Reprinted by permission of The Mid-South Horse Review
The timeworn adage “No hoof, No horse” is a simple yet profound statement of the ultimate importance of healthy hooves to the horse’s survival. In the wake of National Farriers Week in July, we probe the aspects of proper hoof care, seeking information from the area’s most knowledgeable expert: Horseshoeing Hall of Fame member and farrier instructor Lim Couch.
For over 40 years Lim Couch has been training farriers and educating horse owners at his horseshoeing school in Hernando, MS. He graduated from farrier school in 1966, but was working with horses long before that. Over the years, Lim has taught over 1700 students. He has been to many schools and seminars, but he also has a natural talent for hoof care. He can look at a horse and know exactly what to do. “It’s a God-given talent,” he humbly admits. “I have had an illustrious, enjoyable career. I’ve shod for the rich and famous [Lim was Elvis Presley’s farrier] and have shod world champion horses in all respects. I’ve had horses that were near being euthanized, and through proper trimming (and shoeing), they got sound again and went back to the show ring.”
“Man [generic] has taken the horse out of the natural environment. In the natural environment, horses eat various foods and grasses for nutrients. Now they are kept in stalls, fed when and what we feed them. It is important to have the proper knowledge [of equine nutrition] to replace the natural supplements they would get in the wild. And, in the wild, a lame horse doesn’t survive. A weak horse falls prey to predators,” Lim explained.
Lim’s formula for good hoof care and keeping a sound horse: “Proper trimming, good feed, good hay, and supplements for hoof growth” are essential. “Shoeing is for protection and to enhance performance in the show ring. If you have a horse, it is important that you take care of it. Take care of hooves to prevent serious problems, like cracks and abscesses.”
“The foundation of good hoof care is proper hoof trimming on a regular basis by a knowledgeable farrier. This is very important! Regardless of what shoe you put on, if the hoof is not trimmed properly in the first place, it ain’t gonna work!” Lim cautioned. Other factors to be considered when trimming are “terrain and use of the horse. The ability of the farrier is crucial. You can have a hoof properly trimmed, but the ability to put a shoe on the horse is important. What if the shoe slips forward? Or slips backward? Or is put on crooked? All these affect how the horse moves.”
“A farrier can help or can hurt. No license is required for anyone to shoe horses. Be careful when selecting a farrier. The horse owner can be gullible, so it is important that the horse owner be knowledgeable about proper hoof care. Do your research, get references and referrals. Get a qualified farrier! Many farriers are qualified but not certified, and vice versa,” Lim said. “Certification is voluntary. But I’d rather [the farrier] be qualified than certified.”
As Past President of the American Farriers Association (AFA), Lim knows the AFA certification criteria are strict. “The farrier must be knowledgeable and skilled to pass. There are other associations that offer certification, but with them it’s more a matter of buying the certification; farriers are not really tested for their knowledge,” Lim explained. “Ask your farrier if he/she is certified and by whom.” Lim recommends getting AFA certification.
Lim isn’t enthusiastic about the "natural trim" school of hoof care. “The hoof is basically the same, whether it’s a pony or draft horse. There’s only so much you can do in trimming a horse with the 'natural trimming' methods. Then you have to buy expensive boots for the horse to wear.”
Lim demonstrated in detail the hoof structure, bones of the hoof and leg, and importance of conformation. “Three words: form to function. Form is the conformation of the horse. How the horse is built determines how to trim the hoof. Function is the use of the horse. There are different breeds for different uses.”
On angles: “The 'normal' angle of the hoof must be followed for the individual horse. The 'correct' angle is the desirable (ideal) angle, but if you change the 'normal' angle on a horse, you can create problems. Look at the horse’s conformation and trim the horse accordingly. Don’t break the axis. The hoof must be balanced and level. The angle and length of the hoof affect movement. The slope of the shoulder and slope of the pastern should be parallel. The hoof, pastern, and fetlock should all be in a straight line.” The way the hoof breaks determines motion and soundness. “If it breaks too soon or too late, it can be binding or stretching the ligaments. Angles are of utmost importance. Changing angles can increase the stride or arc of the break. It is simple, yet complex at the same time.”
“Knowledge of conformation is vital! The farrier and horse owner should know how the bones, ligaments, and tendons work,” Lim said. The horse’s conformation and ability are important factors determining the horse’s performance. “Don’t ask a horse to do what he is physically incapable of doing,” Lim advised.
Next, “the rider affects how the horse moves. The rider can have the horse strung out, or collected. The tack used, cavessons, bits, all affect control of the head. The saddle, where it fits on the horse’s back, affects the horse’s movement. So, in essence, the farrier may have to shoe the horse for how the rider and tack affect the horse’s movements.
“Bridles, bits, and teeth are other factors that affect the horse’s performance. The horse’s teeth grow continuously, so if not properly cared for, colic” is just one of the results. “If the bit is not properly adjusted, the horse is uncomfortable. All these little things matter and together make a winning combination. All horse owners need a good, qualified equine dentist and there are very few around,” Lim recommended.
“Think about this. When you get a small pebble in your shoe or a small spec of dirt in your eye, it is very uncomfortable! You can’t do your best when you are uncomfortable. If the horse is happy and comfortable, the horse will give you 100% effort. If the angles are incorrect, (think of toe in, toe out, balance of your vehicle’s tires) the horse may not be lame, but will be unable to perform at the optimum, give 100%.
“The farrier and veterinarian should have a good working relationship. They should share information, and the knowledge of the two working together can have great success and be very beneficial to the horse. Do your homework on both farriers and veterinarians!
“There are some things you can correct and some you cannot. For example, navicular disease comes on slowly and over a prolonged time. Some things you can do to help are: elevate the angle and a rocker toe to make the horse break over faster to protect the navicular bone from impact. It is difficult to diagnose navicular disease, even through X-rays, because it is hard to see the navicular bone clearly since you’re looking through two bones. The navicular bone is about the size of your little finger. It is tied to the deep flexor tendon, which is pulling on it. It attaches at the bottom to the coffin bone. In the X-ray, look for calcium deposits, demineralization, or a small, hair-line fracture” as indicators.
Base wide and base narrow are two other important conformation factors to consider. “If the horse is straight, in other words, like the legs of a table at a 90 degree angle, the foot is level. If the horse’s legs are more like a saw horse legs, the foot is not level. Imagine a straight line from the shoulder and a plumb bob. If the horse is base narrow on the inside of the line, he puts pressure on the outside of the hoof. If the horse is base wide on the outside of the line, he puts pressure on the inside of the hoof. If toe in, the horse will paddle or wing out. If toe out, the horse is splay footed and will wing in as he moves. If the horse is base wide with toe out, he will wing in. If the horse is base narrow with toe out, he will wing in, but these horses are breaking on two opposite sides of the foot. Studying this conformation tells the farrier where to trim to help the horse move properly. First, you must trim the horse on the base wide or base narrow basis to get the hoof level; then you can deal with toe out or toe in conformation.”
There are three reasons Lim shoes: “First, study the horse’s conformation. Make the horse comfortable and happy by balancing the hoof so the horse is standing level. Next, shoe in the window of opportunity to enhance the horse’s performance. Third, shoe for income. If you do the first two, you will have the income. If you do only number three, you won’t make it.”
The other half of the hoof care team is Lim’s wife Mary Ann Couch. She runs the store, Mid-South Farrier Supplies, which stocks every type of supply a farrier could need from rasps to anvils, shoes, nails, plus supplements, all kinds of tack, saddles, grooming products, and horse clothing. Lim’s philosophy is soundly simple: “Be honest. If I don’t believe in a product, I won’t sell it or promote it.”
Mary Ann carries products for any hoof problem. “In our climate, most horses have one of two problems: really dry or really wet hooves.” She recommended two supplements in particular: “Biotin 800Z is a great hoof supplement. You feed 1 ounce to your horses and it has 50 mg of biotin.” Made by Kaeco, Inc. it contains essential ingredients to build and maintain strong, healthy hooves. “Another is Hoof Power. We have had great success with both products,” she said. Made by Delta Hoof Care, it contains biotin, dl-Methionine, lysine, and several other ingredients to grow healthy hooves.
“Another thing to watch for, and we have seen a lot of lately, is abscesses,” Mary Ann said as she showed me an Equine Hoof Abscess Kit by Kaeco. It includes Epsom salts poultice, hoof wraps, and other products to treat and heal the abscess. It is endorsed by Chris Gregory of Heartland Horseshoeing School, a long time friend of Lim’s, member of the Horseshoeing Hall of Fame, and a Certified Journeyman Farrier.
Another product they carry is “Hoof Wraps” brand equine hoof bandages. They can be used for abscess treatment, stone bruises, or lost shoe and are designed for turn out.
Mary Ann likes the washing products from EQ Solutions. They make several wash products to clean your horse, truck, and trailer. They are “plant based, people, animal, and environmentally friendly.”
Lim may be “retired?” from horse shoeing, but he is still available to advise and educate. “We try to get our customers’ questions answered and help them solve problems. We try to be cost efficient, and tend to the personal needs of our customers.” Lim hosted a clinic last September for farriers and horse owners. “The horse owners who came to our clinic last year were very excited about the learning opportunity and very successful horse people. About 75 people attended, and got detailed knowledge of hoof care and talked with clinicians about their interests and problems,” he said. Lim makes available his over 40 years of expertise to help farriers and horse owners to benefit of horses.
Other resources for further reading about hoof care: