Absolutely, positively, unequivocally – NO! Shoes prevent the foot from functioning completely as Nature designed. If shoes are placed on healthy, well-balanced feet and in a conducive environment, damage can be minimal if performed properly each and every time and the damage can occur much slower. It may take years to finally break down a healthy horse with healthy feet, but the breakdown somewhere within the hoof likely will occur. With unhealthy feet, or in this case, a horse that’s foundered, the shoes are much more devastating and can greatly hinder, if not prevent, the natural healing process.
The standard ‘founder’ shoes (with or without some type of conventional packing material) have long been believed to be the only way to treat founder. The two most favorite shoes vets and farriers like to apply for founder are egg bar shoes and heart bar shoes, with a third distant shoe being a reverse shoe (normal, flat keg shoe, but placed backwards on the foot; toe of the shoe is placed behind the heels of the foot.). What makes sense about this? It took me years to figure this out the hard way – Nothing! When a horse is in sever pain, as they are while foundering (or even after they’ve been foundered for a long while) the horse in not able to take the pain of the concussion of the hammer driving nails into the hoof. This was the one resounding issue that kept ringing in my head time after time while dancing, fighting, sweating and struggling greatly to get shoes onto sore, painful, foundered feet. Why not use glue on shoes, right? Wrong. Even though there are no nails involved, the ultimate reason for no shoes will become evident in a moment.
Shoes have long been thought to be the answer for founder. After all, vets have farriers have been taught for generations that the sole and the frog have to be off the ground and receive little or no contact, i.e., pressure from the ground. They have been taught that shoes protect the sole and the coffin bone. They have been taught that the hoof wall is the part of the foot that should carry the entire load. Some vets and farriers are of a newer generation, believing that some pressure to the frog and sole is, in fact, good for the horse, but the pressure must be hard and constant and achieve this by using materials such as dental impression material, silicon chalking, Styrofoam or even auto body dent compounds. Each of these materials may appear to work after they have been applied. The horse may seem more comfortable, but that comfort can be counted in days, not weeks. The material, combined with the application of shoes, become too hard and too unforgiving. An analogy, in human terms, might be that new pair of dress shoes you bought; the ones with a really good arch support. They felt great in the store for the five minutes you had them on, but after you tried wearing them on several occasions, the arch support was too much and began hurting your feet, your legs and even your back. The same thing can happen with horses in the type shoes described above. This method of shoeing manages to work fewer times than it fails and only manages to work in less sever cases in which the rotation of the coffin bone was minimal.
Wedged shoes are often times thought to be a good idea. The thinking is that the raised heels will take the pressure off of the DDFT (deep digital flexor tendon) and will limit or stop the DDFT from pulling the coffin bone further downward. The belief is that the tension on the tendon is what is causing the rotation of the coffin bone. Therefore, it has long been a common practice for the vets to cut the DDFT or one of a couple of other secondary tendons in order to prevent that tendon from further pulling the coffin bone downward. This practice has very limited success, most often eliminates any chances of the horse being fully usable again, and often leads the vet to strongly urging the horse owner to put the horse down when this ‘last ditch attempt’ has failed. Their belief is that nothing more can be done for the horse and he will suffer too greatly (which the horse is usually just going though one of the abscess episodes; a very normal affect of the bodies natural healing process). The deep flexor tendon certainly can be an issue with founder, but usually in the more severe cases and / or the ones that have been foundered for a longer period of time. Inactivity, or lack of use of the muscles, causes most of what appears to be major tendon issues. The rotation of the coffin bone is not caused by the DDFT and the tension of the tendons can be managed, as can the pain levels and the abscesses. Getting the horse to walk and exercise will help the muscles become full and strong again and in most cases, the tendon will return to normal status and won’t be quite as much of an issue. Remember though, each horse and each founder is different and therefore an exercise or rehab program should be tailored to each case. The bottom line is, shoes are just too painful to be applied to a foundered horses feet, they prevent full and normal function of the feet, they prevent proper blood flow, they prevent the feet from being trimmed timely enough to stay ahead of the heel growth, and they only have moderate success with that success usually being with milder founder cases.