Understanding Dave Duckett’s hoof balance theory

Most of the work on balance today has been influenced by farrier Dave Duckett who first presented his work in the 1980s. When you hear farriers talk about “setting the shoe back” to improve break-over, they are talking about one of Duckett’s core principles. If your farrier attended shoeing school, you can be certain that he or she knows about Dave Duckett.

Duckett is widely known for his work on external references of foot and leg bone alignment. Duckett reminded farriers that the term “horse shoeing” means we need to keep the whole horse in mind when we practice as shoers. Duckett’s theory is complex, but the basic aim is to trim and shoe for ideal coffin bone and lower leg balance. Optimum hoof and pastern posture provides the best possible foundation for the whole horse. Efficient stance and movement is the end result of balance according to the Duckett system.

Setting the shoe back and paying attention to where the shoe is in relation to the bones sounds like common sense. But before Duckett popularized these notions they were not widely appreciated concepts! There were farriers before Duckett who presented similar ideas and there have been many after him who have done so. Yet still there are many in the shoeing world who place the shoes on the perimeter of the foot without taking into account the bone alignment. Shoeing merely to “protect” the outer edge of the hoof wall from excess wear still remains a common practice in some parts of the horse industry. This so-called perimeter shoeing may appear to work in the short term. But the only way to promote ideal hoof balance and to prevent long-term problems is to trim and shoe “the whole horse” with respect to its hoof and pastern alignment.

Familiarity with Duckett’s balance theory will give you a benchmark to evaluate other balance theories, and will give you the needed terminology to discuss balance with your veterinarian and farrier. Duckett’s ideas are widely used although no scientific research has actually verified effectiveness. But keep in mind that no scientific research has verified the effectiveness of any particular balance theory.

The most well known aspects of Duckett’s balance theory are the two external points – called the dot and the bridge – that help farriers determine ideal foot proportions and optimum shoe placement. The dot (also called Duckett’s dot) is located about 3/8 of an inch behind the tip of the trimmed frog on an average sized foot. The dot is underneath the center of the coffin bone. The bridge is located across the foot at about the point where the bars end and lies beneath the center of rotation of the coffin joint.

These two anatomy specimens are marked to illustrate how Duckett’s external references line up with the hoof’s inner structures.

Duckett dissected a lot of feet. He found that the dot is an external reference that allows the farrier to determine ideal toe length. The distance from the dot to the point of break-over should be the same or slightly less than the distance from the medial wall to the dot. The bridge is a reference for the center of the weight-bearing surface in the anterior-posterior plane. The reference point is a guide for how far back the weight-bearing surface of the bare foot, or the heel branches of a shoe, should extend. Duckett determined that the base of support, the bearing surface of the foot, should have at least as much surface behind the bridge as in front of it.

The bridge is a less easily identifiable point than the tip of the frog, so a quick simple way to check these proportions is to find Duckett’s dot and then notice the solar surface proportions. If you remember only one thing about hoof proportion, it should be this – there should be at least 2/3 of the bearing surface behind the tip of the frog. This concept was popularized by farrier Gene Ovniceck shortly after Dave Duckett began speaking and publishing on the topic. Ovniceck’s natural balance theories have become more widely known today, at least among horse owners, than Duckett’s work. But the important thing for you to understand is they are similar concepts about keeping the foot under the horse and preventing the toes and heels from becoming under-run and thus too far forward.

If this is your first time hearing about Duckett’s theories, do not worry if it is not crystal clear yet. Next week I will review these concepts! I will expand on them by showing you ways to look at your horse’s feet from different views as this will help you put together a three-dimensional understanding of your horse’s hoof balance.


Copyright © 2012 ~ Dr. Lisa Lancaster DVM, WDAA Blog Author

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