Proper Shoeing with Standardbred Racehorses

Proper Shoeing with Standardbred Racehorses

Just as with people, each Standardbred horse is a unique individual, coming in different sizes, shapes, and colors. And, like people, most all go about their daily functions, either training or racing, wearing some type of footwear.

The importance of hoof care

In Standardbred racing, the shoeing of a racehorse, in many trainers' eyes, is the key to a sound animal. In years past, many trainers shod their horses themselves, and a few still do today. Many trainers rely on the blacksmiths that have shops on the backstretches of raceways throughout North America.

Hoof wear is greater when driving on hard, rocky ground or in high humidity. In the latter case, the cornea of ??the hooves grows softer and wears out faster. This is why horses born in hot, dry climates that favor the growth of hard horns can often do a significant amount of work barefoot without any painful consequences.

In principle, shoeing racehorses is a necessary measure to protect the hooves from damage. The need for shoeing appeared when people began to use the horse for their own purposes. Indeed, in nature, a wild horse walks where it is more convenient and safer for it, can fall somewhere, it can break only in exceptional cases, when it escapes from predators by flight, without making out the road. Of course, a horse's hoof is not made to drive nails into.

If the horse's hooves are in good condition and there is an opportunity not to forge, then it is better to let the horse walk barefoot. But it all depends on the specific conditions, on how, on what ground, with what load the horse works.

Aspects of Proper Racehorse Shoes

A trainer will consider two factors when having his horse shod: the length of the toe and the angle of the hoof. The angle is determined by the length of the toe and the height of the heel, measured on a foot that is level on the ground. A blacksmith will use a tool known as a foot (hoof) level to determine a horse's angle. The natural angle of a horse's foot is mainly dependent upon the confirmation of the animal. A trainer will then have the blacksmith either raise or lower this angle to accomplish a specific purpose in regards to balance and gait.

The trotter

Let's begin with a trotter. An ideal trotter wears a 3 and 1/2-inch toe and a 48-degree angle in front, and a 3 and 1/4 inch toe and 54-degree angle in his hind feet. Typically, this is the exception, not the rule, as it is very difficult to find a "near-perfect" trotter or one that doesn't interfere somewhere. So there will probably be variance on those numbers, but for our purposes, we will use these as an example. Some trotters will wear a much longer toe, but most trainers prefer their trotters to go with as short a toe as possible in front since a longer toe puts more strain on muscles, ligaments, and bones, thus leading to a possible unsoundness. Also, the shorter the toe, the less likelihood of interference with the hind leg.

Why is the length of the toe important here? Because it affects the balance of a horse and determines whether the horse might interfere or not. A longer toe will tend to help steady a trotter in some cases, and oftentimes, by increasing the length of the toe as little as an eighth of an inch, a trainer can sometimes overcome a problem and helped the horse establish better balance.

Obviously, you can change the length of a horse's toe simply by either rasping it away or by cutting it off with a pair of nippers (Blacksmith tools). You also will affect the angle at this time. A blacksmith will use a tool known as a caliper to measure the length of the toe and will adjust the foot according to the trainer's instructions by using a rasp and nippers. If the trainer wants to raise the angle of a hoof, he will have the blacksmith cut down the toe, and leave the heel alone. Conversely, by cutting the heel and leaving the toe alone, you would lower the angle.

The Pacer

Let's examine a pacer now. The ideal pacer would wear a 3 and 1/4-inch toe and 50-degree angle in front, with a 3 and 1/8-inch toe and 54-degree angle behind. Let's say he's a horse that goes very high in front, in other words, he picks up his feet very high with a kind of up and down motion. So high, in fact, that he hits the underside of his hobbles. In this case, a trainer might lower his heels in front, which would cause him to stride out longer, thus missing tapping his hobbles.

There are so many variances on shoeing and balancing and there are countless volumes on the subject. What I have tried to do here is give a small overview of the basics of shoeing for the average fan of harness racing. Now let's take a look at some of the shoes that trotters and pacers can wear.

Horses can wear either steel or aluminum shoes, and there are always new shoes on the market, such as plastic or glue-on types which are used in certain cases. As with lengths of toes and angles, there is an exception to every rule, but we will try to examine the most common of shoes in this column.

There are three basic types of shoes that are worn by trotters and pacers:

  • half-round,
  • swedge
  • flat shoes.

These vary in thickness, width, and weight. The half-round shoe is flat on the side that adheres to the hoof, and the part which strikes the racetrack is rounded. A swedge shoe has a crease in it, which can either extend half-way around the shoe or all the way around it, on the surface which strikes the track. A flat shoe is just what it says, a flat surface, although it usually has a "calk" or "grab" attached to it, to help the horse grab the racing surface.

The weight of the shoe is determined by the width and thickness, and by the size of the horse's foot. In most cases, a shoe for a pacer usually weighs an ounce or two less than the same shoe on a trotter because the pacer generally goes with a shorter toe and thus it takes less to shoe to go around his hoof. As stated before, aluminum shoes are used, but generally not as much as steel shoes. They too can be half-round or swedged. Their big advantage is that they are much lighter than steel shoes.

"Bar" shoes are used often as well, and especially on horses with "quarter cracks" or other hoof problems. There are numerous variations on all types of shoes, and combinations are created by blacksmiths and trainers to help either correct an interference or confirmation defect.

The main purpose of shoeing a Standardbred race horse is to ensure that all four hooves are level when they make contact with the ground, to help a horse race to his optimum speed. A horse whose foot is not hitting the racetrack surface absolutely level is a prime candidate for lameness. If he hits on the outside or the inside of his foot, all his weight is being jammed into that one area instead of being distributed evenly over the entire surface of the foot. This constant pounding of training and racing miles is hard enough on a level foot but is especially harsh on one that is hitting on one side or another.

By checking the horse's shoes on a daily basis, the trainer can decipher whether or not his equine athlete is traveling on level-shod hooves, and make any changes accordingly to help the horse travel more naturally.

Basic principles of hoof care

The development and formation of the hoof have been studied by scientists in sufficient detail, and in particular, it was found that hoof defects are rarely congenital. Horses rarely experience hoof problems in nature, as they have strong hoof horns, thick soles, and an extremely well-developed hoof pad. So the main part of the problems for horses in stables is mainly associated with improper and incompetent grooming, as well as illiterate shoeing. Below are the main points to look out for when keeping a horse.

This should be noted

Farmers must closely monitor the health of their cows' hooves in order to recognize problems in time. A good time for a daily hoof inspection is when the cows are milking.

Systematic hoof care, whether carried out by yourself or by a specialist, will definitely improve hoof health. A common practice on many farms is functional hoof treatment every five months.

Some experts, such as Dr. Hans-Peter Klindward of the German Livestock Health Service in Lower Saxony, recommend trimming the hooves every four months because, after three to four months after the next treatment, the newly regrown horn is strongly interfering with the sole. Especially on farms with rubber flooring, there is poor wear of the hoof horn, therefore, on such farms, frequent hoof trimming is necessary.

In practice, however, trimming hooves three times a year is not the rule. Hoof care professionals say the current rate is about five times every two years, but with a growing trend. Good specialists process 75 - 100 heads per day.

In addition to regular hoof processing, daily cleaning of the floor from manure should be carried out, as it ensures a dry and clean floor and stops the process of infection multiplication. Cows lie on soft and dry bedding with pleasure, while reducing the load on the hooves. In addition, while the cow is resting, the hooves have time to dry well.

Many dairy farms use savannas for hooves to cleanse and strengthen the hoof horn. But the effect of foot baths is a controversial issue, since the contact time of the hoof horn with the solution when passing through the bath is not enough to achieve the desired result.

Cracked hoof treatment

Correct trimming and correct hammering are very important. The conditions in which the horse works, the quality of the soil are of great importance. However, it happens that a horse is anatomically, in the shape of its hoof, prone to cracks. However, the most common cause is improper shoeing and improper use of the horse. If, for example, you ride a barefoot horse over bricks, it will unsuccessfully put its leg - here's a crack.

On rough roads and rough terrain, this is not the case. An improperly shod hoof can be skewed, and this is an incorrect distribution of the load, which can also provoke a crack - the horse has a lot of weight. The cracks themselves are quite amenable to treatment: they can, for example, be riveted.

Сhoose a professional blacksmith

The term “blacksmith” primarily means a professional blacksmith who is competently engaged in horseshoeing and making horseshoes. An unskilled and untrained farrier with no knowledge of the structure of the hooves, and not knowing how to trim them correctly, is likely to do more harm than good to the horse.

A horse with diseased hooves is completely inoperable, and therefore a blacksmith is still a doctor in a sense. Shoeing a horse correctly is not just nailing the horseshoes firmly, but above all carefully treating the hooves themselves. The cornea is constantly growing, and the metal horseshoe nailed to it prevents its natural wear, as it happens with a barefoot horse. On average, hooves grow 5-9 mm per month and need to be filed every four or five weeks. If the old horseshoes have not had time to wear out, they can be adjusted again - such horseshoes are called "rearranged".

An experienced forge fulfills a number of requirements:

  1. A competent blacksmith adjusts the shoe to the hoof, and not vice versa. The new horseshoe should fit snugly on the hoof, with the minimal protrusion on the outside.
  2. The farrier spares the hoof, more than necessary, does not cut (but mistakes happen to everyone). A good farrier will always explain to you what he is doing - do not hesitate to ask questions.
  3. He selects high-quality materials (horseshoes, nails), takes a horseshoe of the right size, and does not fit the first one that comes across. When attached, the nails (uhnali) come out at a height of one-third of the hoof. The lambs are closed neatly.

The work of a blacksmith requires a lot of skill. He must be able to file the hooves and hammer nails into their insensitive part with great precision. One miss and the horse can go limp. In addition, the farrier's responsibilities include more than the routine filing of hooves and nailing horseshoes. He often has to solve complex medical problems that require detailed knowledge of the anatomy of the horse's limbs, including the structure of bones, joints, muscles, vascular and nervous systems.


Art Aronson is a tenured bottom-line professional sports handicapper. He is the best ROI handicapper in the business. He is not your typical handicapper.

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