When and why do horses need horseshoes?

The most basic reason a horse would need shoes is for protection. If the hoof wall is being worn at a faster rate than it can grow, or if a horse is working on a surface likely to bruise the feet such as rocky terrain or gravel, shoes may also be needed.

Traction is another common reason to shoe a horse. This can be traction for performance – better grip for show jumpers or race horses, for example – or for safety on slippery surfaces.

Metal shoes can add traction in few different ways. The profile of the shoe itself can be used as a traction device. Most shoes have a crease that runs down the middle of the shoe that the nails sit in. This is called ‘fullering’ and sometimes it just runs through the branches (sides) of the shoe or sometimes the whole perimeter of the shoe. The fullering packs with dirt, which is able to give more traction than just a smooth steel surface. If fullering alone does not provide enough traction for the horse, other devices can be added such as corks or studs.

Why add studs or caulks to horseshoes?

Studs, caulks or corks are all traction devices. A horse that does not have confidence in his footing will not be able to perform well and may even be at risk of injury. They come in many different shapes and sizes. Essentially, they are like cleats on the bottom of an athlete’s shoes.

Some corks are permanently installed in the shoe and are not removable by the rider. The farrier installs these ‘drive in’ corks by drilling and hole and driving the tapered cork into the hole giving a friction fit.

Some corks are removable. The farrier will drill and hole and tap a thread into the shoe. This way rider can add or remove the corks as conditions dictate.

Borium is also sometimes welded on. It is tungsten carbide, a very hard steel that is made sharp to grab into hard surfaces. Most commonly this is seen on Standardbred racehorses or horses that do a lot of roadwork. It can extend the life of the shoe.

Ice corks are used in the winter to keep horse and rider safe. A steel shoe on snow or ice is very slippery and must have corks or else the horse is best left barefoot.

More traction is not always a good thing, though. The slide phase of a horse’s stride is important for shock absorption. Large corks can grip too quickly and cause a jarring to the limb from quick deceleration.

At what age should a horse be shod?

There is not generally a required age for a horse to be shod. Usually, a horse only needs to be shod if it is mature and under a heavy enough training program or work load that shoes are necessary. Sometimes yearlings are shod for halter classes or before going to a sale.

Is it common for horses to be sore after shoeing?

Fortunately, it is quite rare for a horse to be sore after shoeing. If your horse is sore, inform your farrier. He or she may need to see the horse and possibly make a correction to the shoe.

Can a horse shoe nail damage my horse’s hoof?

The white line is a farrier’s guide for driving nails. If a nail is driven inside the white line, it could puncture a sensitive part of the foot. If this happens, usually very little treatment is needed if it is detected early. On the other hand, if a nail is driven outside the white line, into the hoof wall, it is likely to split and crack the hoof wall and will not be a very strong nail. Nails should be driven into the white line and angled at the same pitch as the hoof wall. This should provide a safe and strong nail.

What materials compose horseshoes?

The two most common materials for making horseshoes are steel and aluminum. Steel is the most common because it’s economical, durable, and is easily modified and of a suitable weight. Aluminum is used when weight is a concern. Race horses and show hunters commonly have aluminum shoes, for instance. It is very light, but not as durable. Aluminum horseshoes don’t last nearly as long as steel horseshoes.

Manufacturers now offer horseshoes made from different types of plastics. But these new materials still need to be affixed to the horse’s foot somehow and that’s usually done with either traditional horseshoe nails or newly formulated high-strength adhesives. Some of the new horseshoes use polyurethane to create a softer and more flexible pad.

Why use custom horseshoes?

Manufactured shoes bought ‘off-the-rack’ are often called keg shoes. This is because in the early days of manufactured shoes they were sold in kegs. A keg shoe can be shaped to fit any foot and many modifications can also be made. Custom made horseshoes happen when a farrier chooses to make a shoe from bar stock steel. This has advantages in certain situations. With a handmade shoe, a blacksmith can have more control of nail hole location and also the angle at which the nails will fit in the shoe. This is helpful if part of the hoof wall is broken.

Why do some horseshoes have clips?

Not all shoes have clips. It is often a farrier’s preference as to whether or not they use clips. Shoes can be purchased with or without them. Some farriers will put their own clips on shoes so that they can be placed wherever they deem best for a particular foot. Some horses need clips more than others. Sometimes they are used when the hoof wall is in poor condition and clips can stabilize the shoe where nails could not be driven. They take the shearing force off of the nails and to stabilize a shoe. Shearing occurs during the slide phase of the horse’s stride as the foot decelerates in contact with the ground. It is especially exaggerated in such disciplines as jumping or barrel racing.

The location of clips can depend on the horse’s discipline, conformation, hoof wall or even tradition. A toe clip is located at the centre of the toe while side clips or quarter clips are located between the nail holes along the sides of the shoe. Properly fit and placed clips can allow a shoe to be held in place with fewer and smaller nails.

Does the horse’s discipline affect its horseshoe choice?

Most riding disciplines use similar shoes, but with subtle differences. An event horse, for example, might have a shoe that offers more traction than a dressage horse requires. Some disciplines have very specific shoes that would not be used for anything else. The hind shoes on a reining horse, for example, are called sliders and are meant to provide zero traction and help the horse perform sliding stops.

Should you shoe all four hooves on a horse?

Many horses with shoes do fine with just front shoes. Front feet carry more of the horse’s body weight and generally show more wear and tear. It will not make a horse off balance to only have the front feet shod.

Do you leave horseshoes on all year?

Shoes can be left on year round, but many people in Canada will remove their horses’ shoes for the winter. In the colder months, a lot of people are not riding as much and shoes are no longer necessary on their horse

Are there different horseshoes for different seasons?

The same shoes can be used year round, but for winter use should have two important additions. First, the shoes should have corks for traction on snow and ice. Second, the shoes should have a snow pad to prevent snow from balling up inside the shoe. Snow ball pads or rim pads are commonly used to pop snow out of the shoe.

Why else might a pad be used with a horseshoe?

If a horse has thin soles and is prone to bruising or shows signs of discomfort in his feet and needs extra protection that shoes alone can’t provide, then pads may be the solution. Pads can be made of leather or plastic. The pad should always have packing or filler underneath it to prevent moisture or debris from getting between the pad and the hoof and causing discomfort or a ‘thrushy’ environment.

Horses: hot shoeing or cold shoeing?

Heating steel or aluminum to a forging temperature makes the metal softer and easier to manipulate. It enables the farrier to use the horn of the anvil to match every radius on the horse’s foot and create a deliberate fit. When the metal is cold, it is harder, which makes it more difficult to shape, though not impossible.

Hot fitting is when the hot shoe is touched to the foot to check the fit and burn a perfectly flat surface. This makes the foot and the shoe a perfect match to each other. Hot fitting does not hurt the horse in any way if done properly. In fact, it is even beneficial, as it cauterizes the horn tubules to maintain moisture and kills surface bacteria and fungus. If a horse is nervous of hot fitting or the work site makes it unsafe, then it may be necessary to cold shoe.

How do I know my horse is ready to have his shoes reset?

The best plan is to have your horse on a consistent schedule with the farrier. In the end, this works best for everyone. For most horses, a six-week cycle is appropriate. There are, however, a few indicators to watch for that may mean the shoes are ready to be reset, such as if the clinches are lifted or “popped.” Clinches are where the nail exits the dorsal wall and are bent over to form a hook into the hoof wall. Sometimes as the hoof gets long or the shoe gets loose these clinches are no longer recessed or flush to the wall and start to stick out. Another sign is the hoof wall is over growing the shoe. Even if the clinches are tight and the hoof has not overgrown the shoe it is still wise to reset the horse around the six-week mark. It is best not to wait until the feet are desperate for a reset.

How long can you use the same set of shoes before having to replace them?

That mostly depends on the surface the horse has been used on and the amount of use that it has had. A hard or abrasive surface such as a road will put much more wear on a shoe than a soft surface like grass or arena footing. Some horses will wear through a set of shoes in six weeks and some will last several months. As an average, most manufactured steel shoes will last 12 weeks (or two cycles).

What can I do if my horse is overreaching?

Horse shoes should be fit with room for expansion. This means that the shoe is not an exact perimeter fit of the whole hoof when it gets put on. Basically, it should be fit with growing room. This amount varies depending on the horse’s hoof, conformation, living conditions and discipline. This is to prevent the hoof from growing over the shoe in a reasonable time period. The downside is that sometimes a hind hoof can catch the heel of a front shoe or a hoof can step on the opposite shoe and pull it off. To minimize this risk, bell boots can be a good solution. A properly-fitted bell boot will cover the part of the shoe that is fit with expansion. Many horses will never need to wear bell boots, but they are certainly an easy insurance policy to minimize shoe loss.

What should I do if my horse loses a shoe? Can I still ride?

If your horse loses a shoe it is best not to ride. It is possible to damage the hoof wall enough to make it difficult to put the shoe back on. If the feet have just been reset, usually not much damage will be done because the wall is short. A long foot due for a reset is much more likely to break or chip. Always make sure a horse has all shoes on before riding.

Is it safe for me to remove a loose shoe on my own?

Removing a loose shoe is a valuable skill for a horse owner to have and only requires one or two basic farrier tools. A farrier could teach a horse owner to safely remove a shoe in a matter of minutes. If a shoe is loose and an owner does not have the expertise to remove it the best solution is to keep the horse confined to a stall or small paddock and wrap the foot with duct tape or a boot to keep the shoe in place until the farrier arrives. The best thing to do is contact your farrier and ask for their advice when you realize a shoe is loose.

Can I learn to shoe my horse myself?

Some people do learn to shoe their own horses and have no problems. This does come with risks, however. It is common for farriers to apprentice for a lengthy period to gain the knowledge needed to shoe safely and efficiently.

How should I choose a farrier?

A great way to choose a farrier is word of mouth. There are also farrier organizations that have directories of farriers on their website. When a farrier is a member of an association, it is often an indicator that they are interested in continued education and professional networking.

An Alternative: Hoof Boots

A well-fitted pair of hoof boots are supposed to act similarly for a horse’s hooves as a good pair of athletic shoes would for a person’s feet. The flexibility of the tough rubber/plastic allows the hoof to flex and expand, while providing some extra support/protection to the hoof on certain rough terrains. Boots are being designed with several different tread options and even studs for extra grip on slippery surfaces, while still allowing the natural movement of the hoof mechanics.

Hoof boots are also being prescribed by many veterinarians and farriers therapeutically during hoof rehabilitation for laminitis, navicular syndrome and sole bruising. Some brands of boots can be altered to ease breakover pressure and provide extra padding to relieve the structures of the entire hoof.

Features to look for in hoof boots:

  • Trail riders tend to prefer boots with a Velcro closure, as they are handy to use on the go.
  • Boots with drainage holes prevent large amounts of moisture from building up against the hoof and are useful for crossing water.
  • “Gaiters” or “gloves” help prevent debris and mud from getting into the boot.
  • Most brands of hoof boots have a slight “breakover” at the toe to help the horse walk with ease. Breakover that extends around the sides of the hoof will facilitate quick changes of direction and turning.

Whether your horse is wearing boots for riding or for rehabilitation purposes, they should fit correctly in order to prevent coming off or rubbing, especially when boots are worn for more than several hours at a time. Each brand of boot has a size chart that can be found on their website to help you measure the width and length of your horse’s hooves. Measure after a fresh trim for the best fit.