May 132012

The Negative Effects of Shoeing : Catherine Cooper Lic Ac Tcvm

Today,  there is a lot of evidence to prove the negative effects of shoeing horses.

Does your horse go suddenly lame (fracture lame) after doing a piece of work.

Is he suffering with splints.

Has your horse developed Suspensory Desmitis/Ligament Branch Injuries.

Sore Shins

Back Problems

The list is endless !!

Diagnosing Feet Problems

After many years of extensive examination of horses, the diagnostics through Acupuncture have been conclusive that horses are experiencing considerable pain in their feet.  There are no significant obvious signs or symptoms,  the horses feet appear normal.  Although this  is not the case to the professionally trained individual.  The heels are contracting, toe is too long,  the frog is necrotic etc.  I have treated these problem by increasing circulation and relieving pain through the diagnosis and treatment of Bartonella which is too in itself one of the main contributing cause due to lack of microcirculation, using specific and specialized herbal medicine and proper balanced nutrition. It was evident to me that most of these horses regardless of their discipline, were suffering from a low grade or worse laminitis, inflammation, chronic subsolar abscessing , calcification and or navicular syndrome.

This in turn creates compensatory lameness , including suspensory desmitis, splints, back pain and sacroiliac problems, jarring, etc..  These symptoms also became more evident as a result of ongoing feet problems, and although the horses at the early onset were showing no obvious  lameness, but all were diagnostically conclusive that intermediate damage was apparent.

In a given time, due to ongoing compensation from  foot pain,  all of these horses were eventually diagnosed with acute or chronic injuries by our Veterinarians.  As I have spent my whole career dedicated to treating or preventing all of the above conditions and having  results. It has to be stated that if one does not treat the underlying cause,  if  symptomatic or not, then it is evident to me that the treatments are short lived and it really is a waste of time in trying to achieve permanent results.  I do believe 95% of all lameness begin in the feet. “No hoof no horse” is indeed very true.


At one time, it may have been hard to prove the negative effects of shoeing,  but today, there is no longer any doubt.  Advancements in science now allows  us to see things the human eye is incapable of viewing.  We can also measure forces using instruments that leave little doubt as to the facts of the matter. The high speed videos of a trotting horse landing barefoot, and landing shod are real eye openers.  Seeing it just once you will not be able to look at shoeing the same again.  Imagine the effects of years of such concussive forces.

How do we know that shoes reduce circulation in the horse’s feet and legs?  There’s a very simple way to tell.  Feel the legs of a shod horse.  They will be cold – in many cases icy cold.  And we are taught that this is a good thing!  Now take the shoes off that very horse and feel his legs a while later.  They will be warm.  As they should be!  Aside from common sense however, thermography has clearly shown that shod feet result in cooler legs.  Coolness caused by lack of circulation.

Not only do shoes reduce circulation they also prevent the hoof  from expanding during motion. The functions of the foot in regards to energy dissipation,  the  Laminar attachments between the hoof wall and P3 (the distal phalanx  or coffin bone)  and the digital cushion – along with the respective ligamentous connective tissues have all been mentioned  as having potentially significant roles  in the anti-concussive mechanisms of the foot. Basically it is to allow the foot to expand and withstand the concussive forces of weight bearing and movement.

Dr Robert Boker DVM  PhD. states through documented research that high transient energy forces within the horses foot are dissipated via the rapid movement and  flow of blood through an extensive and tortuous vascular network of small caliber veno-venous anastamoses present within the cartilages and other strategtic regions within tissue of the equine foot. This hemodynamic flow hypothesis relies upon the biomechanical principles of hydraulic  fluid theory as it relates to the impedence (resistance) of such fluid movement that develops when it is forced to flow through small vessels. Furthermore the efficiency of this mechanism is dependant upon the individual confirmation of the cartilages and structural composition of the horse’s digital cushion.

Any dysfunction in this hemodynamic flow mechanism may partially explain the insidous lameness conditions that develop during normal locomotion of the equine athlete. Such a disturbance will result in greater transient energies being subsequently transmitted to bone and other sensitive tissues within the digit rather being dissipated by this hemodynamic mechanism.

As the unshod hoof lands the weight of the horse descends on the bony column and into the hoof.  The back of the hoof expands as this occurs accommodating the descent of the coffin bone onto the digital cushion.  The digital cushion grows thick and tough, as does the frog, thus allowing a healthy hemodtnamic flow mechanism.

Shoes, however, are rigid and prevent the hoof from expanding and causing dysfunction to the hemodynamic flow mechanism.   A horse that is shod, non weight bearing and with  foot in contracted position, then shoe is aligned and nailed on to foot.  Once the foot is returned to standing position the foot cannot then expand to withstand the concussive forces which it was designed to do.

Since the coffin bone cannot descend normally the digital cushion doesn’t get the pressure/release necessary for health and it shrinks, as will the frog in many cases.  In addition the joints articulate differently.  Over time horses will begin to land toe first, go over at the knee, shorten in stride, which in turn puts extensive pressure on the ligaments and tendons. Stress and pain will be evident on palpation initially at the medial aspect of the Suspensory and medial splint bone apparatus,   heels will contract, circulation will diminish, necrosis will develop,  and after enough time the horse will develop any of the above mentioned compensatory injuries and in time will lead to symptoms of navicular and or laminitis.

Trimming and Balance

In order to have a robust hemo-dynamic mechanism present in the foot created either by breed predisposition or by enviromental stimulation, the hoof must be prepared properly by the farrier or veterinarian . He must align the hoof wall pillars with the cartilages to maximize such a dissipating system. If this is not done properly, as in the case of underrun heals, eventual lameness problems will probably ensue.

Once proper neurological and biochemical function is achieved in the distorted or diseased hoof, many lame horses return to soundness,  both physically and mentally. The traditional horseshoe cannot work to aid in this rehabilitation.

It is also important that younger and older horses should be trimmed regularly, every four weeks.  The proper trimming necessary  in younger and developing horses in order to have a good balance for the growing bones, ligament and tendonous structures.

If flares are present they have detrimental effects on the internal structures of the foot,  stretching the white line and giving rise to poor coffin bone suspension.  This can be  very painful,  and it’s like lifting really hard on your fingernail.   Bars also need to be trimmed regularly and left level with the sole and outer hoof wall, for balance. The frog needs to be healthy and spread across the foot and towards the bulbs, this in turn supplies good and adequate blood supply to the foot…


I do believe by educating people and making them more aware of the above conditions.  We can indeed address these problems, by treatment in eradicating all Bartonella bacterial stealth infection, natural and effective foot trimming and balancing, nutrional supplementation and a balanced diet for healthy hoof growth.

Naturally it may also be evident that some horses can indeed have conformation deformities, nutrition imbalances that may not allow them to perform without shoes,  although there are several alternative methods of shoeing  available today that can help these horses during the transition period to barefoot.

Yes, indeed one would ask .  How could I run my horse on slippery ground conditions without an accident occuring.  This is a question that can also be answered.  Horses with healthy, pain free feet, have more natural balance ,  better breakover and surefootedness,  normal head carriage.  I would also like to indicate that horses who have better head carriage will predominantely have less breathing problems. eg DDSP…


Yet another important factor is is mineral and vitamin deficiencies which are predominant today due to the over use of pesticides and fertiliser’s.  Our land for breeding and pastures for summer breaks for horses needing “Dr Grass”  is predominately insufficient in the required substances necessary. Our young stock have not the required mineral and vitamin balance needed to grow strong hoofs, cartilage and bone.. The older horses confined to stables should be given a balanced diet  both nutritionally and nutraceutically.  We all need to actively pay attention to this problem by assuring adequate nutrition and supplementation if necessary.

If you have the interest and time to read into The Hemodynamic Flow Hypothesis  for energy dissipation of the Equine Foot by Robert M. Boker VMB PhD.  in further research done into the structures anatomy, Physiological studies of the foot’s vascular (blood system) I have attached a direct link below..


Yes you readers may be asking the question? What evidence is there that barefoot horses perform better, have less injuries. It is well documented that historically shoeing weakens the foot and causes hoof deformatity,  and the hard evidence is there. Can we convince our farriers to change tactics, to study more indept the detrimental anatomical changes taking place within the structures of the foot due to improper trimming and the use of shoes. Can they move forward into  21st centuary studies and research that has been done and proven to date.

Simon Earl racehorse trainer in the UK,  has the majority of his racehorses  running and performing extremely well barefoot.

Interesting Reading

  • NEW! ……Dr. Bowker’s Theory of Hemodynamics.
  • Thermographic Study of the Hoof (from EasyCare)
  • We here at Copperfield Equine Therapy now have  Dermot McCourt a registered Master Farrier, a remedial equine Podiatrist,  he has worked and trained in Saudi Arabia and also with several AANHCP practitioners in the United States. He started work with traditional farrier methods, but his career developed to working with severe foot problems – correcting damage to return horses to being sound.  He can trim and educate you on the condition of your horses feet, make necessary changes for the well being of your horse, and increase dramatically their performance…
  • For further information, and treatment,  or if you are concerned about your horses feet, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
  • Catherine Cooper Lic Ac Tcvm +353872654269