As you have heard me say before, I am old school and one of the old school sayings is “No feet, no horse.” As you become more involved in the horse world, the more you will understand this saying. One reason is because if your horse is not trimmed properly or shod, (means putting shoes on your horse), properly, they will not put their feet down as they should which is supporting their body weight, and of course, they will start shifting their weight onto other areas that were not designed for this task such as tendons and ligaments. Horses with sore feet cannot perform very well. When a horse is moving and shifting his or her weight because of sore feet, we are talking about hundreds of pounds. Add the weight of a human being on their back, and you are headed for what could be a serious situation for the health of the horse. This in turn can cause a horse to become sore in one or more areas, and this soreness can become severe and take weeks or months to remedy after the horses’ feet have been corrected.
Let me start at the very beginning. When a mare has a foal at her side, as you are teaching this new jewel in your life about being handled, teaching them to pick up their feet should be an important part of their schooling. As they learn to pick up their feet, then teach them to stand while you are picking out their feet. After weaning your foal, have a blacksmith come and start trimming their feet. If this individual has issues with conformation, now is the time to start the process. A blacksmith can look at your weanling’s confirmation, watch the way they walk and move, and perhaps help them so that later in life their movements will be more efficient, causing less problems down the road. Waiting until a horse has completely developed and is considered an adult is not the best time to try and change their way of movement. Sometimes this can do more harm than good. Minor changes at this age and older is fine, but beyond that can sometimes get you and your horse into trouble, so be cautious.
If you have just acquired a new horse, make arrangements for a blacksmith to come and take a look at your horse’s feet. Explain the newness of this horse, what your intentions are for this particular horse and you can discuss the options of either putting shoes on the horse or just leaving them “barefoot”.
As you probably know, there are many different types of sports that involve horses. This in turn will involve a much more detailed type of shoeing. A race horse will need a very light shoe that will help them to grip the ground and insure firm footing. A reigning horse will need a shoe that will help them when they are doing their difficult sliding stops. A cutting horse will need a shoe that does not interfere with their extreme motions from side to side, at the same time, helps them from slipping and sliding. Dressage horses need a heavier shoe as they need to place their feet firmly and strongly onto the ground when in competition. Each sporting horse will have their own specific needs and requirements for shoeing. It is a very important part of their being able to perform to the best of their ability. Remember, a horse will follow the shoe on his or her foot. If the shoe is not put on properly, your horse will not move as they should.
Now, if you are using your horse for a very difficult and demanding sport, you may need at some point what is called “corrective shoeing”. Sometimes performance horses, because of confirmation flaws, will interfere and start to develop problems such as hitting themselves or scalping themselves. Basically, they are damaging a part of their body, usually the opposite pastern, ankle or even their hock with their foot. A knowledgeable and experienced blacksmith can usually help a horse to overcome problems such as this. Make no mistake, especially when the stakes get higher with higher competition, a good blacksmith is worth their weight in gold. A great blacksmith goes far beyond that.
How do you find a good blacksmith? My suggestion is from word of mouth. If you are just starting with horses, find a large farm or stables and stop in and ask them what blacksmith they use. Usually, any horse person will be more than willing to help out a fellow horseman. Also, large tack shops or your local feed store can guide you in the right direction. If you get recommendations from several horsemen for a blacksmith that might be slightly higher than others in the area, be reluctant to look the other way. A few dollars now can save you hundreds if not thousands later. Good Luck!