Scotch Bottom Shoes

Today we have a guest post from one of our readers who has years of experience in the draft world.  Now, you may recall we previously did our own post on draft tails, and another about a draft mare for sale – neither of which went over very well with some readers… 😉 So we jumped at the chance to have a real, live draft person submit a post!


To start off, currently I am an armchair equestrian. But this does not mean that I do not know what I am talking about.  Before my son was born I had my hands on horses several times a day all through college. I went to a tiny, tiny college (you would not have heard of it) in northern Vermont with a non-traditional equine program. At this college I made my way up the horse ranks from peon to Draft Horse Teaching Assistant. But it is not draft horses as you’ve most likely seen them in the big show hitches at the state fair.  Rather, at my college, I learned to farm and log with draft horses. I learned every aspect of draft horse management, use, physiology and spent a year studying barefoot trimming. At the same time I was a groom for a highly respected breeder and trainer of Dales ponies and Fjords who used Linda Tellington Jones TTeam methods for training in combined driving and dressage. It was an odd double education, since the driving techniques are so very different. The summer after I graduated from college, I worked as a carriage tour driver on Mackinac Island, also I drove the drays that deliver everything on the island and the road sweeper. When I point at a draft horse and start talking, generally I know what I’m speaking about. However, show me a hunter or a reiner with a myriad of conformational faults and I’ll have to take your word for it. Light horses always look a little weird to me.

Now that that’s out of the way, on to my biggest pet peeve in the draft horse world: Scotch Bottom Shoes. I will admit, I didn’t even know what these were until my husband purchased a team of Belgian geldings that had been used for 10 years as show hitch horses. There’s nearly zero call among real working draft horses for Scotch Bottom Shoes. They originally evolved in the English swamps to give the drafts a wider hoof base for pulling in the muck, and when done properly can actually give a draft with bad conformation an easier time of it.  Just like soring, although not as painful, these shoes are a way to enhance the movement of drafts for that exaggerated gait you see in hitch horses; where their front legs touch their bellies at the trot in the ring. A lot of draft horse people will probably call me out upon hearing their shoes connected with soring, but I spent a year not only training our drafts to stand to be trimmed without stocks, but a full year repairing their damn feet. Turns out one of our geldings has textbook perfect feet and hasn’t had an unsound day since we pulled his shoes; no matter if it was dirt, mud, sand, back country gravel road or paved road we asked him to work on, or how much snow we asked him to pull through. Our other gelding still has issues with cracks and flaring and must be trimmed every three or four weeks.

For those who aren’t familiar with SBS shoes, you can check out photos on this forum.

You can see in the photos how wide the horses’ hoof is and how, without the shoe, that would be considered flaring. SBS, as they are done for the show ring today, turn the toes excessively outward (usually considered a fault among light horses) and pull the hocks together (again, considered a fault among light horses). This places tremendous stress and screws up all the angles of a normal draft’s conformation.  Outside of the soft sand of the show ring, horses worked in SBS that are too extreme can be permanently lamed and have laminae separation – also known as Laminitis.

SBS actually is not a completely evil thing in or of itself. But as in most things it is taken way too far by some. Some people not only let the hoof grow out but trim off the heel before shoeing to further enhance movement – and that is the quickest way to lameness for a hitch horse. But it is all the judges currently look at. If you are showing in a hitch class without SBS you are ignored no matter how naturally or nicely your horses move. Another problem with SBS is that most people don’t know how it is supposed to work. In the sand of the show ring the horses just look “pretty” (definitely not to me, but to others). But once you take a horse in SBS out on the road, to train or to work, you are hopping on board the lameness train.

What really pisses me off is talking with people who shoe drafts for hitch in SBS and say that there is no permanent damage to the horse or that it is not hurting the horse one bit. In most cases this is true and not true. Pull the shoes and most horses walk away fine and never turn up lame if they are properly trimmed from them on out. Others may never have good feet, come up with tendon and muscle issues pretty quickly, or have Bute shoved down their throat prior to going into the ring. Everything I’ve been taught about basic horse and hoof anatomy tells me that the angle is hugely important to load bearing and when you throw that out of alignment you have issues.

 The typical thing done with hitch horses is to let their hooves grow out, throw them in stocks, put Scotch Bottom Shoes on them for the 10-14 week show season, then pull them and throw the horses in winter pasture the rest of the year. For reference, this is what a draft horse hoof should look like:

The following pictures are of our drafts after they’ve been barefoot about a year, trimmed by us every 4-5 weeks:

One of the biggest problems we’ve had with our horse Bobby (on the right) is the flaring in his back hooves. We could get his fronts looking normal, but if not trimmed approximately every three weeks his feet would start to flare in the back and he would catch himself as he walked, cutting his pastern on his hoof. It was incredibly frustrating to get this horse barefoot after his years in SBS shoes.  Every time we thought we had it, a crack would appear or his back hooves would start to flare.

The final point is that most things in moderation are not so bad, or used when needed. But SBS and the current hitch world and what judges look for leads to this:

Just another run of the mill instance where the standards judges use in the show ring no longer have anything to do with a well-formed and well-performing horse, and more to do with what stupid people think looks “pretty”.

Up next: Mackinac Island. Just thinking about it makes my blood start to boil!


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Posted on January 17, 2012, in Conformation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. Maybe someone knowledgeable could have a similar post on wedge pads. I am not that person, but my experience says they are bad news as well…

  2. I often think that “pretty” needs to be taken out of the show scene altogether. “Pretty” has wrecked dog breeds, “pretty” leads to equine abuse, hell, “pretty” has even lead to malformation. I remember an Arabian breeder being banned from Scottsdale for life for having cosmetic surgery performed on his horses. I mean, seriously. You take an athletic breed that excels in many disciplines and take that away to get ribbons in a halter class. NOT worth it for anyone–especially the horse.

    However, with very few exceptions, horses and dogs who can perform their funciton are very good-looking creatures. They get their “pretty” with athleticism and ability–and with that comes the outward “pretty”. That is why I find the development of performance halter classes and even in-hand agility to be very encouraging.

    • Really? Some dude performed cosmetic surgery on his horses? Oh why should i even be surprised…

      • Ahh yes, that would be David Boggs and his stallion Magnum Psyche… He had plastic surgery to enhance the dish of his face but it was apparently done for health reasons. (cue eye roll). He was only banned for 5 years though & is back in the halter ring both winning & getting fined for continuously getting caught putting 6-gingeral under his horses tails. Klass act there.

        • You’re right about it being David Boggs. I’m not sure of which horses had surgery, but the surgery affected the throat latch area, not the face. If a horse is a bad, BAD cribber, there is a surgery that can be done as a last-ditch resort. It removes a portion of muscle in the horse’s throat latch so they can’t crib. Since the judges are looking for a slender, refined throat latch, people have had this surgery done to achieve that look.

          Also, I THINK (not positive, but THINK) he was suspended for seven years. He was not allowed on ANY showgrounds of an association show for that time.

          Too damn lenient, if you ask me. But that’s just my opinion.

  3. I don’t know much about draft breeds (or their feet) so I can’t really comment on that, per se.

    However, I do have several light-breed horses… an Arab, a Mustang and a NSH/TB. My complaint is about people who think there is one way to shoe (or not shoe) for EVERY horse.

    The Mustang has never seen a set of shoes in her life. She has very tough feet and can go anywhere barefoot. The NSH/TB has decent feet and can be mostly barefoot unless on rocky terrain. Then shoes or boots work great.

    The Arab, however, cannot be barefoot. After 2 weeks, he has ground off his heels and his heel bulbs start bleeding… bad. There are about 2 months out of the year where it is soft and wet enough for me to pull his shoes and let him go au natural. But any longer than that and he is lame.

    It seems to me that the one draft that is not adjusting to barefoot life might benefit from having a set of regular shoes on. If you’re having to trim EVERY 3 weeks, that seems a bit extreme and perhaps his feet just aren’t cut out for being barefoot.

    It seems that the people who advocate barefoot trimming are fanatical about it. This “one way for all” just doesn’t seem to work. All horses are different. If what you’re doing isn’t working (and it’s not by your own admission) then perhaps it’s time to try something different. Just a thought…

    • And to add to that breed doesn’t define these things either, though it can give you a pretty good idea (like mustangs) but I had an Arab who was sound as your mustang without shoes.. yet known ones just like yours who had ‘pansy toes’ so to speak, hehe.

      I’ve also known a thoroughbred who was awesome barefoot… and then one whose feet were literally rotting out from underneath her if she wasn’t on super duper supplements and getting them treated regularly.

      So I agree… one size doesn’t fit all for people, why do people so often think it fits for horses? o.O It boggles my mind.

  4. Thanks for the explanation. I am a Natural Balance shoer, and I have always wondered just what people were trying to achieve with the draft shoes. Those feet in the link are actually pretty good looking, most of the time I see them cracked, split and stacked up with 2-3 pads. Crazy!!! Madness I say!! And completely unecessary!

  5. I agree that there is no one way- I have mentioned it in the past, but I have three horses with completely different needs, including one who has four completely different feet with drastic corrective shoeing needs. I do have two barefoot horses, and I can also attest to the fact that barefoot is not equivalent to low maintenance if you like to ride and show your horses…

    However, a trim every 3 weeks should not be seen as the end of the world. We are talking about a 2-ton creature standing on ~300square inches of sole surface. There are massive forces at work, and yes, maybe these forces need the help of shoes to reinforce the stresses and strains, but if you can do the same thing with trimming, but twice as often, why not?? I advocate barefoot trimming because I have seen it work in some dire cases,i.e., cases where horses should have never been sound again, per their vet. I am not saying it is a magic bullet, but neither are shoes.

    • I guess I wasn’t trying to say that a trim every few weeks is the end of the world. Mostly I was just saying that if something isn’t working it might be time to try something else. In the post it said that even a little over that time frame and the foot would crack and flare. A shoe might help with that and perhaps relieve a little of the stress that is causing that. It was just something to think about…

  6. I can’t stand Scotch Bottom shoes. I have 2 draft mares and they are trimmed in the Barefoot style. I keep their toes backed up and voila! no flares.

    The hooves look deformed in SBS.

  7. As far as the guy doing plastic surgery getting banned from Scottsdale for life?? Wrong…it was David Boggs and he was banned from even going to, let alone show at any AHA approved shows for 5 years. Hes now showing again and scottsdale is his bread and butter.

    • I heard something about the Boggs and cosmetic surgery on Magnum Psyche…has this been confirmed? I assume it was if the AHA banned him for 5 years. He is most assuredly back though. Midwest Training Center is a GIANT in the halter horse world. I think there are two facilities now…one in MN, one in Scottsdale.

  8. OOOhh I hate the flaring! I follow my friends Clyde hitch on the fall New England circuit, and am always asking about why his horses feet look like horse feet and everyone else has paper thin, flared out feet (he competes against Belgian/Percherons). He does his own horses feet, the horses often win in the Open Breed classes, and keep in shape by doing hayrides throughout the year.

    I get to help bathe the hitch so its a good time to check out behind the scenes on the other hitches. I was horrified by the paint coming off the legs of the horses and seeing the massive sores caused by the horses nicking themselves. We are so careful with the Clydes’ feathering and skin health, while the others were scarred and bloodied.

    Thank you for having a working draft poster!

  9. I am confused. And before I begin, I admit that I know very little about draft horses and their farriery requirements.

    However, the impression I get is that the SB shoes are analogous to snowshoes; they increase the area of the foot so as to keep the feet from sinking into the sand/mud or whatever, and also give greater purchase for pulling. I’m not sure from what I read above why their use leads (inevitably, according to the commenters) to flaring. Seems to me that a neglected bare draft horse hoof shows flaring and cracks pretty quickly, but that trimming and shoeing, SBS or other type, would keep those two flaws in check. I need more info.

    And regarding the post about drafters nicking themselves and developing nasty cuts and sores – couldn’t the horses wear brushing boots or wraps in training, so they don’t arrive at a show with bashed up fetlocks? Just askin’!

  10. P.S. Regarding cow hocks in drafters, I have read that such conformation is not considered a bad fault, as the turning out of the hind legs enables better pulling. When a person has to walk through heavy sand or climb a sandy dune, he turns his feet much more outwards than when walking on a firm surface. Turning out the feet, especially on an uphill incline, allows the person to push off from a wider foot surface (the whole *length* of the foot) rather than just the toes. I have noticed, and I think that someone mentioned here, that some Arabians are cowhocked; a trait associated with the sandy dunes that the original Arabians had to cope with? Don’t know, just speculatin’!

  11. Very interesting. Had no idea SBS even existed, or how hard they are on the Drafty’s.

    My QH gelding has Navicular Syndrome, or whatever the Heck they are calling it nowa days. With aluminum egg bar shoes and wedge pads he is comfortable but not riding sound.

    I am guessing there is some issue with wedge pads used on performance horses to enhance said performance?

  12. I don’t know much about draft horse shoeing practices (although I do know more now thanks to this informative article – thanks!), but at the risk of being controversial I would like to say that I think that the point of this article could almost extend to most shoeing practices that are unnecessary and therefore interfere with horses’ natural movement and soundness.

    Yes, my horses are barefoot and before we go any further I do believe that there is a place for corrective shoeing, barefoot isn’t the be all and end all – nothing in the horse world really is, except kindness and consideration for your animal. Having said that however, I also think that a lot of shoeing is considered “corrective” or necessary when it isn’t.

    One example being an OTTB we used to own. When we got him we were told by an old, expert horseman that he had thin soles and if we didn’t get shoes on him, he would be crippled by navicular within three months. Well, my Dad decided to trim his feet with the Barefoot method and instead of going terribly lame as predicted, the horse had tough, strong healthy soles in six months, and was never lame for the years we had him.

    So that’s just my two cents on the issue of bad shoeing practices, and my thoughts on why I wonder if shoeing is really necessary at all.

    bonita of A Riding Habit

  13. I have a percheron mare that clips both her front and back legs when she walks. I’m thinking of putting polo wraps or some kind of boot on them so she’ll stop tearing her legs up. Does anyone have any advice?

  14. Very, very interesting information (in a disturbing kind of way). I learned all about soring post meltdown several years ago; we have a former big lick horse here (up until then, I’d never heard of it). I had no idea it was an issue for drafts though; how ridiculous.

    I’m not a competitive person at all, but it seems to me that every single discipline has become sadly misdirected in the quest for their own Holy Grail/Blue Ribbon.

  15. Hi I’ve just voted for your site for the awards 😉
    Follow us, I’m an Italian show jumping rider:


    good luck

  16. This is an amazing exhibit of the farrier’s art, and it’s over 100 years old:

    I can’t find any better photos on my quick Google trip… but it’s a very big display. Some are ox shoes, some are for drafts, some have hinges, some have gaps, some have bars, … etc etc etc. All are as shiny as the day they were forged.

    “It consists of about 350 pieces, approximately 250 of which at that time were samples of the latest improved methods of shoeing, counterbalancing, and gaiting horses.”

    One size fits all? I think NOT.

  17. I can’t wait to read this posters story on Mackinac Island! I frequent the Island myself (was married there) and often wondered about the horses for hire. Did you know that they allow anyone to come in and literally rent a horse and cart? Oh my. It’s something else.

  18. Devo, yes it was Magnum as well as several other horses. Funnily enough tho he didn’t get pinched for Magnum, his was surgery was “to prevent cribbing”, he had a layer of muscle removed on his neck. A happy side effect is his throatlatch is slimmer…. He got pinched on a few other horses for lipo and eye tattoing. This was ages ago, hes been back showing for at least 5 years or more.

  19. Guess I am the hold out. I like the look and the action that SBS give. It can’t make a good mover out of a poor one, but it greatly enhances the look for a good one. I have a friend who logs with his very fancy Percherons using normal shoes all winter. But come fair season, they get their SBSs on and clean house at the local fairs, which is only for a few months out of the summer, then the shoes are removed, and they are back working in the woods again. We have one farm, who shows their drafts without the SBS. They are pitiful looking, by comparison, and always place dead last. There is no comparrison. Until judges change what they are placing, that’s what wins. IMHO, I would rather stand in SBS all day ( during show season only) than stand in pulling shoes ( during pulling season only). Then, the rest of the year, be natural or normal shod, as needed.

  20. Cannot wait to read about Mackinac Island. I love going there, as a quick weekend vacation spot for those of us in Michigan, but to hell if I ever support their horse businesses – it’s terrible how they’re treated. From the carriage drafts to their hourly rental horses: no need to know how to ride them, just rent them like you can the bikes! Depressing.

  21. Thanks for such an informative post! Always nice to learn something new. I volunteered at a Large Animal Hospital and we had a Clydesdale in – I could not tear my eyes away from his poor feet! I couldn’t tell what was wrong but his hooves were flared out dramatically in addition to being past due for a trim. The wall looked paper thin and almost warped. I was surprised that he was sound. From this post and the pictures I can definitely tell that he had Scotch Bottom shoes. Very interesting…

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