Your farrier and veterinarian will definitely agree that issues with your horse’s hooves can compromise the entire function of your horse.
Hoof problems not only cause your horse pain and affect the weight-bearing ability of the foot but also lead to compensatory movements, which can cause issues and injuries in other parts of the body.
Corrective shoeing is a common way to address or reduce the effects of many hoof issues.
From navicular syndrome to laminitis to tendon and ligament injuries, appropriate corrective shoeing done by a qualified farrier can reduce pain and increase the likelihood of your horse continuing to move their best.
Choosing the right type of corrective horseshoes when required is important for keeping your horse sound in their work, and in the pasture as well.
Corrective shoeing aims to restore healthy function to the horse’s hoof by relieving pressure and improving biomechanics. Corrective shoes may be considered when normal shoes or barefoot trimming are not beneficial or possible for the horse.
Your farrier may recommend corrective horseshoes to support hoof structures, improve shock absorption of concussive forces when hoofs are in motion, alleviate discomfort, or to promote recovery from injury or disease.
The ultimate goal of corrective farriery is to restore balance to the hoof, helping to keep your horse sound by permanently addressing conformational faults.
Types of Corrective Shoes
Normal horseshoes follow the hoof wall up to the heel and do not extend past the sole or frog. These shoes do not actively change the angle of the foot; this is only done by the farrier during trimming when they shape the foot.
Corrective shoes can extend into the palmar (ground-facing) surface of the hoof, outwards from the wall, or be shaped in any manner that may assist the horse.
Corrective shoes may also have add-on materials that actively change the angle of the foot and help the horse sustain that angle.
Commonly used examples of corrective shoes for horses include:
- Heart bar shoes
- Egg bar shoes
- Straight bar shoes
- Flip flops
- Elevated heel shoes
- Roller motion shoes
Farriers can also create custom therapeutic shoes, but the ones listed above are the most common shoes you will see used for horses.
Not all farriers and veterinarians are proponents of corrective shoeing. Dr. Robert Bowker, VMD PhD argues that many forms of corrective shoes only transfer pressure to different parts of the hoof, potentially leading to soreness in other areas. 
Corrective shoeing is not always successful as a long-term treatment of hoof issues and, in some cases, may only provide temporary relief. The success of remedial farrier care depends on :
- Proper diagnosis of the problem
- Use of appropriate shoeing techniques
- Ability to address underlying distortion of the hoof capsule
- Ability to restore healthy hoof balance and function
Critics of corrective shoeing opt for barefoot trimming and the use of padded hoof boots as an alternative treatment for hoof issues. Consult with your farrier and veterinarian to determine the most appropriate treatment protocol for your horse.
Compensatory & Therapeutic Shoeing
You may also hear your farrier or veterinarian referring to compensatory or therapeutic shoeing. While these terms are frequently used interchangeably when speaking about corrective shoeing, they describe different practices.
Compensatory shoeing is used to manage problems with the horse’s gait by compensating for conformation faults, without affecting permanent changes in conformation.
For example, compensatory shoes may have features that help improve foot flight and reduce limb interference. These shoes may also provide more support or alter the break-over point on the horse’s foot. 
Therapeutic or pathological shoeing refers to shoes used in the treatment of injury or disease affecting the legs and feet.
The Normal Hoof
Maintaining soundness in horses relies on following a widely recognized standard for how a horse’s hoof should be shaped. The perfect shape and angle may change based on the individual horse and their job.
Horses with incorrect feet are at risk of multiple issues, including but not limited to the following:
- Navicular disease
- Tendon and ligament strain
- Injury to other parts of their body by trying to move normally on incorrect feet
The first consideration when evaluating hooves is determining if the horse has an appropriate Hoof-Pastern Axis (HPA).
The Hoof-Pastern Axis refers to the alignment of three crucial bones in the horse’s foot: the first phalanx, second phalanx, and third phalanx (commonly known as the coffin bone). It describes the specific angle at which these bones align from the fetlock to the foot. 
The ideal alignment for these bones is a straight line. When observing your horse’s leg from the side, you want to be able to draw a perfectly straight line through the center of these bones from the fetlock down.
An improper HPA not only places excessive strain on the soft tissues, such as tendons and ligaments, but also disrupts the hoof’s ability to absorb and distribute shock effectively. This can result in structural alterations within the foot and joints, as well as an increased risk of arthritis. 
Evaluating Correct HPA
While obtaining precise confirmation of the HPA requires veterinary x-rays, a well-trained eye can provide a reasonably accurate estimation. To evaluate your horse’s Hoof-Pastern Axis, follow these steps:
- Position the horse’s foot on a flat surface, ensuring the cannon bone is perpendicular to the ground.
- Examine the front surface of the horse’s hoof and the front surface of their pastern.
- Visualize an imaginary line connecting the two points. If this line is straight, it indicates an appropriate HPA. 
If there is an upward angle between the two lines, it indicates a broken-forward HPA. If there is a downward angle between the two lines, it indicates a broken back HPA. 
The hoof should be balanced from front to back and from side to side. When examining the sole of your horse’s foot, the length of the hoof from the toe to the end of the hoof wall should be equal to the width of the hoof at the widest point.
With your horse standing on a flat surface and the cannon bone perpendicular to the ground, visualize an imaginary line from the back of the cannon bone, passing through the heel, and extending into the ground. This line should be perfectly perpendicular to the ground.
The ground-bearing surface of the foot should be aligned perpendicularly to the line drawn from the back of the cannon bone through the heel. In other words, the line along the back of the cannon bone and the line formed by the part of the foot that makes contact with the ground should create a precise “T” shape with 90-degree angles on both sides. 
The final step to determine if your horse’s foot is the ideal shape is to check their heel conformation:
- Examine the bottom of the foot: Lift up your horse’s hoof and observe the anatomy of the bottom of its foot. The rearmost point of the hoof wall should fall in line with the widest point of the frog.
- Assess the foot from the side: Put your horse’s foot down so the cannon bone is perpendicular to the ground. Stand to look at it from the side and note the rearmost point of the hoof wall, which should be the last contact point before the heel.
- Draw an upwards line: Extend a line straight up from the rearmost point of the hoof wall. Ideally, this line should pass through the center of your horse’s cannon bone.
- Evaluate the heel angle: Consider the angle of your horse’s heel compared to the ground. It should be parallel to the angle formed between the toe and the coronary band at the front of the foot. 
If any of these anatomical features of your horse’s hoof deviate from the ideal, it may compromise the foot and leg’s ability to absorb and transmit forces effectively.
Corrective vs. Regular Shoes
Corrective shoes deviate from the normal “U” shaped horseshoe that most horse owners are familiar with.
Regular shoes are nailed into and follow the shape of the hoof wall. They leave the sole of the hoof open to the ground and do not extend past the heel. 
Regular shoes primarily serve to protect the hoof wall and enhance traction without significantly altering the foot’s position. Conversely, corrective shoeing changes the way the hoof is positioned or how it responds to ground forces when bearing weight.
Reasons to Use Regular Shoes
Regular shoes are typically selected to address issues related to the structural integrity of a horse’s foot. They may be used if the horse experiences soreness when walking on hard or uneven surfaces (such as gravel or rock) or if their hooves are prone to cracks and crumbling during work. 
Shoes are also used to address uneven wear on the feet of working horses. Horses may not always track perfectly straight due to factors such as knee conformation, or they may weight bear unevenly. Regular shoes can prevent uneven wearing of the foot, encouraging the horse to track straighter. 
Regular shoes can also be employed for corking or studding purposes, especially for horses engaged in high-speed work on potentially slippery surfaces. By using shoes with strategically placed screw holes, metal studs of various shapes and sizes can be securely fastened to the shoe. These studs enhance traction and minimize the risk of slipping for horses working on soft or slippery ground, such as grass. 
Corrective shoes alter how the hoof is positioned and how ground forces act on the foot. These shoes can be adapted to suit the specific needs of the horse.
Heart Bar Shoes
The heart bar shoe, also known as the frog support shoe, resembles a regular horseshoe until it reaches the heel. Unlike the typical “U” shaped shoe, the heart bar extends forward to cover the sensitive frog located in the middle of the horse’s foot, resulting in a shape resembling a heart.
Heart bar shoes can be employed to address various conditions, but their purpose is always the same: shifting weight from the hoof wall to the frog.
Normally, the hoof wall bears the majority of the horse’s weight. However, some foot issues can result in discomfort when weight is placed on the hoof wall. These conditions may include:
How Do Heart Bar Shoes Work?
Heart bar shoes are frequently used to address laminitis in horses. This condition results in significant pain in the toe area of the hoof when weight is applied to the foot. Horses suffering from laminitis often exhibit a distinctive “sawhorse” stance, leaning backward while standing in an attempt to shift weight onto their heels and away from the painful toe region.
Heart bar shoes transfer the weight-bearing surface from the toe to the frog, providing pain relief and reducing inflammation. This shifting of weight supports healing, allowing the inflamed tissue to recover more effectively. 
The plate lying on the frog may also help stabilize the bony column of the foot, potentially mitigating the risk of coffin bone sinking or displacement. 
Quarter cracks, corns, and contracted heels all result in pain within the hoof wall when bearing weight. Heart bar shoes work by redistributing weight from the hoof wall or heel to the frog, alleviating pain and inflammation in the affected area, and promoting healing. 
Heart bars shoes should always be used in conjunction with other treatments. While they offer significant pain relief for the horse, they primarily address the symptoms rather than the root causes of hoof issues.
Egg Bar Shoes
Egg bar shoes are similar to heart bar shoes, but with a key difference. While heart bar shoes extend inward towards the sole of the foot, egg bar shoes continue after the heel, creating a rounded, continuous egg shape.
These shoes are commonly utilized when a horse requires additional heel support due to underrun heels or navicular disease. By transferring force from the heel to the more forward anatomy of the hoof, such as the medial wall and the toe, egg bar shoes provide the necessary support. 
Egg bar shoes are particularly beneficial for horses with navicular disease, which is characterized by heel pain and bony changes in the navicular bone. By alleviating pressure on the horse’s heel, egg bar shoes facilitate the healing of the navicular bone.
One study found that the application of egg bar shoes completely eliminated the signs of navicular disease in 50% of treated cases. 
Straight Bar Shoes
Straight bar shoes resemble “U” shaped horseshoes, but with a straight piece of metal that extends across the heel, connecting the two ends of the shoe. Unlike egg bar shoes, straight bar shoes have a less pronounced backward extension.
The primary purpose of straight bar shoes is to extend the load-bearing surface of the hoof, offering 360 degrees of support and providing stability to the hoof capsule. 
A horse’s hoof is a dynamic structure that transforms when pressure is applied. When a horse steps onto their foot, the hoof will shift and expand, aiding in shock absorption. 
Straight bar shoes are also beneficial for conditions such as quarter cracks or other issues that could be made worse by motion within the hoof, potentially leading to coffin bone fractures. By providing stability, straight bar shoes improve the likelihood of healing and support optimal hoof function.
Several types of hoof pads are used in corrective shoeing. These pads cover the entire sole of the horse’s foot to provide protection and support.
Hoof pads are commonly used on horses with abnormally thin soles to prevent bruising and pain. 
Some horses have insufficient hard tissue to adequately cover the bottom of their feet and safeguard the sensitive structures underneath. The pad functions like the sole of a running shoe, providing a barrier against objects, such as sticks and rocks.
Pads can also be used to transfer weight and pressure from the hoof wall to the frog. They are also used to protect wounds on the bottom of the foot and to keep excessive moisture away from hooves healing from thrush.
Hoof pads must always be packed with a suitable material to prevent debris and moisture from reaching the bottom of the foot and causing more damage. 
Wedge pads can be used to raise the heel of a horse’s foot and shift pressure from the back of the hoof to the toe. Wedge pads are often used on horses with underrun heels and navicular disease.
This adjustment helps alleviate pressure on the navicular bone and reduces tension on the deep digital flexor tendon, which commonly causes discomfort in horses with navicular or abnormally low heels. 
While pads provide protection to the bottom of a horse’s hoof, they are not without some downsides. Hoof pads can reduce traction and increase the risk of pressure points on the sole due to improper application.
Pads are smooth and do not provide the same traction as the natural uneven surface of the horse’s hoof. Horses with pads may struggle on slippery surfaces, requiring caution when transitioning to different footings.
Using hoof pads also adds weight to the bottom of the horse’s foot. This can cause the horse to pick their foot up higher, which may affect movement quality in disciplines such as hunter or western pleasure, that desire a lower, more fluid motion.
Improperly packed pads can also create pressure points on the sole. The gel-like packing material, injected between the pad and the hoof, must be applied smoothly to avoid small accumulations of solid materials. These pressure points can cause discomfort and lead to uneven weight distribution on the hoof.
Pads vary in materials, shapes, and applications. Consult with your farrier and your veterinarian if you believe your horse may benefit from pads.
Hoof casts are similar to fiberglass casts used for broken bones. They wrap around the toe and wall of the horse’s hoof, sometimes extending under the sole or stopping below the hoof wall.
These casts are commonly used when there’s an injury in the hoof wall, exposing the sensitive tissues underneath. Hoof casts help rebuild the hoof, replacing damaged areas. 
Hoof casts can also be used to immediately change the shape of the horse’s foot without waiting for the entire hoof to grow out. They can be molded to a specific shape, altering how the foot makes contact with the ground and the horse’s movement. However, sudden changes in foot shape can result in muscle and skeletal soreness as the horse doesn’t have time to adjust gradually.
Hoof casts are temporary and expensive. Since they’re not nailed to the hoof, they can wear down and eventually slough off.
Initially, farriers were concerned that casts might restrict hoof expansion and shock absorption. However, it has been observed that casts can actually improve the health of the digital cushion and lateral cartilage, enabling the horse to comfortably strike heel first.
This allows shock to be transmitted more efficiently up the leg, mitigating the restriction of wearing the cast. 
Flip Flop Horseshoes
Flip-flop horseshoes were developed in the 1980s and offer a hybrid of regular shoeing, hoof pads, and barefoot trimming.
Flip flops consist of a half-shoe that is nailed into the toe and lateral walls of the hoof. The shoe usually does not extend past the widest part of the hoof. Under the shoe, a pad with drainage holes covers the entire sole from toe to heel.
Unlike traditional shoes, the pad is not secured to the foot, allowing it to “flop” as the horse raises its heel off the ground. 
These shoes are commonly used for horses with heel pain. The slight angle created by the front portion of the shoe transfers weight from the heel to the middle or toe of the hoof.
Because the shoe is not attached past the widest portion of the hoof, the heel can flex and compress naturally. This enhances circulation around the navicular bone and underlying soft tissues, promoting healing and reducing inflammation. 
These shoes offer the benefits of heel freedom while protecting most of the hoof wall, making them increasingly popular among show horses. The free heel allows for maximal flexion and force absorption when landing after a jump, while the half shoe protects most of the hoof wall from crumbling.
Some flip-flop designs have threaded holes that allow for stud attachment, providing additional traction and supporting the natural movement of the horse’s heel. 
Elevated Heel Shoes
Elevated heel shoes or patent bar shoes are designed with a raised heel, created through angled or vertical extensions. These shoes are attached to the horse’s hoof in a normal fashion, but the raised heel makes them unique.
These shoes are particularly beneficial in treating injuries to the distal check ligament (DSL) and deep digital flexor tendons (DDFT). The raised heel places the limb in a flexed position, reducing strain on injured tendons or bringing ends of a ruptured tendon closer together, facilitating healing.
As the injury heals, the heels are gradually lowered in small increments, progressively increasing the strain on the healing tendon or ligament. 
While these shoes aid in the initial acute phase of the injury, continued management of the injury is crucial. Elevated heel shoes are not a standalone solution.
Suspensory shoes are designed to aid horses suffering from suspensory ligament desmitis or injuries to the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT).
These shoes resemble regular horseshoes but feature a wide toe that extends into the horse’s sole, preventing the toe from sinking into the ground and consequently raising the horse’s heel.
This mechanism might seem counterintuitive; one would think that raising the heel would relieve strain on the suspensory ligament and SDFT. However, the wide toe design supports the horse’s natural movement and distribution of ground reaction forces.
When a horse moves, the suspensory apparatus supports the fetlock through its range of motion, from flexion through hyperextension. Hyperextension describes when the horse places their foot onto the ground and loads it with weight in preparation for push-off. This results in a ground reaction force when the horse pushes off.
By lifting the toe, suspensory shoes reduce the ground reaction force that is applied to the foot and transmitted to other supporting structures of the fetlock and lower leg. This significantly decreases forces applied to the suspensory apparatus and SDFT, allowing these structures to rest and heal. 
Corrective shoeing can be used to remedy a wide range of hoof issues, from laminitis to navicular disease to thrush.
However, maintaining hoof health with regular farrier care and proper nutrition is paramount in preventing such issues.
If your horse is experiencing hoof problems, work with your farrier and veterinarian to determine an appropriate treatment plan.
You can also consult a qualified equine nutritionist to evaluate your horse’s diet and identify nutrient deficiencies that may be impacting your horse’s hoof health.
Is Your Horse's Diet Missing Anything?
Identify gaps in your horse's nutrition program to optimize their well-being.
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