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Protective Shoeing,

What it is, and how it can protect your horse from lameness
by Graeme Burt, D.W.C.F, farrier.

Guaranteed soundness!

Does your horse suffer with lameness, regular abscesses, collapsed heels or mysterious caudal foot pain?
Or have brittle or 'shelley' feet?
  Horn Destruction 1Horn Destruction 3 Horn Destruction 3
Maybe shoes are always coming loose or being lost, like those pictured here on the first day I saw these horses feet.

Most of this damage is actually caused by the influence of the shoes on the feet, but it needn't be.

Some horses cannot cope with barefoot and need shoes, but find after a while they then have problems because of the shoes.

This paradox is because shoes actually encourage a different kind of damage from their first day on the feet, by helping the destructive forces of mud, moisture and bacteria to soften and infect areas hidden beneath the shoes themselves, which will accelerate infection of the white line, nail holes and supporting structures, eventually causing pain, pus, collapse, and/or destroying the hoof wall in some horses.

Protective Shoeing eliminates the damaging conditions shoes can create, and restores growth of healthy horn while the shoes are on, without the need to go barefoot.

Protective Shoeing means putting a specially designed, safe, very low temperature modern liquid thermo-plastic between the shoe and the foot that displaces any mud. It is flexible, concussion absorbing and weight bearing. It can be used alongside any kind of shoe, hoof cast or pad. It rejects mud and water, and is the same hardness as the foot, with very similar properties. To your horse, it just feels like a very comfortable part of his own foot.

A simple portable manual injector sytem is used to deliver the plastic prior to the shoes being nailed on.
The horse is then encouraged to compress the plastic by standing on it while it is still a liquid.  That has the effect of completely levelling the plastic across as wide an area as possible, sealing all the gaps and spreading the weight bearing - in a lot of cases it actually DOUBLES the load area.
Twice the load area means only half the stress, and half the concussion. Mud cannot enter as there is no space for it.  Two or three minutes, and the thermoplastic is ready for use.

Its like your horse having pads that suit him/her individually and fit perfectly, protecting their feet from the ingress of dirt, bacteria and infection.

By denying moisture entry, it also helps prevent bacteria multiplying and destroying the wall beneath the nails, or eating into the horn causing abscesses.
This means more healthy horn is created than is damaged, and the feet will actually repair themselves, just as they do when barefoot - but without exposing soft feet to the harshness of rocky uneven terrain. No need for a 'barefoot induction period'. Feet repair as the horse keeps working.
The amount of abscesses and lamenesses reduce dramatically because the hoof is now able to protect as nature intended.
Feet dont shatter, and shoes dont come loose.


You can ride immediately after shoeing, go competing, turn him out, whatever.  Competing horses that need to be kept fit are not laid off through unexplained lameness. Thermoplastic is resilient enough to support and withstand competition, field mud, riding of any description, without displacement, for six weeks.

All of the feet pictured above were totally repaired, rebalanced and rebuilt with Protective Shoeing.
Yes these are the same feet as those above, the same horses, just a few months later. Protect them from damage and healthy growth will return,
as will balance, support and confidence, without the need to go barefoot or have special shoes.

The advantages of barefoot coupled with the advantages of shoeing, with the drawbacks of both minimised.

Hi, my name is Graeme, I am a registered farrier of 30 years experience working in South East England.
Welcome to my website.

As a working farrier I have always questioned why certain horses feet deteriorate with shoes on, despite the fact that the shoes were comfortable and the feet carefully balanced on the day the shoes were applied.
Such questions have led me to conduct a study of how horseshoes can actually harm horses feet, and how they can easily encourage what I call natural hoof destruction, how that hoof destruction works, why, and how to help prevent it, ultimately leading to the creation of this website, which I hope will help both farriers and horseowners alike.

Veterinary and farriery industry professionals all agree that one o the primary reasons for lameness in horses is deformation of the hoof capsule, and primarily stretching and twisting of the hoof wall, resulting in unbalanced stresses being transmitted to the bones within and above the hoof.

The majority of those professionals are agreed on the need for rebalancing to aid the recovery of hoof position to the proper functions, however, there has been almost nothing written about the ways in which the hoof wall becomes imbalanced, damaged or stretched in the first place. Surely prevention is better than cure?

Horses are not born with infected or broken up feet, stretched toes or collapsed heels, so why do they become so?

Very little is written about the response of horn to its environment which is in my opinion the primary cause of horn destruction. Even less is written about preventing the horn becoming stretched, twisted, damaged or deformed in the first place.  The phrase "Your horse just has bad feet. Theres nothing I can do about it" is the most frustrating and incorrect statement I have heard. "Surely it is part of the farrier's job to do something about bad feet", is my response.

Horseshoeing plays its part in the problem

The problem with all horseshoes is that they have an in-built design flaw that barefoot horses feet dont suffer from.
This is why, of late, many horseowners have become disillusioned with farriery, and opted to leave their horses barefoot. So why does barefoot work where shoes do not?

I have found, in my study of the destruction of the horses hoof, and why it happens, that the most important aspect to horseshoeing is the environment horseshoes create in the vulnerable areas of the white line and underwall between the shoe and the foot.

To put it another way, this is the area underneath the shoes, which horseowners cannot get at, and consequently you cannot keep it clean. Mud, dirt, faeces, urine and festering wet quickly gets under the shoes most likely on the first day the horse is shod, and because there is no air circulation, and sunlight cannot get in, it remains there throughout the whole period of the shoeing.

All organic materials have three distinct phases. There's creation, a phase of useful life, then destruction. The problem with horses feet is that the destructive phase is sometimes accelerated to the point where it happens much too soon. To put it simply, creation happens at the top of the foot and works its way down, but destruction comes from the bottom and works it way up - but if destruction accelerates beyond the lowest point of the sensitive structures or blood line, then a lame horse is the result.

Protective Shoeing is a way of ensuring that this does not happen, and the area under the shoes stays clean, healthy and supportive.

The problem with shoes is that they create a situation where two mating surfaces, the shoe and the foot, marry closely.
I hear most people say "thats how it should be", and that is true, but when two surfaces mate together closely it encourages a natural phenomenon called capillary action, between them.
I wont bore you with the science, but capillary action is a way that water is easily drawn into a very narrow space. The water "sticks" to both sides of the space, forming a water "bridge" between the surfaces. Water has a property which attracts it into such narrow gaps - and holds it there.

Moisture foot surface of shoe This photograph shows a shoe that has only just been taken off of the foot. This is the surface of the shoe that is against the foot, and we can see the moisture, mud and dirt that the capillary action has drawn in. This horse has been standing in this septic combination throughout the period of the shoeing, and the area beneath this shoe was completely blackened with infection.
Dont forget the horn is an organic substance, edible to certain organisms. Ask most dogs, they love eating it! It is therefore unsurprising to me that the horses feet suffer infections when they are constantly subjected to these conditions.
What makes this illustration so stark in its reality is that this particular horse had been on box rest for some weeks, meaning this mud had penetrated and lasted that time.

Just try putting mud and poo in your wellies and wearing them for six weeks at a get my drift.

It is by capillary action that tissue paper can draw water up into it on contact, even if the paper is out of and above the water.  The fibres of the tissue paper are close together but have narrow gaps between them which attract the water to stick to them, forming bridges between them and "sucking up" the water, and also any dirt or bacteria in the water. The gap between horses shoes and their feet is narrow and behaves in exactly the same way, "sucking in" the water, and any dirt or bacteria in it. This happens to all horses that have shoes on - except those with protection against it.

Infected foot And this is the foot that shoe came from.
I deliberately did not clean this foot before I took the shoe off as I wanted to demonstrate to the owner of this horse who was not present, the appalling stable management that he was being subjected to. As he was in the stable constantly, good management is vital.

Rubber beds are a great idea for horses but this picture demonstrates that it is very important when they are on them that adequate bedding should be used to completely protect the feet from infection and standing in faeces constantly.

Rubber has the drawback that it is waterproof, and urine and faeces will sit on top of it if bedding and drainage are inadequate. Where the horse stands his feet will create indents in the rubber into which moisture will run. The result is that he will constantly have his feet in liquid manure, as you can see this horse did.

Capillary action creates the perfect situation for moisture, mud and to be compressed in between the horseshoe and the foot which then becomes trapped there. Sunlight cannot get in, and there is little air circulation, so unlike bare feet, the feet remain constantly waterlogged and never dry, or at least, not until the farrier removes the shoes - after the destruction and damage has already occured.

It is as if the horse is standing constantly in a wet muddy puddle throughout the shoeing period, which encourages softening, stretching of the toe, expansion of the sides and collapse of the heels, and destructive bacteria to get up into sensitive areas causing lameness. Once warmer conditions arrive, like a sunny day, or spring weather, it warms the whole foot, creating wet and warm conditions beneath the shoe and inside the underwall - perfect for bacteria to multiply massively, and eat rapidly away at the strength, cohesion and support the horn is supposed to offer.

There are areas underneath the shoes where there are gaps, as the shoes are generally far wider than the wall they support.
These gaps rapidly fill with wet mud which encourages moisture and bacteria to destroy the horn surrounding them, and especially the horn where the nails are - the nails will conduct the moisture and bacteria up in to the underwall, where there is plenty of healthy nutritious horn to eat.  Ask your dog, he probably loves it!

It is very important that these weakening forces are minimised, and Protective Shoeing, along with careful management, keeps this destruction to an absolute minimum. The objective is to encourage more healthy horn to grow than is being destroyed which keeps your horse comfortable, sound and hopefully out of the clutches of the vet!

So join me while I try to explain how and why Protective Shoeing works, and simple precautions you as a horse owner can take to help your horse protect himself from discomfort and the horrible things pictured above!

Graeme Burt DWCF