Horse owners know that the old adage, “no hoof, no horse,” are words to live by. And to ensure healthy hooves, one of a horse owner’s main partners is the farrier. Establishing a good relationship with your farrier is vital, you need to be able to communicate your horse’s needs, changes in performance, and lameness issues with him or her to ensure a sound and happy horse. Farriers are able to diagnose problems like hoof abscesses or thrush, both of which can be easily treated, but can cause lameness if left alone. Farriers also work in tandem with your vet to ensure your animal’s needs are met so that the horse can perform optimally, even if “perform” means trail riding.

Horse-Canada spoke to Kyle David, an Ontario-based farrier, about the basics of hoof care, shoeing, and what blacksmiths need to know from owners in order to provide the best care. Kyle trained at the Kentucky Horseshoeing School in Lexington, followed by five years of apprenticeship in Holland. He hails from Essex County but now calls the Hamilton area home. Kyle’s clientele is predominately dressage owners, but he also works on draft and pleasure horses, dividing the winter months between Ontario and Wellington, Florida where several of his clients compete during the season. He’s also a horse owner who trail rides his Quarter Horse cross, Charlie, when he has free time.

Horse-Canada: Let’s start with your philosophy of horse hoof care.

Kyle David: My slogan for shoeing horses would be ‘shoeing horses is the lesser of two evils.’ Everything that we do with horses is unnatural, and everything would be better if we just left them alone and they were in the wild, but because we’re doing very unnatural things to them, we have to help them unnaturally by putting shoes on them to protect the hoof capsule.

As a farrier, walking into a stable and meeting a horse for the first time, how do you assess whether it should be barefoot, front shoes, or all-around shoes?

For starters, I learn the breed of horse. Certain breeds can be ridden lightly in the ring, on trail rides, even some low jumping without shoes such as draft crosses, Cobs, Friesians, even Dutch Harness horses just have a lot thicker wall and more substantial foot. Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods have very thin walls and not such a good quality foot so the hooves break off and wear down quickly. Secondly, I ask the owner what they’re planning to do with the horse and if it’s anything more than just light trail riding, or if it’s a Thoroughbred or Warmblood, I suggest putting shoes on them to protect the hoof from damage.

A farrier working on a horse's hoof.

Kyle David.

What happens to hooves when a horse is ridden more frequently or intensely, say a jumper or dressage horse?

Different terrains, like some of the synthetic footing and sand, can actually be like sandpaper, causing the hoof to be constantly filed down and worn down faster than they can actually grow. This can make a horse come up sore.

Most of a horse’s body weight, approximately 60%, is carried on the front legs; consequently, hooves tend to wear down faster on their front feet. And because the back hooves don’t wear down quite as quickly, some owners are able to get away with just putting front shoes on. But personally, I don’t think that is a good option. If the horse is in work what you do to one end, you should do to the other to keep the horse in balance. I think putting shoes only on the front end is good for the owner’s bank account, or group turnout, but isn’t ideal for what the horse is actually doing.

What are some benefits of keeping a horse barefoot?

The horse’s foot is able to move and contract how it would naturally; you’re completely out of the way of how the horse’s foot wants to load and unload and you’re not restricting it in any way. So that’s obviously the best thing for a horse as their foot is designed a certain way and you’re not inhibiting it from doing anything.

Wild horses, when they’re in the woods or going over rocks, they’re breaking their feet off and wearing them down easily ‒ but our domestic horses are confined to a small paddock and don’t wear their feet down, so we need to trim them regularly. But if you are training or competing at an upper level, which is a more unnatural [situation] for your horse, you’re going to have to give them more support and traction to help them do the job.

You already touched on why you don’t like the front-shoe only approach, but let’s delve deeper into it.

If your horse needs or wants group turnout, I can understand why people put only front shoes on, so they can give a little more support to their horse when light riding yet be safer if their horse should kick another. But for me, they’re putting their animal out of balance front to back. When you shoe a horse, you’re changing how they land, how they break over/foot fall. On a horse with only front shoes, the front end on that horse is actually going to land earlier and could break over later, where the hind end is actually landing where it’s supposed to land and there’s a little more of a “slide phase”, making it easier for the hind end to catch the front end and pull shoes off. Pulling shoes off is only one issue; the hind leg overreaching the front can cause other injuries like collateral ligament or suspensory damage.

Let’s go to shoeing all around.

I think it’s ideal for horses to be shod all the way around so that their feet are protected and they have the traction they need. They’re not going to be wearing the feet down and will be able to do their job for you comfortably.

What are some horse shoeing basics that owners should know about their horse?

If the horse has a history of being footsore or has sensitive insoles, we need to know before nailing the shoe on. Some horses have a higher tolerance and their walls are thicker and therefore they can be nailed up a little higher. Or if the horse has been hot shod before or not. If an owner has a history of the horse that’s good, so the blacksmith doesn’t make a mistake and have to learn the hard way.

What are the advantages of hot versus cold shoeing?

I do both, and I think the advantage of hot shoeing is really only to the farrier, because it makes leveling the foot a lot easier. Which I choose to do on a particular horse depends on many things: where I am, who the client is (and their preference). You can shoe a horse equally well with cold shoeing, but it’s more difficult because you have to use your eye and feel the level, instead of burning off the sole and using the heat to level the foot.

What about hoof care between farrier visits? Is oiling the feet a good thing?

Oiling the hooves is actually not that great for your horse’s feet because it actually sheds water/moisture away. I prefer a product like Effol Hoof Ointment; it’s more of a wax. But whatever moisturizer you choose, you need to apply it after you bathe your horse, so the feet are wet, then the topical product helps lock in that water and has a better chance to soak in. You should also do the underside of the foot, the sole, not just outside surface.