Surface Dressing (Guest Post)

We welcome guest posts. Thanks to David Bartley from Tasmania for this guest post.


The art of farriery is not the preparation of the foot to take a steel wear plate. And it is most definitely not trimming the foot in a particular manner so one can apply a shoe type that is in vogue at the present time.

The true art of farriery

Surface dressing is the true art of farriery it is the preparation of a foot to maintain or improve the quality, health and function of the hoof capsule. And you achieve this by the adding or relieving pressure from various parts of the foots ground surface to maintain this balance. The one thing every farrier knows is that the horses foot has one very bad design flaw and that is it is designed to destroy itself unless measures are taken to control its growth on a regular basis. When we talk about surface dressing we are only talking about the ground surface or bottom diameter keeping in mind the way you dress this surface plays an important part in the health of the top diameter, which is our future weight-bearing surface. All experienced farriers know that the dressing of a foot plays a very important role in the horse’s life from standing comfortably to performing.

To prove this very simply, to the horse being too high in the heels is the same as being to low in the toe and he will stand under himself, too low in the heels is the same as too much toe as he will stand forward, too high on the outside and the foot points outwards too high on the inside the foot will point inward so you can see one can change the stance of a horse simply by how the foot is dressed.

We therefore have to consider the following before any surface dressing of the foot:

(1) The way the horse stands (forward, under, in, out )

(2) The coronet (level or not, lumps and bumps, swellings, etc)

(3) The basic hoof shape (round, oval or pointed, club, coonfooted )

(4) The condition of the wall. (solid, shelly, dorsal dip, cracks. large amounts missing etc)

(5) Any injury to the lower legs ( over reaching, scalping, brushing etc)

(6) Pastern and wall angles

And underneath you have

(1) Frog size to foot size ratio

(2) Widest point of the foot location

(3) Contraction

(4) Corns, bruises

(5) Bars

(6) White line diseases and outlines of the white line any deviations in it.

(7) Unsymmetrical in any of the 8 point of a farriers compass

(8) Sole presentation e.g. flat, dropped,arched, cracks. etc

(9) Forward and aft lengths from your datum point

(10) Under-run heels

(11) Basil shadow length

(12) How the last set of shoes wore (even, or one side more than the other etc etc )

We have to consider all this and more to get an overall picture of what and how we are going to achieve the outcome we want and the method of dressing the foot before we start. So ok, we have dressed the foot not much stands out other than the white line seems a bit sticky and wide around the toe area but everything else seems fine but then we notice that if we super impose the top diameter onto the bottom diameter the foot has a definite excess of toe of say around 8mm our wall thickness is even all the way round what’s going on?? now that you have noticed it is standing out more and more to you. Well lucky the horse’s hoof is a cone shape so one can bevel off from underneath the area that is displaced from where it should be until a more symmetrical white line can be seen, by rechecking the top to bottom diameters you should have a foot that will grow to a more normal shape, because you have taken away the cause of the problem which was too much pressure at the toe.

Case study surface dressing a lame pony. This is the case study of a 7yo 14hh buckskin pony who had only ever had very limited riding and work load the owner noticed a slight lameness that became more noticeable during the summer months and had 2 vets look at the horse with 2 different diagnosis from sesamoiditis to laminitis .The distraught owner rang me to ask if there was anything that farriery could offer. On inspection of the horse the first thing I noticed was that he had small boxy feet slightly contracted but the main outstanding problem was that both inside toe area of the coronets there were swollen with hard lumps around the size of a bean the foot looked symmetrical in shape but the wall length from the lumps to the ground surface was 15mm longer in that area my conclusion was that as the horse was very slightly pigeon-toed instead of the wall growing down to form an inside toe excess, due to the rock hard condition of this horses feet the wall had pushed upward causing inflammation and thus the lameness.i trimmed this pony relieving a 8/10mm gap under the foot that corresponded to were the uploading would of been, the pony was kept in a water logged yard for a week, 2 weeks after the first trim the lumps had halved in size the pony was no longer lame he went back into his paddock with water boots on, 6 weeks after the first trim he was shod for the show with standard hack shoes (O’Dwyer) that was 3 years ago now and the only time he shows any lameness is when the relieved part of the wall starts pushing the wall upward again. I guess what iam saying is don’t be afraid to allow room between the shoe and the hoof to allow any rises in the coronet to settle downward or lower either side of a point to allow that point to add an upward force on a low coronet area.

Surface fitting

Surface fitting a shoe in an ideal world would mean equal distribution of pressure all the way around the perimeter of the wall from heel to heel this is not practical in the real world as each horse has a unique foot pathology that may require modification from the standard.

Some may require simple modifications like rolled toe shoes, others may require more pressure to counteract contraction problem. others still may have bleeding in the white line that requires pressure relief, some may require pads ect therefore whenever you change a foot surface of a shoe to apply or relieve pressure for any reason you are surface fitting a shoe.

Case study of a horse with a dorsal dip, white line separation high heels. This horse was an ex racehorse of around 14 yrs old he wore one of the more coarser nail pattern shoes on the market today, he had a 25mm dip in the front feet (both) and stood under himself by about 8 inches give or take, his heels were thickened and stiff, the frog was 30mm of the ground, the shed on his feet was dry and thick he had sand cracks 4 in each front foot, his back feet had extra long toes and no heel probably from standing under himself to take off the weight from his front feet. as the owner didn’t care whether she could ride this horse at present she couldn’t anyway because it was lame it gave us the opportunity to really do something hard fast and quick. all the extra shed was cut out from the foot this gave us around 20mm of extra heel we could cut back which was done and the frog came within 4/5 mm from the heel level now that should be enough to bring the foot forward about 7 or 8 inches or where it should be and it did. Next I sighted down the front wall and rasped off all the dip and bevelling the under side as well, I put a standard flat hack shoe on with no clip and used the last two nail holes in the shoes.

I know what some of you will be saying about doing a job like this, and I say to you only do what you or your experience allows you to be comfortable doing. I’ve reshod this horse again 10 weeks later and everything is going well the heels are a lot more supple there’s no dip to speak of and he never missed a day’s show jumping so far

So let’s see if we can workout why this happened to this horse

(1) a course nail pattern shoe was put on a thin-walled racehorse because her friends horse has that type of shoe this in turn made the farrier leave too much toe out the front to accommodate the shoe type.

(2) as the foot shape got away from the farrier he attempted raise the heels to make it look smaller alas raising the heels on a long toe only increases the pressure on the wall and makes it dip further.

(3) because the heels were so high and the frog so far of the ground and with a wide shoe on, the shed could not be released from the foot this lead to the heel area being thickened and not working properly.

So this horse has had 18 months of intermittent lameness because the farrier dressed its feet for a shoe type instead of dressing the feet then selecting a shoe to fit the foot.

Outline fitting

Outline fitting is the procedure used to prepare a shoe that tries to place the centre of the foot in the centre of the leg. Anybody that has put on a shoe that corresponds to the hoof shape is only fitting shoes. To expand on this anyone that has put on a lateral/medial shoe or a toe extension on, has taken this standard shoe fitting up a notch into correct shoe fitting or outline fitting for that particular horse foot.


Even though there is an obvious over lapping between surface dressing of a foot and outline fitting of a shoe to a foot, One should always keep in mind that surface dressing is really keeping the weight-bearing structures of the foot balanced to the pedal bone and its pivot points, where as outline shoe fitting is more about placing the foot in the centre of the leg column and this may or may not work against surface dressing a foot. This has been a very brief outline about this subject a lot more information could have been told. The only piece of advice I can give anyone is only do what you feel at ease doing. Always have a plan in your mind on how and why you are doing something. Learn to read a foot; it holds a lot of secrets it is your job to find them.

Thanks to David Bartley for this guest post – comments as always are welcome 🙂

4 Replies to “Surface Dressing (Guest Post)”

  1. Hi David is a brilliant farrier. i can find and send you article re Constantine (published in hoofbeats may 2 years ago) that he has restored to a manageable soundness and maintains him.. See karen mitchell on FB and look for constantine in the photos. This horse owes his life to David.

  2. Great article David and Dave and a wonderful reference for horse owners on why they should spend some time finding a good farrier… and not the cheapest guy. 🙂

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