Pulling a Shoe

Editor's Note: This is Chapter 6 of Care & Management of Horses by Heather Smith Thomas. The book is available from www.ExclusivelyEquine.com.

The worst thing about horseshoeing in general is when shoes are left on too long. A horse whose feet have grown too long because shoes are left on may suffer leg wounds from striking himself, strained legs, contracted feet, corns, and other injuries due to long feet and shoe pressure. Since the hoof wall grows out perpendicularly from the coronary band, the horse's base of support actually grows out from under him if shoes are left on too long. This puts great strain on flexor tendons and on the navicular bone inside the hoof, as well as all foot and leg joints. Shoes worn too long may become thin and loose, sometimes bending and shifting, causing corns (from pressure on bars or sole) or nail punctures.

Even if you have a farrier do your shoeing you should still learn how to pull a shoe properly. There are situations where you should not wait for a farrier. A shoe may loosen when caught in a bog, hooked on a fence or some other obstacle, or stepped on by a hind foot. In these cases you should pull the shoe immediately so it won't injure the horse. If it's hanging loose on one side or is at risk of catching on something or causing a corn or bruise because it has slipped, it needs to come off. If it catches on something or the horse steps on it with another foot, it may break the hoof wall or take a chunk out, making it harder to shoe the foot properly again.

A shoe is easy to remove without breaking the hoof wall if you have a few shoeing and trimming tools. A shoeing hammer, clinch cutter, nippers, and rasp work best, but you also can use a flat-edged screwdriver instead of a clinch cutter and a carpenter's hammer. Hoof nippers or pulling nippers work well for pulling a shoe, but if the shoe is fairly loose you can use a pair of vice grips or pliers to hold onto the shoe and give you some leverage.

The shoe is less likely to break the hoof wall as you pull it and is easier to remove if you first unclinch the nails that are still in place. Cut the clinched nails on the hoof wall with a clinch cutter or unbend them with hoof nippers. You can use a hammer to drive a clinch cutter or a flat screwdriver under each nail end so you can pry up the clinch, then cut off the straightened nail end with nippers.

Another option is to rasp off the clinched nail ends with a rasp or file. Rest the horse's foot on your knee and rasp each clinch until it is gone or rasped off enough so it can no longer hold. Then you can pull the shoe easily, even if you don't have nippers or pullers. Slip the claws of a carpenter's hammer under the heel of the shoe, push the head of the hammer toward the frog to pry up the shoe at the heel, then slowly work the hammer claws around the shoe until it comes off.

If you have shoeing tools, use pulling pincers or old hoof cutters to pull the shoe. It is better to pull the shoe than to just cut the nails between the shoe and hoof as some people try to do to remove the shoe. Cutting the nails leaves pieces in the hoof wall that will have to be removed after the shoe is off. Pulling out nail pieces with nippers, pincers, or pliers is not as easy as when the pieces are still attached to the shoe, and they are much more likely to break or crack the horse's hoof wall than when pulling the shoe properly.

To pull a shoe, hold the foot in shoeing position and place pulling pincers, nippers, or vice grips between the shoe and hoof at the heel, starting on the loosest side to make it easier. Close the handle and push it away from you to loosen the heel branch of the shoe, pushing slightly toward the middle line of the foot. Always push the tool's handle inward toward the center of the sole rather than outward; prying outward may tear off a chunk of hoof wall. Use a downward force to pry and loosen the shoe, working alternately along each branch and toward the toe as it comes loose.

Remove each nail as you loosen it. As you pull the shoe loose, hold the foot securely and never twist the pincers or pull crookedly or you might strain or injure the fetlock joint (the horse will protest if you pull his joint). Continue working down both branches alternately until the entire shoe is loosened.

If you have not been able to undo the clinches or rasp them off, you can still remove the shoe as described, but it will take more strength and leverage because you must pull the clinches loose and on through the hoof wall. If some of the clinches are still quite tight, however, the hoof wall may break unless you take each nail out as you loosen it.

To get hold of a nail head, you may first have to pound the shoe gently back against the hoof so the loosened nail head will protrude enough to grasp it with nippers, pliers, or your hammer claws. Take it out, and then pull on the shoe again to loosen it enough to take out the next nail, alternating down each side of the shoe. If a nail breaks off in the hoof wall, pull the nail out with nippers or pliers.

Care & Management of Horses ©2004 Eclipse Press. To order, call 800/582-5604 or visit www.ExclusivelyEquine.com.

About the Author

Heather Smith Thomas

Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey's Guide to Raising Horses and Storey's Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at http://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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