Emergency Shoe Removal

Everyone who owns a shod horse will have that horse lose a shoe at some point. Popped clinches, missing nails, interference from one limb to another, or an overreach can cause a shoe to come off. It might be a nuisance, but the shoe normally pulls off completely when it catches on something solid. A lost shoe doesn't cause much more than an annoyance when you can find the shoe, although it can cause some hoof wall damage that takes time to grow out.

Rasping nail clinch
Nipping off nail clinch
The first step in removing a shoe is thinning or clipping the remaining nail clinches so that they can be pulled back out with minimal damage to the hoof. Carefully rasp (left) or clip off the clinches (right) so that only a straight nail end remains. Avoid damaging the outer wall in the process.
Pulling out nail
Pulling last nail, shoe coming off
The next step is to remove the shoe. There are two ways to do this; one is to carefully pull off the whole shoe starting at the heels, pulling straight down toward the toe. Many farriers recommend instead pulling out one nail at a time, so that the shoe simply falls off with removal of the last nail (right). This might result in less stress on the hoof and thus less chance of further breaking up the hoof.

But what happens when the shoe comes halfway off and your farrier can't get to you for hours, or even days? During that time, your horse can slash a loose toe clip into the other foot, or he can step on the dangling shoe with another foot and rip off chunks of hoof wall with the remaining attached nails. Worst of all, any detached nails that are still on the shoe can penetrate the sole of his foot, causing infection and serious, possibly long-term, injury. Sometimes it's up to you to remove the loose shoe before more damage can be done.

Removing a shoe isn't as difficult as you might think. You just need the right tools, the right information, and a little strength. Michael Wildenstein, Certified Journeyman Farrier of Cornell University, agreed to take us through the process.

The Right Equipment

At most feed and tack stores you can purchase (fairly inexpensively) two pieces of necessary equipment--a rasp, which you'll use to file down the clinches (the ends of the nail that are bent down and hammered against the outside of the hoof); and farrier's pull-offs, which you'll use to remove the shoe. You can purchase a pair of nippers instead of a rasp to snip off the clinches, but a file is generally easier for the novice to handle.

Removing the Shoe

Step One--Assemble your equipment  and secure your horse in a safe area (one that is quiet and has plenty of room). You don't want distractions to make your horse restless while you're working on his shoe.

Step Two--If your horse has a shoe problem on one of his front hooves, face the horse's rump, pick the foot up, and brace it between your knees, just as you've seen your farrier do. If it's one of the back hooves that has a hanging shoe, pick the foot up and set it on your inside thigh.

Step Three--You won't be able to   get the shoe off unless you first remove or "thin" the clinches. Pick up your rasp and file each clinch individually. Wildenstein warns that this might take a little while to do depending on the thickness of the nail shanks and how many nails are still hanging on, so have some patience. If you are working with nippers instead of a rasp, cut off the clinches between the bent clinch and the hoof. Close the handles and snip the clinches free.

Step Four--Once you've thinned or nipped the clinches, releasing their hold on the outer wall, pick up your pull-offs. "Pry between the shoe and the hoof wall at the heels," says Wildenstein. "Pry down and toward the toe, then alternate to the   opposite heel and again pry down toward the toe. All the time keep moving from one side to the other to pry the shoe off."

Don't try to pull the shoe off completely with one yank. You might not have the strength to do so, but even if you did, you risk pulling off healthy hoof wall.

It's best to work the shoe off slowly, and once you've started, don't stop. Wildenstein says you should pull the shoe off straight instead of at an angle to avoid widening the nail holes and weakening the hoof wall. Also, yanking a shoe off sideways can shear off chunks of hoof.

Many farriers think that a better way to remove the shoe is to pull out one nail at a time. This generally results in less leverage on the foot than pulling the shoe (and all the nails) out at once.

Step Five--Make sure that all your nails have come off with the shoe and none are left in the hoof. Wildenstein adds, "I would say that if there has been penetration of the sole with the nails (from stepping on a loose nail) or the clip to call your veterinarian immediately." You can  never be sure how deep a nail has penetrated, and since the sole of the foot is quite spongy, the hole might close up as soon as you remove the nail. So, if nail punctures have occurred, help your vet by circling the area with a colored pen or purple wound spray.

Step Six--Protect the hoof. "Once the shoe is off, it's a good idea to protect the bare foot with some duct tape, a wrap, or a protective boot so the foot is in good shape when the farrier comes to put the shoe back in place," says Wilde  nstein. Place a standing wrap around the circumference of the hoof and wind duct tape around it, securing the wrap to the foot or the leg. Put your horse back in his stall to wait for your farrier to come, so he doesn't dash around in the pasture and further break up his (likely) compromised foot.

Do not trim any irregularities in the hoof wall unless you have farriery experience. The inexperience of the owner and/or not having proper equipment can further damage the hoof wall, making the farrier's job harder. The farrier can fix irregularities when he comes to replace the shoe.

Other Concerns

Riding after losing a shoe is your decision, but Wildenstein doesn't advise it. "It depends on the environment you are riding in; it depends on the integrity of the hoof wall and how hard you're going to ride," says Wildenstein of riding without one shoe. "The best advice I can give is to have the shoe put back on as soon as possible. It's not worth risking the horse's health."

If you do choose to ride your horse with a missing shoe, you'll notice a difference in his gait. If you're riding your horse in wet footing, you risk slipping since your horse's feet have mismatched traction. If your horse has always been susceptible to hoof wall breakage or bruising of the sole, abstain from riding because the protection that the shoe was providing is gone.

Another shoe problem that you can remedy is when a toe clip bends away from the hoof. Toe clips left like this can cause a lot of damage by cutting into the hoof wall or soft tissue on the opposite hoof. You can easily fix this accident waiting to happen--"You can tap it back against the hoof wall gently with a hammer," says Wildenstein. Be careful not to startle your horse! This is also a good time to determine if any wounds have occurred because of the clip.

As in most things, the best way to learn to do something is to prepare and practice. The next time your farrier comes for  a routine shoeing or reset, ask him/her to teach you how to remove a shoe in an emergency. (You might be surprised at how much hard physical work is involved.) Then, you can try your hand under a professional's eye when you aren't in the middle of a crisis. And who knows, he/she might even have a spare tool to sell you, just in case.

About the Author

Sharon Biggs Waller

Sharon Biggs Waller is a freelance writer for equine ­science and human interest publications. Her work has appeared in several publications and on several websites, and she is a classical dressage instructor.

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