Shoeing is a regular and necessary chore on any western ranch with horses. Well-fitted shoes are essential to protect the hooves of horses that carry riders or heavy packs, and are especially critical in the rugged and rocky terrain of mountain country.
Blue Valley Ranch uses our local certified farrier, Blue Valley Forge, for keeping our horses shod and their feet in good condition. While shoes are usually pulled over the winter, the onset of spring brings the first set of shoes, which are typically replaced at least every 6-8 weeks in a multi-step process.
Once old shoes have been removed (if necessary) the first step is to clean the hoof with a knife, and trim it with clippers and a rasp to prepare for fitting the new shoe. The farrier’s job is part blacksmith (shaping the shoe), and part veterinarian (caring for the health of the foot), so this first step is critical for identifying health or lameness problems early.
Shoes are made of different materials so, depending on the material, the cold or hot shoe method may be used to shape the shoe to fit the hoof. A hot shoe will leave a mark on the bottom of the hoof, indicating where the shoe may need additional shaping. This is critically important as an ill-fitting shoe can severely affect the gait of a horse, and lead to structural issues in the foot and legs. Alternatively, a specially fitted shoe can help to correct existing gait problems, just like a corrective shoe for a person.
A horse hoof, of course, feels nothing as it is made of keratin, similar to the substance that makes up fingernails.
After cleaning, trimming and fitting, the hoof is ready to be nailed on. Nails are pounded in, then the ends are trimmed and clinched (bending the ends against the hoof to hold them in). A little additional rasping or hoof trimming, and then on to the next foot.
Unlike cloven-hooved animals such as cattle, a horse’s hoof is a single digit upon which it applies its entire body weight. Therefore, healthy feet are essential for a healthy horse, and a skilled farrier is just as important as the veterinarian in maintaining the health of a horse herd.
Special thanks to Blue Valley Forge, and to Caitlyn Taussig for the great photos!