Thunk, thunk, thunk.… A rhythmic clunking noise underfoot as your horse trots is the sound of forging, which occurs when his hind hoof reaches forward and strikes the toe of the forefoot on the same side. If both hooves are shod, the noise will be a loud, striking, metallic “click.”
It’s more than just a noisy nuisance, however. Forging horses are also at risk of overreach injuries, in which they step on their own front heel bulbs. Overreach injuries can be serious and slow to heal. Forging can also lead to pulled shoes if the hind hoof grabs the outer edge of a front shoe. If the strikes happen only occasionally, there isn’t too much to worry about, but regular forging is worth investigating to determine a possible cause and solution.
A horse’s trimming and shoeing can lead to forging. Longer toes on a hind hoof and a slow breakover on a front hoof can set up a situation where hooves collide. Check with your farrier, and have him watch and listen to you ride to see if a different or more regular trim is the solution. Unsoundness can also lead a horse to forge, particularly if pain is keeping a horse from lifting his forelimbs promptly and fully. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian to rule out lameness as the underlying cause if a trim doesn’t fix the problem.
The way a horse is ridden can cause forging, but the specifics will vary from horse to horse. For instance, an out-of-shape horse pushed to his limits may begin to forge as he tires and becomes unbalanced. On the other hand, a fit and athletic horse may forge if his movement is restricted by a rider. A professional assessment of your horse’s ability and your riding style can help determine if either is contributing to the issue.
Conformation can also cause a horse to forge. A horse with a short back and long legs or a hind end that is “set under” makes hoof collisions more likely. You can’t change a horse’s conformation, of course, but knowing it may be playing a role can be helpful in looking for solutions.
Sometimes, even after you’ve investigated all the options and made necessary changes in his care and work, a horse will continue to forge. In these cases, outfitting the horse in bell boots can protect his heels from injury and prevent shoes from being pulled off.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #468, September 2016.