Proper hoof care is essential to keep racehorses in work and preforming at optimal levels. Racehorse hooves have been adapted to be light and thin walled to allow for efficient energy conversion. However, this can lead to inflammation and collapse of the hoof capsule if stresses are not recognized and responded to appropriately. Early stressors within the hoof capsule are displayed externally through a variety of distortions including: sheared heels, divergent growth rings, bruising, and flaring. It is important to be proactive and treat these abnormalities before they result in irreversible underlying pathology or breakdown.
Radiographs are an invaluable first step when presented with a horse with a hoof distortion. Two radiographs, lateral to medial and dorsal to palmar will properly determine the orientation of the bony column within the hoof capsule. They will be used to ensure that the hoof is balanced with equal medial to lateral joint spacing and coffin bone balance within the hoof capsule. In addition, depth of sole and toe length are evaluated using these views and can serve as a guide for manipulation. If there is concern of hoof related lameness, an additional set of dorsal ventral radiographs should be taken. This allows the examiner to see a variety of pathologies including pedal osteitis, marginal fractures, navicular changes, etc., and provide groundwork for a rehabilitation plan.
A proper trim is the most essential aspect of any horseshoeing endeavor. Without a proper trim, the applied mechanics of the shoe are not fully leverage able, and instead further damage may be propagated. There is an advantage to becoming proficient in the wide variety of mechanical applications. However, one’s degree of success often lies in subtle differences in technique, experience and athletic endeavor. The redistribution of weight bearing from the wall to other structures of the hoof is commonly required. Traditionally this is done with heart bars and other modifications of the shoe. Many trainers don’t like to race horses in heart bars due to fear of lost traction when the horse is at speed. Instead, many of these horses are trained in bar shoes, and are changed to regular shoes for the race. While this method is often effective, the repeated nailing of shoes into the wall can lead to issues of its own, especially if the horse does not have quality hoof wall.
Another technique to redistribute weight is to make a removable orthotic with a malleable impression material, such as Stable Sound . This allows the horse to recruit all structures of the hoof that can handle load, while unloading other structures that may be fragile or in need of rest. It can be removed easily for training and racing, however most horses spend 23 plus hours a day not in training. These long periods of time are when a horse's hoof can rely on the orthotic to assist with proper shock absorption and redistribution.
Quality horseshoeing demands a flexible understanding of the wide range of mechanical applications available. Going beyond a “one application fits all mentality” is necessary to keep our athletes running faster and longer.