Horses Need Farriers

farrier applies shoe to horse's hoof

Horses need new shoes every 4 to 6 weeks

What animal regularly wears shoes and needs help putting them on? It’s a horse, of course!

Horses need their hooves trimmed and horseshoes placed regularly, a procedure referred to as “shoeing” a horse. The person trained to shoe horses is called a farrier. Farriers provide an important part of the regular care that keeps horses healthy.

Steve Sermersheim with a horse
Steve Sermersheim is a certified journeyman farrier who shoes horses at the University of Illinois horses-only clinic, Midwest Equine. He has twice been named Clinician of the Year by the American Farrier’s Association, has served eight times as an official farrier at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, and has been a supervisor for the official farriers at the World Equestrian Games.

Steve Sermersheim, a certified journeyman farrier at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, provides this service at the hospital and the university’s horses-only clinic, Midwest Equine at Illinois. He also makes farm calls to shoe horses.

Farrier Training

“Farriers have a big responsibility to horses and their owners because we maintain the length, balance, and integrity of the hoof capsule and all the components of the hoof,” Sermersheim explains.

The horse hoof has many weight-bearing parts that affect how the horse moves and its athletic success. The outer part is called the hoof wall, and the inner portion includes the sole and the frog.

Most people who want to become a farrier attend farrier school and then do an apprenticeship to get hands-on experience and practice. Currently, there is no U.S. regulation of farriers; the tools and shoes can be purchased by anyone.

Sermersheim has extensive experience and certification, however. Not only has he been certified by the American Farrier’s Association (AFA), but he has additionally earned a “therapeutic endorsement” from the AFA, meaning he has advanced skills to correct lameness problems using special types of shoes. He has further credentials as an associate of Great Britain’s Worshipful Company of Farriers.

Sermersheim has twice been named AFA’s Clinician of the Year, has served eight times as an official farrier at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, and has been a supervisor for the official farriers at the World Equestrian Games.

Shoeing a Horse

“We shoe horses for three reasons: protection, traction, and correction,” Sermersheim says. “Protection from injuring the hoof, traction to avoid falling, and correction to modify any deformity of the hoof.”

horseshoe coming out of a forge
A glowing hot horseshoe is pulled from a forge at the university’s Midwest Equine practice in Farmer City. In the photo at the top of the page, a smouldering shoe is applied to the front left leg of a horse.

Although most horses are regularly shod, not all horses must be. Some horses do just fine without shoes.

The process of shoeing a horse typically starts with evaluating the horse’s hoof balance. Farriers make their assessment by watching the horse move at a walking pace and at a faster pace.

“After watching the horse move, I will examine the horse up close by looking at the hoof itself,” Sermersheim says. To do this, a well-behaved horse can be tied to a stall or in stalks. If the horse is less calm, another person can help hold the horse still. In some cases, a veterinarian is needed to sedate the horse for a better exam. The farrier will safely position themselves to hold the horse’s limb between their legs to examine the underside of the hoof.

Preparing the Hoof

“While looking at the underside, I can determine the excessive growth of the outer portion of the hoof, and better evaluate the sole of the foot,” Sermersheim explains, “I can also see the shape of the hoof to determine what shoe will fit best.” It is important for the horse’s comfort to be fitted with an appropriate shoe. If the shoe is ill-fitted, the horse will not be able to walk around like normal and its athletic performance may be impacted.

Before a new shoe can be placed, the hoof itself must be the correct length. This is done with a variety of tools that wear down the excessive growth of the hoof.

“We have hoof knives, nippers, rasps, and various hammers,” Sermersheim says. These tools allow the farrier to properly trim the hoof down to a more natural length, making walking easier and more comfortable for the horse.

Choosing the Right Shoe

“Many companies sell machine-made horseshoes,” Sermersheim says, “while many farriers make their own.” The type of shoe a horse needs depends on what the horse’s job is, what substance it walks or works on, and the shape of its foot. Horseshoes come in a variety of materials such as steel, aluminum, plastic, rubber, and wood. According to Sermersheim, the most common material of horseshoes is steel or aluminum.

Once the exam is completed and the correct shoe is selected, the shoe is safely burned or seared on to the hoof and often nailed in place through that same hoof wall. Although this sounds like it would be painful to the horse, it is not. The outer section of the hoof, the hoof wall, does not contain any nerve endings and therefore feels no pain.

Every horse is different, but most horses will need a visit from a farrier every 4 to 6 weeks. This length of time is determined by the way the hoof grows and the wear on their shoes.

“The biggest benefit of having a farrier shoe a horse is to keep the horse sound,” Sermersheim says. A sound horse is one that has no issues with lameness or discomfort. Lameness is one of the most common reasons that horses are no longer able to do their job, whether that job is on a farm, on a racetrack, or in a show ring. Shoeing horses helps keep horses in business.

If you have questions about shoeing your horse, contact your local veterinarian.

By Beth Mueller

Photos by Darrell Hoemann