No Foot, No Horse

Have you heard the old saying “no Foot, No horse”?

Where if comes from, nobody knows anymore. But it’s still as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.

In a nutshell, it means that if your horse’s feet are in poor condition then they will not stay sound for very long. The length of soundness varies depending on how poor the feet are, and the workload expected of the horse, but it is limited.

So when looking to purchase a horse, you should always look at the conformation of the horse’s feet and the quality of the shoeing and trimming. As well as many other factors.

When you buy a horse, you should then recruit a registered, qualified farrier to maintain your horse’s foot quality, or indeed to improve them.

However, don’t just stop there. Every day pick out the feet, study them critically. Observe any changes. And talk to your farrier!

My farrier always asks “how’s she going?” when he arrives, and another farrier of several clients always asks how the horses are going when he sees me. It’s easy to say “oh fine thanks”. But make sure you’re honest, with both of you! Tell them if your horse has started stumbling, or you’ve noticed any changes to your horse’s feet, however trivial. A good farrier will take any information on board, no matter how small, and alter their work to improve matters.

Hoof walls take six to twelve months to grow from coronet band to ground, so it’s best to make corrections early so the hoof doesn’t become distorted and weakened, changing the weight distribution of the foot and possibly stressing an area of the limb and triggering an injury. A horse belonging to my friend, a thoroughbred with typical flat feet, repeatedly threw a shoe from one foot over the summer, and whilst the farrier did a reasonable job helping the hoof recover from multiple shoeings and the associated damage of throwing a shoe, the foot has changed shape to become weak and low at the heel. As a result, he is having to have six months off until new, stronger horn has grown, and the hoof improves in shape. This is to minimise the risk of injury to collateral ligaments if he stresses them by walking differently due to foot imbalance.

I’ve recently discovered that I’m very fussy about horses and their hooves. It’s one of the first things I look at when assessing new clients. And I find myself regularly commenting on their condition. I’m no farrier, but I can tell when a horse is well shod, or trimmed.

I tend to impart my observations, explaining my understanding of ideal foot balance, so that my clients learn what to look for in the future. With a newly shod foot, the shoe should look like an extension of the foot. Even when they are due to be shod, the toe should not be so long that the heels are collapsed.

I try to teach my clients about the hoof-pastern axis to help them assertain hoof balance for themselves. The wall of the hoof should be at the same angle to the floor as the pastern. If the HPA is broken back and the toes are long then more strain is put on the tendons down the back of the leg. A broken forward HPA axis stresses the tip of the coffin bone when the foot lands. So of course, neither side of ideal is great for the soundness of a horse.

If you identify a less than ideal HPA axis, or that your horse’s HPA has changed, you should raise the subject with your farrier. A good farrier will explain why the changes are happening, and how they are correcting it. If you are still not happy with their responses, then I always advise a second opinion.

If a horse has a broken back or broken forward HPA axis, then the farrier needs to make small, steady changes to improve the balance without removing so much hoof the horse goes lame. I was disappointed to hear last week that a farrier, when asked by my client, about her horse’s long toes, said that he couldn’t change the HPA of a mature horse without laming it. It’s very important to make small corrections from excess hoof growth to avoid soundness problems in the future.

My advice to horse owners is to study and understand the basic observations surrounding good hoof balance, and to discuss it with your farrier. A good farrier will further your knowledge with explanations, and take your observations on board. If they don’t, then it’s time to get a second opinion.

An interesting article for further reading:;;;

Shoes on or off?


I was once asked, in a client feedback form, that all ponies were ready for lessons on time with their shoes on. I didn`t like to point out the said clients that horses didn`t wear shoes like we did! They were either a permanent fixture or not on at all!

On that note, what are everyone`s opinions on shoeing? My horses were both started off barefoot and once they started doing a bit of work we put fronts on. Now the first horse easily goes 8 or more weeks with a pair of shoes; I kept him with just fronts on the entire time I had him, but as my Mum mostly does hacking, she has him shod all round. My horse, on the other hand, will only go 6 weeks, and that`s pushing him to the limits, there`s so much growth in his foot! They`re good, strong hooves, which led me last year, when I was injured, to taking his shoes off and leaving him barefoot. I kept the shoes off for six months, even when he was back in work, as he was managing, but in the winter he started to struggle with the hacks. Even now, I event him with just front shoes on.

With economics in the riding school, it`s very difficult to balance out the needs of the horses, do they really need shoes on? Can you justify the amount of hacking they do with the shoes they have on? My project pony was used by myself as a hack escort a lot over the summer, and even her strong hardy feet became sore. So reluctantly, I swapped escort horses, as I couldn`t really justify shoeing her. Also, it`s the old story that once shoes are on, it`s hard to take them off again as the horse struggles to acclimatise. Most of my ponies don`t have shoes on, but they do very little hacking, and a lot of the horses have front shoes on, with those that do more hacking having shoes on all four. It`s expensive, but a necessity with the amount of hacking we do, and the flinty soil. My farrier is very good though, and most of them last 8 weeks with shoes. For the winter, we turn some of them away, in the very traditional method that from about now their work load decreases, they are rugged, but only lightly, and have less hard feed, then, when they are due to be shod their feet are trimmed and they are sent to the other side of the farm, where they can have ad lib haylage in the winter months. This year I`m hoping to put the mares and geldings together in one “turned away” field.