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pic helpful hints jpg Feeding horses and ponies can be confusing, but choosing an appropriate feed is an essential part of their care. The horse is naturally a grazing animal and is anatomically designed to eat little and often. In the wild, they may spend between 16-18 hours each day eating, and they have a digestive system designed to process large amounts of fibrous material. Forage provides an essential foundation upon which the optimum ration for health, growth and development or performance should be built.


When things aren't going to plan how do we decide what course of action to take? How many of us are guilty of trying to treat the symptoms rather than the cause - do we even take the trouble to establish what the cause of the problem is? With so many products available marketed as the answer to every possible problem, it is easy to get caught up in trying to find the quick- fix solution. Nutrition is no exception and feed merchants have an array of feeds and supplements for customers to choose from.


There are several factors which all interact to influence performance. Nutrition and management are fundamental in determining the health and behavior of the horse but equally the health and behavior of the horse may influence the feeding and management regimes used. Understanding the interaction between these factors is important if a problem occurs as it is necessary to look at the whole picture, not each factor in isolation.

There are several factors that all interact to influence performance


Nutrition is a combination of art and science - there is an increasing amount of research being conducted but it is being able to apply the findings to a real life situation that is the art of nutrition. Most people can feed the straightforward horse but it is coping with individuals with problems that is the real test.


Problems can be physiological or psychological in that they can affect the horse's body or mind. The usual reason for a problem occurring is that the horse has been removed too far from his natural diet or lifestyle. Dressage horses competing at the highest level have constant disruptions to their routines, spend long periods traveling and those that compete abroad also have to deal with changes in climatic conditions. Even when they are at home, dressage horses are often considered to be too valuable to turn out as the risk of injury is too great. This combines to create a lifestyle that is very different to that of a horse in its natural environment.

If the diet and management are not adjusted to try and counteract the effects of high level competition, problems can occur. Changes to both the diet and routine may be necessary to rectify a problem. Changing one without the other may be ineffective and may compromise the horse's well-being further.


The first thing to do when a problem arises is to go back to basics. The first thing to establish
is whether the diet is balanced. To determine this you need to ask:

Am I using the right type of feed relative to the work the horse is doing?
Am I feeding enough of a suitable feed for the work the horse is doing?
Does the forage I use have any nutrient shortfalls?

A Totally Balanced Ration

Total Ration Balancing is very important for the performance horse. Forage is an important part of the horse's diet and the nutrients it provides should not just be ignored. Analyzing forage establishes which nutrients are being provided and should be the first step taken to achieving a balanced diet. As forage is not sufficient to support most competing dressage horses, concentrates will probably be required.

Compound Feeds

Compound feeds are balanced rations designed to be fed alongside forage with average nutrient levels at certain quantities according to the horse's workload. If the manufacturer's guidelines are not followed, the nutrient levels provided will not be ideal. In theory, extra supplements should not be necessary if using a compound feed, however there are some possible scenarios where they may be required.

To counteract the nutrient shortfalls of a particularly poor forage. If the diet is balanced and is appropriate for the horse and its workload but a problem still exists.


There are a variety of supplements available, some are prophylactic - designed to prevent problems occurring, whilst others treat existing problems. Supplements that are designed to counteract nutrient shortfalls tend to be marketed differently to those that are promoted for preventing or treating health and behavioral problems. If you have established that you require a supplement to counteract a particular problem, compare products that claim to do the same job. There has been concern in the horse industry that there is no legislation to prevent manufacturers from making false claims about their products and so when choosing a supplement speak to the manufacturer about any testing and research they may have done. Compare value for money by looking at feeding rates and the size of containers. If one product doesn't work then stop using it before you try another one, otherwise the feed room starts to look more like an apothecary and you can not establish which product is having an effect.

The Rules of Feeding

The rules of feeding are guidelines for keeping the horse healthy by suggesting ways of replicating the horse's natural behavior. The extent to which they are implemented will determine how healthy the horse is. The more effort and greater attention to detail is made the greater the results should be.


It can be difficult to have the courage to change a horse's feeding or management regime, particularly in the middle of the competitive season. Use this time of year to be more objective about whether your horse could look or perform better. Make use of the resources available to you. Most of the larger feed companies will analyze your forage and make suggestions as to how you could be providing a more appropriate diet. Also consider ways in which you could improve the horse's routine as, no matter how dedicated you are, there is always room for improvement.

General Horse Foot Care

The old saying "No Foot, No Horse" is one horse people like to recite all the time. What constitutes a healthy foot? As equine experts, you will have to be familiar with and responsible for the "Life-Line" of your horse - his feet.

hoof 1 jpg small space image jpg image hoof2

A Healthy Foot:

Includes hard, solid soles and soft, flexible frog bands with a triangular center. The outer hoof wall should be at least two times greater than the width of the white line, and the white line should bond with no deep cracks between the connecting sole.

Common Problems:
  1. A "Frog-eating" bacteria called Thrush can cause bleeding, soreness, or even death if not attended to.
  2. Weak cracking of outside wall due to extremely wet or dry conditions. Horses have a great capacity to adapt to environmental changes. However, it must be gradual. Sometimes horses need a little help.
  3. Sole bruising often results from constant, abusive use of horses on rocky uneven surfaces. If soles are tender, find out whether the cause is heredity (flat-soled) or environmental (too wet, which softens soles or too rough and rocky).
  4. Limb interference or hitting may result from unbalanced riding, lack of shoeing and trimming, and / or fatigue of horse.
Common Solutions:
  1. Thrush is totally treated by practicing good "hoof hygiene." A pick a day will be a very small price to pay. Advance cases of thrush are life threatening to your horse.
  2. Weak, "brittle" foot cracking can be helped by adding a water-based hoof dressing. Weak, "soft" feet can be improved by using hoof hardening conditioners. Some cases may benefit from on oil-based hoof dressing that acts as a repellent of water.
  3. Sole bruising is a remedy for "Father Time." Rest is its only cure. Hoof padding under shoes is not a cure, but a prevention. Pads provide protection against potential bruising. Pads may have extreme negative effects if put on an existing bruised horse.
  4. Interfering limbs can be helped with improved riding skill, conditioning of horse, and routine farrier work. Protective boots are recommended during these times of need.
When to Call A Farrier:

Generally, most horses, whether shod or not, should have the farrier call on them routinely. Most farriers recommend anywhere from 6-8 weeks varying among each horse each season. Most healthy horses can be barefoot if they are in a controlled environment. Some may need shoes for any of these reasons:
  1. weak hooves (protection)
  2. weak hoof / pastern angles (support)
  3. the job of the horse (performance).
A good farrier should also consider this:

  1. what science wants (for soundness)
  2. what the rider wants (for performance)
  3. what the horse wants (for a lifetime of humane horseshoeing and handling in general).
Finally, the farrier you choose should have a professional level of National Certification (i.e. AFA, BWFA, GPF). This choice can be hard. I suggest you listen to the horses of your friends and not solely on comments from your "horse-friends." A consistently sound horse is a Farrier's walking billboard.

Questions of Curiosity

The Unanswered.
An anonymous author once wrote:
Everything that is either timeless or priceless comes to us in the form of art. Those things which are based on mechanics alone must be updated periodically and for a price.

Each time I read this passage, I am reminded of the importance of recognizing our work as an expression of art. And, to express oneself requires that we get in touch with our artistic abilities. These abilities are comparable to muscles - only through exercise will they develop and become definite. A master craftsman or artist in any field can have some difficulty explaining how his or her work turned out so beautifully. Similarly, an expert horseshoer can perform his or her work on such a level that there seems to be an indescribable beauty about it. On a fairly regular basis, I am approached by many different people and I receive a variety of questions. The most difficult to explain are those that involve the "feel-of-the-skill." In all honesty, the clearest understanding of any art involves going beyond what any words could ever reveal.

The Easily Answered.

Fortunately, there are a few questions that are simple and general enough to answer. In top ten order, they are as follows:

#10 - How can a person become a farrier?

There are two ways to obtain the horseshoeing and horsemanship skills that are necessary in order to become a professional farrier. One is through a Farrier Studies program at various accredited schools and the other is through a private apprenticeship program offered by many older, more experienced farriers. Personally, I recommend a combination of both. In most cases, expect at least two years of basic training. Also worth mentioning is the idea of Continuing Education. This can be achieved through clinics, seminars, "ride-along" with more experienced farriers, or just simply taking some time to research new ideas.

#9 - Is there a high risk of back injury?

To honestly answer this question, I must start by saying that horseshoeing is a physical activity and just like any hands-on activity there is a chance of injury. However, there are two measures a farrier can take to lessen this risk. The first is to prepare for the activity by stretching and exercising. Many farriers do a daily routine of stretching the lower back muscles before doing their work - very similar to that of a baseball catcher before the start of each game. The second involves preparing the horse. Most often the majority of injuries result from failed attempts to shoe untrained horses. Forceful pressure or restraints put upon a horse will always increase the level of a horse's "trapped fear" and, in turn, that increases the farrier's odds of getting seriously injured. Instead, I recommend that we rely on a "lasting" training technique, in order to gain the horse's trust before attempting any horseshoeing.

#8 - Does a farrier get kicked often?

Any experienced farrier knows all too well about this. I think I'm not alone in saying that on an on-going, almost subconscious level, the fear of getting kicked exists and the amount of risk a farrier assumes is based on his or her personal experiences. More definitively, I can say that by nature a horse will kick for one of two reasons: a) the threat of an attack, or b) the threat of being trapped.

In my opinion, to lessen the risk of a kick and at the same time gain a more "lasting" control of the horse, the farrier should prescribe to the horseowner a logical horsemanship training technique. There are several Basic Body Language Systems (BBLS's) currently being used and promoted by successful trainers.

#7 - Can you make a living as a farrier?

According to recent survey published in the American Farriers Journal, the average annual income for a farrier is between $40,000 and $60,000. This, of course, varies according to the individual experience and demand factors.

#6 - How much does it normally cost to have a horse shod?

Depending on the extent of the work, which is based on the health of the horse's feet, the price can range anywhere from $50-$100.

#5 - How often do horses need farrier work?

This will depend on the overall condition of the horse, the climate he lives in, and what his job is. On an average most farriers will recommend a visit every 6-8 weeks.

#4 - Are there different shoes for different horses?

Yes. Modern day horseshoeing requires that the farrier choose the shoes that will best support and protect the horse and at the same time allow him to perform. A qualified farrier will examine the conformation and movement patterns of a horse, in order to select the shoes that are most beneficial.

#3 - Why do some horses need special shoes?

In this situation, you may hear some farriers referring to the concept of "corrective" shoeing. Perhaps it is more easily explained if you consider this simple thought: "A horse is shod correctly if his shoes promote strong feet, strong legs, and strong gaits (ways of traveling)." If for some reason a horse is weak in any one of these areas, special shoes could help. These are three of the most common situations:
  • Weak, tender feet often bruise easily. Flat padded shoes can prevent such occurrences.
  • Weak limbs, resulting at birth or due to an injury can be supported by various combinations of Bar shoes and / or Degree (wedged) pads.
  • Occasionally, horses have trouble moving freely, and this weakness in gaits could cause the horse to experience a hitting (interfering) of his limbs. Various toe or heel adjustments of the horse's shoe can improve the support, timing and direction of his footfall patterns.
#2 - If the horses in the wild can survive without farrier work, why can't the others?

The truly "wild horses" as we know them are a thing of the past. In modern times, horses are products of human influence. Being as it may, horses are now managed and even bred selectively to meet human standards. Unfortunately, these standards are not always in the horse's best interests. And, as a result, over the centuries weaker traits have become more dominant. Remember that in the actual wild only the strongest of stallions and mares successfully bred. This was the natural order of selection, which in most cases produced stronger, healthier feet.

And the #1 question most often asked is. Does nailing on a shoe hurt the horse?

If done properly, the horse does not experience any pain. The Keratinization process (division of dead cells) that occurs within the horse's hooves is the same as that of our finger and toe nail growth. Within reason, you can cut through or reshape the nail. Each time a farrier works on a horse's foot, he or she learns the quality or "vertical depth tolerance" differences that exist from one horse to another. A competent farrier will spend hours practicing the mechanics of accurate nailing techniques. These hours of practice can be compared to the countless number of bullets a marksman will fire at a target in an effort to become a sharp shooter. The ability to develop a strategic approach toward nail placement, along with the ability to analyze the health of each foot, is the key to keeping the shoeing process "horse-friendly

Does Your Horse Suffer From Farrier Phobia?

Imagine yourself trapped in an elevator. Your hands are tied and you are only able to stand on one leg at a time. Let's also add an annoying fly that insists on using your nose for a landing site. Sounds pretty uncomfortable and maybe even scary if you're the claustrophobic type, doesn't it?

Keep this in mind the next time you see a young horse in crossties, fighting flies in a narrow barn aisle, anxiously awaiting a farrier. One thing the owner and farrier should realize is that the horse's skittish, jumpy, kicking, etc., reactions are not personal attacks directed at them, rather, they are natural responses to the situation.

An automatic response to this behavior is to hold the horse in place physically. Such approaches include crossties, leg hobbles, "Honda knots" and the like, most of which prove dangerous to both horse and handler. Some may argue in support of these tactics and to accomplish the job. However, these methods are long, physical processes that never lead to a lasting fix.

Facing Fears Through Body Boundaries

All horses have two primal fears (phobias): being attacked and being trapped.

Unfortunately, for a horse, a new farrier can represent both. It is only through a process of setting boundaries for the horse's body in relation to the handler's that this situation can be truly helped with lasting results. This body-boundary approach is currently being used by many successful trainers/educators. Terms such as "WESN-Lesson," "Joining Up" or "Heeding" have been associated with the basic idea of creating corridors, tunnels and/or counter moves. They develop a horse's understanding of where to be in relation to the handler. The handler should maintain a shoulder-by-shoulder alignment on the ground with the horse. From this spot, the horse can be directed or steered.

Once the handler knows where to be, it is necessary to show the horse his boundaries. The first step is to deal with the horse's phobia. Being patient and standing by his shoulder will help show him the handler does not intend to attack. In addition, being in a place that is familiar, such as a grooming stall, barn aisle, round pen or arena will show the horse there is no attack from his surroundings.

Once this stage of training has been successfully completed, stage two addresses the horse's feeling of entrapment. This can result if a horse loses its balance and/or the ability to move. A horse must feel he has an opening in a least one of four directions: forward, backward, nearness or farside. Restraint devices can trap him, causing fear to take over. This concept is not easily remembered in the heat of a frustrating moment, especially when both the handler and farrier are pressured for immediate results.

Redirecting the horse to stand up or stand still can be done by the shoulder-by shoulder boundary. Blocking with light resistance in front of shoulders can gain a standstill, or light encouragement or tapping behind the shoulders encourages the horse to step forward or stand up.

Side-by-side movement should be tolerated in the early stages of training to prevent a trapped fear taking over the horse.

After the horse relaxes and accepts his boundaries, it is then time to ask for his feet. The single most important thing to remember is to avoid a tug of war. The goal is not how long the horse's foot can be held up, but to teach him the handler is the one in charge of setting it down. This means setting the foot down before the horse expects you to. He eventually will learn to trust and wait for his foot to be put down each time, whether it is in two seconds or two minutes.

Farrier phobia in horses is natural. It takes an investment of time by the owner/handler working with the farrier to train a horse to be calm and comfortable. A humane approach to horseshoeing is a method that can be practiced on every horse. This "farrier-friendly"™ approach represents the wave of the future.

Imagine yourself trapped in an elevator. Your hands are tied and you are only able to stand on one leg at a time. Let's also add an annoying fly that insists on using your nose for a landing site. Sounds pretty uncomfortable and maybe even scary if you're the claustrophobic type, doesn't it?

Consider Care Even When They are Bare

The decision to shoe or not is one that is based on an evaluation of three main concerns. The first being the quality of health of the horse's hoof (i.e. the presence of any deep cracks or extreme distortions of the wall). The second being a noticeable weakness in the limb-to-hoof connection, resulting in a lack of weightbearing capacity for the horse (i.e. Collapsed "urderran" heels, Longtoe / Lowheel syndrome, Club footedness, etc.). And last, the consideration of the workload. Certain jobs the horse may be asked to perform may require a particular type of shoe. For instance, a Trail horse will need traction for those slippery spots, whereas a Reining horse that moves quickly and slides will need a non-traction type shoe. We will discuss the various types of traction and their purpose a little later.

Seeing the Signs of Stress

When observing your horse's feet there are some general notes on anatomy you must be aware of.

The single most important point is that you should realize that your horse's hooves are a result of a metabolic process in his body. This process is no different from your nail growth. Diet and the type of exercise your horse faces has a direct affect on the growth process of the body's horn producing times. If you or your horse become ill some signs of bodily stress can be noticed. For example, the skin, hair and horn will become dull in appearance and in extreme cases these tissues may deteriorate and "slough-off". It has been said that the horse's feet are its barometer and, as good horse owners, we should learn how to read it. Let's begin by defining what kind of stress can take place. Generally speaking there are two: metabolic and mechanical.
  1. Metabolic Stress - This is defined as any change to the horse's external appearance due to an internal factor. This can range from a slight raise in the horse's body temperature to a severe allergic reaction. In each of these cases, a minor case will produce a superficial "ripple" or ring on the outer hoof wall, whereas a major case will result in a total hoof wall deformity (deep ridges, dished-out walls, etc.). Such metabolic stresses are not easily detected in their earliest stages.

    And for this very reason, such problems as Laminitis, Navicular syndrome and Pedal Osteitis can be at an acute (advanced and life threatening) level by the time any actual structural changes in the horse's hooves are noticed. Many unanswered questions about the metabolic process of horses and humans still remain an enigma. In recent years, however, practitioners of modern medical research have benefited from the marvels of new and improved diagnostic equipment. Along with Radiology (images of bone) and Ultrasonography (images of soft tissues) the advent of a highly sensitive heat detection instrument called the Infrared Thermograph has made it possible to detect bodily stress at a much earlier stage.

    In a book, The Illustrated Atlas of Clinical Equine Anatomy and Common Disorders of the Horse, veterinarian Ronald J. Riegel writes:

    Thermograph in the equine practice is being used more frequently as a diagnostic aid in lameness evaluation. Inflammatory processes can be identified weeks earlier than with normal routine clinical evaluations. He then goes on to say, It [Thermograph] is not a replacement for radiological or ultrasonic studies, but it can be an enhancement.

  2. On an everyday level the stress that you and I can observe is not of a metabolic type but that of a simpler, mechanical form. The horse's feet should always have certain characteristics, if they are not present the hoof is said to be under a mechanical stress.
  • the external wall should be hard and, if healthy, should have a shine or "varnish" that acts to repel the weather and the elements that the horse's hoof comes in contact with.
  • the sole should be hard as well as "arched." A flat-soled horse will bruise easily and may require some protection.
  • the frog and bulbs must have elasticity. This means it must be a little softer and pliable. It has been said that the horse has five hearts - one in his chest and hour on the ground. It is important to mention that the frog must be flexible and expandable in relation to a healthy wall and sole in order to absorb shock. There is a myth that suggests that the frog must actually bear the weight of the horse and concuss (hit the ground first) in order to pump blood through the hoof
If a frog happens to make contact with the ground before its counterpart, due to the conformation of the hoof, and the wall and sole are healthy, then so be it. If, however, a healthy wall and sole were to be cut down to force the frog to the ground this will actually result in an inflammatory stress that will only serve to give the horse pain.

Conditions that may contribute to mechanical stress are:
  • Hoof walls that are left untrimmed - The unbalanced hoof will appear either in the form of "Dishing" (a concave, inward wall) or "bullnosing" (convex, outward wall).
  • Extreme climates / Too wet or too dry - Hooves will develop vertical cracks. Minor cracks are often referred to as "sandcracks." They do not penetrate the whiteline or extend up into the coronary area of the foot.
  • Traumatic injury to the hoof wall / bruising - Generally, a blow to the coronary area will become evident a few weeks afterwards. Not unlike receiving a hit on your fingernail from a hammer. Red discoloration will appear and a horizontal crack may eventually form where the horn tissue has been damaged.
  • Traumatic injury to the sole / bruising - As in the above scenario, red discoloration may appear. This is a result of a subcutaneous (below the skin surface) bleeding of damaged tissue.
  • Puncture wound / abscess - Any foreign object that is lodged into the sensitive tissues of the hoof will "fester" or build-up puss in and around the point of the injury.
  • Friction-related injuries - This relates to any irritation that results from a constant rubbing of a tissue by another object. The simplest example of this is relative to you having a pebble in your boot or if your boots were too small for your feet. The pain created can be unbearable. This is essentially what can happen to your horse. A stone wedged between his foot and his shoe can be painful if left for a long period of time. Also, it could be that a horse was fitted with an improper size shoe. If the shoe is too short and does not provide good heel protection the edge of the shoe could cause extreme sole pressure.

In closing, I think Dr. John P. Hughes, contributing author of University of California-Davis Book of Horses, summarized it best by stressing the importance of understanding our horses.

Often quoted was the old Arabian proverb - The outside of the horse is good for the inside of a man. This is probably even more true today.

On that note, let me add: even though one might argue that our survival may or may not be dependent upon that of the horse, I believe we should continue to allow ourselves to be invited to their study and at the same time remain excited by their beauty. The decision to shoe or not is one that is based on an evaluation of three main concerns. The first being the quality of health of the horse's hoof (i.e. the presence of any deep cracks or extreme distortions of the wall). The second being a noticeable weakness in the limb-to-hoof connection, resulting in a lack of weightbearing capacity for the horse (i.e. Collapsed "underarm" heels, Longtoe / Lowheel syndrome, Club footedness, etc.). And last, the consideration of the workload.

Coming Together

At the start of the last decade, I was just entering the horse industry. The "horse world" was a virtual undiscovered territory that I was excited about and ready to explore. The experiences of these past ten years have merely served to start me off on this journey and each equine expert that I have met and studied (farriers, vets, trainers, and breeders) has, without a doubt, contributed to my success thus far. I have felt for some time now that it is my moral duty to transfer any knowledge gained to those who depend on it the most - the horse owners.

These logical, "horse-friendly" approaches have proven to be effective when dealing with difficult horses, because they generally yield a more lasting correction, rather than a quick, temporary fix. In my farrier practice, I refer to these methods of training as "Basic Body Language Systems" (BBLS's). I routinely prescribe them to my clients in order to improve the process of shoeing their horse. Of course, the method I prescribe to an individual is based on the language that he or she most easily relates to. I am very optimistic about what lies ahead for the horse industry. I think we all would agree that it's a "horse-friendly" environment that sustains us. From those "novice newcomers" to those "noteworthy professionals," the ability to communicate with the horse is what determines the amount of success they will have. Whether success is measured with a degree of profits or plain 'ole pleasure, it makes sense to invest quality time communicating with your horse. As a professional horse care provider, I am dedicated to the advancement of "kinder, gentler" techniques for a more prosperous horse industry. Therefore, it is with great enthusiasm that I propose the following:
  1. A national campaign that will implore all leading trainers / clinicians currently practicing a BBLS approach to donate at least one day per clinic season exclusively for farriers and vets to come together and learn, first hand, these safer, more logical horse handling techniques. I feel that a coalition of this type will provide safer strategies and clear guidelines for all horse professionals and owners, when attempting routine treatments on horses.
  2. A national campaign involving all horse industry media. Magazines, videos, and the Internet are all powerful tools that can help educate the horse owner on the importance of utilizing humane horsemanship techniques while performing routine horse care. Simply reporting the success of such unions between leading trainers, vets, and farriers will serve as a much-needed role model for horse owners. Ultimately, I would like to see major media sources offer sponsorships and promote such clinics.
  3. In the near future, I plan to take the first step towards initiating a national "Horsemanship Day." As of the date of this writing, I am assuring that such a day does not exist. If, however, such a day does exist, I will switch my focus towards promoting it.
As mentioned in my opening statement, I feel that the new millennium has not yet offered us anything revolutionary or even stimulating. However, I do believe that it is the will of nature and the essence of our existence that such events will ultimately occur. Maybe it will be in our horse industry. Nonetheless, the time for a Horsemanship Coalition of Equine Professionals is needed and it could very will be a defining moment in history when we say to all horse enthusiasts - "your horse industry is finally coming together." I commend those farriers and veterinarians who have already joined with humane trainers in their attempts to promote and practice a BBLS approach. To learn more about the proposed Horsemanship Coalition of Equine Professionals contact Bryan Farcus at (304) 679-3262.

Knowing Your Horse's Feet-- Inside and Out

As I reflect back on the years that I have spent learning and teaching, I admit that in the beginning, it would have been very easy to be mislead. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we are virtually at the mercy of those "first impressions".

Examining The Externals

As I reflect back on the years that I have spent learning and teaching, I admit that in the beginning, it would have been very easy to be mislead. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we are virtually at the mercy of those "first impressions". In some respects, I have been lucky because my first teachers, and my current mentors, made sure that I approached my work with pride and diligence. I was often told, as we all are, that we should never dismiss the obvious and that many complex problems can be solved with the most basic approaches. When you examine and begin to learn about your horse's feet, I urge you to follow the same advice. In this article, I share these pages with my colleague, Clyde Alloway DVM, so that we might enhance your understanding of the external characteristics and the inner mechanism of a horse's hoof.

First let's discuss appearances. What should you see in a healthy hoof? These are a few fundamental observations:
  1. The term "foot" is used rather loosely. By its use, it infers a description of the entire hoof structure (inner, as well, as outer). The external appearance of a hoof is a reflection of its internal health.
  2. A hoof wall, that is healthy, will have an enamel or "shine". This is generated by a healthy petiole (the human equivalent would be the cuticle of your finger or toe nail). The health of the petiole is dependent upon the health of the horse's coronary band (horn-producing structure). When the coronary band is healthy, it provides the horse's hoof with the appropriate levels of moisture absorption or retention (repelling excess moisture). Hence, the appearance of a nice "shiny" hoof wall. If your horse is experiencing any stress, mechanically or metabolically, horizontal rings on the outer wall may become noticeable.
  3. The sole (bottom surface of the hoof), can appear in three forms:
    • "concaved" or "cupped" sole- this form is generally the best because it allows the foot to have clearance from any rough or rocky terrain.
    • "flat" sole- this conformation, though it is manageable, is not desired due to its direct contact with the ground. Often times, flat pads between the hoof and shoe are necessary to prevent bruising.
    • "dropped" sole- this is a sure indication of internal hoof disease. In most cases, the sole becomes dropped when the horse's bone column rotates, or shifts. Terms commonly used to describe this condition are "laminitis" or "founder". Dropped soles are very painful for most horses.

  4. The hoof to pastern alignment or "natural angle" is also worth noticing. This alignment is a clue as to how much mechanical stress your horse's limbs may be under. If the pastern bones resting directly above the hoof capsule) and the hoof capsule are not directly underneath each other, the horse's limb is said to be "overloaded". Simply stated, this means too much weight is burdening either the toe area or the heel area, instead of each bearing equal weight or "load".
  5. The length of the foot. As a general rule, limbs with longer pasterns will tend to have longer feet. Conversely, horses with shorter pasterns will , most generally, have shorter feet. The goal of a farrier should be to strive for evenness of toe lengths within a given pair. Barring any birth defects, or conformational developments, most horse's hooves will grow or wear rather evenly, when trimmed to their "natural angle".
  6. The "white line" is often overlooked because the name is somewhat misleading. Perhaps, if it were referred to as a "yellow" or "brown" line it would be easier to spot. On an untrimmed bottom surface of a hoof, it appears as a "brownish" groove that separates the inner edge of the hoof wall and the surface of the sole. When inspecting a recently trimmed hoof, it usually appears as a "yellowish" line. The "white line" is considered healthy if it bonds the wall to the sole without any deep penetrating cracks. As a rule of thumb, the horse's foot is said to be healthy if the hoof wall is approximately two times greater than the thickness of the adjoining white line. For most horses the white line is usually 1/8 inch or 3 mm in width.
An Internal Insight

As mentioned previously, in almost every instance, what you'll notice on the outside of your horse's feet is a reflection of those inner structures. Many farriers will say that "good feet must be grown to shape, not just cut to shape". As a practicing veterinarian over the past 28 years, I've had the opportunity to observe a variety of situations and have drawn the following conclusions:
  1. Protein is important for the proper development and maintenance of the hoof as well as other tissues in the body. Weanlings should receive 16-18% protein in the diet, active adults 12-14% , idle adults 10-12%.
  2. Some hooves are softer and tend to grumble (break) more easily at the end of the hoof wall. I have recommended the addition of dry, unflavored gelatin to the horses grain to help "toughen" them.
  3. Horses kept in constant high moisture areas tend to have increased problems with thrush. Supplementing the diet with iodine can help prevent this problem. In certain situations, I have recommended Ethyodide Powder. Also, remember that the "power of a hoof pick" should not be under-rated.
  4. Laminitis is a persistent threat to the horse. Many times this problem is subsequent in nature and can be prevented:
Never feed moldy feed stuffs to horses.
Always make sure horses are properly "cooled-out" before allowing them to drink water.
Change feed stuffs gradually. Mix new with old in ever increasing ratios over a period of 1-2 weeks, until the horse is on all new diet. This is especially true when changing from grass to legume hay. When changing to a grass pasture diet (especially to lush pasture), do so by starting with 10 minutes of eating time on day 1 and increasing by 10 minutes per day over a 1-2 week period.
Be aware of the type of stall bedding you choose. Shavings with the bark of black walnut trees (Juglans nigra) are highly toxic to the horse. Absorption of negative acids, through the pores of the hoof, will trigger laminitis within 24 hours after exposure. Complications in the foaling process can cause prolonged retention of the placenta. Generally, it should be passed as early as 3 hours; no later than 8 hours. Regulated doses of oxytocin can help, but forceful "tugging" to expel the placenta can cause irreversible injury.

In closing, allow me to emphasize the importance of a daily health care routine for your horse. Most often the advice or treatments offered by your farrier or your veterinarian will only be as effective as the consistency of care that will follow. As a wise and dear, old friend once gave me his advice on the care of my horse, allow me to pass it on to you. He compared the importance of caring for a horse to that of a ship. If we are to rely on each to safely complete our journey for us, it is essential that we properly prepare them.

"Do a little each day, rather than allowing a ship or a horse to unravel or fray. As we all know, a frantic row of your boat or a panicked 'whoa' of your horse is never as fruitful as being constant--for steady as they both shall go."

Hot or Cold Shoeing: What is your Farrier Doing?

One of the hottest issues in today's horseshoeing industry is the concept of shoe fitting. If you were to gather a group of farriers and initiate a round table discussion on this topic, you would find yourself in the middle of a heated debate. This debate, however, is not a new one. As early as 1890 a book, entitled The Practical Horseshoer, clearly illustrated opposition among many prominent farriers and with a bit of poignancy, M.T. Richardson summarized it best: "The advocates of each system of fitting are numerous, but the weight of evidence seems to be in favor of cold fitting, in theory, and more or less hot, in practice."

Attitudes--Past & Present

One of the hottest issues in today's horseshoeing industry is the concept of shoe fitting. If you were to gather a group of farriers and initiate a round table discussion on this topic, you would find yourself in the middle of a heated debate.

This debate, however, is not a new one. As early as 1890 a book, entitled The Practical Horseshoer, clearly illustrated opposition among many prominent farriers and with a bit of poignancy, M.T. Richardson summarized it best:

"The advocates of each system of fitting are numerous, but the weight of evidence seems to be in favor of cold fitting, in theory, and more or less hot, in practice."

"There are many who think differently from me on the points I touch upon, but my experience has proven my views--to my satisfaction... A horseshoer must understand the anatomy of the horse's foot; he must understand the position and composition of those parts..."

Modern day attitudes seem to deviate a bit from Richardson's viewpoint. Too often, I witness a more narrow-minded interpretation of shoe fitting. Whether it be horse owners or even some horseshoers, The common approach to fitting a horseshoe to any particular horse seems to be an arbitrary decision at best. Some horse owners tend to follow fashionable, rather than factual advice. For instance, if a horse experiences a round of lost shoes, the search for an easy solution leads to a choice based on existing "popular-practices". Popular, in most cases, because of the ease in which they are applied and not necessarily because of their effectiveness. If a farrier insists on only one shoe fitting approach, whether it be hot or cold, some questioning may be in order. Not every horse can tolerate constant hot fitting and, conversely, there are those that will not benefit from a simple cold fit. So, as you can see, the decision of hot or cold fitting should not be based on a mere "fashion statement". A good farrier should choose a shoe fitting approach that is completely supported by sound anatomical observation of the horse's foot, just as Richardson advised in his 1890 writings.

It's Better To Analyze, Rather Than Generalize

By now, you may be thinking that this topic is not only immensely important, but also somewhat confusing. Perhaps you're right. However, sorting out the facts will give you the ammunition to enhance your understanding. First, lets start by deciphering the terms and examine a few concepts that you maybe apt to overhear during an everyday casual conversation between two farriers. Even if you consider yourself an astute listener, a discussion of shoeing philosophy can still be overwhelming. Irregardless, the terms do have separate connotations and distinction between each is helpful. In a text written by Dr. Doug Butler, The Principles of Horseshoeing,II, I found the clearest definitions. Butler begins his discussion regarding the application of horseshoes with this simplified and straight-forth statement:

"The aim of "physiological horseshoeing" is to minimize the harmful effects of the horseshoe, and to take advantage of its useful effects."

He then continues by specifying: "The horseshoe is a beneficial too:
  1. Protect the horse's foot from excessive wear and resulting tenderness when its continuous use is necessary.
  2. Provide traction when necessary for safety and/or speed on slippery surfaces.
  3. Correct or influence the stance and/or gait of the horse.
  4. Correct or improve "abnormal" and pathological conditions of the feet and legs."
Upon reviewing the information Butler offers, the following terms become less obscure:
  1. Hot shaping refers to shoe bending or cutting procedures with the use of heat (forge).
  2. Cold shaping involves shoe bending or cutting without the use of heat.
  3. Cold fitting is best described as the process of "hammer-leveling" a horseshoe and "rasp-leveling" a horse's hoof to create a union between each with the majority of this union being one of friction, rather than relying heavily on compression of the hoof and shoe from it's nails. Proper cold fitting can be time consuming. However, if mastered, it can benefit the horse, especially in situations where hot fitting can not be tolerated.
  4. Hot Fitting or often times referred to as "scorching" is a result of using the heat of the shoe to create a union by directly imprinting it on the hoof, immediately after removing it from the fire. For the unskilled farrier this procedure , however, can be injurious to the horse. It takes a working knowledge of each individual horse's hoof to determine if hot fitting can be tolerated. Over-burning a thin, sensitive sole could cause severe pain and may require several weeks or even months of stall rest. Most competent farriers will be conservative in their hot fitting practices and rely on the theory that heat should be used to "seat", rather than to "cheat". In this context, the word seat is used to signify a marking technique for shoe placement, rather than an actual impression or deep burning of the bottom surface of the horse's hoof.
The Ultimate Decision

A master farrier, one who is considered an expert of the craft, will always choose a shoeing approach that results in a "friction-related" contact between the hoof and the shoe; quite similar to that of a nice, "clean-cut" a carpenter performs on the adjoining ends of a handcrafted, wood framed project. With a "clean-cut" of a hoof to a "hammered-leveled" horseshoe, the friction created between the hoof and shoe will result in less stress from the shoeing nails. In cases where the hoof and shoe connection is not "clean", but "sloppy", friction will not be present and the hoof wall will inadvertently obtain more stress due to the "compression-related" forces of the shoe and its nails. This, undoubtedly, can be the greatest fault in horseshoeing. Good shoeing decisions are a result of a constant pursuit of accuracy.

No farrier is perfect, but he or she should continually aspire towards perfection. If your farrier is concerned about maximizing your horse's hoof health, rather than continually compromising it, then you can be relieved and trust in what he or she is doing.

An Introduction to the Skeleton of the Horse

The Skeleton can be divided into two main section, the axial skeleton which is made up of the skull, spine, ribcage and pelvis and the appendicle skeleton which is made up of the bones of the limbs.

name space STRUCTURE
structure space FUNCTION
function space NOTES
SKULL skull space A number of bones
Fused together.
bones fused Protection for brain, inner ear, parts of eye & nasal passages protection space Mandible ( lower jaw)
Maxilla ( upper jaw both contain teeth. Nasal bones. Zeugmatic or supraorbital process protects the eye. Occipital bone forms back of skull and joins the top of neck.
SPINE space spine Collection of bones, vertebrae, lying one behind the other in a line from the base of skull to tip of tail Housing & protection for spinal cord. Attachments for muscles, tendons and ligaments which support weight of the body. Connects head and limbs. spinal cord Cervical 7 vertebrae, atlas is the first bone in neck followed by axis. Thoracic 18 vertebrae, connection with the ribs. Lumbar 6 vertebrae. Sacral 5 fused vertebrae, part of hip girdle. Coccygeal average 18 vertebrae forming tail
RIBCAGE ribcage space 18 pairs of ribs each connecting to a thoracic vertebrae 18 pr ribs Protection for heart and lungs. heart lung space 8 true ribs connected to sternum or breast bone directly, 10 false pairs connected to sternum by cartilage.

forelimbs space Shoulder blade- one either side of the rib cage. space Connected to spine by muscle and ligaments, only allows freedom of movement and absorption of concussion. image for space Horse has no collar bone, no fixed connection to the spine to forelimbs.Horses front part of ribcage and internal organs are held in place by a muscular sling called the Thoracic Sling
Humorous humorous space Upper end form point of shoulder shoulder space Connection of shoulder blade to forelimbs space.gif Lower end joins forelimbs at the elbow
Radius and Ulna ulna space Upper part of the foreleg foreleg Ulna a short bone forms point of elbow. Radius a long bone stretches to the knee joint. knee joing  
Knee horse knee Corpus bones and pissiform bones corpus bones Joint allowing movement in the foreleg image for space 6 carpus, 3 on top of 3. Plane joint allows movement, pissiform bone at the back.
Cannon bone cannon bone Bone of the lower leg lower leg bone Weight bearing bone, circumference of the cannon just under the knee is a guide to the horse's ability to bear weight and do hard work, referred to as 9" bone etc. gif for space Stretches from the knee joint to the fetlock joint.
Splints image for space Two bones either side of the cannon bones ( fore & hind) bone gif Help support some of the carpus bones of the knee, real function lost through evolution. space.gif In length approx two thirds of the cannon bone, vestiges of toes.

Lost through evolution.
Sesamoids sesamoids 2 bones behind the fetlock joint. fetlock joint Provide grove to hold the tendons of the leg. Also acts as a pulley system for movement of the lower leg. tendons  
Pastern 2 bones in the lower leg and foot space Connection between the joints of the leg and leg. another space Long pastern found between fetlock and pastern joint, short pastern found between pastern joint and the coffin joint.
Pedal bone Hoof like shaped bone of the foot. bone of foot Attachment for tendons/ ligaments from muscles in the forearm. forearm ligaments  
Navicular bone Navicular bone Bone of the foot bone of foot   one more space  

Pelvic girdle
pelvic girdle 3 fused bones called the ileum, ischium and pubis. 3 fused bones Tightly attached to the spine allowing transfer of propulsion to hind legs. Protection of the uterus. images-space Joined to the spine through the sacroiliac joints, schism forms the point of buttock.
Femur femur space Large bone of the hind limbs hind limb space Connects with the pelvis at the hip joint and with the hind leg at the stifle joint. space - gif  
Tibia and fibula tibia & fibula Tibia is the larger of the two bones from the stifle to the hock, fibula is the smaller bone that extends half the length of the tibia and sits parallel to it. 1x1px space Forms the upper part of the hind limb. space 1x1  
Patella patella Bone in the stifle joint stifle joint space Similar to the knee cap in humans. knee cap  
Hock hock Tarsus bones and tuber or os calcis. Tarsus Joint allowing movement of the hind leg. hind leg 5 tarsus and tuber or os calsis at the back forming point of hock.
Hind leg below the hock. hock space Hind cannon with splint bones. Long and short pastern, seamed bones, pedal bone and navicular. hind cannon Similar the fore limbs just a space  

An Introduction to the Muscles of the horse and their uses.

Muscles of the forehand

Muscle / Ligament muscle Origin / where the muscle starts space Insertion point; where the muscle starts insertion Action action space Comment
Massester; cheek muscle massester   empty space   another empty space Opens and closes the jaw. Allows chewing. chewing  
Brachiocephalicus Wide strap like muscle brachiocephalicus Base of the skull behind the jaw base of skull Below the point of shoulder to the humorous space below shoulder Moves the head from side to side, pulls the scapula forward, raises it in collection, swings the foreleg forward. movement space Well developed for good movement. Too strong a rein contact stops free forward movement.
Sternocephalic blank Jowl Jowl Sternum sternum Moves the head and neck. head &  neck Over developed in ewe or bull necked horses, difficult to get into a relaxed shape.
Rhomboideus rhomboideus Nuchal ligament nuchal Scapula scapula Lifts shoulder and the forehand. Pulls the scapula forward. muscle  
Splenius splenius Behind the poll behind the pol Beginning of the Trapezius trapezius Turns and extends the neck. another blank Makes up the top line if well developed.
Trapezes; flat sheet like muscle. trapezes Occipital bone occipital bone Spines of the 7th cervical and all the Thoracic vertebrae spines Lifts shoulder and forehand shoulder lift If this is well developed the horse is working in a good outline.
Nuchal ligament simple gif Poll poll Withers withers Helps muscles in the neck support the head neck  
Deltoid deltoid Scapula scapula space Humerus humerus Flexes shoulder joint flexes If over developed it will load the shoulder
Supraspinatus Below the Trapezes below trapezes Point of shoulder point of shoulder Maintains the shoulder in extension image 4 space  
Latissimus dorsi latissimus Lower Thoracic vertebrae thoracic vertebrae Back of the humerus back of humerus Flexes the shoulder and pulls the foreleg back. blank space filler  
Triceps triceps   filler space   2nd filler space Flexes the shoulder and extends the elbow space 3  
Biceps biceps   bidceps space   2nd biceps space Flexes the elbow and extends the shoulder elbow  
Pectoral pectoral    space . gif   extra space Helps pull the foreleg forward. pull forward  
Triceps Brachii triceps Brachii   triceps spacer   spacer Extends the elbow joint extends  
Biceps Brachii biceps brachii   biceps spacer   biceps spacer 2 Flexes the elbow joint elbow joint  
Extensor Corpus extensor corpus   extensor spacing   more spacing Extend the knee knee extender  
Flexor Corpus flexor corpus   flexor blank   blank 2 Flexes the knee flexes knee  
Digital Extensor digital extensor   digital spacer   another spacer Extends the toe and knee extends toe  
Digital flexor digital flexor   digital flexor space   2nd digital space Flexes the toe and knee and extend the elbow. flexes toe and knee  

Muscles of the trunk, back and ribs.

Muscles support the spine together with 3 ligaments and abdominal muscles.

Muscle or ligament Origin; where it starts origin Insertion point; where it finishes finish point Action action Comment
Spinals Doris spinals doris Beneath thoracic part of Trapezes thoracic part of tapezes 4th cervical vertebrae 4th cervical vertebrae   cervical spacing  
Lumbar muscles or Longissimus Doris lumbar Ileum Ileum Vertebrae along the sine and the last 4 cervical vertebrae vertebrae Extends the spine and raises and supports the head, neck. Main muscle used in rearing, kicking, jumping and aids turning rearing muscle Longest and strongest muscle, rider sits on them
Intercostals muscles intercostals Spaces between ribs space between ribs   rib spacing Aids breathing aids breathing  
External and internal abdominal oblique external & internal abdominal oblique Attach to ribs and pelvic bones ribs - pelvic bones   extra space Supports the internal organs internal organ support  
Supraspinous ligament supraspinous ligament Poll poll Sacrum sacrum Supports head and neck, traction force aids support in weak thoracic lumbar area. head & neck support Spreads out, attaching to spines of the cervical vertebrae, Called uncial ligament in the withers and neck area.

Muscles in the hindquarters.

Hindquarters are the engine of the horse, they should be well developed, strong to move the horse forward, particularly in the competition horse.

Muscle or ligament muscle ligament Origin; where it starts starting point Insertion point; where it finishes point of finish Action action Comment
Superficial gluteal superficial gluteal Croup croup Bottom of the hip attached to the sacrum hip to sacrum Flex and extend the hip, pulls hindleg toward the body, used for rearing, galloping and kicking hind leg toward body More developed in a dressage horse.
Biceps femoris biceps femoris Behind gluteals behind gluteals Bottom of the high attached to the patella and tibia bottom of patella Maintains hip joint in extension hip joint Main muscles over the hindquarters, part of the hamstring group, well developed in eventers, race horses.
Semitendinosis semitendinosis Behind biceps femoris behind biceps femoris Back of the hindquarters back of hindquarters Extends the hip and hock joints hip & hock joints Part of the hamstring group, well developed in eventers and race horses.
Semi membranosus semi  membranosus   semi space   semi 2 spacer   semi 3 space Part of hamstring group, well developed in race horses /eventers.
Gastrocnemius gastrocnemius Rear of the femur rear of femur Point of hock point of hock Maintains hip extension hip extension  
Peroneus tertius peroneus tertius Femur femur Cannon bone cannon bone With superficial digital muscle moves the stifle and hock. extra spacer  
Achillies tendon achilies tendon Gastrocnemius gastrocenemius Over point of hock over point of hock   hock spacer  
Sacrosciatic ligament sacrosciatic lingamen Sacrum and coccygeal vertebrae sacrum & coccygeal vertebrae Pelvic bone pelvic bone   pelvic bone space  

Tendons and ligaments of the lower leg

The muscles in the foreleg are very strong as they are made up of densly packed fibres.

Tendon or ligament tendon ligament Origin / where it starts start point Insertion point; where it finishes insertion point Action action Comment
Common digital flexor ( CDFT) common digital flexor Common digital flexor muscle common digital flexor muscle Front of the short pastern bone and the centre of the pedal bone front of pastern bone Lifts the toe, extends bones of the foot. lifts toe  
Lateral digital flexor tendon
lateral digital flexor tendon Lateral digital flexor muscle lateral digital flexor muscle Outside of the long pastern bone long pastern bone Helps the CDFT lift the toe and extend the bones of the foot. spacer image  
Deep digital flexor tendon ( DDFT) deep digital flexor tendon Deep digital flexor muscle starts at the ulna deep digital flexor muscle Underneath the pedal bone under pedal bone Flexes the joints of the lower leg, prevents the fetlock from over extending, together with the check ligaments helps with weight bearing. fetlock Passes over the back of the knee, held in place by the check ligament, passes over the sesamoid bones and fans out over the navicular bone.
Superficial digital flexor tendon
superficial digital flexor tendon Superficial digital flexor muscle superficial digital flexor muscle Back of long and short pastern bones pastern bones Flexes the joints of the lower leg, prevents fetlock from over extending & helps with weight bearing. weight bearing Passes down the back of the cannon bone covering the DDFT, enclosing it at the fetlock joint forming Annular ligament.
Suspensory ligament suspensory ligament Bottom row of knee bones between splint bones splint bones Divides in two above the fetlock, each branch joins to a sesamoid bone and blends wihh CDET divider Supports and prevents over extension of fetock joint supports  
Inferior check ligament inferior check ligament Back of the knee joint back of knee joint Deep flexor tendon deep flexor tendon Prevents strain to flexor tendons, supports the horse whilst sleeping standing up. flexor tendon  
Superior check ligament superior check  ligament Above the knee above the knee Superficial flexor tendon superficial flexor tendon Supports superfical flexor tendon above the knee. extra space image  


You can detect many common dental problems by observing your horse. Some behaviors that looks like "quirks" may actually be due to a dental problem!

Does your horse stuff as much grain into his face as possible with each bite, then dribble much of it all over the ground as he chews? Horses whose cheek grinders do no meet properly will chew "grain on grain."

Does your horse act like he's mad at his hay -- butting it with his head or grabbing and shaking it before he eats it? Horses whose teeth hurt them or whose cheek grinders don't meet properly shake hay -- especially alfalfa - to knock the nutritious leaves off. They survive and even fatten by licking up the leaves and small, shattered stems. Of course this wastes more than 50% of the feed you have paid for!

Does your horse spit out wads or balls of stems? Horses whose teeth are missing or who have sore cheeks, gums, or teeth will suck and "gum" hay, swallowing leaves and fine stems but spitting out stem-balls or "quids."

Does your horse's water bucket look like a slime pit? Have you observed him "washing" his hay or even dunking mouthfuls into the water while he chews them? Horses who need a dentist's attention soak hay to soften it before attempting to chew or swallow.

Open your horse's lips and look at the incisor teeth from the front. What does the horse's "smile" look like? Is there a tooth missing? Compare to the pictures provided here. An uneven, upside-down, slanted, or S-shaped "smile" almost certainly means trouble with the cheek grinders too.

How does your horse's breath smell? Rotten smells or any smell other than that of sweet, green grass is a sign of trouble. Horses get "tooth cavities" and gum disease which cause bad breath, just like people!

Does your horse's head look the same on both left and right sides? Do the jaw muscles appear to be of the same size on both sides? Does he tip, wring, or toss his head when bitted? Uneven development of bones or muscles often means uneven wear on the teeth inside the mouth. Unsteady on the bit may also mean trouble.

Look at your horse's front teeth from the side. Do you see overshot or undershot teeth? In the older horse, do the lower teeth constantly show when bitted and ridden? Overshot and undershot horses can often be helped by a competent equine dentist. In the older horse, the teeth grow out from the jaws at a more horizontal angle, but should not be allowed to become too long.

Place your hands against your horse's cheecks as in the illustration. Gently press in and upward, pressing the cheek against the teeth inside. Does the horse flinch? Does your horse dislike the cavesson or bosal, or seem exceptionally "grumpy" about having his head handled? These are all signs that the horse has sharp "points" on the teeth.

Do you own a young horse? Between the ages of 2 and 5, your horse is going to erupt about 40 permanent teeth and shed 24 baby teeth or "caps." You can greatly increase your horse's comfort and promote future good dental health by having the equine dentist pull adhering "caps" at the right time.

Do you own an older horse? Barring injury, horses' teeth come to the end of their lives beginning about age 20. Loose, expired teeth are often painful to the horse and may cause him to eat very slowly or to fail to grind food thoroughly, and thus to drop weight and condition.


Since his diet differs so much from yours, there are a lot of differences between your mouth and teeth and those of your horse. The first thing to notice about the normal equine mouth as a whole is that, when the mouth is closed, the incisors and cheek teeth meet bluntly and simultaneously. The lengths and angles of the incisors and cheek teeth must match precisely to permit the horse to chew properly. By contrast, your incisors overlap to allow your cheek teeth to meet.

The length of the crowns of the teeth in horses is much greater than in people. Most of the length of your horse's cheek teeth is "stored" within his upper and lower jaws. Only about 1/2 inch of each cheek tooth actually protrudes from the gum. As grass wears the teeth, they push out from their sockets like lipsticks. The pressure of chewing helps the body regulate the rate at which the teeth push out.

In the wild, when an animal's teeth wear out, it dies. Long tooth crowns are the main factor that compensates for the abrasive silica in grass, and thus in the wild, are the ultimate determinant of a horse's lifespan. Domestic horses can be kept alive on special feeds even after all teeth have worn out. However, this is a last resort. Modern equine dentistry can significantly extend the useful lifetime of your horse's teeth as well as enhance his comfort and your safety under the artificial condition of biting.


Does treatment hurt my horse? The "nerve" in horse teeth lies much deeper than in human teeth. Examination procedures, the use of equipment such as the dental speculum, and floating the teeth do not normally give the horse pain.

How do you get the horse to let you put your arm or the dental instruments in his mouth? The competent professional equine dentist has sufficient horsemanship to "talk" most horses into cooperating or even helping with the necessary procedures.

What is that contraption you're putting on his head? The dental speculum helps to keep the horse's mouth open so that the equine dentist can examine the horse's rear cheek teeth thoroughly and safely. When properly adjusted and used it does not hurt the horse.

Are there any procedures that might cause the horse discomfort? Yes -- extraction of teeth, adjustment of incisor length, and re-shaping of the cheek teeth to name three. Professional equine dentists avail themselves of pain-relieving medication and/or chemical restraint (anesthetic) when performing any procedure that is likely to frighten the horse or cause him discomfort.

Who administers pain medication? In most countries, a veterinarian or qualified technician administers inject pain-relieving medication and/or chemical restraint.


Your horse lives under conditions quite different from those found in the wild. Three artificial conditions which impact your horse's mouth most are:

He lives inside of a fenced area.
Most of his diet is made up of processed feeds (grain and hay).
He is not able to graze outside twelve hours or more per day.

Radio-tracking studies of mustangs show that the animals travel an average of thirty to forty miles per day throughout the year. They do this as a natural consequence of their search for food and water. The impact of fences (confinement) on domestic horses has often been documented -- for example, on stress levels, on the condition of their feet and legs, and on parasite loads. Fences enclosing groups of horses often create "dry lot" conditions under which there is little or no plant material available to graze. This makes feeding hay and grain necessary.

How does this impact your horse's teeth? Although processed feeds still give your horse's cheek grinders a workout, he does not nip these foods before bringing them into his mouth.

Over time, this results in failure of the horse's incisors to keep pace in wear with the cheek teeth. The incisors become so long that they partially or totally prevent the cheek teeth from touching. This in turn makes it impossible for your horse to chew his food properly. And that, in turn, can be some really horrific consequences, including:

Temporo-mandibular (TM or jaw joint) pain, causing horse to be difficult or unsteady on the bit.
Various forms of "snaggletooth" or "wavy" mouth, causing uneven chewing pressure and the development of sharp "hooks" at the fore and aft ends of the cheek tooth batteries. "Hooks" can eventually become so long that they gouge the gum above or below, creating abscesses and pain which can in turn cause the horse to stiffen its neck or cock its head when ridden or driven.
Sharp "points" on the inner and outer edges of the cheek teeth. Points cause cheek and tongue abrasions, and again the tendency to fight the bit.
Failure to properly grind food, resulting in significant waste of food, and more seriously, in increases in the frequency of colic. (In order for horses to absorb water and nutrients in the gut, a "mush" of chopped grass blades must be continually present there, not long eschewed stems balled up like twine).

Equine Farewells

"Basic facts surrounding Equine euthanasia and disposal that every horse owner should know" Having a horse, pony or donkey put to rest is a matter that is not normally discussed until the time presents itself. It is a heartbreaking, confusing experience and sometimes as a result of emotional upset a decision is made before all the options have been realized.

The Founder of ' Corral of Comfort knows this only too well through her previous personal experiences on January 18, 2003

"I remember being in a claim but very emotional inside, I was still nume after Loosing my Baby Sister Kristine that past April 14 2002. People thought I was insensitive or extremely Cold when I said to Kathy the Vet put him was silent as if I had commented a crime. . Spinner is buried here with all us and his memories will never die..

I did very much understand my choices and felt very isolated indeed".But it was easy for me to tell the Vet Put him down.

I won't let him suffer like I had watched my sister suffer for over 2 years. It was the right thing to do Give Spinner his Dignity which he so rightful earned.

After 30 many years of having Spinner since he was 6 years old it was a great loose. I have learned thou my experiences that we have the right to not have them suffer and you can only do so much but a time comes when you say Goodbye to your Best Friend.

I now understand only too well that each person's requirements are very individual, requiring a sympathetic and caring approach regardless of choice of funeral service.

The first aspect of having your equine friend put to rest is the choice of humane destruction. There are two main types, the lethal injection and the humane pistol.

The lethal injection is an overdose of anesthetic that is normally administered following a sedative.

As it is a drug, only a veterinary surgeon is licensed to administer it.

The animal becomes more relaxed with the sedative and then the lethal injection is administered. It must be understood that should a lethal injection be required, as drugs are present within the body this limits disposal to two types, cremation and burial. .

Many slaughter houses provide this as a free of charge service should they be chosen as the disposal provider. This can relieve some of the stress as it will ensure there is no delay between the equine being put to rest and the removal of the body.

Before choosing the type of humane destruction you must ask yourself two questions. These are "Is my horse head shy?" and "Does my horse dislike injections?".

Once you have considered these questions, you can then make a rational decision based on the personal knowledge you have of your equine. Remember, your equine's last memory should always be one of calm not stress, and by putting aside your own personal feelings this will ensure you have done your absolute best by him or her.

The next aspect is choosing the disposal method. The most common routes, ie, the food chain methods such as hunt kennels and knacker yards have for generations provided an invaluable service of equine euthanasia and disposal.

They can offer much experience as many of the slaughter have been brought up with and have worked with horses. However, due to BSC and more recently the foot and mouth crisis this has meant that many of these businesses have been stretched to their limits.

The BSC crisis has greatly increased the disposal of 30 month+ cattle and the foot and mouth epidemic has created restrictions on the collection of our equine friends leaving many owners stranded and desperate in their time of need.

Horse owners who do not wish their equine friend to enter into the food chain have two main choices, the first being cremation. One important factor regarding cremation units is that the units can vary drastically in size.

Cremation can be split into two main types, simple/mass and individual. A simple/mass cremation means that the horse, pony or donkey may be cremated with other animals. On most occasions it is not possible to return any ashes on this service however occasionally, "a token of ashes" may be available. An individual cremation is exactly that, individual. Ashes from this service are normally available for return in either a wooden casket or boxed for scattering.

The second non food chain service is burial. There are authorized burial sites around the country where your equine friend can be laid to rest. Many are of a natural type woodland or organic in nature and offer horse owners a place whereby they can visit and remember in tranquil surroundings. Regulations regarding burial on private land varies throughout the country however generally speaking, if the body can be removed then this should be done.

Before burying on private land, always consult your council on the list of burial restrictions within your area.

In view of all of the above, it must be said that it is always kinder to have your horse, pony or donkey put to rest on it's usual homeground. Very occasionally however, this may not be possible.

Service providers on most of the methods may be able to transport your equine and arrange to have it put to rest at their premises. A further option is the abattoir.

There are also drug related regulations on this service which could render the equine unsuitable. It is certainly necessary to check drug regulations before sending your equine live for slaughter.

SO . You Want to Own a Horse? Are You Sure?

You have dreams of racing across the hills with the wind whipping at you, and the excitement boiling up inside to the point that you overflow with the sheer joy of living. You want the freedom to go anywhere and do anything, at any speed through any obstacle. You want to race the waves on the beach and have the water spray hit you like a dozen needles, exciting your skin to the point that you can hardly stand the delight that you feel in sharing such wonderful moments with another being.

Do you sit in old barns and inhale deeply, just to enjoy the pungent odor of horses, and think, "I'm in heaven. " Does newly cut hay give you chills and thrill you nose. Do your friends and family think you have really lost it, or gone off the deep end, because you have suddenly developed a fence fetish?

Do you look at all that open green grass and think it's such a waste because it is not fenced with some gorgeous horse grazing on it. Has pastoral become your middle name?

So you have to have a horse. The bug has bitten you and you can't seem to recover from the need. You watch every horse program on the off channels on cable. You even find yourself watching bad old Westerns just to see what horses they rode. You are right, you've got it, you are truly ill, and you won't get over that nagging hole in the pit of your stomach until you share your life with a horse. And believe me, it is not just a want . it becomes an all-engrossing need. You have two choices at this point, very extensive, long-term psychological counseling, or get a horse. They cost about the same, so you choose.

From the days that early man climbed on that very first horse, an innate bond was formed that has come down through the ages. Horses fill a need in people and vice versa. What so many don't understand is that horses feel that need too. Do you really believe that you could control 800 to 1200 pounds of feet and teeth and strong muscles, if they didn't feel the need also? Horses do for you, listen to you, commiserate with you, and respond to you only because they want to and they allow it, not because you make them.

So, you're hooked. You know you have to have, you just want to know how, why, what, where, when, and of course, the all-important, how much. It is at this point that it becomes very complicated. There are some very important questions that you have to ask yourself, before jumping off the deep end. Too many get bitten by the need, and rush right out and buy the first horse they see, from the first old guy they meet, because "Oh, he is so-o-o-o pretty!!!?" Big mistake! Huge mistake!!! One that could really bite you badly!! Buying a horse is a process. Take it step by step. When you were first learning to swim, did you run down and jump into the deep end when no one was there to help fish you out if you started to drown? If the answer is yes, then you are on your own, more power to you, and happy trails.

If the answer is no, then put the reins on, put your thinking cap on, and do some RESEARCH! The actual cost of a horse is the least amount of money that you are going to spend in owning a horse. First you need to find a horse that fits your budget and your needs, and maybe a few wants too. Be realistic in determining what you really need and what you just want in a horse. You will discover that compromise is the most important word in pricing a new horse. Remember, pretty costs, color costs, and training costs. Overall, quality costs. A lot!

However, from the other side of the fence, think of it this way. How much enjoyment are you going to get out of owning and riding your own horse? How long are you planning on keeping him or her? If you are only planning on keeping a horse for a year, then a $10,000 horse is a little steep to pay. But if you are planning on keeping this horse for the next 10 or 15 years, then $10,000 amortized over 10 or 15 years is only $1000 to $667 per year to have that continuous enjoyment. Are you spending $1000 a year on your own entertainment and your kid's entertainment? What is healthier for you and your family? Sitting in front of the TV, one trip to Disney World, or 10 years with a loving horse that will take you anywhere you want to go, and throw in the physical exercise in the bargain. For all of you couch potatoes who hate to go to the gym to exercise, join the rest of us out here that have discovered that a horse is a lot more fun than a gym, and you get the same amount of positive effects. You get to be outside, breath the real air, rather than conditioned air, you can get away from it all, and relieve tremendous amounts of stress, all by getting on the back of a horse. It is great therapy and great exercise.

But before you buy a horse, you really need to look at your monthly commitments and determine if you want to cut back on something else to have a horse. There is nothing worse than buying that wonderful horse and then not being able to feed and care for it. If you have your own property with grass, it will help your monthly expenses. If not then you better check the boarding stables in your area, to determine what it will cost just to house and feed your horse. Depending on the area that you are in, full board can run from $250 a month to $1,000 a month. So do some research first. Don't just call the barns, go look at them. If they are dirty, acrid smelling, tons of flies, then look elsewhere. Meet the manager of the barn; find out what other boarders there think of the accommodations. Would you spend the night in this barn? Think about it. There may come a day that you have to if you have a sick horse.

Next, you have to have tack to ride your horse, supplies to groom your horse, and sprays to keep the flies and other insects off him. All of this costs money. Check to see what the tack you want or need is going to cost before you jump into the deep end and own a horse. Then there are the maintenance costs. Every horse will need to have his teeth checked once a year to see if they need floated. You will need Coggins or similar test for Equine Infections Anemia, pulled once a year. At least once per year and sometimes twice per year you will need vaccinations. Every horse needs to be wormed and feet trimmed or shod every two months. Then there are the emergency veterinarian calls. All of this needs to be taken into account before you buy a horse. Are you ready and willing to pay what it costs to own a horse?

OK, now that you have determined that you are ready and you are going into horse ownership with your eyes wide open, are you going to stay around the barn where your horse lives, or are you going to need a truck and trailer to take him other places? You might want to check this out first too, because this is a major expense. Trailers are like cars, you can buy the used Pontiac down the street or you can lust after the Mercedes. Again, it is all what you want versus what you can afford. Remember, eyes wide open, budget informed, husband or wife agrees to the agenda.

There is nothing worse that buying a horse and not taking proper care of it. You cannot imagine the number of horses that we see on a daily basis that are abandoned, neglected, and unwanted, just because the newness wore off, and the reality of the work and the cost set in. If after reading this you are not sure that you can afford a horse, then DON'T BUY ONE!!!! I can't emphasize this enough.

Think very seriously about why you want a horse. If it is a life long dream, and the need is there, and you are prepared for the reality, then research and buy the best you can. If you are buying a horse because the kids have expressed a moderate interest in horses, then don't buy one. Take them for riding lessons and see if the interest wanes before you make the commitment. Run some scenarios in your mind before you buy. Are you still going to want this horse when it is raining cats and dogs, and you have to slog your way to the barn? How about if there is a blizzard outside and you are going to have to carry hot water to and from the barn just to provide water. Horses cannot go without water no matter what the temperature is or the weather conditions are outside, and horses drink 5 to 10 gallons of water each and every day per horse.

I have met people at both extremes of this question. I have one lady who has panic attacks if she is gone out of town for four days and anxiety separation pains at being away from her boys for that long. Then there are the people who live right next door to their horses and haven't seen them in 9 months and they are starving for both food and attention. Think about what type of owner you are going to be. Horses are TOTALLY dependent on YOU for everything they need to survive and to be healthy. That includes their mental health. A horse can get separation anxiety also if he doesn't see you very often. Horses will give you incredible joy and satisfaction, affection and love, and they will give it generously and honorably. There is nothing in this world quite like the bond that you build with a horse. It is not like a cat or a dog. Horses are unique. They become a part of your soul.

The bottom line of this exercise is how do you feel about caring for a horse. At least 70% of the time that you spend with a horse is on the ground, not on his back. If the barn work feels more like play than work, then you are ready for a horse. If it is a chore that you just have to do and don't enjoy, then skip buying one and go rent one for the day. You and the horses will be happier in the long run.

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