x-ray's help by looking at the inside of the horses hoof to make sure everything lines up correctly on the inside, not just on the outside. If you have a club foot formed on the inside of the foot, but the farrier trims it like it is a normally conformed hoof, you are goign to end up with a very lame horse, very quickly.
Also, you can look if there is damage, or an underlying syndrome (navicular/laminitis) that needs special care.
You can tell if you horse is balanced without x-rays in a few ways. Look at the wear/tear on their shoes if they have some on. If the shoe is worn more on one side than the other, you will know the horse is unbalanced and putting more weight on one side. If they are unshod, you will see the difference usually in the wear of the hoof itself.
You can also measure the angles of the hoof, and the hieght, and compare what you find. Sometimes both hooves will not match to be really balanced, depending on the horse.
Finally, if you have a horse that will allow this, you can stand up on a mounting block behind your horse, with them facing in a perfect straight line away from you. Look at the muscle tone on each side of your horse. Does it look even? If not, you are unbalanced somewhere!
X-rays show what is inside the hoof capsule, no guessing. Details are precise to measure, so Farrier can make the outside changes needed to aid the horse. With things like founder, it can take a long time for the bone changes, rotation, whether large or small, to show on the outside.
Smaller details like coffin bone breaks or cracks can be seen to make the appropriate shoes to help horse.
And x-rays will show changes over time, if horse is developing a problem he never had before. You have the set from purchase, to compare to his current ones, if he is off or acting oddly. Some bony changes are miniscule, so comparing the sets will show differences.
X-rays are a tool, but quality of them can depend on the person taking the shots, markers in the x-ray and angles they are shot from. Then the person reading the x-ray, Farrier or Vet, has to be a skilled diagnostician at interpreting what is shown to come up with a cause for problem. And the best part? What changes inside a hoof will cripple one horse, going foot-dragging lame, doesn't even make another wince during performances!! Many folks are totally surprised when x-rays are taken during a PPE, then show massive bone issues that horse never has reacted to during riding activities.
X-rays are a very helpful tool, to allow a view inside the hoof or leg, without making holes in the horse. And yes even experienced Farriers need x-rays to help solve an issue with how a horse goes. Experienced Farrier will probably be the first to ask you to get x-rays done, to make the correct choice in solutions for the horse. Much quicker fix than "let's try this now, and I can try that my next visit, if it doesn't work" diagnosing. I have known several animals with coffin wing damage. X-rays right away found the problem, quick action with Farrier and shoes healed the horses to be usable in time. Guessing problems on other horses with no x-rays, no shoes to hold things in place to grow back, let them sorta heal or not, to be unusable later.
My feeling is, the more abnormal the foot, the more helpful having xrays will be. I remember a doozie of a horse that had these terrible boxes for feet after having foundered severely many years before. There would have been no way anyone could have guessed what was inside those ugly feet without the xrays.
On the other end of the spectrum is the sound horse with 'normal' looking feet with no issues. It might be nice to have xrays on this horse, but its not necessary.
Your vet an your farrier should be able to tell you if they feel that xrays would be helpful to them.
I had an issue with one foot (off and on lameness) for about a year. I had a ppe done four years ago so I has a baseline. Last year when the issue first came up he was xrayed and shod off the xray with the vet standing there.
This horse has the ability to grow a huge amount of toe. My current farrier mentioned to me several months ago about wanting to shoe off xrays. When he came up with an abscess a few weeks ago, I called them both out to 1) rule out any boney changes with the foot and 2) let him see what he had to work with. The first shot was with the shoe on and we immediately saw he was not balanced. He had more sole depth than the farrier thought and he took off a large amount of toe...as a matter of fact he took toe off and the vet took another xray and told him to take off more. I know he never would have been comfortable taking the foot back that much without the pictures.
I watched a true expert of a farrier tell me the limits of X-rays, too. He had spent so much time comparing X-rays to the outside of the horse that he had developed X-ray vision.
His point: If you have a horse with angular or rotational deviations in the pastern (in this case) they will take the toe closer or farther from the plane of the fetlock. Make sense? If the horse "toes out", for example, the coffin bone will be farther away the plate than fetlock. That changes the angle at which the vet is shooting through all those joints and bones.
Another big deal for him was keeping the back of the coffin bone from ossifying. The lacey wings of that turn from cartilage to bone as horses age. I don't know if he used X-rays to evaluate that. But for a working, middle-aged horse, he might want a set of those views before he put on bar shoes as some kind of long-term solution. I'm just guessing about the value this guy would have placed on actual radiographs for this issue.
east central Illinois and working north to the 'burbs
Originally Posted by caballus
The outlined illustrations and explanations tell how to determine if the hoof is balanced without using xrays.
Unfortunately, the referenced external 'markers' may or may not give you an accurate representation of what is occurring within the hoof capsule or why. The proposed evaluation system is dependent on, among other things, the hoof and limb having a perfect conformation. Any deviation from said 'perfection' makes the system less than accurate.
east central Illinois and working north to the 'burbs
Originally Posted by champagnetaste
How do x-rays help a farrier, exactly? What do they look at?
Among other things, sole depth, phalangeal alignment, spatial orientation of p3 within the hoof capsule. changes to p3, exotosis in and/or around the DIPJ, the PIPJ, calcification of the lateral cartilages, AP and ML balance of P3, remodeling of p3, calcification of tendons or ligaments, presence of gas lines, presence of sequestrum, presence of foreign objects, condition of the navicular bone, other capsular deformations, etc.
Do experienced farriers really need them?
Do humans need air to live?
How do you know if your horse is really balanced without xrays?
Actually, you don't. That said, there are various external landmarks, including shoe wear, that may be sufficient, in conjunction with the horse's way of going, that may offer the experienced professional enough information to determine whether or not the hooves/limb(s) are in correct 'basic' balance. Of course, how one defines 'balance' will play a large roll in the evaluation and determination.