Below are the responses we couldn't fit into print answering our December 2015 Hoof-Care Email Q&A. To provide your own feedback, respond in the Comments section below.

A: If the wear patterns are uneven, I re-evaluate my trimming first. Second, I'm going to watch foot fall in a walk and trot. How do the horse's hooves land? Are there rotational forces in place? If possible, I ask the rider about saddle fit and riding style.

There are a few factors that need to be put into the equation. It is not a simple question and the answer is indeed multi-faceted. In the end, I might adjust my trimming, modify hoof protection, advise on saddle usage and riding style and technique. 

Two of the most common uneven wear patterns are excessive wear on the toes, which often points to toe landing. In this case, very often palmar hoof pain can be the cause and therapeutic measures need to be taken. The second one is M/L imbalance, where the outside of the shoe is seeing a higher wear patterns. If my M/L balance is correct, I look for the causes in saddle fit, rider balance, riding styles and speed. 

— Christoph Schork, Moab, Utah

A: I use the wear patterns of existing shoes to tell me how the horse is moving and where it wants to break over as well as the way the foot lands. I think this is very important because it gives us a blueprint of the horse’s movement and shows us where the horse could be experiencing stress in the limbs.

I also look at the conformation of the horse and how it affects wear patterns on the shoe. You never want to alter a shoe in such a way that it puts additional stress on joints, ligaments or tendons. 

A horse’s growth pattern in the foot also needs to be taken into account. Uneven growth patterns in the hoof create uneven wear patterns in the shoe.

Paying attention to wear patterns in the shoe, growth patterns in the hoof and conformation gives the farrier invaluable information regarding how to address each hoof as well as the whole horse.

— Michael DeLeonardo, Jr., Salinas, Calif.

A: Reading the wear on a shoe is the easy part. Now you have to decide if it is worn that way because that's how the horse is most comfortable or because that's what his conformation dictates.  Is it worn that way because he is sore somewhere higher up and is compensating?  I consider the wear, but for me it is not a blueprint.

— John Voigt, Carbondale, Ill.

A: After shoeing a horse two to three times and in that timeframe it’s used for its normal use, the shoe can tell you if the breakover is correct or how to modify the shoe for the correct breakover. It can also tell you where the horse-loading weight is. Do you need to thicken the shoe or leave it as it is? Are you using the correct nails? Could you go smaller and do less damage to the wall or do you need to go bigger? Are the nailheads wearing out too quick?

All this information tells you if you need to change shoe type or just modify the current shoe you are using.

— Chris Philemon, Monroe, N.C.

A: I always look at the old shoes. I look at the toe for point of breakover. I look at the inside and outside branches of the shoe for even wear. The old shoe can help me adjust how I will trim the hoof the next time and helps me be a better farrier.

— Janice Qualls, Decatur, Ill.

A: I always look at the shoe or wear pattern of the foot. It tells me where the horse wants to break over or where it’s landing. I can make adjustments to the next pair to help the way of going for that animal.

Not only do I look at the shoe before and after removal, but I also look at the hoof itself. I look at bruising and stretching of the structures. Are there any corns or distortions to the hoof? Then I can make adjustments by reading the story that the shoe and hoof have to tell me.

Sometimes thin toes on the shoe means to adjust the breakover or support a heel more by widening a branch. In our cold climate I also like to read the traction wear, as it will tell me if it is too much or if I should move the traction to a different spot.

The shoe and the bottom of the foot will tell a good story, you just have take the time to read it.

— Heidi S. Larrabee, Palmer, Alaska

A: Whether its more medial or lateral at the toe, I also will look at the branches and the heels for excess wear that can tell me how the foot will be looked at for imbalance. For instance, if the lateral branch is worn on the outside edge there is a good chance the medial side of the foot is high. If there are heavy scratches at the heels there is a chance the horse is sliding and not feeling secure when traveling.

I also take the ground into consideration. Dry weather and the flies can fool you on the wear of the shoes. If the horse is stomping a good part of the day it can put a lot of wear on shoes. Another consideration is if there are lameness issues. Maybe we should not be making any changes until we know the whole story.

 — Tim Koelln, LaSalle, Ontario

A: The old shoes on a horse play a key part in my decision on how to proceed with new shoes. I begin by looking at how the horse stands on its shoes before I even pick up the foot. I want to see how it was balanced the last time it was shod and how the sight of the most wear aligns with the point of the shoulder and the direction of motion. 

The old shoes are pictures of how the foot interacted with the ground since the last shoeing. When I pick the foot up, I consider the site of the wear relative to landmarks on the foot like the frog and points of the heels. I keep this in mind as I trim and balance the foot. The point of most wear is generally where the foot has rolled over the toe at breakover and at the heel those impacts first at loading. This is almost universally the lateral heel and generally just off center of the toe, either lateral or medial.

My goal is to minimize asymmetric heel wear and get the toe wear under the point of the shoulder, in line with the direction of movement. I was taught that all horses need a rolled toe, but it needs to be where the horse says he wants it. This may be slightly off center of the toe, dependent on the amount of toe-in or toe-out on the particular horse. 

My standard shoe is the St. Croix Eventer, which eliminates the need to work a roll into the shoe. In some cases, I keep the old shoes to compare with current or future shoes. Sometimes the difference is amazing!

— Buck O'Neil, Horse Shoe, N.C.

A: Using the wear pattern on a shoe provides insight, but always needs to be taken in context. For example, on abrasive surface, a long toe breakover leverage point will wear the steel at the toe. Shoe wear at the toe could also indicate very different things such as toe dragging from excessive toe sole depth of the negative palmar angle or wear at the toe may be a migrated capsule simply due to being forward of center of rotation (COR) or club hoof capsule concussion and excess wear at the toe.

Perhaps the shoe toe wear is just an overgrown hoof capsule due to a long trimming/shoeing cycle. A toed-in vs. toed-out conformation will show preferred location of breakover not center to the midline. A concussive one-sided contact on one shoe branch due to medio-lateral imbalance or how the horse loads side to side may display shinier/thinning metal wear. Shoe wear may represent toe-first landing due to caudal heel discomfort, tendon or ligament injury or chronic thrush.

What if the horse lives and works in a soft, conforming environment? A shoe might not show any notable wear, yet the foot may be significantly unbalanced for that horse. Some limb deviations will cause extra loading on certain areas of the hoof capsule/shoe, but may not be an indication of the whole story. Also, if you examine the wear pattern of therapeutic shoes designed to “sink” or ”float” one branch over another, shoe wear may be a product of the shoe mechanics and not the hoof balance itself.

So while I find shoe wear generally informative, I use it only as a part of my toolkit. The degree and pattern of the wear would factor its level of concern in the overall evaluation. Interpretation of shoe wear should be in concert with a thorough assessment and understanding of the distal limb and the individual horse along with its use.

I have always been a firm believer that the foot flight, joint/limb deviation(s) and the orientation of the hoof capsule under the limb are all extremely important to assess together. Assessing HPA, medio-lateral and dorso-palmar balance, as well as an understanding of where the distal tip of P3's position correlates on the solar plane (viewed by using X-rays or other exterior hoof mapping) are very beneficial. Understanding the orientation of the coffin bone (its dorsal angle in relationship to the hoof wall angle) will give the farrier the type of capsule distortion presented. Additionally, calculation for sole depth and assessment of dorso-palmar in relation to the COR will provide a more accurate guideline for the trim plan; whereas, shoe wear may validate generally, but is not quantitative.

Using shoe wear is one subset of my assessment (described above) all of which added together provides a more rounded perspective to create an effective trim to improve or support the biomechanics of the distal limb. The shoe then becomes the assist to further improve the best trim that can be achieved that day toward an end goal for the horse.

 — Sylvia Kornherr, Almonte, Ontario

A: Shoe wear contains important information about how the horse uses its feet in medial-lateral balance and also the amount of wear in comparison with the heel shows the weight-bearing area and if the horse is bearing more weight on the toe or heel.

I always check out the wear on the toe compared with clipped shoes. If the angle and amount of wear are equal in both sides of the clip, it shows that the clip and shoe were set correctly. If not, it shows the shoe was not set in symmetry with the foot and can cause rotational imbalance that can lead to joint pressure and tissue damages.

— Pooyan Demehri, Tehran, Iran

A: I rely on the wear of the shoes, feedback (which I always request, but may not receive) from the rider about performance, the visual balance of the hoof with regard to the coronet, hoof tubules, any distortion that has occurred as well as possible bruising due to uneven impact (which may be a sign of compensatory injury, fatigue, rider, tack or surface-related discomfort) equally when re-shoeing a horse. How I interpret and address the results may vary depending on factors that change with the individual situation.

— Bill McCleary, Sunnyvale, Calif.

A: Our primary responsibility as farriers is to keep the horse moving comfortably. We have a few factors that help determine how a hoof should be trimmed. Shoe wear is just one factor. The relative evenness of the plane of the coronary band, the relationship between the plane of the frog and the level of the hoof wall and the relative position of the point of the heel to the highest, widest part of the frog are other factors.

Shoe wear can inform us as to how the horse is moving and how much it has been moving. It can also alert us to potential physical problems with the horse. For instance, if a horse which has been wearing the shoes evenly and then suddenly starts wearing one branch of a shoe more, that’s a message that something is going on physically with the horse. This should open the door to a discussion with the owner as to how the horse has been acting and whether or not a veterinarian has been contacted about this potential condition.

Sometimes shoe wear informs my decision about which modification to apply to the shoe. For example, I have one horse that absolutely needs to be trimmed ¼-inch higher medially and I apply an offset rocker toe to the lateral aspect of the toe of each front foot. This was done because the toe of each shoe was worn, inordinately, at each shoeing. I got tired of replacing the shoes at each shoeing just because the toe was worn too thin while the remainder of each shoe was resettable. The horse was obviously telling me that he didn't need that toe sticking out there interfering with his movement. Since I started rocking the toe at a 45 degrees offset to the centerline of the shoe/foot, I have been able to reset the shoes three or four times before I need to replace them. (This horse doesn't do much. He is effectively retired.)

I have another horse that has DSLD. He gets shod in a wedged, aluminum eggbar shoe and usually gets a new set every other shoeing because the wear at the toe is part of the pathology of the disease. He moves better once he wears the toe a bit, so I try to stay out of his way with the shoe. Not interfering with the horse's movement is one thing that is not emphasized enough in most shoeing schools and clinics. It is also something that most horse riders don't understand.

Paying attention to shoe wear, relative evenness of the plane of the coronary band and the relationship between the planes of the frog and the wall, along with overall symmetry are all factors which should be taken into consideration when trimming and shoeing a foot.

— Andy Wells, Ramona, Calif.

A: The first thing I do is eye down the shoe for medial/lateral balance. I will then pull the shoe, keeping in mind what differences I may have seen.

I first examine the wear of the lateral and medial branches, and then I look at the toe and heel wear. I take into account the medial/lateral wear as I'm trimming, along with the conformation of the specific horse. After taking all of this into consideration, I can form a picture of what may need to be done, whether it is taking a little more medially/laterally or a slight change in anterior/posterior balance. I then make a note of my changes on this horse for future reference. 

— Stephen Carpenter, Gilbert, Ariz. 

A: Looking at shoes you took off a horse is very important; especially if a client feels that the horse is not moving well. Considering where a horse breaks over can determine how the hoof leaves the ground and how it has to compensate to move its legs through the air in a way that feels comfortable.

On new horses I shoe, I try to square the toe more and turn the shoe to a point so when the horse breaks over, it should be in the middle of the hoof so the horse does not have to throw its legs in different ways just to be able to move straight. I have had good response from doing this, even with the worst toed-in or toed-out horses. Clients could feel the difference immediately from the horses moving with much more ease.

— Rynardt Preston, The Crags, South Africa


A: When I address a horse before shoeing or re-shoeing, I always watch it coming down toward me and compare that to what I see when I lift the hoof. If it’s a horse I know well, I see the most I need to know that way.

The wear on the shoe helps me see if the things I do to the horse work or if I need to adjust a little in the trimming.

— Peter Kristiansen, Strib Beslagsmed, Denmark

A: I always look at shoe wear when putting new shoes on a horse. The degree of wear, positioning and even lack of shoe wear can provide a farrier exceptional insight to the health of the hoof, gait patterns and most importantly, early lameness detection.

Wear patterns at the toe help me evaluate breakover and toe stabbing vs. heel landing during gait. In the hinds, excessive wear/squaring of the toe can indicate an emerging lameness in the hind end, such as stifle or hock problems or the need for chiropractic adjustment in the back, pelvis or hips.

Uneven wear of the bars or sides of the shoes helps me to identify the need for paying extra close attention to medial/lateral balance in trimming the horse or the need for therapeutic changes to the shoes, such as trailers to prevent excessive twisting of the hind feet or limb during stride that can lead to arthritic hocks or tearing in the suspensory ligaments (wind puffs).

Excessive, even wear that is throughout the entire surface of the shoe may lead to me setting a shorter shoeing cycle or using borium-tipped nails to slow the wear on the shoe. These steps minimize the risk of the horse tripping during a ride and possibly unseating the rider because the nail heads get completely worn off and the horse literally "walks" out of its shoe.  

Sometimes I'll see that one shoe is worn more then the other when comparing shoe wear on either the front or hind end.  This can be an indicator of an emerging lameness — the horse is either keeping weight off of a foot or is not leading off equally on both sides during the trot or canter.  I will typically check for bounding pulse or flexion issues and will get out my hoof testers to screen for hoof pain so my client can call the vet.  

Shoe wear provides excellent information about a variety of different things — we just have to look!

— Diane Greene, Redding, CA

A: Shoe wear tells me how I should or shouldn’t shoe that horse again. First I determine if the shoe has shifted out of balance from when applied last time and how much hoof growth the foot has. If everything has stayed in place, then I will ask if the horse has been ridden in a different manner, discipline or terrain. If nothing has changed in that aspect, the horse may or may not have started having soreness somewhere. If that's the case and the foot still remains in balance with the limb, it's a good idea to recommend a vet check.

If the foot has grown a lot and is out of balance with the limb, I will make the changes in the trim and proceed shoeing the horse.

— Lester Yoder, Shreve, Ohio