Your horse’s feet bear a great deal of weight, particularly if he participates in a demanding exercise like jumping. Sometimes natural conformation or physical ailments impede a horse’s ability to hold up to physical demands, or cause him discomfort. Fortunately several shoeing options exist. Your farrier -- or horseshoer -- and vet should work with you to decide whether wedge shoes or another type is the best option for your horse.
Purpose of Wedge Shoes
The wedge shoe is a therapeutic shoe, so it should be put on horses only if a condition warrants it. If your horse has no conformational condition, injury or ailment that puts undue stress on his feet or tendons, he does not need a wedge shoe. If he gets injured and needs temporary relief, is recovering from bad farrier work or becomes lame, a wedge shoe can help him recover, allow you to keep riding him or simply make him comfortable.
Wedge Shoe Description
The wedge shoe has the shape of a typical horseshoe. The difference is that instead of it being one thickness throughout, the back or heel of the shoe is higher to make a wedge. The wedge gradually tapers forward so that it is only the heel that is more elevated. The degree of elevation varies, depending on why your horse needs this type of shoe. In addition to the standard horseshoe style, you can also get a wedge in an egg bar shoe, which encircles the hoof fully without an opening at the heel.
Just as with humans, not all horses have perfect conformation and some “flaws” can play a significant role in your horse’s foot health. Ideally, your horse’s cannon bone is straight and centered as it attaches to the bones that lead down into the hoof capsule. His feet have a larger area behind the frog than in front at the toe, so that most of the weight falls on this larger area. Horses with naturally long toes or low heels, resulting in a low hoof angle, may benefit from wedge shoes to build up the heel slightly. This reduces strain on their tendons and prevents quarter cracks.
If a conformational defect is not corrected with therapeutic shoeing, it can lead to greater or even permanent damage. For example, if your horse has long toes and low heels and is not trimmed and shod to accommodate this, it can strain and tear his deep flexor tendon. Laminitis is a condition in which the coffin bone within the hoof capsule becomes unstable and can rotate, causing debilitating lameness. Wedge shoes help stabilize the coffin bone. Horses with navicular syndrome, characterized by changes in the navicular bone within the hoof, also benefit from wedge shoes. This is because the navicular bone works directly with the deep flexor tendon to relieve stress on the coffin bone, and also supports blood flow to the coffin bone. The wedge shoe helps take over for the navicular bone.
- National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: The Effects of Plain, Eggbar and 6 Degrees Wedge Shoes on the Distribution of Pressure Under the Hoof of Horses at the Walk
- Horseshoes.com: Heel Wedges: Their Effects on Tendons and Ligament Strains
- Horseshoes.com: Living with Lameness
- Epona Shoe: Relationships Between Hoof, Leg, and Whole-Horse Conformation
- The Art & Science of Farriery: The Cannon Bone as a Reference
- Auburn University: Navicular Syndrome in Equine Patients: Anatomy, Causes, and Diagnosis
- Conley Koontz Equine Hospital: Quarter Cracks: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.