Each industry and profession tends to have its own jargon, and horse farriers are no different. As a horse owner, you should be able to understand what your farrier is telling you about your horse; otherwise, you may miss out on important information. It’s also worthy to note that you should ask your farrier questions if you don’t understand. Farriers want their clients to feel good about what they’re doing and how they’re addressing any concerns you may have. Whether you’re a seasoned horseman or new to horse ownership, a refresher on farrier work and terminology is always helpful.
What is a Farrier?
Your farrier or blacksmith is a skilled craftsman who, in most cases, has received training at a school specifically for blacksmiths. He or she has studied hoof anatomy, may have worked with a mentor or completed an internship, has learned about various hoof issues and how to create special shoes for horses who may need extra hoof support. Some farriers have specialties such as breed or riding discipline, but most will trim and shoe horses according to their hoof care needs.
A farrier’s goal is to make your horse’s gait as efficient as possible. An efficient gait means less effort for your horse, increased athletic ability and smoother movement. The perfect trim or horseshoe won’t turn a non-athletic horse into a world champion, but it will help maximize his existing abilities.
To move soundly, your horse must be balanced. Both the inner and outer portions of the hoof wall should land at the same time, spreading the shock evenly. The heel should leave the ground first as the horse moves forward and the hoof “rolls over.” The “breakover” is when the last part of the hoof, ideally the toe area, leaves the ground, which is why toe length is important. A long toe causes the breakover point to slow, creating extra work for the tendons and ligaments.
Communication is a Two-Way Street
Try to be available when your farrier comes to shoe your horse. You can’t learn or ask questions if you’re not present. Trying to understand what your farrier is doing and why can be intimidating, but most farriers are happy to see when the horse owners are involved and welcome questions, so don’t be shy. You’re around your horse on a daily basis; you know him better than anyone and will be able to pick-up on any idiosyncrasies in hoof quality or gait movement much sooner than your farrier.
Do you know what your farrier is trying to tell you? Here are some words and phrases to help you better understand what he’s saying.
- Anterior: front of the hoof
- Balance the hoof: trimming the hoof so that both sides are symmetrical in shape and size, and the hoof sits even on a hard, level surface.
- Bars: the area on the underside of the hoof on both sides of the frog where the hoof starts to narrow
- Bilateral: both sides of the hoof, or both left and right hooves
- Breakover: the period in a horse’s gait when the heel begins to lift as the horse moves forward
- Brushing (or interfering): in movement, when a horse hits its opposite leg with the hoof that’s in the air
- Changing the breakover: adjusting the way a horse’s foot leaves the ground
- Cold shoeing: when a farrier shapes the shoe without heating it in the forge
- Coronary band (or coronet): the area at the top of the hoof wall where the hairline meets the hoof
- Digital cushion: the wedge-shaped area below the coffin bone at the rear of the horse’s hoof
- Dishing (or winging): in movement, when the hoof swings in, instead of a traveling in a straight line; usually caused by a toed-out conformation
- Flat-footed: a horse whose hooves have less than a 45-degree angle
- Forging (or overreaching): when a horse strikes its front legs with the toe of a back hoof; can cause injury to the heel bulb or pull off a shoe
- Frog: the V-shaped area on the underside of the hoof, pointing down from the heel
- Heel: the back part of the underside of the hoof
- Heel bulbs: the softer cushions at the very back of the underside of the hoof; they form the external part of the digital cushion
- Hoof wall: the hard, horny outer covering of the hoof
- Hot shoeing (or hot setting): when a farrier heats the shoe in the forge and quickly places it on the foot to sear the area where the shoe will be nailed.
- Laminae: the inner layer of the hoof that attaches the hoof wall and the internal structures of the hoof
- Lateral: towards the outside
- Medial: towards the inside
- Paddling: in movement, when the hoof swings out, instead of traveling in a straight line; usually caused by pigeon-toed conformation
- Plaiting (or rope walking): when the horse moves one foot directly in front of the other
- Posterior: back of the hoof
- Raise the heel: changing the angle of the hoof by leaving more heel when trimming or using a pad or specialized shoe to get the desired hoof angle.Usually done to relieve stress on specific hoof or lower leg structures.
- Rasp: when a farrier files a hoof to smooth and slightly shape it
- Resecting the hoof wall: removing a section of outer hoof wall to expose an area with infection
- Rocker toe shoes: shoes where the front is slightly angled and lifted off the ground to influence where the horse breaks over.
- Setting-back shoes: placing the shoe slightly back behind the toe, then shortening the toe to ease breakover
- Sole: the underside of the hoof
- Toe: the front of the hoof
- White line: the band that wraps around the sole of the hoof and connects the hoof wall and the sole
Having a basic understanding of farrier terminology will not only help you understand what is happening with your horse and be able to identify potential issues, but also better communicate with your farrier. Speaking the same language is essential to the soundness and longevity of your horse. Good luck in “forging” ahead with your relationship!