Saturday, August 9, 2008

Natural Balance Horseshoes = are they Nike Airs?

If there's one thing I really believe in when it comes to horse health, it's spending money on the hooves. Like the commercial says, you've got a lot riding on your tires - I figure with a horse, it's all riding on those tough toes. So I've always shelled out a little extra for a good farrier.

Recently I changed farriers, mostly because the one I was using lived pretty far out and with gas prices I needed to get on with a farrier on this side of town. Through a crazy set of calls and connections, I found Donnie Walker.

Donnie has been shoeing horses since he was in high school, and kept it up through several careers. Now he specializes in lame horses and uses something called natural balance shoeing.

Apparently there's a great deal of debate about whether natural balance is better than other forms of shoeing. I'm too much of a newbie to speak to it other than what I've experienced now that Canyon is in these new shoes.

One thing I noticed immediately. Instead of landing on the "toe" part of his hoof, Canyon is now landing flat. Try this: watch your horse at a brisk walk. Follow a hoof. What hits first? Ideally they should land on their heel, or at least flat. Otherwise it's a similar feeling to you landing toe first, your toes slamming into the toe box of your shoe over and over. As a result of this improved landing, he is riding much smoother.

But one thing that is probably helping that is he's now wearing a special wedge shoe for a dropped heel.

Donnie pointed out that Canyon had one shoulder more developed than the other, something someone had mentioned before when I was fitting him for a saddle. The he showed me his alignment. I could see the difference most clearly in his knee, one was nearly 3/4 of an inch lower than the other. Dropped heels are pretty common in horses, and can be a precursor to more serious problems. Or not. Just depends. But given some sensitivity Canyon was showing (see #2 below) I suspect it was beginning to be a problem. So now he's in one platform shoe.

Here's what I've noticed since Canyon's been in his Nike Airs:

1. No more stumbling. Canyon was just stumbling for no reason, and it was getting worse. Now he doesn't. He went from awkward to stable (pun intended).

2. He doesn't fret when I pick up his right rear hoof. He was starting to resist after being really good at picking up all four. Donnie said alway think of your horse's hooves on a diagonal. If you are having trouble with the right rear, check the left front. Sure enough, that happens to be the one on Canyon with the dropped heel. I had never found a rock in it, or anything else to explain why it was bothering him, but now I wonder if it was starting to get sore.

3. It's much easier to pick out his hooves, but I think that's probably more about the quality of the trim.

4. No clicking. If your horse clicks or overextends, it's the shoeing. At least that's what I've been told.

Natural shoeing is not much more expensive than regular shoeing. In my opinion it's a lot cheaper than a lame or hurting horse.

Of course if you aren't riding on limestone all day, I'm told barefoot is best. Still some horses seem tender footed even when they've made the transition to being barefoot. We're pretty rocky in our area, so that may be why.

Special thanks to my hoof photographer, Mireya Brisa, pictured here with the ever flexible and tolerate barn cat, Chester.

BTW, here's a cool illustration of what your horse's hooves should look like properly trimmed.


GNH said...

Interesting post. I think I might try this. A lady at the ranch where I board my horses was having "problems" riding her horse, and she was riding him with spurs. She ended up putting shoes on him and now she says he rides like a dream. My paint horse Henry has often given the appearance of being "stubborn" but I actually think he needs shoes, so I am going to look into getting natural balance horseshoes if I can find someone who does that in my area.

Sherrie Zabinski said...

I am glad your horse has improved some. But, shoeing itself, not matter what the shoe, is very harmful for your horse. Horses should come down heel first always. Not toe or flat, heel first, just like we do. When you put a shoe on your horses feet it numbs their feet. Puts their feet to sleep. It stops the blood flow, stops the foot from flexing which cause so many pathologies, IE: contracted heels, navicular, laminitis just to name a few of the very serious aliments horses endure because of a nailed on shoe. Try barefooted and boots. You will have a much happier horse when he can actually feel his feet when he is walking.

Collin Kimple said...

If horseshoes really numbed horses feet my job would be pretty easy because just the act of nailing on a shoe would make a horse sound lol. I don't know if that is a fact founded on science...i will agree that shoeing limits some of the natural function of the hoof this is a given. At the end of the day the natural balance shoes aren't a bad shoe for some horses, they are only as good as the farrier applying them whether a NBS shoe, traditional shoe or trimming and "booting." The main thing is your farrier found a formula for success for your horse where everyone is happy, and that i think is what we all strive to achieve.