Supporting a Foundered Foot with a W-Shoe

Foundered hooves often require extra support to help them heal and grow.

Foundered hooves often require extra support to help them heal and grow while also offering the horse pain relief. But, rarely is the hoof undamaged and easy to shoe after a laminitic episode, said Chris Gregory, MS, CJF, FWCF, of Heartland Horseshoeing School in Lamar, Mo. For these cases Gregory employs a W-shoe custom made for the individual horse and hoof.

Gregory, who authored "Gregory's Textbook of Farriery," discussed the design and implementation of the W-shoe in his lecture "Introduction to the Principles of Using a W-Shoe on Foundered Feet" at the 2012 International Equine Conference of Laminitis and Diseases of the Hoof.

A W-shoe is a hand-forged therapeutic bar horseshoe named for its appearance, which takes on the form of an abstract "w." Opposed to a traditional bar shoe, the W-shoe has an open toe (imagine a standard horseshoe place backward on the hoof) and a v-shaped frog support, which is attached to the bar and creates the "w" shape.

The W-shoe is related to a heart-bar shoe, which is a continuous bar shoe with the same v-shaped frog support. The two are so similar looking that some people refer to the W-shoe as an "open-toed heart bar."

"The W-shoe isn't as common as a heart-bar or frog-support pad, primarily due to knowledge and farrier skill--or lack thereof," Gregory explained to the group of veterinarians and farriers at the conference.

In theory, heart-bar shoes transfer weight from compromised parts of the hoof that usually bear weight, sharing the load with other structures. The W-shoe (like a heart bar) transfers weight from the damaged hoof wall to the frog.

When using a W-shoe to manage a foundered horse, Gregory often pairs the shoe with a pour-in filler (commonly sold under the brand name Equipak), made of urethane, that covers the sole and further distributes weight across the hoof.

Modifying the traditional weight bearing of a hoof to help a laminitic horse requires an educated and experienced farrier working in coordination with a veterinarian, Gregory said. "Whenever a shoe is applied that causes an area of the foot to bear more load than it was meant to, there's always a potential for problems, especially if the shoe is applied without sufficient knowledge or skill," he warns.

When describing the benefits of using the W-shoe, Gregory said it:

  • Can be easier to fit than a heart-bar shoe.
  • Eliminates the possibility of the shoe putting pressure on the toe.
  • Can be easier to keep on the foot than other shoes.
  • Makes the horse is less likely to stumble.
  • Is easier for the farrier to make than a one-piece heart bar shoes.
  • And can be made by cutting the toe off a heart bar shoe.

He concedes that the W-shoe isn't perfect and pointed out specific drawbacks as well, including:

  • It does not provide the stabilization or protection that the full heart-bar does.
  • The toes of the foot may penetrate the ground more than desired if the horse is on soft terrain.
  • And it might cause unusual foot remodeling if overused.

Considering the pros and cons of using the W-shoe, Gregory said it offers a much needed option when a veterinarian and farrier are working to make a laminitic horse more comfortable. "The W-shoe is just another arrow in our quiver (for treating laminitis) and not a cure-all, every-horse answer to founder," Gregory said.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.