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Why does my horse pull shoes?

Nothing is more disheartening than when your horse pulls a shoe. The work schedule is interrupted waiting to get the shoe replaced, the farrier is annoyed to come out at the last minute to replace one shoe and the horse’s foot is probably torn up. It gets even worse if your horse steps on the clip of the shoe.

Why do horses pull their front shoes off? Easy, right? Their hind foot comes too far forward and grabs the heel of the front shoe. But why do some horses pull shoes more frequently than others? I’m going to go out on a limb (pardon the pun) and suggest that this has more to do with the breakover at the toe than it does with how much shoe is sticking out behind the foot.

The horses stride is such that the hind limb lands perilously close to where the front foot is taking off. What determines whether the hind foot will strike the front foot depends on how quickly the front foot leaves the ground. When the front foot leaves the ground depends on how rapidly the foot can breakover at the toe. Often times, the horse takes a bad step that leaves the foot on the ground too long allowing the hind foot to come forward and snag the heel of the shoe. This is why horses tend to pull shoes in muddy footing.

When we’re faced with horses who pull shoes too often, we focus on the breakover of the front foot and attempt to pull it back as far as possible. As I referenced in the first blog, breakover is determined with radiographs by measuring the distance from the tip of the coffin bone forward to the front of the foot or the shoe. The ideal measurement is a distance less than 15 mm and often, we will bring the breakover distance even further back as you can see from these before and after radiographs:

Why do farriers resist taking more toe off? Because to do so removes the very hoof wall they are nailing to. Also, trimming too much toe can result in temporary soreness. Many farriers prefer to put three nails on each side of the shoe but, in many cases, if the toe is brought back to where it needs to be, only two nails will fit. In my experience, if the

toe is brought back to where it needs to be, the forces that loosen clinches and weakens the bond between the foot and the shoe are significantly reduced which allows the shoe to remain intact with only two nails on each side of the shoe. But now I’m treading on the farrier’s domain!

Another annoying foot-related problem is forging. If pulling a shoe is caused by the hind foot pulling off the heel of the front shoe, forging is the hind foot striking the bottom of the foot when trotting. Forging has several causes including lameness so it’s unfair to refer to this as a shoeing or hoof balance issue until lameness is ruled out. Nonetheless, if there is no identifiable lameness, the next step is to look at how the foot is trimmed and shod to determine if the breakover can be reduced to allow the heel and the foot to advance sooner and avoid being struck by the hind foot. Once again, radiographs are key for showing how far the foot can be trimmed and how far back the shoe needs to come.

Do you remember this phrase used in politics back in the ‘90’s?

When it comes to pulling shoes, forging and many lameness conditions involving the foot, just remember, “It’s the breakover, stupid”! Next week, we’ll tackle another set of issues with the horse’s foot: horses with too much heel and with thrush (yes, they’re related).

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