Below are the responses we couldn't fit into print answering our January/February 2016 Hoof-Care Email Q&A. To provide your own feedback, respond in the Comments section below.

A: When watching the horse move before shoeing, the horse’s job will have a major influence upon the shoe fit I apply. I will be more likely to fit with length and width on a horse competing at dressage than one that goes hunting.

Watching a horse move can influence how you shoe it, but they have to be fit for their intended purpose and not increase the risk of shoe loss or interference injuries.

— Marc Jerram, Brewood, England

A: When a horse is presented to me for trimming or shoeing, I like to watch it come toward me. That allows me to see the load and breakover of each hoof. This way, I can make a mental note to address balance on each hoof. This is the first of a three-part approach to trimming the horse.

You also need to look at conformation and a free-hanging, unloaded look at balance to determine how the hoof should be trimmed. I look at most breeds the same, keeping in mind that some of the gated horses such as the Peruvian Paso and Paso Finos naturally paddle and it’s not something we try to eliminate or change. Knowing how each breed is supposed to move is a must to determine where breakover and support need to be.

 — John Muldoon, Tuttle, Okla.

A: The first thing I look for when a horse owner is approaching me with his/her horse is any immediate sign of lameness. On the front limbs, I am observing for possible irregularities in movement from the scapula down to the hoof; ability or resistance to lift feet, stumbling/tripping, irregular rotation at the carpal joint or pastern joint, unusual rise or drop of the shoulder, defined center of breakover at the toe of the hoof, resistance to planting feet or excessive dropping of the fetlock.

On hind limbs I look for odd movement from the pelvis to the hoof; unusual rise and fall of the rump on one side or the other, abnormal swaying, string halting, significant rotation or an unwilling nature to load on the tarsal joint, or nursing one limb over another.

Most horse owners are good about the care and attention of their animals, yet others are new and unfamiliar with horse behavior and may not recognize some evident telltale signs of a horse nursing a recent or chronic injury. A “head bobbing motion,” resulting when a horse raises its head drastically while loading weight on one particular limb, should be a significant indicator that further inspection of the hoof, limb and joints is necessary. Upon observation of the horse’s movement, reactions, stability, balance, maneuverability and response, a good certified farrier should be able to quickly identify what grade of lameness on the American Association of Equine Professionals’ scale is present. I always note these observations in the comments section of my Farrier Forms book that I utilize for invoicing and ensure that the customer has a copy for his/her records.

The second sign that I am looking for on a horse in movement is interference. By simple definition, this is any movement a horse makes throughout its gait that can result in an undesired contact with another portion of the body, most noticeably the limbs. A horse that is significantly toed out in the fronts will “paddle in.” This sometimes results in injuries to the pastern and cannon bone areas. A horse that is prone to forging, or in more drastic cases, overreaching, can cause significant injuries to itself in the areas of the heel bulbs, pastern area, or in extreme cases, the cannon bone. As a farrier, we need to recognize these angular limb deformities, identify specific conformation aspects and adjust our trim and shoeing applications accordingly.

The third aspect I like to address is the breed, activity, intention and purpose for the horse in regard to its day-to-day activities. Is this a special event horse to be shown in the arena, a high-country horse that needs to be ready to pack elk out from the rocky mountain country or a horse that will work daily throughout the year to pull a cart or sled? In any case, I may need to adjust my trim and shoeing applications accordingly.

 — Jimmy Brown, Leavenworth, Wash.

A: After always watching a horse travel before I shoe or trim, its job is secondary to me.

According to its confirmation and considering any soreness or lameness, I’m looking for the horse to hit as level as possible and check that it is extending properly in all four limbs. From there, I’ll either make my changes or continue with what’s working.

— Joepaul Meyers, Gatesville, Texas

A: In watching a horse move prior to working on it, I look how the feet are landing. Toes first, flat slight heel first or excessive heel first? What are the feet doing during loading? Is the foot even or does one side load sooner or more excessive? Is there any twisting or torsion taking place? How does the foot come off the ground (breakover)? Does it seem natural or is there a dump?

I also check the stability of the knee. Does it lock when static, allowing for full extension during the lateral swing phase? How does the horse track up with their hinds when moving in a circle? How close to midline is the inside leg traveling?

Their body and hoof conformation will both be evaluated. Where they live and what is expected of them also plays as big of a role as anything else.

— Kerry Haugh, Wells, Minn.

A: When I watch a horse walk, I’m looking how its front hooves are landing — heel first or toe to heel. I also look at the rear legs to see whether there is any toe dragging.

At the trot, I’m looking for any cross-firing or if the horse’s head is elevated when the affected leg is carrying weight. I also consider the horse’s job and what it’s capable and not capable of doing. I keep everything basic and simple.

— Butch Thomas, Kingston, Ohio

A: One thing I’ve learned is how to watch front limb extension. It’s the first thing I look at when the owner complains, “Your shoes are no good. My horse keeps tripping and stumbling.”  All the joints of the front limbs should flex equally. I often see horses that flex mainly at the elbow with little or no movement at the shoulders. It gives the impression that they are walking on pencil legs and that they will trip and stumble. Shoeing can help, but this isn’t really a shoeing problem. It’s more about training and perhaps chiropractic care.

— Jeff Matthews, Benicia, Calif.

A: What I mainly look for is how the hoof lands. The first job of a foot is to support the horse upon landing. At the lope, one hoof supports 100% of the horse during part of the stride. Thus, the most important item for me is having flat, level ground to evaluate a horse on and to ensure a balanced lateral strike on the ground. 

Flat concrete is great for evaluations as you can hear small imbalances. They can look balanced, but unless you can hear the hoof hitting the ground as one, there is an out- of-alignment issue to adjust.

— Glen Voorhees, Fredericksburg, Texas

A: I am primarily looking at where the horse lands first on its foot, whether it is anterior/posterior or medial/lateral. I also compare shoulders and hips when trotting toward or away from me. I look for any signs of discomfort in the whole horse, but certainly focus on the head movements.

The job of the horse also factors into the action of the leg and the foot flight pattern. There are disciplines and jobs where I might want a higher lifting action. All in all, I pay very close attention to the landing and loading phases of stride. 

— Stephen Carpenter, Gilbert, Ariz. 

A: I don’t spend a lot of time watching horses move unless I’ve been informed of a particular issue. It seems the more you watch a horse move, the more you see what you are looking for — whether it exists or not.

I generally get as much from watching a horse walk quietly from its stall than watching someone hold its head up or to the side and jogging for 10 minutes. I am more interested in how the limbs move relative to the torso and direction of travel and an even, balanced gait. If there is a problem, I like to see a horse ridden in its usual work on the surface it trains on.

I give as much or more weight to how the shoes wear, rather than how the horse moves on a lead or in the round pen. A horse’s purpose has a lot to do with how I shoe it. I try to shoe every horse to go in the safest and most efficient manner possible. But any kind of racehorse, eventer and jumper works at a much higher level of intensity. This amplifies the effect on their feet. A slight overreach or bump on a hunter, dressage or trail horse might be inconsequential, but on an eventer or speed horse it can be catastrophic. I always have considered prevention of injury a larger part of my job than treatment.

— Buck O’Neil, Horse Shoe, N.C.

A: When we are observing a horse prior to shoeing, we’re primarily looking at the animal’s way of travel. Does the horse look relaxed while moving in a forward, backward, left-hand or right-hand direction? What is the position of the head? A head held high could indicate that the horse is not moving comfortable in the forequarter, while a low head position could indicate back pain, which often stems from poor hind leg conformation. Head bobbing usually means pain, but there are many less obvious indicators that the horse is not moving as comfortably as it could be if one is observant enough to pick up on them.

Additionally, we look at the way the legs move. Is the horse paddling or interfering at gait? Sometimes a horse will stand and walk straight, yet will be off on its diagonal during other gaits like the trot, jog or canter. Is the horse landing squarely in a heel-to-toe motion? Is the breakover in line with its direction of travel? Is it breaking over too quickly or too slowly? Many horses will land harder on one heel or the other, which can cause unnecessary strain on the suspensory ligaments and the hocks or knees. This often will first manifest itself in muscle and upper joint pain.

Do the hooves land consistently in a pattern? Sometimes minor lameness can be detected when a horse does not have a consistent gait pattern. We have all heard the story where a trainer or rider has commented that his/her horse was not lame, but “just a little off.” We take those things very seriously because we’ve learned that this is often the first indication of something much bigger.

We often see people simply watching a horse being led straight away and then back in a single line of direction. In our opinion, this is only part of the job. It is important for us to observe the horse from as many angles as possible. We will sometimes ask an owner to saddle his/her horse and ride it while we watch the horse in full motion. Usually this will reveal much that never would be visible should the horse be simply led or circled in a round pen.

Clearly it is important to know what the horse’s expected use will be while assessing its gait and motion. It is entirely possible to balance a Saddlebred and it is equally possible to balance a Quarter Horse, but it isn’t fair to ask a Saddlebred to rope cattle or a Quarter Horse to “gait.” Their jobs ultimately dictate their shoeing needs.

We also rely heavily on feedback from our clients and take every opportunity to attend events where the horses are being used. This allows us to gain a more complete picture of the individual horse in its environment and offers insight for future adjustments when needed.

— Bob and Leslie Broussard, Lincoln, Calif.

A: Typically I’ll watch and listen as a horse is walked up to me for shoeing. If I find an issue, but can’t pinpoint it or if the owner tells me there’s a problem, I’ll ask them to jog the horse.

I listen for four equal-sounding footfalls and try to identify whether there is one that is harder or softer than the others. I also look to see whether the head is carried higher or lower than usual, off to one side or whether it bobs up or down. I watch the feet to see whether they are landing heel first, flat or toe first. I look to see whether the hocks stay aligned or wring as the horse walks. I’m not concerned with whether the foot lands “flat” medial-laterally, but how they load the feet. I want to see a free, fluid, even walk no matter the horse’s job.

Very mild laminitis seems to appear more commonly these days. It’s nice to see the horse turn very sharply in both directions with no sign of discomfort.

I also look for flares and/or the shoe being pushed off to one side. A medial toe flare on a front foot indicates a problem in the diagonal hip. A lateral flare and crushed medial wall on a front foot can indicate a problem in that shoulder and sometimes appear after a winter with a too-tight blanket.

Probably the trickiest ones I’ve seen had a damaged main digital extensor muscle causing the horse to not have dampening control of the leg while placing that front foot on the ground, resulting in a harder footfall while simultaneously bobbing its head up to help compensate.

— Henry Heymering, Frederick, Md.

A: When I watch a horse move before trimming or shoeing, I look at its conformation first. Then I watch it move and look for any interfering between limbs and how each is landing and taking off.

I balance each hoof to the limb and add support if needed. If I shoe the horse, I like to know the job that it’s required to perform. This lets me know where to add or subtract traction and support.

— Heidi S. Larrabee, Palmer, Alaska

A: When assessing a new horse or a current client, I am evaluating four important factors:

  1. Lameness
  2. Footfall
  3. Foot flight
  4. Unevenness

The horse’s job doesn’t influence my evaluation, but the gait analysis will factor into how I shoe it for its discipline.

— Brent Brown, Northport, Maine

A: The first thing I watch is the horse’s conformation while it’s walking and trotting to and away from me. The next thing I watch is what part of the foot is landing or leaving the ground first.

You must have open communication with the owner or trainer to see who will be riding the horse to be able to balance the horse for its correct discipline. Research and observation is very important in proper gait analysis.

— Bud Hillsamer, Dayton, Ohio

A: I have the client walk/trot the horse to me, away from me and past me in both directions. I am watching for any gait changes, lameness, forging or a combination of all three. That tells me any trim or shoe modifications that might be needed.

— Mel Jones, Galloway, Ohio

A: Most often when I view a horse coming and going at a walk and trot just prior to working on it, it’s either a horse I’m seeing for the first time or one with a present or ongoing issue. Other times it’s a case where a horse may tend toward growing hoof wall out of balance between appointments, so watching it go before shoeing is helpful to better understand what’s best for that horse.

The slow-motion camera feature found on most smartphones has been an excellent tool for viewing the subtleties of gait deviations. Having the ability to carefully analyze each limb through each phase of its stride, in concert with its opposing limb, can be very informative for achieving better dynamic balance when shoeing.

— Mike Waldorf, Eugene, Ore.