By Barry Denton, Arizona
If one more person brings me another lame horse that was allegedly shod in the “Natural Balance” fashion I’m going to tear my hair out. In my opinion this so called “Natural Balance “ shoeing has become one of the biggest plagues on our industry today. I can’t tell you how many horses have been brought to me shod with this method that are lame and immediately get better when you pull those square toed shoes off, relieve some sole pressure, trim the foot properly and nail a well made custom shoe back on. The only part of the industry where this method is still widely used seems to be with reiners and cowhorses. Why? I haven’t figured that out yet. As my favorite huckster P.T. Barnum used to say” There’s a sucker born every minute”.
Okay all you “thinking” people out there consider a few of my points. First of all the term “natural balance horseshoeing” is an oxymoron. What is “natural” about shoeing any horse? Webster’s New World Dictionary defines natural “as arising from nature, not artificial or manufactured.” Have you ever seen a horseshoe that wasn’t manufactured? I never have. The bottom line is that riding a horse is not natural either. Why do we shoe horses? Because we RIDE them. We shoe them for protection, correction , and traction. The human body adds extra substantial weight to the horse and horseshoes help the horse accommodate that extra weight. Next time you are watching your horseshoer trim a foot notice that the thickest part of the hoof wall is at the toe and the thinnest part is at the heel. What does that tell the average engineer? The thickest part of the hoof wall should bear the most weight. When you shoe every horse with a square toe, the part of the foot designed to be the most weight bearing is taken away from it. Now if you have bad conformation causing a foot flight problem the square toe is useful, but not on every horse. The “natural balance” argument to the best of my knowledge is that horses in pasture or wild horses that are barefoot naturally wear the toes off their feet which I agree with. There’s only one problem with this theory. Those horses are not carrying any extra weight or being asked to do spectacular movements at precise times. Did you know that the distance from the toe to the back of the foot helps determine the stride. Consider what happens when you apply the square toe and shorten that distance. The flight of the foot will be higher and shorter. What is natural about that?
The other point is that we humans have been shoeing horses for over 4000 years now. The process hasn’t changed much because it works. We do have better tools and technology to help us diagnose problems and make the farrier’s job easier. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always open to new methods and theories, but you have to prove to me that it works. When you do I’ll accept it. Now I don’t begrudge anyone trying to be entrepreneurial and hawking their wares, but I get sick and tired of seeing lame horses that don’t need to be. You have to realize that good horseshoeing helps keep horses sound over a prolonged period of time. If you get a bad horseshoeing job along the way some horses can still perform well in spite of it. However, bad horseshoeing over a prolonged period can lead to the demise of a horse’s performance and general well being. When your horse is being shod notice if he is getting fit with square toed shoes out of a box or being custom fit with shoes that are being forged to fit him. If you have trouble finding a good farrier contact the American Farriers Association in Lexington, KY. They will assist you in finding a qualified professional farrier in your area.