There are probably equally as many shoeing techniques are there are farriers, and there are some extremely skilled farriers out there (formerly known as blacksmiths). But there are also some shoers I wouldn’t let touch my horses, and unfortunately I’ve used a couple of them in the past.
One notable example was hired when we first moved to the Desert area after having been recommended by a local feed store owner. I explained exactly what I wanted and what my expectations were, with specific instructions on how and what to do. I am an owner who prefers to be there when my horses are worked on, particularly with a new farrier, however this guy was only available the week I needed him to show up while I was not home. He had four horses to do, two regular shoeings and two trims. Both horses that needed shoes got them, and the job he did was relatively decent, though not exactly the best. It would do. He also trimmed the colt, who had excellent feet -- but he skipped the old Mustang mare, complaining that her hooves were just “too hard” for his nippers to work on, so he suggested I get them softened up and he’d come back. Now, that should have been my first clue that something was amiss, but I apparently missed it. I’d lectured him on precisely how I wanted that mare trimmed, that she was a special case and needed a special touch. Two weeks later, he came back, again while I was away, though I didn’t realize he'd been there, as by the time I arrived home it was dark and already feeding time.
Early the next morning we noticed the old mare laying down in her paddock, and kept an eye on her until feeding time an hour later. When I went out to feed, she nickered at me but would not get up to eat, at which time I began to worry. As it turns out, the new shoer I had used ignored everything I had told him about that mare and he tried trimming her to be at an angle far different (more like a “normal” horse) than her feet would take. She was so sore in the hooves that she didn’t want to stand on them! I felt to badly for that poor horse, I fired the farrier, refused to pay him for that trim and found myself an excellent young farrier who listened, pain attention, did an outstanding job and charged less that the first shoer. Lesson learned.
Similarly I have used another farrier wannabe (my term for those who resemble the aforementioned) in more recent years who could not even balance a horse’s foot and flatly refused to measure either toe length or angle on my horses. He wouldn’t work on the horses I had that needed specialty shoes like toe weights, trailers or the like, either, which in hindsight was probably a good thing. He was unreliable and had a habit of either not showing up at all, stopping by at a time other than what we had scheduled or even getting there a day early. Annoying to say the least. I’d finally had enough of that one when I looked closely at one of my geldings, noticing how far off both front feet were from each other. That was it, he was gone.
I have no excuse other than I just didn’t want to begin the farrier search again and used this guy because he’s who the facility I was training out of used on their horses. As I said, it really was no excuse. Thankfully, I have found another couple of real gems who are outstanding farriers, do their jobs right, listen to my input and neither second guess me or argue with me! Both my farriers I have used now for a couple of years, and there is another who I've used in the past and some clients prefer that I can call in a pinch if I need something done and one of my regulars cannot make it out in a timely fashion.
Speaking of horse shoes, there are a large variety of shoes, which have many different purposes, from your standard machined “keg” shoe, to action enhancing toe weight shoes, to half rounds that help with breakover to egg bar shoes which help support a foundered or navicular horse. Many more specialty shoes exist, along with options like plastic pads, leather pads, toe clips, trailers and various other configurations and appliances.
We live in a rather rocky area, therefore I prefer to have shoes on all my horses that are being ridden, especially those who go out on the trail where I have less control over the terrain. Some horses have naturally great hooves that simply need a trim, others tend toward brittle, dry hooves or just have weak hoof walls.
For a majority of horses, regular keg shoes are just fine. With my performance show horses, I prefer a half round shoe and I use toe weights of 14 ounces on my flat saddle English horses (though now in the Arabian breed we have no set weight limit for shoes but utilize a specially designed gauge instead for measuring shoes).
On most of my show horses I also use plastic pads, to help with concussion and allow them a bit less hoof in total length, since I like them to have between a 4” and 4.5” foot (Purebred Arabians) or a 5” to 5.5” hoof in my Half Arabians.
There are pro’s and con’s to the use of pads, just as there are with shoeing itself. Some folks swear by barefoot trimming, a lot more folks today are having their horses half shod with just shoes in front with the back barefoot, and you have a whole new generation pushing what they call a “Natural Balance” aluminum shoe. For me, I really dislike aluminum shoes, because they tend to wear out quickly and wear uneven unless you have a horse with perfect feet. Which, most of us truly don’t. I prefer the motion I get out of a well shod horse, and movement is paramount in the Pleasure horse arena.
Much of horseshoes versus trimming is personal preference, and there is no one “right” way, other than how to correctly trim and shoe a horse!
If there is a moral to this story, it’s choose your farrier wisely based on a number of recommendations, and if possible go watch him work on some of his customers’ horses before hiring him. When you like what you see and see what you like, hire him on the spot. Good shoers are very hard to find!