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Canadian farrier creates tool for hoof balance

A healthy, well-balanced foot with proper angles gives adequate support to your horse.

4 Min Read
Ross Smith and his horse
Ross Smith, a “cowboy” shoer based in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, has shod horses for 40 years.Ross Smith

“No foot, no horse” is the old saying. A healthy, well-balanced foot with proper angles gives adequate support without putting extra stress on the legs. When trimming and shoeing, it’s crucial to find that balance. Most lameness issues stem from unbalanced hoofs that have grown too long, especially in the toe. It’s not always easy, however, to determine how to trim a hoof to perfect balance, without using x-rays to determine where the coffin bone is, in relation to the hoof wall.

Ross Smith, a “cowboy” shoer based in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, has shod horses for 40 years, always trying to find a better way to trim and shoe--to prevent or correct lameness problems. After graduating from the Oklahoma Horseshoeing School in 1988, over the years he teamed up with several veterinarians to aid his research in finding the perfect balance point for break-over (for the toe of the foot to leave the ground). Delayed break-over, with too-long toe puts stress on tendons and joints. 

Ross has now worked with thousands of horses, with veterinarians doing x-rays for him, to find where the toe of the foot should be in relation to the front of the coffin bone, with break-over at that point. This effort resulted in many seriously lame horses becoming sound again. 

Rodeo horses

One of his early successes involved two horses owned by a barrel racer. Their feet were seriously “run forward” with long toes and underrun heels. When x-rays showed the break-over should be back quite a ways, Ross placed the toe of the shoe at that point, leaving the hoof wall hanging over the shoe and just rounded off, until he could gradually bring the toe back that far. Those horses did well and their owner eventually won the Canadian Finals Rodeo.

Feral horses, and any horses that go barefoot in dry, rocky country, wear their feet to the ideal break-over point with a very short, square toe. These horses have fewer foot and leg problems than many shod horses.

Ross says the horse that really set him on a path to create a useful tool to help people find that perfect hoof balance was Henry. As an 8-year-old in 2016, Henry was so crippled and sore that his owner was going to put him down. Ross talked the owner into letting him try to save the horse.

“I worked with my vet, Terry Goslin, to x-ray Henry’s feet to determine exactly where his break-over should be. I looked at the coffin bone in relation to the hoof wall, and it was horrendously different; the hoof wall was very far forward,” Ross says.

“I found the break-over was a lot farther back from the toe than I thought it would be. I used that as my reference; from the x-rays I measured where that spot should be--nearly an inch and a half behind the white line. Everyone said you can’t go that far back. I gradually kept filing the toe away, checking it with x-rays, and eventually went right to that mark, off the tip of the coffin bone, and never hit bleeding.”

Two years later, Henry was back in competition and won two national titles.

Working with other horses

Ross and Goslin did this kind of work on several other horses, with good results, but to do this they had to x-ray the horse and take measurements. 

“I wanted to come up with a way of finding break-over without repeatedly x-raying the horse.  I was familiar with the center of balance, so I created an early prototypes of my COBIT (Center of Balance Indicating Tool) to find a balance point,” Ross says.

“To find where the balance point is, I put screws on each end of a rod and strapped it to the bottom of Henry’s foot. We played around with it and found a spot where he seemed to teeter back and forth, and I figured that must be the balance point. We marked it with a pencil, and I taped the head of a nail there, so it would show up on an x-ray. I got a distance from there to where the break-over should be. Each time I did Henry, I put this crude balance thing on his foot and measured it, and that’s where I trimmed his foot to.”

Each time Henry was x-rayed, Ross found the distance did not change.

“I began to think this instrument would be beneficial for more horses and started using it on many problem cases. The center of balance became a repeatable point to measure from.”

Now, many horses later, Ross has perfected his COBIT and made it easy for anyone to use.  

“The cowboys and cowgirls who are shoeing their own horses out of necessity can use it, to eliminate guesswork. Horses often used to break down when they are only 15 years old. Now they might be able to keep doing their job well into their 20’s if you can shoe them properly and keep them sound,” he says.

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