Regular Horse Farriery is essential for all horses whether they be barefoot or shod. For this blog, we have teamed up with qualified Farrier, James Pilcher. He has been a qualified farrier since 2007 and started his apprenticeship in 2002 with Dave Smith AWCF. Since qualifying, he has initially worked for a number of other farriers to gain experience, including Ben Benson, Jason Tysoe & Simon Peckham.

Horse farrier
James Pilcher Horse Farrier

Now based in Worcestershire, his round covers Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire & Warwickshire. He shoes a whole range of horses from general riding horses, racehorses & high-level competition horses. When he isn’t found shoeing a horse, he uses his spare time to get out fishing & spending time with his wife Zoe & his large brood of children!!

‘No foot, no horse’

 When buying a horse or pony assessing the horses feet is very important. The first thing to look at when assessing a horses foot is the static confirmation, finding a horse with perfect limb and foot conformation is a very rare thing but we want to be aware of the red flags that may lead to bigger problems down the line.

The hooves want to be strong & healthy with no obvious defects. To get a better gauge of the horse’s hoof conformation you could imagine drawing a straight line ( Or take a photo on your phone then create this from there) from the points of the horse’s shoulder down to the ground, and that line would fall exactly in the centre of the horse’s leg and hoof.

Horse Farrier
How you can use photography and draw
lines to help assess conformation.

From the side, the ideal horse will have a straight line going from the middle of the horse’s shoulder through the front of the knee to the middle-back of the hoof, and for hind limb another line going from the point of the buttocks to the back of the hock and straight down the back of the cannon bone to the pastern and hoof. You also want to view the angle from the side to assess if the horse is very upright or flat-footed with a slopped pastern or dropped fetlock, which leads into the conformation of the pastern.

You could take photos of the horse from front and side on so you could draw these lines on, or if you want a second opinion forward the photos on to your farrier.

Conformation hoof faults to be aware of:

Hoof Conformation fault
What it looks like?
Possible long term effects on soundness?
Boxy/ Club foot  
The affected foot has an axis of 60° or more, which increases concussion. This is where the side photos are very useful.
the foot is less able to absorb concussion, which may lead to heel contraction.
  Toe in conformation/ pidgeon toed  
When looking straight on at a horses limb the hoof deviates more to the inside.
Causes asymmetrical loading and stresses on limbs and feet.
Toe out conformation
When looking straight on at a horses limb the hoof deviates more to the outside
Causes asymmetrical loading and stresses on limbs and feet
Laminitis rings
Rings on the hoof wall from the coronet band to the ground. It takes a minimum of 3 months for new divergent hoof rings to be seen following laminitis.
Horse or pony will have to be managed strictly to keep any future laminitis at bay
Flat feet
The hoof is large and the sole is close to the ground.
More susceptible to bruising of the sole.
Common hoof conformational issues to be aware of as a horse owner.
Horse Farrier
This pony had laminitis 4 months previous so you can now see how its growing out of the hooves.

How can a horse farrier help with any hoof problems we have?

As a farrier I can help horses with poor quality hooves with regular shoeing to suit the individual. Everyone will have a different opinion on what they are willing to take on and work with when buying a horse, so you may want to have a think about this before you start searching.

Think about the level of work and competition you want a horse to do with you the rider, and how any hoof conformation abnormalities may affect this. My advice would always be if a horse is not shod/barefoot or only has fronts on then don’t be afraid to ask why the horse is being managed in this way.

Horse Farrier
Before and after, How shoeing can help support feet and long term soundness

Make sure you pick up all of the horses’ feet so you can see how willing the horse is to offer and hold up his feet. Also, you can assess if the horse has any hind limb issues for example; equine shivering which can deteriorate over time and make the horse very difficult to shoe.

What is Shivering in horses?

Shivers, or equine shivering, is a rare, progressive neuromuscular disorder of horses. It is characterized by muscle tremors, difficulty holding up the hind limbs, or hind limbs tremor or shiver when lifted, and an unusual gait when the horse is asked to move backwards. Horses may have to go without hind shoes if the shivering is extreme.

When viewing a horse for sale what should we be looking out for?

Once you have assessed the horses static hoof conformation, you will of course want to see it move to establish soundness. View the horse walking & trotting up on a hard surface and if possible on a small circle/ lunge.

Then you can assess movement when being ridden as well looking out for things like stumbling or any interference like forging or overreaching. This will, of course, be done by a veterinarian if you choose to have a vetting on purchasing the horse, but you could save wasting time and money if there is an obvious problem that may rule out the horse for you prior to that.

Advice for shoeing a newly purchased horse?

With a new horse try and give your farrier as much information as you can, the horses’ age, shoeing history, what exercise it was doing with its previous owner and what you plan to do with the horse, as you wouldn’t shoe a horse that only goes hunting the same way as a dressage horse.

Also, let your farrier know any special requirements you require like road nails and stud holes. If possible, try to be there for at least the first shoeing for the safety of your farrier & also so you can discuss the horses future shoeing cycle.

Horse Farrier
Bar shoe used when a horse needs extra support due to poor conformation or a previous injury.

Five Top Tips for Daily Horse Hoof care to keep your horses’ feet strong and healthy

  1. Picking your horses hooves out each day can prevent problems like a trapped stone which could cause a bruise which could lead on to lameness. Checking hooves each day will also help you to observe the overall health of the feet. You can also check that shoes are tight & in the correct position. This will all help create a good relationship between you & your horse, and make the horse better to handle for the farrier.
  2. Make sure you keep up to date with farrier visits, this should be scheduled every 4-6 weeks for every shoe cycle.
  3. Applying a hoof oil (I personally love Kevin Bacon) especially in dry and hot conditions will help stop hooves cracking and breaking up. (Be aware that you use an oil that helps add moisture to the hooves not just for aesthetics)
  4. If you have a horse with poor hoof quality look into providing a hoof supplement to the feed, this will take a while to have an effect but could help improve hoof quality long term. You will want to use a supplement with a high biotin quantity for best results.
  5. Know what is normal for your horse, if you are picking out your horses feet daily then you will know if there are any differences like cracks, foreign bodies or smells which could lead to hoof problems like thrush.
Horse farrier
Daily picking out horses feet is essential for good hoof maintenance.

Finally, I’d say don’t be afraid to ask your farrier any questions or concerns you have. Sometimes a horse physiotherapist, chiropractor, or vet may notice something in your horses’ movement that could be helped with certain shoeing, discuss with your farrier what has been picked up and then they can work with you to improve your horses’ performance and soundness.

A good horse farrier will always be happy to answer & offer advice so you can get the best out of your horse or pony.

You can follow James and his wonderful family and ponies on Instagram.

Happy horse searching!