If the Shoe Fits – How the Right Shoe and a Trained Farrier Can Make The Difference

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Farrier Carrey Gunderman

By Amber Clark

This article was an honorable mention in the 2018 GMO Newsletter Award in general interest narrative for GMOs with 500 or more members. It first appeared in the May 2017
Rocky Mountain Dressage Society newsletter, The Centaur.

Amber lives in Pueblo West and teaches and trains at Falcon and Elbert locations. She is a USDF Gold, Silver and Bronze Medalist and a Path Certified Instructor. Amber’s resume includes numerous regional and national awards at all levels and with multiple horses. Amber enjoys sharing her knowledge with anyone interested in learning! Reach her at amctraining@ymail.com.

Recently, I heard a seasoned trainer say “Shoeing can’t change a horse’s soundness or how it goes.” To say I could not believe my ears would be an understatement. I was shocked to learn that this accomplished trainer and instructor actually believed this to be true. The ignorance of that statement stuck with me and led me to wonder, are there others out there who incorrectly believe this as well? I have witnessed shoeing change horses time and time again.  Sometimes it will change how a sound horse moves either for the good or bad. At other times it will help give an unsound horse a new lease on life.  I have a lifetime of examples but I will try to give you some of the more interesting ones in this article!

TWO Broken Bones!

I have a Thoroughbred mare, Grand Eska, who is now 26 years old and retired with her best friend Blitz. I got this mare at the age of four and not only did I have success on her as a JR rider but I went on to lease her to numerous students and watch them have success with her. This mare broke a bone in the same foot TWO TIMES! The first time she broke her coffin bone just trotting across the field and the second time she broke the navicular bone in the same foot when she slid down a wet ramp on the trailer.

After the second fracture the vet told me that they did  not believe she would come back sound. She was only 12 years old at the time so this was devastating news.  Lucky for me (and her) I found a gung-ho young farrier with all the talent in the world who was willing to experiment with me to try to get my mare sound again.  We tried a number of different shoe, pad and trim combinations.  Some were better than others but we hadn’t yet found the magic combination.  We were starting to lose confidence when we stumbled upon the right fit for her! From 12 years old to 21 years old, when I retired her, she wore heart bar shoes with wedge pads and was completely sound.  I hauled her extensively during this time. She was on a full show schedule with a JR rider that was in my program.

She competed in Region 3 championships in various locations, earned year-end awards and even helped that rider earn her Bronze medal! This was a mare who many said would never be sound again but thanks to a willing farrier and the right shoeing set up she was sound and happy for many years to come.

Sensitive Hooves?

I also had an interesting horse for many years that some of you may know as he lives in Colorado now. His name is V-Frolik.  From the age of about 6-10 Frolik had extremely sensitive feet.  His feet weren’t just sensitive in a normal way — they were also very sensitive to pressure of any kind. After much experimentation we found that hand made shoes fully rimmed out around the sole kept the bottom of his foot happy but I could still sense he wasn’t 100% happy… why? Through a great deal of teamwork and patience we discovered that if his clinches were too tight he would be uncomfortable.

He wasn’t lame, he just wasn’t right. Talk about a lot of faith and trust between the farrier and the trainer! I can’t tell you how annoying I must have been when I would call AGAIN, and say “he’s just not right”.  I honestly can’t believe I still had a farrier willing to work with me on trying to figure out why this horse wasn’t his best. Finally, we figured out his sensitivity to the clinches and we were on an upward trajectory. I think he would’ve been an interesting candidate for glue-on shoes but we were experimenting before glue-ons became a mainstream thing. This horse did a lot for me and my career and has gone on to do some great things for others but would it have even been possible if we hadn’t figured out how to shoe him and make him happy in those days?

Support for Moving Up the Levels

Currently I am again quite lucky, and thankful, to have a farrier on my team who is willing to experiment and takes my observations into account when shoeing the horses. He has worked with me to help my current FEI horse Carlos CWF (owned by Lesley Whittle) move the best he can with the least amount of stress as he develops strength.

Amber riding Carlos CWF

In 2016 as Carlos was gaining strength and beginning his show career he suddenly became defensive behind and just wasn’t moving in his normal gait. After assessing him together we determined that  he needed a different shoeing set up due to his new found  strength behind. As soon as we changed it, he improved 100%. No exaggeration! He walked into the barn moving  one way behind and came back to the arena moving more efficiently and confidently after changing the shoes. The difference was instantaneous! He wasn’t unsound or even uncomfortable, he just wasn’t the absolute best he could be.

My personal horse, Rhythmic Blues, has been in South Carolina leased to a great friend of mine for the last three years.  He returned to me in July 2017.  Prior to his return he had been having some intermittent bouts with being uncomfortable.  My friend was suspicious that it might be the footing she was working him on so she moved him to a new facility. The bouts still continued although there was improvement with the changed footing. I went out there to teach a clinic and I knew immediately that he was uncomfortable due to the way he was shod.  She spoke with her farrier regarding my concerns and my farrier even spoke to him but unfortunately he didn’t believe the shoeing was a contributing factor. 

Now, we all know that our egos can sometimes get in the  way of our best judgement. Perhaps he was defensive or perhaps he lacked the experience or education to recognize the problem. This doesn’t make him a bad farrier or bad person but how he was shoeing Blue did not work long term. Once we got Blue to Colorado we started  to change his shoeing gradually toward what my farrier believed would be best for him. I trust my farrier so I let  him do whatever he thought was best. Each time Blue was shod he became more comfortable.  I am happy to report that he is a sound and comfortable 16 year old who will be  showing in 2017!

To say that farriers can work magic on horses feet seems like too much pressure. They aren’t magicians but I believe whole heartedly they are an important part of your team and your horses’ long term success! If you ever question whether shoes can impact a horse’s soundness or way of going just give me a call and I will be happy to tell you that I believe wholeheartedly horses feet influence their way of going!

The Farrier’s View

Like Amber, I too am extremely caught off guard by the statement that shoes and proper shoeing can’t help a horse’s soundness or performance. Farriers are often the first line of defense when it comes to a soundness problem. With a strong team unity like Amber mentions in her article, many times the soundness issue or gait faults can be identified and sorted out without losing  much time, expense, or heartache (and we all know how much heartache the horse world holds.) Perhaps this is a minimalist approach, but often times I have noticed that many top performance horses stay on top by achieving a few basic horse husbandry standards: Good Feed, Good Feet, Good Training.

Perhaps the particular trainer Amber spoke with has had poor experiences with farriers, or perhaps this trainer isn’t up-to-date on the progress made in the last twenty years in regards to hoof care. I’m not sure of the reasoning for this statement but I assure you, your farrier is a very important member of your team. Once you have your farrier, you trust them and they work with the other professionals you surround yourself with, your  team is assembled and your horse comes out ahead. Leaving each specific area of expertise to the appropriate professional is one of the main keys to a cohesive and successful team management.

I would like to hope that a majority of horse owners and trainers are aware of the importance of appropriate hoof care for their horse. As you read Amber’s article, a common theme was developed, horses will have leg/foot problems, and watching and learning what the horse  wants typically results in a successful outcome. The main key is not being afraid to try something new, different, outside the box.

Often times it gives results you or your horse never knew possible.

Carrey Gunderman CLS, CE, CI

President, Equine Lameness Prevention Organization

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