How to Keep Your Horse from Losing Shoes in Any Weather

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Muddy Pasture
Is the mud to blame for your horse’s lost shoe, or are their other factors at play?

To many horse owners, it seems that horses lose shoes more frequently when their pastures and paddocks are muddy, or when the weather alternates between very dry to very wet. But is there really one season in which it’s harder for your horse to keep shoes on?

Stuart Muir, NZCEF, CJF, APF, resident farrier at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., has been shoeing horses for 15 years. Originally from New Zealand, Muir moved to the United States to further his career in sport horse and remedial shoeing. Muir explains that each season presents its own challenges with regards to keeping horse’s shoes on.

No matter the weather, however, one key to preventing shoe loss is to keep your horse on a regular shoeing schedule. This schedule can’t always be dictated by calendar days; as the weather changes, so will your horse’s need for hoof care. During cold months, he may not need to be trimmed on a regular four-to-six-week basis, but when the grass comes in and the weather alternates between wet and dry in the spring, he may need to be reset every four weeks to prevent shoe loss.

Seasonal Shoe Issues

Some of the hoof and shoe issues Muir sees by season include:

Spring: Spring usually includes horses coming back into work and/or getting more turn out than they did in winter, says Muir. When a horse has been given down time for the winter, he won’t be as athletically fit when spring arrives. In these instances, the horse may interfere (hit himself) with his opposing limb, thereby pulling shoes, says Muir. If your horse is getting more turnout time in the spring, there’s also a chance that he will play hard or slip in the paddock and pull a shoe.

Summer: In most areas of the U.S., the average rainfall is highest in spring and summer. A horse’s hooves have the ability to absorb moisture, so at times during these wet months the hooves get soft with the high moisture content, explains Muir. This, coupled with humidity, means hooves can fall apart relatively easily.

The other factor that is detrimental to horse’s feet during this time of year is fly stomping. “This is when the horse is trying to rid itself of flies on its legs by stomping its hooves on the ground,” Muir explains. This causes the outside edge of the hoof wall to break and in some circumstances it will delaminate the underlying wall structures.

Because of the high moisture content and humiditycoupled with fly stomping—your horse may easily lose shoes if you don’t take care to keep a regular shoeing schedule. This is critically important if hooves begin to crumble. Once wall is lost, it becomes more difficult for farriers to find good places in which to nail the shoe.

Fall: Fall is a time when farriers are trying to get the horses hooves back into good health, says Muir. Fall can still present problems, however. Horses will typically “freshen up” with the cooler weather, playing and sliding in the field, and potentially pulling shoes.

Winter: In most areas of the country, winter means cold, hard ground conditions. Hoof growth tends to slow down in winter, which can be detrimental if your horse needs to grow more sole or hoof. Horses tend to pull shoes in the winter from playing or sliding on the snow or ice.

Farrier as Scapegoat

While it might be easy to blame the farrier for lost shoes, it’s not usually the farrier’s fault. “I rarely see shoes just falling off, unless the horse is due for shoeing,” says Muir. “When your farrier shoes your horse, he or she is ultimately looking to balance your horse’s hooves.”

Typically when a horse loses a shoe, he takes a bad step and catches his shoe with another hoof, tearing off the shoe as the leg is raised. Conformation can play a part in shoe retention, as well. If the horse has less-than-ideal conformation, meaning he toes in or out, or has incorrect hind end conformation, there’s a higher risk of shoe loss as his legs do not travel directly in front of or behind his body when he moves; his legs and feet could travel in the path of the opposite leg, creating a greater potential for him to pull a shoe.

How Can I Tell if I Have a Good Farrier?

Your farrier has to take into account your horse’s hooves, his conformation and his way of going when shoeing—that’s a lot to take into consideration! Just because your horse loses shoes doesn’t mean your farrier is doing a poor job. If anything, he has done his job correctly by not placing the shoes on so tightly that the horse injures himself instead of pulling the shoe.

One of the most important attributes of a good farrier is his ability to create balance, says Muir. “A farrier’s role is to check for hoof health, observe changes and apply the necessary trim and/or shoes to aid the athletic nature of the horse.” Quality workmanship is also necessary. “Finding a farrier who is educated in anatomy is also important so that, as hoof health changes, so can the treatment plan for your horse.”

Bell Boots
Bell boots help protect your horse from stepping on and pulling off his own shoes when running and playing in turnout.

What You Can Do to Prevent Lost Shoes

In addition to quality workmanship, there are some ways to help your horse keep his shoes on, no matter the weather. These can include the use of bell boots and controlled turnout. “If your horse grazes with others, try to find horses that settle well together,” Muir recommends.

If your horse is losing shoes because his feet are becoming brittle in wet weather, adding a hoof supplement to his daily grain meals might help. Although they won’t change your horse’s hooves overnight, supplements are beneficial for horses that have poor hoof quality. Whatever supplement you choose to use, they “should have ingredients like biotin, omegas and essential minerals to aid the recovery of hoof quality,” notes Muir.

While a horse may lose a shoe for numerous reasons, typically it’s the uncoordinated horse that will pull a shoe first. Lazy horses, too, will fall victim to shoe pulling, says Muir, as they tend to travel on the forehand and not be as engaged during exercise. This way of going can allow the hind feet to interfere with the front. Playful horses can also pull shoes, but most likely not for the reason you think. Typically in this instance, it’s not a horse pulling his own shoe, but a horse he is playing with standing on his shoe causing shoe loss.

Sarah Coleman has a soft spot for chestnuts
with chrome, including her off-the-track Thoroughbred that she competes
in the hunters. Based in Lexington, Ky., she is the Director of
Education and Development for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program. 

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