Rural Heritage Village Smithy

Chipped Hooves
by F. Thomas Breningstall

"My horse has shoes on the front feet due to tenderness on rocky terrain," writes Debbie Marable of Chesapeake, Virginia. "His hooves have started chipping above the shoes and near the nails. Would burning the shoes on help eliminate this problem? What about clips or hoof dressings?"

Chipping and cracking of the hoof wall between the nail holes and shoe is a common problem and the reasons are many, but the long-term problems are few. The most common cause is failing to shoe the horse on a timely schedule, every four to eight weeks.

As the hoof grows out the shoe gets loose, the nail clinch pulls loose and turns out, and the hoof wall wears under the shoe, chipping and cracking the hoof wall. The hoof wall will grow over the shoe and chip or crack also.

Another common cause is failing to drive the nails high enough to get into good hoof wall. As a rule of thumb, the nail clinch should be about a thumb's width high on the hoof wall. The hoof wall should be notched under the nail at the point the nail comes out of the hoof wall. Use the edge of the rasp to remove the burr under the nail, then clinch and set the nail into the hoof wall with a pair of clinchers or clinching block and a hammer.

Diet can cause problems. So can climate´too dry or too wet. Hoof dressing helps stabilize hoof moisture. Burning the shoe into the hoof will make a better fitting shoe. I use clips on almost all my shoeing. The clip keeps the shoe from shifting around on the hoof, creating a more stable bond between shoe and foot.

"My filly's feet are too short," says Christy Bell of Ooltewah, Tennessee. "Unfortunately I didn't have her feet trimmed like I probably should have. My farrier kept telling me her feet were too short and there was nothing to trim, but they kept chipping off. I thought the rough edges needed trimming but my farrier said 'no.' I followed his advice. Now her feet are so short it hurts her to walk. Our pasture is rocky. She needs her exercise so I don't want to keep her in the barn all the time.

"I have put venice of turpentine on the soles every day for a month, now and Sho-Hoof on the wall, plus I'm feeding her Bio-Zen. She's getting better and she's not lame, but her hooves are still broken off unevenly and are very short. Should they be trimmed to be even? What can I do to help them grow?"

It's tough for me to out-think your farrier without seeing the horse, but rounding off the edges of the hoof walls sometimes helps the walls not to chip as much. I also feel that the chipping is the baby hoof, which is softer than the yearling hoof. Rocky pasture is hard on any horse's bare feet, but is really bad for soft baby feet.

One of the reasons we shoe horses is to keep the hoof from wearing off faster than it grows. I won't shoe a horse that's less than two years old without a good reason, so shoeing your baby is out of the question. Shoes would not allow the young horse's feet to develop as they should.

Now, what to do: the turpentine should toughen up the soles, and the food supplements are good. I'd like to see her removed from the rocky pasture, maybe to a friend's more friendly pasture? Time is on your side´as she gets older the filly's feet will get stronger and bigger and her hocks should also improve.


F. Thomas Breningstall is a full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. His column “Hoof & Hammer” appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column was in Spring 1999 issue.

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15 April 2012 last revision