History of the Equus Performance Shoe
For centuries horses have been shod with steel shoes. There are hundreds of different types of shoes and applications. In recent history the majority of horses have been shod with thin section concave steel shoes that are made to fit around the outer edge of the hoof. To most this will seem the normal way a horse should be shod. Toe clip in front and two quarter clips behind.
Conventional rim shoeing
Although this method of shoeing has been accepted the norm, it is not necessarily the best method for the horse. Many owners and farriers are realising that by setting the shoe back at the toe horses move more fluidly and are much more sure footed. Through studies of structure and function of equine anatomy it has been found that the point at which the horse breaks over (The last part of the hoof that is in contact with ground when heels lift) is further back than originally thought.
A new generation of shoes are now being produced to allow horses to be shod with the correct break over – the latest of which is the “SSS Performance Shoe”TM. This method of shoeing addresses the front to back balance of the hoof. Although the side to side and vertical balance of the hoof is important, a long toe can have disastrous effects on the locomotion and wellbeing of the horse. Even if the hoof were out balance from side or even if the vertical level of the heels were out (i.e. One heel higher than the other) there would be no where near as much of a discrepancy as the distance between lines A and B in which most horses is around 5cm or 2 inches.
So what does this mean for the horse?
To try to equate this in human terms – our point of break over (POB) is at the ball of the foot, which is about 1/3 of the length of our foot back from the tip of the big toe. So imagine if a rigid material was fixed to the bottom of our foot that we were unable to break over in the correct place. The POB has now been moved to the front of the toe.
This of course would make it very awkward for us to walk. In fact it would have a damaging affect our joints, muscles, tendons, etc. If we were made to walk like this permanently then our muscles would have to change to compensate for the impediment we now have to endure, we would trip and stumble, develop hip and back problems. The reason these problems sound all too familiar is that we see them every day in our own horses.
So how can we change this for the horse?
By adopting a method of shoeing that addresses the front / back balance of the hoof we allow the horse to break over at the correct point which in turn alleviates excessive pressure over the navicula, fetlock area and the flexor tendons.
The longer the toe of the hoof is means more pressure is taken on joints, tendons and ligaments. Many horses develop unexplained lameness normally around five years after being first shod. Most will have posterior 1/3 lameness in the hoof and or tendon problems. A long toe in the hind feet can cause over-reach, hock, pelvic and back problems. It is simple physics, that if you have an “L” shape, then the longer the base line is then the more pressure it takes to push the vertical line forward.
This simple illustration shows how the same increased pressure over the points of leverage can be applied to the lower limb of the horse.
It stands to reason that if the strain is reduced on the back of the hoof and leg the horse can move more fluidly, which in turn will allow him to perform with less effort and energy. Performance horses will notice:
Endurance - Endurance horses cover long distances, so any reduction in the amount of effort required to move forward will conserve valuable energy to complete the event with minimum wear and tear on joints, tendons and muscles and reduce heart rate. Which is a good thing in all disciplines.
Polo - Polo is probably one of the hardest of all equine sports. Many Polo ponies cannot finish a season because of various leg and over – reach injuries. The very nature of the game of Polo means that ponies have to go from full gallop to dead stop and turn, from standstill to full gallop, make sharp turns at speed etc, all of which puts huge strain on the lower leg, especially if they toe of the hoof is to long. Many of these injuries could be prevented by applying a slightly different type of shoe in a slightly different way.
Eventing - Eventers have to perform multiple skills. Balanced shoeing allows them to perform all disciplines to the best of their ability. With a smooth flowing action for dressage, sure footedness and conserved energy for X-country and the ability to turn quickly and land correctly for jumping.
Show jumping - Many show jumping horses, sometimes after years of successfully competing will suddenly for no apparent reason begin to refuse jumps. One may think that the horse has had enough and does not want to jump any more. In most cases its not that they don’t want to jump any more. It is more likely that they don’t want to land the other side. Coupled with the strain on the leg on landing, a long toe will have a massive and painful impact on the internal structures of the hoof (mainly the sensitive laminae) especially on hard ground.
Dressage - When a horse can achieve its correct break over, its complete movement changes. This free flowing movement will catch the eye of the judges and can result in much improved scores. Regardless of breed. If a horse is balanced and comfortable it has every chance of excelling in it particular field.
Racing - This again is very hard on the horse. This is the formula 1 of the horse world. It also follows that if there is an imbalance in the foot – then the faster the horse goes the more out of balance it becomes. Which in turn can lead to dreadful and sometimes fatal injuries even in flat racing. If the horse is working in unison with itself, then the balanced movement and the conserved energy could mean the difference between a finish and a win.
Happy Hack - This member of the equine world has an equal place with all of the above. What is good for a performance horse is good for the pony next door. With balanced shoeing ponies should, (barring accidents and disease) lead a happy healthy life with little or no lameness problems.