse to have a shoe size of 0 to 1, whereas an 800-pound Arabian can wear a size 1 to 2 shoe.

The Arabians found in endurance competition generally have larger hooves than their show-ring counterparts.

“The past two World Champions (High Winds Jedi and Pieraz) wore size 2 shoes,” says Smith, who shoes for rider Valerie Kanavy. “This follows the same principle that’s in the Quarter Horse industry—a roping horse is going to have a larger hoof than a halter horse.”

Crandell explains that endurance-type horses are often reared differently than show prospects, a nature versus nurture situation that results in different growth patterns. 

“Endurance racing horses are usually unshod during their developing years, so their feet end up being bigger,” said Crandell. “This is as opposed to show horses that are shod at an early age; their hooves are not allowed to develop fully.”

Different Angles

Changing the angles of a horse’s hooves is a touchy topic since there seems to be as many opinions as there are farriers.

“You want to shoe endurance horses with a higher angle, shorter toe and a decent heel,” explains Smith. “This puts less strain on the suspensory ligament and tendons. Arabians have a steeper hoof angle than Thoroughbreds, which naturally helps with soundness in endurance horses.”

Crandell notes that balance priorities change, depending on the terrain.

“I don’t try to look at just angles,” he says. “I’m more concerned with the horse’s footfall and support base as guidelines for how to shoe them. Footfall is especially important for firm surfaces like those found at the Old Dominion ride. Most of all, make sure nothing seems particularly unnatural about any aspect of hoof balance.”

Adkins changes the hoof angle if a horse tends to interfere. “Horses with a short back and long legs may tend to interfere toward the end of a race,” he says. “So slight adjustments can be made in shoeing to assist these horses.”

Terrain is also an important component in deciding what type of shoe a horse should wear. If a horse is competing in the soft sand in Florida, Smith uses an aluminum shoe with a squared toe. But if the same horse is racing on hard-packed sand, in the mountains or over rocky terrain, Smith chooses a technologically advanced performance shoe.

“Shoeing an endurance horse is different from shoeing any other type of performance horse,” says Crandell. “Endurance horses have a wide range of terrain that they go over. In more aggressive surfaces, like those out West, I like to use a light shoe with Borium. The task when shoeing endurance horses is to anticipate the type of race. You need to know how different surfaces will respond to your horse.”

Shoers should regularly communicate with endurance riders so the horse can have the best opportunity to finish as comfortably as possible.

Will the horse be racing to the finish through city streets or are they using the ride as a slow conditioning run? Will the entire ride be on rocky mountainsides or will there be slick, grassy fields to cross?

“The only way that I shoe horses differently depending on terrain is that I shoe a horse a little tighter if it’s going over soggy footing,” says Adkins. “From winter to the spring, it’s very wet in California. Shoeing the horse a little tighter helps him overcome the bad footing.”

Shoeing Techniques, Tips

While many endurance ride managers arrange for a farrier to be present during the ride, some farriers regularly attend their clients’ rides as a member of the crew. That way someone who knows the horses intimately will be there in case of lost shoes, to check for wear or tear and explore any possible problems.

“The most important thing as a farrier is not to wait to be asked to check a horse’s shoes,” says Crandell. “You can often detect shoe problems an entire leg of the race before the failure actually occurs.”

Preventive care is not just during the rides. Crandell advocates planning a ride a full season in advance—even if you have to modify it later—to preserve your horse’s hooves.

“This way a rider can get the shoeing they desire before a race, without needing excessive changes,” he says. “Communicate with the rider, decide what the horse needs and plan years ahead if you can.

“Decide how the significance of each performance will contribute to the horse’s entire career. Know when the rider wants the horse to reach peak performance.”

All three farriers believe in using as light a shoe as possible. While Crandell and Smith both shoe with the lightest shoe that will make the distance, Adkins tends to use a standard-weight shoe for durability and protection.

Using Borium on the bottom of the shoe can lengthen the life of shoes, but there’s been much debate as to what harm this additional traction can cause.

“I sometimes use Borium,” says Smith. “However, I use as little as possible as Borium puts stress on tendons and joints. There’s less shock absorption when it is used. With the newer endurance shoes that are being manufactured, Borium really isn’t necessary.”

Crandell notes that if the horse is balanced correctly and the footfall is close to perfect, Borium shouldn’t be a worry.

“If you are even a degree off on footfall, Borium will increase the effect of the imbalance,” he says. “The main advantage to Borium is that it provides safe traction on roads and rocks. A horse expects its hoof to stay where he puts it. Borium helps build that confidence in horses.

“Another advantage is that when you use Borium, you can use a lighter steel shoe with equal durability.”