How many answers will you get if you ask three knowledgeable horsemen when and how to shoe your horses? The answer depends on how you use the animals and who you ask, but you can expect six or more answers.
Most competitive horses have specific shoe requirements that don’t apply to the horses used by farmers and ranchers to work cattle, haul winter feed and, most commonly, for recreation.
Retired farrier Dave Humphries, of Vegreville, Alberta, says shoes are used to prevent injuries such as preventing cracks from getting bigger. They are also used to provide protection from excessive hoof wear if a horse travels many miles over pavement.
“If a horse lives and works on soft ground such as pasture or hay land, he likely should never be shod unless he has a cracked hoof or other foot injury,” says Humphries.
Horses travelling many miles over rough, uneven or icy ground, will likely benefit from steel shoes, but according to Humphries, there is seldom need for specialty shoes.
“If a horse is to be shod, regular steel shoes are all is required 99 per cent of the time,” he says.
Most farriers agree a “resting period” between shoeing sessions allows the horse’s feet to develop naturally and permits nail holes to grow out as the hooves are trimmed.
Humphries adds the decision to shoe horses should not be based upon the season, but on usage and need.
The same advice is often applied to horses travelling long distances over icy, uneven roads or pavement.
Alberta farrier Roger Shaw compares unshod horses, working on slippery surfaces, to football players wearing tennis shoes on artificial turf or to a cowboy walking down an icy road in his brand new leather boots.
He provides hoof care for the driving teams belonging to “The Olson Outfit,” owned by Fred and Maryanne Olson, at Mundare, Alberta. The horses travel many miles over icy, uneven roads, cement and pavement, providing horse-powered transportation for sleigh rides, weddings, funerals and community events. They are often hired to provide an advertising entry in parades. Each summer they haul Edmonton’s Northland Stage Coach to various events including the Calgary and Olds Stampedes. The Olson Outfit horses are shod with borium reinforced shoes year round.
Borium is a generic name for tungsten carbide crystals embedded in a carrier material, is used to provide traction for horses. It usually comes in the form of steel or brass tubing, or rods, with a center of tungsten carbide crystals. The carbide crystals may be either eight or 10 mesh and are available from farrier supply dealers.
These products must be welded into the horseshoe with an oxy/ acetylene welding torch. Skill is required for proper application. The crystals are heated to the melting point of 278C and applied in droplets (beads) to the heated shoe where they harden and provide reliable traction for horses.
A variety of other traction devices are available to provide protection to the horses’ feet. However, a growing number of horsemen are now choosing to leave the feet to grown in a “natural state.”
However, all knowledgeable horse owners agree a horse’s hooves should be kept trimmed. It is generally agreed that they should be trimmed every six to eight weeks by a competent farrier.
Georgina Campbell is a freelance writer and a long time horse enthusiast living at Lamont, Alberta