What animal regularly wears shoes and needs help putting them on? It’s a horse, of course!
Horses need their hooves trimmed and horseshoes placed regularly, a procedure referred to as “shoeing.” The person trained to shoe horses is called a farrier. Farriers provide an important part of the regular care that keeps horses healthy.
Steve Sermersheim, a certified journeyman farrier at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, provides this service at the hospital and the UI’s horses-only clinic, Midwest Equine at Illinois.
“Farriers have a big responsibility to horses and their owners because we maintain the length, balance and integrity of the hoof capsule and all the components of the hoof,” Sermersheim explained.
The hoof has many weight- bearing parts that affect how a horse moves and its athletic success. The outer part is called the wall, and the inner portion includes the sole and the frog.
Most people who want to become a farrier attend school, then do an apprenticeship to get hands-on experience and practice. Currently, there is no U.S. regulation of farriers; anyone can buy the tools and shoes.
Sermersheim, however, has extensive experience and certification. Not only has he been certified by the American Farrier’s Association, but he has also earned its “therapeutic endorsement,” meaning he has advanced skills to correct lameness using special shoes. He has further credentials as an associate of Great Britain’s Worshipful Company of Farriers.He has twice been named AFA’s Clinician of the Year, has served eight times as an official farrier at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, and has been a supervisor for official farriers at the World Equestrian Games.
Shoeing a horse
“We shoe horses for three reasons: protection, traction and correction,” Sermersheim says. “Protection from injuring the hoof, traction to avoid falling, and correction to modify any deformity of the hoof.”
Although most horses are regularly shod, not all must be. Some do just fine without shoes.
The process of shoeing a horse starts with evaluating hoof balance. Farriers make their assessment by watching the horse move at a walking pace and at a faster pace.
“After watching the horse move, I will examine the horse up close by looking at the hoof itself,” Sermersheim says.
To do this, a well-behaved horse can be tied to a stall or in stalks. If the horse is less calm, another person can help hold it still. In some cases, a veterinarian is needed to sedate the horse for a better exam.
The farrier will safely position themselves to hold the horse’s limb between their legs to examine the hoof.
“While looking at the underside, I can determine the ex-
cessive growth of the outer portion of the hoof and better evaluate the sole,” Sermersheim explained. “I can also see the shape of the hoof to determine what shoe will fit best.”
It is important for the horse’s comfort to be fitted with an appropriate shoe. If it is ill-fitted, the horse will not be able to walk normally, and its athletic performance may be impacted.
Before a new shoe can be placed, the hoof must be the correct length. This is done using a variety of tools that wear down the excessive growth.
“We have hoof knives, nippers, rasps and various hammers,” Sermersheim said.
These tools allow the farrier to properly trim the hoof down to a more natural length, making walking easier and more comfortable for the horse.
Choosing the right shoe
“Many companies sell machine-made horseshoes,” Sermersheim says, “while many farriers make their own.”
The type of shoe a horse needs depends its job, what substance it walks or works on, and the shape of its foot.
Horseshoes come in a variety of materials such as steel, aluminum, plastic, rubber and wood. Sermersheim said steel and aluminum are the two most common.
Once the exam is completed and the right shoe is selected, it is safely burned or seared to the hoof and often nailed in place. Although this sounds like it would be painful, it is not, as the hoof wall does not contain any nerve endings.
Every horse is different, but most need a visit from a farrier every four to six weeks. This is determined by the way the hoof grows and the wear on shoes.
“The biggest benefit of having a farrier shoe a horse is to keep the horse sound,” Sermersheim said.
A sound horse is one that has no issues with lameness or discomfort. Lameness is one of the most common reasons horses are no longer able to do their job, whether that job is on a farm, on a racetrack, or in a show ring. Shoeing horses helps keep horses in business.
If you have questions about shoeing your horse, contact your local veterinarian.