Working for a horse health publication has its many perks--including the freedom to race out to the barn midday for veterinarian and farrier visits. I've guilted a number of vets and vet techs into letting me photograph them as they work on my horse because "I'm still on the clock," or, "I promised my boss an iphone video" (wink, wink).

Lily stood patiently and pleasantly for her fill-in farrier.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

Today's early morning field trip was for Lily's routine hoof care. My usual farrier, however, wasn't going to make it back from Florida (where he's doing double-duty between the winter show circuit and those of us stuck here in still-snowy Kentucky) by the time she was due for shoes, so he called in a substitute farrier from Illinois.

Being the discriminating horse owner I am, I was initially leery of a someone new shoeing my horse, but my farrier reassured me that this guy was good. So I looked him up.

Sure enough, Steve Sermersheim, CJF TE, AWCF, is a world-class sport horse farrier. He not only supervised the official farriers at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, but he's also about to serve his sixth year as the Rolex Three-Day Event's official farrier.

So after Steve finished Lily's fabulous shoeing job, I asked him to share with me some of the hoof issues he commonly sees in high-level performance horses.

"We see a lot of horses with what we call high-low syndrome or a slightly clubbed foot on one side," he said immediately. "One foot, usually on the front, is at a higher angle than the opposite foot. And it also goes diagonal to the back feet, but not as noticeably."

He chalked this hoof conformation up to genetics, mostly, and said he simply shoes these horses at their natural angle rather than trying to "fix" them--an impossible task.

"I also see a lot of horses with a zero-to-negative palmar/plantar angle (of the coffin bone within the hoof, meaning the tip of the bone nearest the toe is higher than the wings when viewed from the side)," Steve said. "I don't know if it's because we have better technology, better knowledge, or if it's just more common. The technology we have now with MRIs, strong ultrasounds, etc. have helped us a ton on shoeing these horses."

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Lastly, Steve noted the overall poor quality of many sport horses' feet--particularly due to damage caused by frequent bathing inherent to horse showing. "Too much moisture is not good," he said. "Feet are like a sponge--when it's real wet they open up, and when it's dry they shrink up and get tight."

When asked what horses are the most difficult to shoe, Steve said, without a doubt, the three-day event horses because "they get ridden so hard. It also seems like their conformation is changing to where you're seeing more refined horses now. Their bones and feet aren't as big as they used to be, so their foundations aren't as strong. I think they're some of the hardest ones to keep sound."

Ultimately, Steve said, all sport horses are going to wear out, just like any other athlete. "We ask them to do a lot, and some horses can give more than others," he said as a final thought. "Some of the horses you think should have been retired years ago are still going; I think it's all individual."

As for my horse, Steve recommended I continue taking semiannual radiographs of her feet, reassured me that I have her seedy toe under control, and complimented Lily on her patience and demeanor. A productive field trip, I'd say.

What hoof issues do you encounter with your athletes?