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What is Forging?

Exhaustion, laziness, or an underlying condition can cause forging to occur, but more often it is a conformation problem. This results in the hind foot advancing too quickly, while the front leg is lifted too slowly. While there are cases where forging causes little damage, often injury can be seen on the front limb where the contact occurs, and in chronic cases, can cause a poor performance and even lameness. Overreaching, or grabbing, is a severe type of forging that causes injury to the heel bulb, and can pull off the shoe. In many cases, trimming and shoeing and help the condition, but a veterinarian should be consulted in case there is a more serious issue that needs to be addressed.

Forging is a type of interference, which is a limb to limb contact during movement. With forging, the hind foot strikes the front foot on the same side, hitting the heel or bottom of the foot. While it can happen with any type of gait, it seems to be most common during a trot. A distinctive and constant metallic clicking sound is often heard as shoes strike one another.

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Symptoms of Forging in Horses

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Metallic clicking sound during movement
  • Heel lacerations
  • Skin lacerations
  • Bruising or minor wounds
  • Soft tissue, joint, tendon, and bone damage 
  • Painful areas of limb
  • Poor performance
  • Lameness
  • Shoes being pulled off of front legs

Causes of Forging in Horses

Conditions resulting in forging in horses can be divided into two categories, temporary or permanent. 

Temporary causes include:

  • Age 
  • Fatigue  
  • Young horses not used to shoes or riders, or having a growth surge
  • Lack or strength
  • Level of fitness
  • Level of training
  • Laziness 
  • Imbalance or incoordination
  • Improper riding
  • Accidental bad step 
  • Rough play or interactions with a group of horses, resulting in an accidental injury
  • Performance horses not used to exercise without a rider
  • Poor foot trimming
  • Improper shoeing 

Permanent causes mainly have to do with certain conformation conditions that cause gait issues, and can include:

  • Short back, with long hind limbs
  • Base narrow conformation 
  • Cow-hocked conformation 
  • Front or hind feet incorrectly placed under the body
  • Long hind limbs
  • Sickle hock conformation
  • Lameness in limb
  • Forelimb discomfort, causing a stilted gait
  • Lack of limb extension 
  • Back limb soreness
  • Generalized weakness
  • Neuromuscular disease

Diagnosis of Forging in Horses

While the metallic clicking sound during movement is a common symptom of this type of interference, your veterinarian will need to evaluate any wounds or lameness in limbs, and your horse’s foot placement while it walks, trots, or runs. Visually seeing the limb to limb contact can prove forging is happening, as well as give an idea to a conformation issue which may be causing the condition. X-rays of the affected forelimb can show wound patterns and can be used to confirm the diagnosis.

If an abnormal gait is also seen with the forging, your veterinarian may try to block the front feet with anesthesia to see if the forging disappears. If it does, your vet may perform a more thorough exam to check for lameness. Since an underlying condition can cause cases of gait interference, your veterinarian may conduct further tests to rule them out.

Treatment of Forging in Horses

If your forging horse is young and is continuing to grow, often the condition will correct itself as it gets bigger and better trained. Your veterinarian will determine if the condition only needs monitoring, or if intervention is appropriate.

In older horses, the treatment of forging deals with changing the timing patterns of the front and hind feet through trimming and shoeing techniques. This may require some trial and error, but with a good farrier, the issue can often be corrected. To speed up the action of the front limbs in movement, trimming excessive toe length is often done. Then, the feet are fitted with rolled, square, or rocker toe shoes, sometimes of a lighter material such as aluminum. The right size shoe should be placed, and not one that is too small which can worsen the problem.

For the hind feet, the farrier attempts to create more ground surface by trimming to move the heel back to the widest area of the frog. Then, a square toe shoe is placed appropriately to allow the foot to be on the ground longer in order to slow the limb down. If your horse continues to forge after these modifications, you may need to alter the performance needed from your horse, as he may not be suited for that particular endeavor. Keep monitoring and working with your farrier and your veterinarian to be sure any underlying conditions and needs of your horse are met.

Some horses may need protective boots or gear if the condition is permanent to lessen injuries to the front limb. If there is a condition present contributing to the forging, your veterinarian will create an appropriate treatment plan.

Recovery of Forging in Horses

In many cases, proper trimming and shoeing techniques can rid your horse of forging. Help your horse by continuing to monitor the condition, using proper and regular trimming and shoeing techniques specific to your horse’s needs, and using proper riding techniques.

Prevent forging by ensuring your horses do not become over exhausted, that any gait abnormalities or underlying conditions are treated, and that young horses are properly shod at the correct time in their life to avoid overreaching. Do not breed horses with conformation issues, and when purchasing new horses, align the right breed and conformation with the tasks you expect of the horse, as well as insist on a thorough veterinary exam before purchase.