Trimming Or Shoeing A Mountain HorseBy Jeffrey Rolo
One of the most common questions among new Mountain Horse owners when I was breeding and selling them was, "How does one trim or shoe a Mountain Horse?" This is an important question - it is vital a Mountain Horse be shod correctly, otherwise the horse's gait and/or leg health can be harmed. Many breeders and blacksmiths have differing opinions as to what the "magic formula" concerning angles and shoeing is. So what is the true magic formula? There is none!
My philosophy concerning shoeing a Mountain Horse is the same as my philosophy about horses as a whole - keep it natural! Every Mountain Horse has a different gait and conformation; what works for one may not work for another. The common belief among many Mountain Horse owners is a horse's feet should be angled four degrees higher in the rear, with the angles being about 50 degrees front, 54 degrees rear. This is true for a good portion of Mountain Horses, but this type of placement can actually harm others. So let's dismiss commonly held beliefs and just get down to the basics.
The approximate range you are looking for in the hooves' angles are between 48 to 56 degrees, with 48 being a good minimum angle. The difference in angle degrees from the front hooves and back hooves will vary, depending on the horse, so dismiss any "4 degrees higher for the rear" or other similar theories. One size does not fit all.
When your horse comes in, if he gaits well have your blacksmith measure the angles. That is the range you should be working with, as long as the minimum angle on the feet are 48 degrees. For example, let's say a horse comes to my place gaiting like the wind and his angles are 45 degrees front, 52 degrees rear. This shows me with a 7-degree higher angle in the rear the horse is in prime gaiting form, so for this fellow I should keep his degree range as it presently is. But, 45 degrees is a bit low and can place harmful stress on the horse's joints should he gait with such an angle for an extended period of time. My answer to this will be to change his front angles to 48 degrees while maintaining the 7-degree range the horse is already comfortable with, so since I am adding 3 degrees to the front hooves I will also add 3 degrees to the rear angles. In summary, since the horse gaited well at 45/52, I will change his angles to 48/55 to place his lowest angle at 48 or higher.
If your horse comes in with 48/52 or any other angle ranges where the minimum angle was 48 degrees, chances are you should keep that range exactly as it presently is. If your horse comes in gaiting well with equal angles on all four feet, keep them that way. Don't feel there must be a specific angle variance from front to rear.
The hoof walls should be balanced, especially if your horse is younger than 18 months of age. If your horse is an adult and you find he wears his hooves drastically to either side, be extra careful about trying to "fix" the problem. By the time a horse is 18 months old, their bones have set and thus if you rework his hooves to balance the outer edge of the hoof wall with the inner edge you can actually place harmful stress on his bones and joints. It's a judgement call, but basically if your horse is a baby, try and ensure the hoof walls are always balanced. If your horse is an adult and it's only a case of minor excess wearing to either side of the hoof wall, you can balance them. If the wear is significant, proceed with caution.
The above assumes you have a horse that is gaiting well. Now let's look at what should be done if your horse is not gaiting as well as he should.
If your horse comes in and tends to trot rather than gait, lower his hind feet angles. Also be aware that trotting isn't always caused by the angles - there is less work involved for your horse when he trots rather than gaits, so sometimes he will attempt to be lazy and go the easier route. But if you have an ambitious horse that is actually having difficulties gaiting and not just attempting to take the easy route, lowering his hind angles can help.
If you find that your horse tends to pace rather than gait, consider lowering his front angles. As with trotting, pacing is easier for the horse than gaiting, so sometimes they will attempt to "fudge" their way through the ride by pacing. But if your horse is really having a problem gaiting instead of pacing, lowering his front angles can help.
Sometimes, in extreme cases of a horse not being capable of gaiting well (or at all), it is best to just square their feet up completely (same angles on all four hooves) and go from there.
Although I generally prefer natural feet to shoeing, if your trails are particularly punishing or your horse's hooves are not accustomed to riding barefoot, consider shoeing him before extended road or trail work. If the heels of the horse's hooves wear away too much, once again they'll have difficulty gaiting.
Hopefully the above will give you a general idea of how a mountain horse should be shod. As long as you keep the philosophy - "keep them natural" - in your mind when trimming or shoeing your horses, you shouldn't have any problems.