Many years ago, when I was a young horseshoer returning from horseshoeing school, I received the very same advice from practically every horseman I talked to. Living in Oklahoma where there were so many very knowledgeable horsemen, I took that advice to heart.

Each of them told me they hoped I would not be one of these horseshoers who just slid the shoe back and dubbed off the toe instead of fitting the shoe properly, the way the hoof is made.

A Widespread Practice

Nowadays, the very same style of shoeing is called “backing up the toe” and is considered desirable far too often. It seems that every seminar I attend has some lecturer or other explaining why it is so necessary to do this to the horse he is demonstrating on.

This style of shoeing has become so popular among so many members of our craft that a seemingly more craftsman-like style of accomplishing this odious technique has been developed. These guys are actually dubbing off the toe before they put the shoe on, then making really beautiful fullered handmades. Then they fit the shoe full to the already dubbed toe.

There is even a new style of horseshoe made to accomplish this technique in a more drastic manner, which is becoming very popular with many horseshoers. It is an extremely squared-off toe that is meant to be fit so that the corners of the squared toe are fit with a half-inch or more of toe left hanging over the toe of the shoe. Then the toe of the hoof is promptly dubbed off to the shoe.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners has jumped on this bandwagon with both feet. I suspect that every single one of you horseshoers out there is acquainted with one or more equine veterinarians who spends his days driving around the countryside extolling the many virtues of this method of shoeing. They claim it will cure everything from forging to navicular disease and will reduce the effects of EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis).

They promote these shoes at their seminars and conventions so often and so vociferously that the only claim I have not heard yet is that these new shoes will promote world peace (although maybe I was sleeping during that part of the lecture).

I am not a regular contributor to horseshoeing and horsemanship journals. I like to believe that I don’t write or speak at meetings unless I have something that I feel is very important to say. But now I can feel a great many articles and lectures welling up inside of my professional conscience. Now I must stand up and say loudly and clearly, “Don’t do this. Do not shoe your horses in this method, which has been widely recognized as bad craftsmanship since long before any of us were born.”

Have I got anybody’s back up yet? Just wait a few minutes, some of you will be ready to put out a contract on my life before I am through.

I know you guys are just dying to hear my reasons, so I will begin to list them. There are so many though, that I doubt that I can remember them all, and I certainly won’t have enough room here to list them all.

Dubbing Drawbacks

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MAKE A CHOICE. Above is a hoof shod with “backed-up shoes” and dubbed toes. Below is a hoof shod in a more traditional manner. Jack Roth asks, “Which would you rather say was your work?”

1. It is ugly. It is not just plain old every day ugly, it is so ugly that it is fugly. I mean, it is so ugly that the only reason to shoe a horse this way is if you really want to turn off the entire civilized world to the beauty of this noble beast that we have devoted our lives to serving. If this is your method of shoeing, then you are taking one of nature’s most beautiful beasts and ruining the natural flow of its beauty by putting an ugly caveman’s bludgeon on the end of his leg instead of the beautiful hoof that God put there.

I don’t know how many lectures and seminars I have attended where the lecturer took considerable time to explain that it doesn’t have to look good to be good. Bull. Ugly is as ugly does. Do not shoe horses ugly. Shoe horses beautifully.

2. It is not “Natural Balance.” In the first place it is not natural. No horse’s hoof naturally looks like this. In the second place, it has absolutely nothing to do with balance.

Show me the barefoot horse out in the pasture who has naturally worn off his toes so that they look like the corners on a box of corn flakes. You won’t find him, I don’t
care how long you look.

It has absolutely nothing to do with balance; neither mediolateral balance nor anteroposterior balance. Mediolateral balance is accomplished by the horseshoer as he trims the two sides of the hoof, medial and lateral, relative to each other so that the mediolateral plane of the bottom of the hoof is perpendicular to the axis of the lower leg. If he cannot achieve balance like this for some pathological reason. he might build up one side of the shoe or thin the other side of the shoe.

Anteroposterior balance has to do with how much toe you remove relative to the amount of heel that you remove. Hopefully you will end up with something so that the axis of the hoof from the side view will be a reasonable extension of the axis of the pastern.

So where is the natural balance? I’ll tell you where it is. It is in the hoof of the wild horse running around on the grass and rocks and it is in a hoof that has been properly trimmed or trimmed and shod by a member of our craft.

3. It is only the latest fad in a long line of fads which have plagued our craft. How many of you remember the “Nature Plate” which was promoted so much about 30 years ago? It was a very nicely finished shoe that had a Scotch bottom made to look like an extension of the hoof wall and a web that was concaved on the ground surface of the sole.

Actually, it wasn’t a really terrible idea, it was just one that did not work well in a practical environment. It was extremely difficult to shape and almost impossible to level after you finished shaping it. To make matters worse, the horse performed no better in this shoe than when wearing “plain ol” keg shoes. What happened to it? It went the way of the dinosaur.

About 20 years ago, for 2 or 3 years running, an article devoted to the many virtues of the heart bar shoe seemed to be in every issue of every horseshoeing publication or horsemanship magazine.

Today we have found that it does sometimes — but not often — help to alleviate the pain of a navicular horse. But we have almost forgotten that the original purpose for which they were touted was helping horses afflicted with either acute or chronic laminitis.

Why have we forgotten its original purpose? Because it didn’t work, that’s why. OK, OK, it did work sometimes, but not often. And it sometimes exacerbated the problem disastrously, when the coffin bone rotated downward and impaled itself on the point of the heart bar.

Our craft has always been plagued by the “latest, greatest,” but only a very few of these innovations have made horseshoeing better. Most make it much worse and eventually die on the vine. I promise you, this is one idea that will have had its run within another year or two, then will not be heard from again for maybe 100 years before it’s again resurrected as the “newest latest, greatest.”

4. You cannot stop forging by sliding the shoe back on the hind hoof. You can only make it worse. Of course, you will not rasp the hoof down to the shoe so that the rider cannot hear the horse forging. He’ll think you have actually fixed something.

If you want to stop the horse from forging, do it like we have always done it. Stand the horse up a couple of degrees in the front and put a rolled toe or a rocker toe on the front hooves, then fit your shoe fuller at the toe of the hind hoof and maybe set him down a degree or two. You will have speeded up his front end just a tad, slowed down his rear end just a little more than a mite, and he will no longer forge.

5. The horse doesn’t move right when shod like this. Over my many years as a professional horseman, horseshoer, equine veterinarian, cowboy, roper, licensed parimutuel trainer and rider, I have developed certain expectations of a horse depending upon his conformation, attitude and training. Of course, my expectations are not always fulfilled by the horse, but they usually are.

The horse should seem quite comfortable within his body and this should be apparent in the way he moves. I wish that this were something that I could better describe and quantify, but I can’t. It is just part of the artistic sense that I have developed as a horseman.

My point is that absolutely none, 0 percent, of the horses shod in this manner move anything like what I would expect. It is as if I am seeing one horse standing there and watching a different horse move. It doesn’t seem natural to the horse and it certainly is not beautiful.

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Bad And Ugly Shoeing

Again, I don’t write or speak often. Writing articles and speaking in public makes me feel like a “voice crying in the wilderness.” But now I am faced with this new technique, which is really only bad horseshoeing repackaged as being beneficial. I am here to tell you it is not beneficial, it is bad and it is ugly.

Here is my problem. If I am asked to shoe horses like this, I will refuse. I will not do it. I would rather find another way to make a living. But I am too old to find a new career, which leaves me stuck with this one. So I will write and I will speak until you guys either tire of reading my articles and hearing my lectures or until you change back to the really beautiful work that I know you are capable of.

Jack Roth cries from the wilderness of Purcell, Okla., where he is a farrier, equine veterinarian and owner of MFC Horseshoeing Tools.