Dressage Hoof Care Presents Uncommon Challenges

Our American Farriers Journal in-depth eGuide on “Hoof-Care For The Dressage Horse” offers valuable details on how to effectively trim and shoe these highly skilled horses that perform at every level of competition. And the valuable eGuide is FREE.

Dear Hoof-Care Professional,

Dealing with the footcare needs of dressage horses can be demanding and extremely challenging. This is despite the fact that these horses are trained and shown on a smooth level surface, with what appears to be little exertion. While these horses never have to run full out for a mile, stop on a dime or spin like a top, there’s much more to tackling the hoof-care needs of dressage clients than many folks think.

Former American Farriers Journal Technical Editor Red Renchin starts off this valuable 9-page eGuide with an in-depth explanation at what dressage is all about, how it is judged and offers a refresher on the 10 levels of testing involved in the sport, with each proving to be more difficult than the previous one.

Getting a dressage horse ready to compete and win takes a team effort, with everyone focusing on their particular role to the best of their ability. At higher levels of competition, some team leaders will want to push the boundaries in regard to the horse’s limitations, while others will never want to change anything. But when footcare changes need to be made, it’s up to the farrier to figure out how to trim and shoe the horse so that it can perform to the best of its ability, as well as have the ability to explain the reasons behind these changes to the rest of the team.

Get this eGuide for Free with a Free Account!

New members, click "Sign Up" for free account. Or, regular members click "Go In".

To be a successful farrier with dressage horses, you need to be comfortable with the language of this discipline in order to communicate effectively with the dressage team. This means fully understanding terms such as piaffe, passage, tempi, half pass, being on the bit, pirouette and other terms that must become part of your daily footcare vocabulary.

Tips For Success...

This eGuide offers solid advice on what you should know and do before working with dressage horses. From observing many farriers working on top-level dressage horses, Renchin put together this list of common procedures to follow before shoeing...

  • Get a complete history and thoroughly examine the horse before starting to work on it.
  • Watch the horse as it exits the stall onto hard footing. Those first two steps can tell you whether something is not right with the horse.
  • Watch the horse move in hand in a straight line on a hard surface.
  • Lunge the horse in circles in a ring, working it in both directions.
  • Watch the horse as it’s ridden under saddle in all three gaits.
  • Capture video of the horse being ridden.
  • It’s also a good idea to snap still photos of the feet. While the feet are on the ground, a side view will help you measure the dorsal angle, length of toe, evaluate the condition of the foot and check out any deviations of the coronary band. With a front view, you’ll be able to see any flares, wall deviations and conformation concerns while a rear view will help you determine whether the heels are even. Finally, snap a photo of the bottom of the foot to document the condition of the frog and sole.
  • With the cooperation of the team vet, radiographs should be taken of both the front and hind feet to effectively assess the alignment of the coffin bone.
  • Now that you have this information, pull the shoes and make a visual examination of the feet, checking for soreness with hoof testers.

After you’ve gathered this information, talk with the horse owner, rider and/or trainer and reach an agreement on how you should proceed with each horse’s footcare needs.

No Best Technique For All Dressage Horses

Never before have there been as many footcare options as there are today when it comes to working with dressage horses. Just because a particular trimming and shoeing technique has worked for a champion dressage horse doesn’t mean it will turn another horse into a champion. This means you may have to be patient when it comes to explaining why the hoof-care approach used with another horse may not be best for this horse in its current situation. In fact, Renchin suggests a good recommendation is to “Keep It Simple Stupid,” which means doing as little as needed to keep a dressage horse at its peak of performance.

Some horses may be presented wearing specific shoes, pads, acrylics and all sorts of bells and whistles that were added along the way. When this happens, many owners are reluctant to take your advice and are not willing to shift back to basic hoof care in fear of the return of earlier lameness issues. If this happens and an owner is uncomfortable with your ideas, don’t press the issue until you’ve gained trust and respect with the owner and have a solid understanding of the horse’s history.

It’s essential to keep an open mind when it comes to working with dressage horses. But at the same time, don’t be afraid to think outside the box in regard to dealing with needed hoof-care changes.

6 Things To Consider When Formulating Your Footcare Plan

When deciding how to most effectively deal with a dressage horse’s specific hoof-care needs, you need to evaluate several factors that make each horse unique...

  1. Age of the horse.
  2. Conformation of the horse.
  3. The environment in which the horse lives and works.
  4. Any injury concerns with the horse.
  5. Level of dressage training.
  6. And finally ... the quality of the feet.

As with most horses, effective dressage horse hoof-care begins with proper trimming of the hoof capsule. While the goal is to properly align the coffin bone in relation to the ground without compromising the hoof’s protection, it’s much easier to do if the team vet has taken radiographs.

Proper balance of the hoof is also an important factor. Static balance involves alignment of the coffin bone in order to achieve lateral balance, which means having the wings of the coffin bone parallel to the ground. Next is anterior/posterior balance, which positions the distal margins of the coffin bone ideally 3 to 5 degrees higher at the heels than the toe.

This free eGuide explains several trimming techniques that work effectively with dressage horses. An example is how a trim that’s too short can lead to a sensitive hoof, which in turn may lead to a shorter stride or lameness issues.

In this eGuide, Renchin explains why he prefers to talk about sole thickness rather than sole depth. Too often he found that vets and farriers evaluate a radiograph and declare that the coffin bone has adequate depth when, instead, they measured from the dorsal distal edge of the coffin bone to the ground, which can be quite long in an untrimmed foot. By doing this, they fail to consider how the thickness of the sole may be insufficient to protect the coffin bone. This occurs even if the toe is left long enough to keep the point of the coffin bone high enough above the ground. When this happens, the sole becomes thin from being over-hydrated and can quickly wear away since it’s so soft.

Front Feet Options With Dressage Horses

This eGuide details several options that can work well with dressage horses performing at all levels of competition. When it comes to working with both outdoor and synthetic arena surfaces, it’s often good to rely on wider shoes that offer extension flotation, more slide and add breakover to the front part of the shoe. While bar shoes, especially egg bars, were the rage a decade or so ago, they’ve lost much of their popularity since dressage horses often tend to crush the heels.

Get this eGuide for Free with a Free Account!

New members, click "Sign Up" for free account. Or, regular members click "Go In".

Numerous Hind Feet Options

Most dressage trainers nail hind shoes on young horses as soon as they have advanced to dressage training. This helps the horse learn to shift its weight back onto its hindquarter. In many instances, normal open-heeled shoes are used that have the same dimensions or are slightly heavier than the front shoes.

At upper levels of dressage competition where more advanced movements are used, a lateral extension can be used to widen the shoe. Using egg bars on the hind feet are not as common as they once were since they cause too much drag during the pirouettes, making it more difficult for the horse to perform the required moves.

Remember that what’s working today doesn’t automatically mean that it will continue to be the best choice throughout the horse’s dressage career.

Yours for better hoof-care,

Frank Lessiter



P.S. As with many things in life, there’s no substitute for experience when working with dressage horses. If you’re not yet comfortable in dealing with dressage clients, nothing beats finding a gray-haired farrier who’s worked for years with dressage horses. Anytime you can benefit from this kind of experience, it’s time well spent. In the meantime, learn how to avoid many common concerns by downloading our FREE eGuide, “Hoof-Care For The Dressage Horse.” It’s jam-packed with a wealth of valuable information that you can put to immediate use.

P.P.S. When it comes to being successful in the dressage ring, nothing beats having a horse with close to ideal conformation. Just as critical for your footcare success is learning all aspects of the discipline before taking on a new dressage client. Valuable guidelines for pulling together a well-though-out plan to deal with the footcare needs of dressage horses are yours FREE by downloading this valuable 9-page eGuide.