When the Shoe Doesn’t Fit

By Martha Michael >>>

Anyone who has had podiatry issues knows how crucial the health of our feet really is. And walking in shoes that don’t fit properly or aren’t constructed well can cause a world of hurt.

The same is true in the equine world – they need the right shoes too. The experts in charge of the trimming and shoeing of horses’ hooves are called farriers.

Mikey Rogers of Acton is a farrier serving in and around the Santa Clarita Valley. “I started learning the trade five years ago with Jason Jacobs and have apprenticed under the best farriers I could find, from Southern California to Northern Arizona and back again,” Rogers said. “(I worked) under a few reining cow/cutting horse trainers as well.”

Rogers has numerous clients, who he keeps on a 6- to 8-week schedule.

“When I shoe a horse the first thing I do is look at the conformation of the horse, then find the natural angle and balance of the hoof, keeping the bone column aligned,” he explained. “This is very important to me, to keep everything aligned and keep the horse sound, comfortable and extending the useful life of a horse. … I do this by trimming the foot and putting new shoes on.”

At times, Rogers takes on clients whose horses’ hooves show signs that their previous farriers weren’t doing quality work. “It’s usually because the horse ends up sore; they’re trimming off too much foot, making the horse real tender,” he said. “Or the angles are off, which doesn’t always have a quick effect on the horse, but does make a horse more susceptible to tendon injury, arthritis, and bursitis, especially if the horses continue to be shod that way.”

Local rider Christy Keyes of Valencia has had a rough time when it comes to farriers. A lifelong horseback rider, she grew up in Santa Clarita, riding at Don-E-Brook Farms and even rode as a college student at New Mexico State University.

As a young adult, Keyes was boarding two horses – Dotty and Chex – at a ranch in Santa Clarita. Unfortunately, she hired a farrier who she believes was inexperienced.

“I don’t believe he had done a reining horse before, because although he talked a good talk, his work on Chex showed otherwise,” Keyes said.

But things went from bad to worse when she hired someone new.

“He was seemingly able to ‘trace the lines’ for about two shoeings, but then Chex came up lame,” she said. “I thought he was foundering, so I rushed him to the hospital, where they took X-rays of his hooves. The first X-rays showed an ever-so-slight (0.01) difference of the angle of his coffin bone from one front hoof to the other.”

It cost her $500 for medical treatment and bute, a pharmaceutical treatment for inflammation, and they told Keyes to hand walk Chex and start him jogging straight lines when he felt good enough again. But it happened two more times, each time three months apart.

“Then both of my horses went lame!” Keyes said. “I noticed both of my horses’ hooves deteriorating before my very eyes! They were splitting, chipping and cracking. The fourth set of X-rays showed each hoof angle on both horses to be so different!”

The vet explained it this way: “It’s comparable to standing on your toe on one foot and your heel on the other.”

When Keyes asked the farrier if her horses had developed white line disease, his reaction was less than professional. “It was scary! He said that he was intentionally using shoes too large for my horses, as if that’s okay!” Keyes said.

At this point, Keyes hired a new vet and a corrective farrier. Both horses are sound again, but she has frequent issues with her current farrier arriving late. “You take the good with the bad. His work is worth the wait,” she said. “My horses are sound.”

So, in total, Keyes paid $2,900 to the farrier, then $1,200 to a corrective farrier, plus $3,700 in vet bills.

“More importantly, both horses suffered unnecessary pain,” she added. “I’ve learned the hard way that this is why it’s so important to do your research, make sure the farrier has a good reputation, is educated in equine podiatry and comes recommended by a vet. They say, ‘No hooves, no horse.'”

Keyes is unhappy with the lack of regulation in the field, and has serious doubts about the level of instruction at many of the farrier schools.

“I strongly believe that accountability is something that the equine industry should evolve with, even if it starts as small as Yelp,” she said. “There are too many con artists in the field of farrier work. There should be some regulation other than the tiny world of ‘word-of-mouth.’ Farriers can also be the greatest scientists, healers and sometimes even replace your vet if they really know equine podiatry and have spent the time, just as any other skill, trade or mastery, studying and researching it inside and out.”

After her experience, Keyes has decided to use a corrective farrier who studies the science of equine podiatry.

“My horses are my family and it hurts me to see them hurting,” she said. “I do believe experience is invaluable with any trade, (but) shoeing is not just nailing shoes on a horse’s hoof. It’s a science, and people who want to shoe a horse are seeking a profession in a health field. We need to do our research as horse owners and not rely 100 percent on word-of-mouth.”