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SHOES OR BAREFOOT FOR DRESSAGE HORSES


Training Method Spreading

Dressage is a French term meaning "training," and in the horse world it is a method for teaching horses to be obedient, willing, supple and responsive to their riders, he notes. The object of dressage is the harmonious development of the horse in both mind and body, and every horse, regardless of its type or use, can benefit from this training. A lot of people think that dressage is used just for dressage horses, but it has spread to all other disciplines in some way or another.

Almost everything that is done in dressage is now done with other breeds and in other disciplines. And we see a lot of Andalusians, Arabians, some Quarter Horses, a lot of Thoroughbreds and many different horses in dressage events.

The training is very in-depth, and it'll work on every horse. When these horses are working right and are in sync with the rider, they're amazing animals. Proper trimming and shoeing must assist the performance of the horse and rider. The horses should freely submit to the riders' lightest signals while remaining balanced and energetic. They need to be disciplined, but they need to have that energetic look.

Growing Into Shoes

Dressage hoof-care techniques can vary with different levels of training. Young horses, especially European horses, are started at 3, 4 or 5 years old, after they've developed. The heavier-boned horses require more time to mature, so a lot of these horses are started without any shoes. In dressage trimming and shoeing you need to know what conformation faults a horse has so you can compensate for that. You have to help and encourage that horse to make the best of his ability with your trimming and your shoeing. Upper-level dressage horses often train 6 days a week and they go to a lot of functions where they are bathed every day. They're getting a very good balance of nutrients and plenty exercise so their feet grow quickly. These horses require regular foot care, and the owners and trainers at that level expect regular hoof care. Experienced dressage riders can detect the difference in their horses as the hooves grow and when they get to that fifth or sixth week, they'll call you to shoe or trim that horse.
In providing hoof care for dressage horses ninety percent of what you're doing is in the trim.

Farriers need to pay extra attention to the hind feet. If there's a problem with the horse, it's going to show up on the front end, but about 80 percent of the problems that are seen on the front end are secondary to the hind end. Check to see if each hind foot is centered because if it's too far one way or the other, it's going to affect the diagonal front first, and that starts a chain reaction. So put a lot of emphasis on looking at these horses laterally. Most of the time we're just perimeter fitting the feet.

Another common problem with dressage horses at all levels is trimmers taking off too much sole. Some dressage horses weigh 1,500 or 1,600 pounds. If you take a horse like that down to only 1/4 inch of sole it causes trouble. These horses need that sole as a base. It's the only way to get them off of bad walls and get the wall to grow, and to keep the bony column from moving inside the foot. The harder the surface and the more cupped the sole when the foot is bearing weight during lateral moves, the more the bone moves inside the foot, causing bruising.

What shoe to use

There is no magic shoe that will elevate a dressage horse to the next level of competition. Dressage horses who are shod need a steel shoe that's wide enough to carry that horse's weight. Typically use a wide-web steel shoe that is symmetrically fit on the front, with no bells or whistles.


The StCroix Eventer shoe.
A good all round dressage shoe.

Because Grand Prix arenas usually have computerized, underground watering systems, the consistency of arenas stays the same now, so you don't have to worry about going to a concave shoe, creasing a toe or putting in the right type of a calks.

In some regions of the country, there is a trend toward using heavy concave shoes on every horse. This causes the foot to stay on the ground longer, causing a longer, lower stride. Many trainers tell me that they can't always go with that shoe as they have to constantly push the horse up to get the horse to break over that toe.



Pads For Protection

Pads are another simple modification used in dressage shoeing. A pad is just something to replace sole that isn’t there to begin with. There are horses who have weak soles and need pads, but if you give them enough time you can hot fit these horses and trim them and balance them right and you can get them out of the pad.

For the upper-level horses showing on grass, pads are a hindrance because even if they are wearing calks the horses can hit rough spots, slip and get out of cadence. Still, pads are often a necessity for some dressage horses.



Careful With The Calks

The use of calks has changed in dressage. A few years ago, we were tapping the shoes of only the upper-level horses going on grass. But now, each week may mean a different kind of surface. Maybe it's on grass this weekend, on a crushed limestone base the next weekend and in a Grand Prix ring with a computer-controlled water system the week after that. That arena footing is the best in the world; it's always consistent and it fills the sole of the foot. Riders don't like aggressive calks on that surface. If the feet can't slide a bit, the concussion goes right to the joints.

Some horses use a medium calk only on the outside of the feet. The height of the calk is usually directly proportional to how much heel could be sacrificed. I wouldn't recommend anything taller than a 1/4 -inch stud. If you see them taller you might be sacrificing quality heel with calk. The horses are in the arena maybe 20 minutes, but they'll stand in the cross ties on concrete or blacktop for an hour, and that compromises the heel. Riders have to get those calks out of the shoes as soon as the horse is done showing at any level. That's a big problem, because if those calks stay in, the heels will get crushed.

Clips for performance

A big debate in dressage shoeing during the past few years has been about clips. Are clips necessary for a dressage horse to perform? No. Are pads? No. Is any modification? No. But, these modifications do help some horses. Training-level horses might not need clips, and they might not need shoes, either. But once they start doing lateral work, you find that they need to start using clips. Most upper-level horses usually require clips. The feet of most upper-level dressage horses will not hold up to being ridden 6 days a week and doing a lot of lateral work without clips.

Years ago I didn’t like quarter clips because I thought they were more difficult to fit. Some shoers think that one clip is easier to fit but quarter clips are kind of cheating; you can get a broad radius to the toe, and burn it right back to the clips.I like to use quarter clips on feet with long-toes and underrun heels. You can't back up a single toe clip far enough without the clip getting into sensitive structures. If you use quarter clips on this type of foot, it allows you to back up the shoe and give the foot more heel support. This allows for better heel coverage, as well as establishing a better balanced foot. This means better posterior heel growth. It will come back. If you use a toe clip instead of quarter clips you would have to use a shoe that was one or two sizes bigger. This may increase the lever arm and the toe could be more distal, making it harder for the foot to break over. It also means a little bit more weight on the horse.

Weighty Decisions

While weight helps some horses, it might hinder others and its best to know a horse before changing the weight of its shoe. Also when there's a leg deviation of any kind I think quarter clips might be best for that horse.

You can manipulate the weight of the front and hind shoes to aid dressage performance. For example, some of the older horses don't lift in the shoulder as much, and if you add about 3 ounces of heel weight to the foot, they'll lift their shoulder in the front and use their back end better. Weight plays a big role in the difference between front and hind, left and right feet. Several horses use a pour-in pad under a plastic pad. The riders are convinced they go better because they're staying on top of the ground and the pad is just enough weight to make him lift his shoulder higher.

Staying Barefoot

But some good horses cannot take any weight on the feet. They have good feet and they're animated, but if you put a shoe on them, it really messes up their rhythm. They go very well barefoot. To maintain such a horse and prevent excessive wear you can apply a layer of Vettec Superfast epoxy on the bottom of the hoof about every 2-4 weeks.


Applying Superfast epoxy
to the hoof. 

Hardened product
on the hoof.

Superfast is rasped
to balance the hoof.

Finished hoof

This works as a great alternative to shoeing for horses that don’t have sturdy enough feet for heavy work. You need to put it on a little heavier on the side where they're breaking over. If they were to wear too much, they could get too quick in the breakover and possibly get sore so this protects the walls and wears like having a shoe without the weight or nails.

This technology successfully takes away the need to base the “shoes or no shoes” decision on the quality of the feet. Now it can be made based on how the horse MOVES barefoot or in shoes.


Dressage people are different. They sense things, they feel things, they have a communication with their horses. They know lameness weeks before the farrier can see it. They may not know what's wrong with a horse, but they can tell you where the problem is. As to whether to shoe or keep barefoot it really depends on what helps the horse go best. They are all different and respond to weights differently.


(Note that no information given on this website should be considered
a substitute for consulting your veterinarian or farrier)


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