Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Heels for Horses

Pet Column for the week of September 29, 2008

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Many people think of farriers as blacksmiths, or someone who molds metal shoes for a horse's foot. With the advent of items like specially-made shoes, digital x-rays, and epoxy cushioning, modern day farriers are much more than someone who works over hot coals.

Travis Finn is the farrier for the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. He has been around horses and, more specifically, their feet, since birth. His father, Michael Finn, recently retired from the position that his son now holds at the College's Large Animal Clinic.

"My dad watched us during the summer when we were kids, so I was always around when he was working," mentions Finn. After watching for so many years, he went on to complete a seven-year apprenticeship under his father. He has seen the field advance over the past decades.

For instance, radiographs (x-rays) are now frequently taken of horses with problem feet so the farrier can get a better look. "Radiographs are like a road map of the leg and foot," says Finn.

He explains that by looking at the digital image, "you can better understand the alignment of bones, how much sole the horse has and the point of break over." All of these things are important in properly shoeing a horse, especially if it has an underlying condition.

From the radiographs, one can visualize the point of break over, or the location at which the horse's foot rolls over when in motion. In horses with laminitis, a painful condition in which the bone in the bottom of their foot begins to rotate, or those with navicular, another disease of the foot, one form of treatment is to change the break over point with corrective shoeing.

In the past, one may have seen horses with sytrofoam under their hoof held in place by duct tape as a form of corrective shoeing, but thanks to a recent invention, Finn can use a specially made shoe. The "track-me" shoe looks like a normal horseshoe, except for the substantial heel on the ends.

Although horses sporting the new shoe tend to look like they are wearing the equivalent of high heels, the "the wedge on the back and the rolled toe in the front help move the break over point forward," explains Finn.

Another advancement in hoof health is the equivalent of custom made tennis shoes to fit a marathoner's foot, minus the laces of course. Equine Digital Support System, or EDSS, is an impression material that has been increasingly used in the past few years for "any kind of horse with a hoof problem," says Finn. From sore horses to those recovering from laminitis, the substance has worked miracles.

The material comes in two separate tubes that, when mixed together, form a moldable epoxy. The farrier then puts the material on top of a leather pad that is attached to the horseshoe creating a sole-epoxy-leather-shoe sandwich.

From here the impression material molds to fill every crevice of the horse's sole to create a custom designed pad for the hoof that will provide support for 6-8 weeks. In case you want to color coordinate your horse's new shoes with its tack, EDSS comes in several different colors and firmnesses.

If you have questions about horse hoof health contact your veterinarian or farrier.