Hoof Angles

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Q: I've read that the hind feet should be 3-4 degrees higher than the front to promote a more collected movement of the horse. For example if the fronts are trimmed and shod at 54 degrees the hinds should be 57 to 58 degrees.

-13 year old gelding; Quarter Horse used for team roping (heading).
15-3 Hands & 1250 lbs.
- currently shod with St Croix eventers side clips in O size.

Your thoughts?

Look forward to your response. Thanks.

A: My thoughts: 15:3 hands, 1250 lbs., 0 size shoes…sounds like a modern day bred Quarter Horse. I look forward to the day when they breed these beautiful athletes with the feet to support their muscular bodies.

Remember: Today's facts are tomorrow's theories. Twenty-five or thirty years ago the facts said that the ideal angles for horses were 45 to 50 degrees in front; 50 to 55 degrees behind. Today's facts generally accept that the ideal horse is 53 to 56 degrees in front, 55 to 60 degrees in the hinds. The horse you describe has angles that would fall within the accepted tolerance of today's thinking.

However, the correct hoof angle can not be determined by any chart, scale or recommendations by people who are not looking at the horse. The correct hoof angle is determined by the phalangical alignment of P1, P2 and P3. Shoulder angle, length of back, length of neck and length of body all have to do with determining the correct angle for a particular horse, as does the discipline in which the horse is engaged.

Over the years I have shod a good number of different breeds and disciplines. In the course of those shoeings I have had trainers, veterinarians and owners advising me to "lower the heels on this horse", "raise the heels on that horse", "lengthen the toe on this horse", and "back up the toe on that horse". In most cases I would balance and level the horse as I saw fit and say, "Is that what you wanted?" And they would most assuredly say, "Absolutely, now you've got it!" And what they would have was what I determined was correct for that animal.

There are, of course, times when a trainer or horse owner should be listened to. Sometimes they know a particular horse and what is best for him. I remember many years ago I was shoeing an old Tennessee Walking Horse brood mare. She was lame. And the owner said, "Jack her up!" So I jacked her up to 56 degrees in front. She was still lame. Next time I went out he said, "I said jack her up!" And I jacked her up to 60 degrees. She was a little better but still lame. Next time I went out he said, "If you don't jack up that horse, I will get somebody who will!" Made me mad. I told myself I'd show this old so-and-so. I jacked her up so high that her dorsal wall was almost vertical. She walked and trotted off sound! That is where we kept her for the next five years until she died of old age, and she never took another lame step in all that time.

So I learned not to totally disregard all owners and trainers. Sometimes they do know best. But by and large, hoof angles will be determined in the manner I have stated above.

There are, of course, times for shortening a toe to speed and ease break over for a particular discipline, for lowering the heel to help move the hind legs up underneath the horse, or other such manipulation deemed necessary by a knowledgeable farrier who is shoeing the whole animal--the whole picture--not just the feet.

A heading horse puts a lot of torque on his shoes. Being a big fan of the St. Croix Eventer shoe, I would applaud your selection. Eventers with clips will go a long way towards keeping shoes on a roping horse. However, there is always the danger of the horse stepping on the shoe, jerking it half off and stepping on the clips…so do be careful!

How can you be careful? Do not work your horse to a state of exhaustion to where he is stepping on himself. Don't push your horse past his abilities or training. If you are going to shoe with clips, especially on the front feet, don't shoe him short but don't leave a lot of heel hanging out there for him to step on, either.

Good luck with your heading.

Geronimo Bayard
The American Blacksmith
Oakland, Oregon

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This entire web site is copyright © protected.  © 1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard, © 2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved. Contact Mary for reproduction information & permission.