Toe Clips: Explanation and Applications

*Note: This journal post was originally published on September 10, 2010*

A shod horse hoofMany of my current clients are quite familiar with this particular modification and some of those simply accept that they are appropriate for their horse. The truth is, the vast majority of horses can benefit from having a toe clip on their shoes.

Clips, no matter where they are on the shoe, have one primary function. To stabilize the shoe and in doing so better improve the union between the shoe and the hoof.

The effect that a clip has on a foot, however, varies depending on where the clip is placed on the shoe. The closer the clip is to the widest point of the foot, the more that the clip will impede hoof function (the expansion and contraction of the hoof capsule). This is not to say that side clips (between the second and third nail hole on most shoes) are detrimental when applied, just that they must be applied with discretion. If they are improperly fit and applied, they can cause weakness and damage to the hoof capsule in the short term, and damage to the coffin bone in the long term.

For this reason, on the majority of horses, I choose to place my clip at the center of the toe. When properly applied and burned into place, a toe clip discourages both twisting of the shoe and rearward movement of the shoe – “slipping back”. That is the function.

The benefits to the hoof are simple; toe clips allow the hoof to expand and contract normally. Additionally, by being placed away from the nails, they don’t “bind” the hoof between two rigid objects. If a horse pulls a shoe, the chances of the hoof being damaged are lessened dramatically.

Misconceptions about the effect toe clips have on the hoof are numerous, but the most common is that they encourage flaring at the toe and under-run heels. This is a fallacy perpetuated by misapplication. An improperly trimmed foot is most commonly the blame.

I’m sure that I sound like a broken record, but a correct trim is more important than any shoe. If the clip is not properly burned into the hoof, then the shoe is not properly fit. In order to benefit the horse, every shoe must be properly fit to match the shape of the hoof.

A well-fit shoe with a well-made toe clip is impressive to see. Just remember that it isn’t just for looks, it is highly functional and beneficial to your horse.