Category Archives: Horseshoes

Horseshoe Selection: How to pick the right shoe for the job

Horseshoe Selection

I love being able to have choices when selecting the shoe for the horse in front of me. I carry different versions of each size of shoe in order to truly customize the job depending on the horse’s individual needs. How does a farrier or horse owner chose the most appropriate footwear for a particular horse? To have this discussion let’s talk about the terms farriers use when describing a shoe.

Size: The most obvious, big hooves = big shoes and vice versa.  Using too small of shoe is a sure way to rob a horse of years of productivity, one that is too big is more likely to get pulled off, possibly  damaging the hoof, and inconvenience everyone involved.

Big horse, Little horse horseshoe selection matters
Big horse, Little horse, horseshoe selection matters

Usually the small horseshoes are labeled “0” or “00” and pronounced “ought” or “double ought” in reverence of the old fashioned word for zero . I have seen as small as “four ought”. Shoes larger than “0” will be labeled 1,2,3….

Just like any shoe shopping experience, there is no universal system for shoe sizing. Not only is there huge variation in comparing different brands take on what a size one is, but there are completely different systems especially if you are using European shoes, racing or polo shoes.

Material Most commonly cast or machined from mild steel or aluminum. Steel is more durable, easily worked in the forge and less expensive. Aluminum shoes are much lighter, able to be applied with glue and available in many styles for therapeutic applications.

The market for shoes made of even less traditional materials like plastic, rubber and fiberglass or the combination of seems to be growing. I’m sure as 3D printing becomes more accessible, choices will continue to increase.

Web size  describes the dimensions of the metal used to make the shoe. Narrow webbed shoes will sink into the earth easier and give a better grip. Wider ones will float the foot over soft footing, provide a more rigid support, more protection and allow for more slide. A wide webbed also offers more surface area to distribute the horses weight which better mimics the barefoot horse.

This is a racing shoe for a thoroughbred. It is narrow-webbed to sink into the surface and fullered shoe for added grip.
This is a racing shoe for a thoroughbred. It is narrow-webbed to sink into the surface and fullered  for added grip.


Weight of shoe: the heavier shoe the higher the arc of stride, the lighter the lower.

drive in studs give extra traction on paved roads
drive in studs give extra traction on paved roads

Traction devices: the shoe can have modifications to limit the sliding of the hoof. A harder metal (tungsten carbide, tool steel, borium) can be attached to the shoe by brazing or welding that allows the animal to be used on pavement. Calks can be built into the shoe or holes can be drilled and tapped to accommodate screw in studs that can be changed by the rider to suit the going.

Plain  shoes give less traction than the barefoot so it is very common for those shoes to have a grove (farriers would called this a “fullered” shoe as the tool used to make the crease is called a fuller). in the ground bearing surface to break up the surface area to prevent the horse from slipping under normal circumstances. The fullering also allows   nails to be removed one at a time.

the grove holds dirt to prevent skidding as well as allowing removal individual nails.
the grove holds dirt to prevent skidding as well as allowing removal individual nails.


Reining horses are often fit with plates that increase the slide phase of stride.

Kerrkart Sliding Plate
This is a sliding plate. Its wide web and lack off fullering keep the horse from sinking into the footing and maximizing the slide of the hoof.


It is imperative to understand the perils of over-using traction devices as it can negatively effect the shock absorbing mechanisms built into the horse’s limb, especially on young stock. The animals caretakers need to know which horses have special shoes as they can  injure themselves and others without proper precautions.

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Therapeutic shoes: Heart, egg, and straight bar shoes are available off the rack. Shoes with enhanced breakover built into the toe as well as ones with elevation built into the heel can help horses with some types of injury or disease.

plastic heartbar
plastic heartbar shoe for horse with laminitis.


Those are the most common ways to classify horse shoes. I am sure that I missed some,  especially now as it seems that there are new brands coming out all of the time. I believe in keeping things simple and mostly shoe with a steel clipped medium-wide webbed shoe until there is a reason to use something else. When an exception comes along it is great to have all of these options to chose from.



Adding traction devices to the horseshoe

 Adding traction devices to the horseshoe

If your riding plans involve traveling over footing that presents a slipping hazard, you may want to ask your farrier about adding traction devices to your horseshoes next time. Be sure to let the horseshoer  know in advance so that they will have the appropriate supplies and enough time. There are so many options, so it is not always possible to have every horseshoeing supply on hand.

Do all horses need borium, drill-tec, studs?

No.  For example, the horse’s bare foot provides excellent traction and most horseshoes have a feature called fullering that fulfills the traction need for the majority of situations.

 fullered shoe for added grip.
fullered shoe for added grip.

Fullering  is the crease that runs through the center of the web of the shoe. Your farrier may call it the crease.  Dirt and small rocks pack tightly into this grove which give the shoes  a grippier surface.  This seems to be adequate for most of my clientele.

Drive-in Studs

One option to add traction to a shoe is to use drive-in studsTo do this, the farrier will use a drill press to create additional holes in the horseshoe, then drive the slightly flared plugs of hardened metal into the shoe. The shape of the stud and the weight of the horse keeps these cleats snugly and permanently embedded into the shoe.

drive in studs
The drive in studs are easy to instal and available in different sizes
drive in studs
drive in studs give extra traction on paved roads


Screw in Studs

If you would like to be able to adjust the traction of the shoe screw in horseshoe studs put you in charge. All you need to do is ask your farrier drill and tap your shoes for studs before your next appointment. This will allow you to customise your horse’s grip by using a threaded “stud”. The studs are easy to install with a simple ratchet wrench and are taken out after riding or driving.

If this is something new to you be sure to do some research, or better yet, seek expert advice on the best traction option for your situation .

Borium or Drill-Tech brazed Onto the Shoe

Borium or Drill-Tech are a combination of a filler material, usually brass, and very hard metal (drill tech is made of crushed up metal drills) that when heated along with the shoe, permanently bonds. This, combined with the weight of horse and rider, provides a non-slip surface on hard uniform surfaces such as limestone, concrete or pavement.

In addition to giving additional grip, shoes with Drill-tech or borium will prevent a shoe from becoming excessively wore down making it a good choice  for horses that travel on the road or over rocky terrain regularly.

Middle Tennessee Farrier
shoe heated with torch to braze tungsten carbide, a hard metal, the horseshoe’s groundbearing side for increased traction on pavement
Other Traction Devices
  • Toe grabs, turndowns, blocked heels and stickers are lingo common  flat race shoe options that are not used on saddle horses.
  • Cart horses in Europe are shod to give the best grip on the varied types of cobblestone used in regions. The history of traction in horseshoes evolves as our relationship with horses continues to change
  • Reining horses wear shoes designed to decrease traction.

There are even more types of traction for horses that I don’t regularly use. Older horseshoeing textbooks contain many ingenious tips and tricks of methods used quickly adding extra grip to a shoe that are not commonly used today. I am certain that we can all look forward to new and better ways of helping our horses get a grip as farrier technology evolves.

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