As a horse owner, you want the best of everything for your horse. But sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what that is, especially when it comes to your horse’s hooves. Since you probably don’t moonlight as a farrier, you have to rely on the expertise of someone else to trim and/or shoe your horse. But how can you know if your farrier is actually doing what is best for your horse?

Your horse should be able to move with the least effort possible at any gait. He will perform better and tire less easily if he can move efficiently. The most important part of a farrier’s job is to maximize efficiency. This means the farrier needs to trim the hoof in a balanced manner. The hoof should land flat or a little heel-first and equally on each side. The hoof needs to be able to leave the ground heel first and breakover smoothly with minimal resistance. If your farrier leaves the toe too long (as many farriers are prone to do), efficiency is decreased and unnecessary stress is added to your horse’s legs.


Traditionally, many farriers try to trim the hoof to match the angle of the pastern. This concept is good in theory, but in practice typically leads to weakened and unbalanced hooves. The best way to tell if your farrier is truly trimming your horse correctly is to actually pick the hoof up after he has finished trimming. Locate the widest part of the sole and draw and imaginary line across it. If your farrier has done his job well, the distance from the toe to the line will be equal to the distance from the heels to the line. When this is true, the heels will have enough support and the toe will not interfere with the breakover or induce stress.

Your farrier needs to trim the hoof for correct lateral balance as well. Most horses do not have perfect conformation which means the right and left sides of each hoof should not necessarily be the same height. Most importantly, both sides of the hoof need to meet the ground at the same time in order to avoid lateral stress. If your farrier does not consider your horse’s conformation and simply attempts to make the heels equal in height, he is not doing your horse any favors. This can be hard to judge for yourself, so don’t hesitate ask him to explain to you exactly how he trims for medial-lateral balance. Conformation ought to be his number one concern.


Good shoes are important

Good shoes are important

If your farrier trims the hoof to fit the shoe, this is a huge red flag. Shoes should always be shaped to fit the trimmed hoof, not the other way around. Your farrier should take care in the placement and design of the shoe. Some horses cannot be trimmed to the ideal breakover point and the farrier needs to find additional means to reduce stress. Ask him about the ways in which he has reduced the hoof stress for your horse. Is balanced trimming enough or does he need to do more?

No farrier should ever dump your horse’s toe (but you should dump him if he does), which is to say he squared off your horse’s toe above the edge of the shoe. This is the horse equivalent of chopping off half your leg to fit it into your pants. You were better off not wearing any pants! When it comes to shoeing, there are so many varieties and styles that the “right way” is more difficult to pinpoint. However, there are most certainly wrong ways. Make sure your farrier can back up everything he does with sound, educated reasoning and does not rush the process.

Some Signs of Trouble

One trimming/shoeing session will not reveal imbalances, but over time certain tell-tale problems can arise and indicate your farrier is not doing what the needs to for your horse:

  • Flares in the hoof indicate uneven weight distribution and stress
  • Uneven or compacted growth rings
  • Sheared heels (see image below): a sign of lateral imbalance that results in uneven heels
  • Collapsed heels: A sign that the toe is consistently left to long leading to low heels that are crushed forward under the weight of the horse
  • Contracted heels: Hoof is boxy and heels are unnaturally tall
  • Distorted frog

Any of the above listed problems can indicate that your farrier is not accommodating your horse’s specific conformation. He can easily cause unsoundness and increase stress uses a “cookie-cutter” method. Ultimately, you are in charge. You are the one spending the most time with your horse and you are responsible for his well-being. You might have to try a few farriers before you find one that is good for your horse. Not all farriers are the same and it is up to you to identify the truly talented ones who genuinely care about the needs of your horse.


Written by Jada Pfeiffer

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