Caring for horses from the ground up
TORRINGTON, Wyo. – Typically weighing in somewhere between 800 and 1,500 pounds or more, a horse places a great deal of pressure on an area analogous to the tip of a human finger, every time they take a step.
“That’s a lot of weight being placed on that area,” said Dr. Luke Bass, equine veterinarian and faculty member with the Equine Field Services Department in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State
“There are certain situations where, if things aren’t properly balanced from one side to the other or from front to back, it can cause problems,” Bass said. “It’s critically important to have proper foot care.”
Making sure those delicate extremities stay happy is, at least in part, the job of the farrier. And, in Torrington and eastern Wyoming, that means Mike Sussex.
Sussex started out shoeing horses as a teen, learning from his father, while growing up on the family’s southeast Wyoming ranch. Until the 1990s, after studying the discipline at Central Wyoming College, he shoed horses in the traditional way until he started learning about therapeutic farriery, a method he’s practicing today at his shop west of town.
“A healthy hoof is the bottom line to a horse’s existence,” Sussex said. “If his feet are bad enough, he can’t navigate.”
Sussex and Bass agreed therapeutic farriery works best when it’s looked at as a three-legged process, collaboration between veterinarian, farrier and the
The owner is responsible to make sure the horse’s physical needs – shelter, proper nutrition, etc. – are met on a daily basis, Sussex said. The veterinarian is charged with the responsibility of meeting the animal’s medical needs and the farrier with maintaining the foundation of the horse’s locomotion.
Farriers need to have an understanding of the anatomy and the underlying biomechanics of the hoof and the horse. Seemingly minor problems in the hoof, if left unattended, can cause damage or injury that can extend up the leg, into the hips and back and lead to discomfort or worse for the horse.
“Therapeutic farriery can help quite a bit in conjunction with veterinary recommendations – administration of anti-inflammatory drugs, for example,” Bass said. “By working very closely together with what we can do as a veterinarian and what they can do as a farrier, we can get the best results when we work together and combine our resources.”
The farrier can recognize a variety of issues, based on the horse’s stance, how it holds its hoof and how it walks or trots. On a recent July morning, Sussex was working with Duke, an older horse belonging to Nan Ludvik, who traveled from their ranch near Glendo to his shop west of Torrington for only Duke’s second visit.
Sussex spent the better part of two hours with Duke, watching him walk and checking his stance using a tool that straps on to the bottom of the hoof. A hard-rubber wedge on the bottom of the took allows Sussex to alter the direction of pressure and the angle of the hoof to see when Duke was more or less comfortable with his stance.
From those observations, Sussex was able to fit a new pair of front shoes, adjusted to make Duke more comfortable and begin to stave off potential problems created by previous, less-than-ideal shoeing. But it was just a stop-gap, pending a full set of x-rays arranged for a few days later to provide a better look at the internal structures, before the real therapeutic work would begin.
Farriers also trim and shape the hooves, cleaning away dirt, debris and excess material which can further throw off the horse’s balance as it tries to walk. Many horses, depending on their situation, may not need shoes at all. Bass said part of his research includes working with the wild mustangs in Wyoming, which have never worn shoes, but have, “Perfect feet.
“When we domesticated horses, put them in stalls, put them in athletic performances, we changed the dynamic of the forces placed on the foot,” Bass said. “If your horse is a backyard horse and gets ridden sparingly, it might not even need shoes.”
At the bottom line, it’s all a matter of education and experience, Sussex said. A poor shoeing job done by a less-experienced farrier can run the risk of worsening a situation with the delicate structures inside the hoof.
“I firmly believe there are farriers and there are horse shoers,” he said. “A shoer just comes and nails the iron on the hoof.
“There are farriers all over the world, doing what I do,” Sussex said. “Farriers today need to know what they’re doing to the inside of the foot when they’re nailing a shoe to the outside of