Before attempting to shoe a horse it is advisable to have a basic understanding of the structure of the foot and its function.
Shoeing a horse protects the hoof from excessive wear and gives more grip under most conditions. The object in shoeing is to secure the shoe to the foot and yet cause as little damage as possible to the hoof.
The main bone in the foot is the pedal bone - wedge shaped and positioned in the toe part of the hoof - and the small navicular bone behind it, and the lower extremity of the short pastern bone rests on the pedal bone. There are three large ligaments in the foot, one at the front and two at the back - the base of the extensor and flexor tendons. The back part of the hoof is comprised of a tough elastic pad - the plantar cushion. From this gluey fleshy substance grows the horn of the hoof - the wall grows from the coronary band, which is the same substance round the top of the hoof, or coronet, and the sole from the fleshy sole under the pedal bone, and the frog from the fleshy frog and plantar cushion. The horn is similar throughout the foot, whether it is as hard as the wall or elastic as the frog, or semi-hard as is the sole. There are numerous blood vessels in the foot and small wounds bleed freely.
The wall of the hoof is of uniform thickness from top to bottom, but is wider at the toe than at the heels and quarters. The outside of the wall is hard, but where it joins the sole it becomes softer and is clearly marked by a distinct white line. This marks the division between the sensitive and insensitive parts of the hoof. It is into the outer edge of this line that the nails are driven. The sole on a healthy foot is concave, the frog well developed and tough and rubbery. Its purpose is to minimise concussion and to provide grip, - the heels and the frog hit the ground first and thus absorb most of the shock.
The plantar cushion is a resilient mass, which rests above the frog. When pressure is exerted on the heel and the frog as the hoof strikes the ground, the plantar cushion is compressed and this compression spreads apart the heel and the lateral cartilage's which are attached to the sides of the pedal bone. The clefts and bars at the back of the hoof are designed to allow and help this slight give. Slight as this give is, it is sufficient to reduce appreciably the concussion on the rest of the forehand.
When shoeing a horse the back of the shoe must be as wide as the hoof and the nails are placed more towards the front so that the natural spread is not interfered with.
The hind feet are of a different shape. They are more straight and more pointed so that they can get a good grip of the ground to drive forward. Because the foot is not so spread the shock absorbing properties are of a lesser degree than those of the front feet.
Handling the horse is half the art of shoeing. There is little point in wrestling with one, - you will tire long before he does. Most horses will submit to being shod provided it has not been an unpleasant experience for them in the past, - some are nervous, some get bored and restless, - a few are rogues. There are a number of useful restraints but for the amateur farrier, it is essential to choose a quiet animal, with normal feet, on which to learn. It is also necessary to have the correct tools, namely a farrier's hammer, pincers, buffer and rasp, drawing knife, and hoof cutters. A clenching tool is also advisable if you plan to do more than the odd horse. An anvil of a sort, a pair of tongs, and approx. 2 kg. (4 lb.) hammer are needed to alter the shoes to fit the foot.
To remove the old shoes, first straighten the clenches with the buffer and hammer, then pull the shoe off with the pincers, starting at the heels with a forward and downward motion, avoiding putting pressure on the sole. Remove excess growth mainly at the toe correct the heel level with the rasp (Held flat at ALL times). Make sure heels are equal height uneven bearing on the heels puts a strain on joints, which have lateral bend. Try and maintain the natural angle of pastern through the foot, approximately 45~-50 degrees is usual. Only use the rasp outside the hoof in order to correct shape and remove excess flare on some flat feet. Trim all four feet before commencing to shoe the horse.
All machine made shoes need some shaping before fitting, some makes more than others. Where possible use heat to make them easier to bend, most need nail holes punched out to fit nail head neatly and avoid clenches rising too soon. It is necessary in most feet to cut a toe clip in order to get the front nails into the edge of the white line. Fit the shoe and alter accordingly, heels should be level and beveled off, particularly in the front feet to avoid being pulled off by the hind feet.
Drive the toenails first, as this allows the shoe to pivot slightly if necessary. The nails have a bevel at the point to direct them outwards. The experienced farrier can tell by the sound if the nail has been correctly driven. Hold your finger where you expect it to come out, and aim at about 2 cm. (3/4 inch) above the ground line. Cut off nails as you proceed, to avoid damage to your hands and the opposite leg of the horse. The harder the nail is hit the quicker it will turn out, - if the nail is required to go higher for a better grip, then tap it in gently.
Having driven the nails, 3 a side sufficient for most feet, hold pincers under points and hit nail on the head again, heel nails first as this tightens the nails down before clenching. Draw hoof forward and rasp under clenches, neaten edge and tap clenches down or use clenching tool, - rasp clenches to neaten appearance. There should be no rasping above clenches as rasping removes waxy cover of wall and allows hoof to dry out.
Always be on the lookout for any irregularities, - some horses have one foot smaller than the others, some forge. The expert can correct, or at least disguise these faults.
Take pride in your work, remember the mistakes you made last time and make notes in case you forget. It will be 6 weeks before you shoe that horse again, if you have put them on well!
You will never stop improving, providing you can get enough practice, and are not satisfied until you have done the perfect job.
The most common foot complaint is founder. Where it has affected the hooves the horse nearly always develops a 'paddling gait', in order to avoid putting the weight on the toes. The soles drop, the wall at the toe protrudes, and the normal shape of the foot has gone.
It is possible to bring these horses back into slow work, but their usefulness is impaired forever, and it is a job for an expert to fit shoes with bars, or a wide web with concaved inner edges, or rubber pads to protect the sole of the foundered foot. In all cases prevention is better than cure. Prompt treatment from a Veterinarian can prevent foot damage.