Victor Camp says the onion-heel shoe is “not a complicated shoe, but it can be a complex shoe.”

The farrier from Versailles, Ky., proved his point during the 21st annual Farriers’ Conference at Cornell University during November, covering a wide variety of problems he’s found the shoe useful for, as well as sharing forging and usage tips that he demonstrated with Kelly McGhee, a farrier from Loxahatchee, Fla.

Onions Equal Corns

Camp also cleared up some confusion by letting his audience know that the term “onion” doesn’t actually refer to the shape of the heels.

Camp told an audience of farriers and veterinarians that the term onion comes from France, where the shoes were first developed in the 17th century.

“At that time, these shoes were used to protect heels from the bruising we call corns. But in France corns were called onions,” Camp says. “Because they’re often found in the heel area, these shoes were used to protect hooves from developing corns or onions.”

Camp, a certified farrier who had been extensively involved in therapeutic shoeing for the last 14 years, was introduced to onion-heeled shoe by the late French farrier Jean-Louis Brochet and Quebec farrier Luke LeRoux. He emphasizes that he does not believe any one shoe can be used for all horses or can solve any problem, but says he’s found the onion shoe and various adaptations of it useful in treating a variety of hoof and conformational problems.

Onion Shoe Uses

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FORGING A WIDE WEB. Kentucky farrier Victor Camp demonstrated forging an aluminum onion-heeled shoe during the 21st Cornell Farrier Conference in November. Camp has used the onion-heeled shoe for a variety of purposes.

Camp shared this list of situations for which he’s found onion shoes useful.

  1. Protecting palmar foot bruises and trauma.
  2. Protection for the palmer process of P3 for hooves with a negative palmer angle (although he says this may be contraindicated if the conformation process of the coffin bone is elongated and distally curved, with extensive osteitis present).
  3. Shoeing for the osteosclerotic form of navicular disease.
  4. Shoeing for flat hoof conformation.
  5. To provide heel floatation in soft footing.
  6. Recruiting bars for weight-bearing function.
  7. Providing support for certain soft tissue lesions in the foot.
  8. Providing palmer foot support when applying egg bar or extended heel shoes.
  9. Combined with a slippered-heel shoe for a contracted heel.

Camp says onion heels can be forged from aluminum or steel and adds that onion-heeled keg shoes are also available. While the shoe is known for its very broad, widened heels, Camp emphasizes that the entire shoe is wide webbed. Clips may be drawn, depending upon the application and the toe may be rolled. Camp emphasized that seating out the shoe is important in most applications, because you want the onions to provide protection for an injured area, not put pressure on it.

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ONION-HEEL VARIETY. Florida farrier Kelly McGhee holds up an onion-heeled shoe he’s in the process of forging. Both McGhee and Camp have found the modifications useful for a variety of hoof and limb problems.

Camp says that flotation provided by onion-heeled shoes is an added advantage, particular in soft footing. He also finds them excellent for adding support and spreading the load over more of the frog and back part of the hoof, particularly when used with hoof packing or pad material.

Open To Modifications

Camp says he has had success combining onion-heeled shoes with leather pads (a combination he credited to Brochet), with impression materials and with forged toe plates. The toe plates were used in a case he worked on with Dr. Scott Morrison, the head of the orthopedic practice at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. The toe plates were forged onto an onion-heeled shoe to provide protection and hold in medication in a case when a horse was lame from abscesses and bruising in the toe area.

Camp also has varied the widths of the branches of the shoes to provide support as needed by a horse. In fact, much of Camp’s success in using onion shoes would seem to be due to his willingness to modify and adapt the shoes in much the same way that farriers would modify and adapt more traditionally shaped shoes. He reviewed examples of adding onion heels to a variety of shoe configurations, including warmblood hinds, egg bars, rocker shoes, open-toe egg bars and slippered heel shoes.

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RIGHT SECTION. Victor Camp with a drawing showing the correct dimensions for onion-heeled horseshoes.

Onion Shoe Don’ts

Camp also gave a list of conditions when onion heel shoes should not be used, as well as potential problems with using them.

  1. Dirt and debris must not be allowed to become lodged underneath the onion heel .
  2. Be careful not to over-burn onion heels into the palmer aspect of the hoof.
  3. Avoid setting onion heels directly on the hoof for bone lesions of the foot.
  4. Onion heeled shoes may be contra-indicated for distal lesions of the suspensory ligament.
  5. Adhesive material placed directly underneath the onions for glue-on applications may cause problems. When gluing-on onion shoes, be sure to apply the glue only to the perimeter of the foot.
  6. Avoid forging onion heels that are too thin on keg shoes. They may bend and put sole pressure on sensitive areas or break off, leaving the area unprotected.