Typical thoroughbred feet

The well known saying `No foot, no horse’ is especially true for the thoroughbred. However, I often hear people say “typical thoroughbred feet” and always leap to the breed’s defense…

Most of the lameness I see at HEROS Charity when horses come to us after a career in racing, has little to do with conformation and everything to do with how the horse’s feet have been managed.

Indeed, I can honestly say that most lameness is attributable to poor foot balance; to flat feet; feet with no heel support, which puts extreme pressure on the tendons, and to feet that are too long causing heels to collapse. And all this despite – or perhaps because of – horses in training having their shoes changed many times in a month whilst they’re in training and because the focus is elsewhere. Horses occasionally have stick-on shoes whilst in training and these also take their toll. But shod correctly, a thoroughbred will have good feet for a lifetime.

So what else can we do to reduce the damage and prevent lameness in later life? How do we ensure that thoroughbred toes are kept short and their heels have support? I feel passionately about this because it’s one of the commonest reasons for breakdown in the relationship that ex-racehorses make with their new owners. Feet have often become unbalanced and out of control and they commonly need urgent attention.

In my opinion many farriers do not generally have sufficient experience of shoeing thoroughbreds. At the same ti me, it can be difficult for the relatively inexperienced or small-scale domestic owner to make suggestions or challenge their farrier. It is certainly much easier for us at HEROS Charity, based as we are at North Farm stud, with a significant volume of horses.

We can work much more closely with the farrier to develop an individual needs-based shoeing plan for each horse.

What can you do?

Of course, there are the basics of good practice. For example, you should always remember to look after your thoroughbred’s feet by washing off  the mud in the winter and picking out his feet daily. But I can’t stress enough how important it is that you shoe your thoroughbred horse regularly. For me, four weeks is about as long an interval as we would allow. The whole point of maintaining good foot balance is to shoe the horse by how much the foot has grown – and NOT by whether the shoes are worn. Ideally, four to five weeks and no longer is best.

Secondly, if you know your horse’s feet, then you’ll be in a much stronger position to have a conversation with the farrier. When you first get a thoroughbred, ask someone to walk him away and back in a straight line. Make sure his head is straight. Concentrate on his feet and look to see which way they turn: in or out in front and behind. How does the foot hit the ground? Is it level? Would it be level if one side or the other were dropped? Does a foot turn out behind? Are the shoes more worn on one side?

Thirdly, and in the early days if possible, it’s a good idea to gradually get your horse’s shoes off in the summer whilst at grass and resting. You can have their feet trimmed every four weeks and, in this way, the feet can be properly balanced. It’s also a good idea to treat the feet on a daily basis with a hardener such as Keratex Hoof Hardener.

If the horse can cope and you can leave the shoes off  until the nail holes have grown out, the quality of the horn will improve and you will be in a much better place to start a programme of treatment and care; once the hoof is hard, a daily treatment with a foot moisturising agent will also be helpful.

Lastly, look at the feet of other horses in your local livery yard. Get an idea about how the different farriers approach the challenge of shoeing. Ask them whether they have any experience of thoroughbreds because I know that this is not taught to any great extent at college.

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