SHOEING FOR ROUGH COUNTRY RIDING
By: Alma DeMille, Certified Farrier & Blacksmith
We all love to ride our horses in beautiful places. Many of the most scenic places in the world are miles off the road, in rough country that can turn a wonderful ride into a nightmare if an accident occurs. We are often unaware of the many potential dangers that are associated with this grand scenery. Two of the dangers that I would like to address in this article are the risk to our horse's hooves, as they bear our weight and their own, as they travel many miles of distant horizons, and the danger to us if our mount slips and falls. These same principles apply to riding in the city on pavement or any slick surface.
I want to mention the different types of common injuries caused by rough terrain and sharp rocks, and offer solutions for preventing them. Some horses have very healthy, strong, and well formed hooves which can withstand almost any riding that they are subjected to. The majority of horses, with proper care, can be ridden in most terrain and stay sound. Then there are the others, those that have either genetic hoof weakness, or injury, that need to have special shoeing in order to be ridden at all. Without dividing these categories, I'd like to give some general advise that applies to all of them.
Understanding hoof biomechanics, how the hoof functions, is essential to helping prevent or correct a problem in the most beneficial manner. I will briefly describe what the different parts of the hoof do: *The Hoof Wall is the main weight bearing tissue, and the portion of the hoof that is protected from excessive wear by the horseshoe. *The Sole is the largest area in the underside of the hoof, and is essential in providing protection to the sensitive structures inside the hoof, as well as supporting the interior bones. *The Frog is the "V" shaped portion in the underside of the hoof. It is essential in the process of pumping blood back up the leg to the heart. When a horse travels, and weight is transferred down the legs to the hoof, each part of the hoof contracts or expands in a different manner and puts pressure on the structures above or around them. If a horse steps on a sharp rock or other object, a puncture or bruise can result, which may lame the animal. If a horse slips on slick or loose ground it can have similar results, and sometimes even worse if the rider is thrown or falls. If horses are flat-footed they will be prone to bruising and should not be trimmed excessively in the sole. All horses should have enough sole left to protect them from the objects that will protrude higher than the steel horseshoe. The sole should be trimmed to a concave as much as possible. Plastic or leather pads can be placed between the shoe and hoof to protect the sole and frog, and absorb concussion to the wall. Pine Tar & oakum or hoof packing must be properly distributed inside the pad to keep foreign matter out and prevent bacterial growth. Silicone rubber can be injected, when the hooves are healthy, to give additional protection to the sole, with the same results. If a horse's sole is already bruised or punctured and you assume he has to heal completely before being ridden again, you'd be surprised what packing and padding the hoof will do. I have seen some horses that were considered totally lame before this procedure take off afterwards as if they had never been injured! Normally though, the padding just protects the sole while a horse heals. It also prevents injury if riding where sharp objects like jagged rocks or cut off tree stubs could jab into the horse's sole.
For those horses who have feet so tough that it seems they could be ridden through any field of cut off tree stubs or sharp rocks, there are still other types of beneficial aids which can be used to enhance their performance in other ways. How often have you felt you horse slipping on slick pavement, or sliding as you attempt to ascend a sandstone cliff? If you haven't experienced it yourself, you may have seen evidence of other's "close calls" in the white streaks that shoes and nails left behind on the rocky slopes where the horses scrambled to ascend the slick surfaces. There are several products available to provide traction for various applications. The most commonly used is a toe & heeled shoe, which in my opinion, is worthless in any terrain other than dirt, gravel, or mud. This is because the traction on the shoes that come with heels and toes are made of the same steel as the horseshoe, and it is very slick. Often horses will slip with the front foot and because of the slip, the rear hoof will strike their front leg or bulbs and cut them. This is best prevented with good traction that prevents the slippage in the first place. Even more common are the many times horses lose traction and fall on their rider! If you are riding into any rough country with slick rock or on pavement that may put you in a dangerous position, I recommend having Drill-Tech applied at the heels and toe of each shoe. This usually costs more than regular shoeing due to the propane and oxy-acetylene used to apply them to the shoes, and time involved. Nevertheless, it will make an incredible difference in the safety of riding high cliff sandstone trails like I ride every year while elk & mule deer hunting or when you hit slick surfaces on pavement. If the added farrier expense concerns you then ask yourself, "What is my life and health worth?" If traction applied to your horse shoes prevents even ONE fall then it was well worth it! A similar process using a forge or torch is used to apply borium to shoes, which is a good product if chipping the cement or blacktop is a concern for where you'll be riding. But, if damaging the road or sidewalk is not an issue then Drill Tech or Carbide Studs both provide superior traction to Borium. You can attach these studs by drilling a hole and driving them like a rivet in the shoe or tapping threads and screwing them in. These studs vary in size and style and are very effective traction. Nails with Drill-Tech on the heads can also be used. They are the easiest solution and work better than nothing, but since the nail holes are on the sides rather than the toe and heels they are not as effective. Based on the responses of many customers and my own experience with each of these, the floating of drill tech on the toe and heels is the best product for pavement and slick rock if properly applied, and carbide studs are the most effective in snow & icy conditions. Any of these methods will result in quite an improvement in traction, thus providing your safety on slick surfaces. Only one word of caution: If your horse is one that dances around and steps on your foot occasionally, you may need some special shoes yourself to protect you from their new traction!
Plastic Pad riveted to shoe to protect soft soled horses or to prevent sole bruising when riding in very sharp rocks:
Drill Tech brazed onto saddle horse shoe & Draft Horse shoes to provide traction on pavement, blacktop, climbing slick rocky surfaces, or on snowy/icy conditions:
Ice/Snow Studs Screwed Into Shoes to dig deep and prevent slipping on ice.
These also work well on pavement, but they chip cement and can put excess stress on the horse as it suspends the shoe high enough that the frog doesn't reach the ground: