Loose horse shoes should be taken care of right away
Losing a shoe can be a disaster, especially if it happens out on the trail far from home, or during the peak of show season — especially if the hoof wall is damaged when the shoe is pulled off.
If it’s still on the foot, it must be tightened if possible, or removed if it is dangling or out of position, with risk of injury to the other feet or legs. If it pulls off, there is risk of damage to the foot. You’ll need to protect the foot until a new shoe can be put on.
Todd Allen, a farrier in Vandergrift, Pa., tells his clients it is a good idea to have some kind of protective boot on hand to put on the bare foot. Endurance riders and trail riders generally take a spare boot along in case their horse loses a shoe out on the trail. These can also protect the shoeless foot until a farrier can replace the shoe.
HOW IT HAPPENS
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“There are many different situations in which a horse might pull a shoe,” Allen said. Some horses repeatedly lose shoes because of poor hoof walls that won’t hold nails, or because of their conformation and the way they move. A horse with feet too close together may accidentally step on a front foot with the other one if the shoe is sticking out too much or the horse is stomping flies.
A horse with long hind legs or a horse with a short back and long legs may hit a front shoe with the approaching hind foot. Young horses in training sometimes hit their front and hind shoes together because they are not yet balanced while carrying the extra weight of a rider. They may not handle themselves with agility while being ridden, or are still growing (taller at the croup than withers) with hind legs overreaching the fronts.
A common cause of shoe loss is simply shoes being left on too long, or the horse being ridden so much that the shoe wears out and nail heads wear off. A long foot may overgrow the shoe at the heels, placing too much weight on the hoof wall at the rear of the foot. The wall tends to collapse or break and the clinches come loose. If the shoe starts to get loose and move around, the nails may break and the shoe just falls off.
Mike Pownall, a farrier/veterinarian in Ontario, Canada, said the main reason shoes become loose is the owner waiting too long between shoeings. “The best prevention is to do the recommended shoeing intervals, and not let the feet get too long. When feet get too long, front shoes are often pulled by the hind foot stepping on them. This happens a lot if the horse has a long toe or a long heel. This slows down the breakover and the hind feet clip onto the front shoes. Sometimes a horse is lame or favoring a leg, and that interferes with the stride and timing. This is another reason that the shoes may get pulled off,” he said.
In other situations the lost shoe is the result of an accident such as the horse catching a foot while backing out of a trailer, or pawing a wire fence. If the horse paws at a metal gate he might get the heel of a shoe hooked on the bottom rail. “Or, the horse might be running and bucking around in the spring and just clips himself and pulls off a shoe. Sometimes it’s just bad luck,” Pownall said.
Allen said that under normal conditions the front foot is leaving the ground as the hind foot is coming forward to land, and the front foot gets out of the way in time. “All it takes for a horse to pull a shoe is to misstep or mis-stride and there goes their perfect timing. A front shoe can easily be pulled by a hind foot,” Allen said.
“A common thought is that the shoe was sucked off in the mud, but it can’t create enough suction to pull off a tight shoe, or even a slightly loose shoe. But scrambling through the mud can throw the horse’s stride out of time, and he steps on himself.” Deep footing will hinder the horse’s stride and balance. Horses that run and play in wet, slippery pastures may also grab a shoe with another foot.
Pownall said that horses with hoof pads might lose shoes in mud. “If the horse has pads on, it’s like being stuck in the mud with rubber boots; it can suck them off. It helps if you can avoid having horses in deep mud,” Pownall said.
Wet conditions contribute to shoe loss if the feet become so soft they won’t hold nails. A soft hoof wall also tends to spread, and clinches may loosen. Feet that are alternately wet and dry may start cracking, and in some cases the hoof wall becomes so compromised that it’s hard to find a solid area to place the nails.
If a shoe is loose and it will be a day or two before the farrier can come, secure it to the foot or take it off. “Depending on when the farrier is coming and how loose the shoe is, you might just wrap that foot with duct tape to keep it in place. But if it is starting to shift, you have to pull that shoe off,” Pownall said. You don’t want the horse to bang the opposite leg with the protruding shoe or nails.
REMOVING A LOOSE SHOE
“Every horse owner should have a few tools,” Pownall said. “Shoe pullers would be one of the most important tools to keep at the barn or in the horse trailer. There is a trick to pulling the shoe off, using proper leverage.” You don’t want to put an abnormal twist on the leg/fetlock joint/pastern as you pull.
Start at the heel. Gradually and alternately work down each heel branch to loosen it as you go. “Pull a little, pushing the handles of the puller down — toward the toe and the center of the foot, so the hoof wall doesn’t rip as you pull the nails out,” he said.
“You don’t really need fancy tools. The handy tools used for fencing, or even a set of pliers can be used to pull a shoe off. Pull each nail out as you work it loose. I don’t want my clients wrenching the shoe off or it may break some of the hoof wall off with the shoe.” If a person can work the nails loose and take them out individually, it won’t tear the wall when the shoe comes off.
The shoe is easiest to remove and less likely to break off any of the hoof wall if you first unclinch the remaining nails. If they are loose, you can pry them up with a screwdriver or nip them off with a clinch cutter, or rasp them off with an old rasp or file. Then you can pull the shoe off, starting with the heels. If you don’t have any kind of pulling tool or pliers, you can slip the claws of a carpenter’s hammer under the heel of the shoe, and push the head of the hammer toward the frog to pry the shoe up. Slowly work the claws along the shoe until it comes off.
It helps if you can pull each nail out individually as you loosen the shoe, so it is no longer pulling on the hoof wall as you continue to loosen the shoe. You can usually grasp the nail head with the shoe pullers or pliers as it starts to come loose, and pull it on out. This will make it easier to continue loosening the rest of the shoe so it will pull off.
“If the shoe is loose enough so you can get some kind of grip on it, you can pull it off that way,” he said. You also need to know the proper angle to pull, for best leverage that won’t put a twist on the horse’s joints or increase the risk of tearing the hoof wall. There is a proper technique involved.
“It may be difficult for someone who has never done it before, and if they can’t get it off they should just use some duct tape around the foot until the farrier can come. That’s better than doing nothing. If they do pull the shoe off, they should definitely put duct tape around the edges of the bare foot, to minimize risks for breaking the hoof wall. I also advise people to not turn that horse out — especially on hard ground. They should try to keep that horse in until the farrier shows up. There’s nothing more frustrating for the farrier than to find the hoof wall ragged and torn off, with nothing to nail to, and the horse is lame,” Pownall said. The bare foot needs to be protected.
A hoof boot is handy to have. This can be put onto the bare foot to keep it from being chipped and damaged. “When people are out riding I recommend taking along a spare boot in case a shoe is lost,” he said. If you have to bring the horse home without a shoe, the hoof wall may be badly damaged, especially if you have to travel through rocky terrain. You need to minimize the damage to the hoof.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, in this situation. If the hoof wall gets badly broken, it may be awhile before the horse can be ridden again. ❖
— Smith Thomas is a cattle rancher, horseman, freelance writer and book author, ranching with her husband near Salmon, Idaho. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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