Ever heard a metallic ping whilst riding? It’s usually caused by the hind foot catching the forefoot. Metal shoe hitting metal shoe usually draws our attention to the problem, but barefoot horses can do it too albeit silently, and the hind foot can strike higher up the foreleg too.
There are two different occurrences for when the horse strikes himself, forging and overreaching.
Forging is when the toe of the hind foot strike the sole of the front foot. Short-coupled horses are more likely to forge because the hind leg is physically closer to the foreleg. Some horses start to forge when their toes get a bit long, so altering the shoeing techniques, or keeping the toes trimmed shorter, can help prevent forging. Horses who rush, or are on the forehand can sometimes forge too because they’re losing their balance. Slowing down the gait, riding transitions, and encouraging the horse to take his weight behind.
Whilst forging doesn’t pose a huge problem, it can suggest a bigger problem such as muscular problem or saddle misfit. A horse who starts forging suddenly may have a sore forefeet, back or shoulder which impedes their ability to move the front feet out of the way of the hind feet. Alternatively a youngster going through a growth spurt may forge as he finds his new balance. Ensuring the farrier is aware of the forging, and training the horse to carry himself correctly, in rhythm (which may be slower than you think) and in balance will reduce the likelihood of forging occurring.
Overreaching on the other hand, is when the hind foot strikes the back of the front foot or leg. A low overreach strikes the heel and below, potentially pulling the shoe off. A high overreach can be far more damaging, as they can cut the back of the cannon bone, and in severe cases, damage the tendons. As with forging, over reaching is often seen in short coupled horses, those with an active hind leg yet who haven’t developed the necessary balance, being on the forehand, rushing, or fatigue.
Overreach boots are commonly seen, and sometimes farriers suggest they are worn for turnout if the horse is prone to throwing a shoe. Otis used to be awful at throwing a shoe in the field, but I think that was related to being young, slightly unbalanced, and lots of playing in the field. Sometimes I have to put them on when he’s just been shod because my farrier has put longer heels on the front shoes to prevent his heels from collapsing so they are more likely to be caught by the hind feet. Not infallible though, because Otis has lost several front shoes whilst wearing overreach boots! If a horse is prone to high overreaching brushing boots are a useful form of protection.
Horses who overreach, or ar prone to, should have their training and fitness assessed to make sure they aren’t overreaching when tired, but also that they are ridden in a better balance- off the forehand and in a steady rhythm. Consulting with your farrier can be helpful too as they may be able to adjust the fit of the front shoes to reduce the liklihood of a front shoe being pulled off.