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His First Shoes

Tried and tested tactics on shoeing colts

Sooner or later a colt has to be shod and one of the best times to start is just after he has had his hobble and stake rope training. He has been well sacked out during the hobbling, has been tangled in the stake rope, and has been rubbed up and down on the legs to get him used to the feel of the rider’s hands. This is probably the best preliminary training he can get for shoeing.

When I was buckarooing we did our own shoeing, and often tacked on the first shoes shortly after this ground work and the first good ride. He was somewhat tired then, and his muscles were a little sore from the workout he had gone through so he would stand more quietly.

When I was buckarooing we did our own shoeing, and often tacked on the first shoes shortly after this ground work and the first good ride.
Photo Courtesy of Western Horseman Archives

Many will ask how long a colt can be ridden before he will require shoes, but that depends upon the circumstances involved. When a rider is breaking out a bunch of horses they are not so apt to get tender-footed, because he will not be able to ride as often as if he were only working with one or two, and the length of each riding period probably won’t be as long. If the country is hard or covered with rocks and gravel, shoes will be necessary sooner than on soft or smooth ground. The main thing is not to let a horse get so tender he is stumbling along because it hurts him to even walk on small gravel. Any good hackamore man knows that the colt will soon start to lean against the bosal if in this condition, and it’s pretty hard to teach him anything if he has his attention on dodging rocks. Then, too, we must not forget that the hardness of his hoofs will affect this period. The white-footed horse will need shoeing quicker than a black because the white hoof is softer and wears and chips off more quickly.

When it comes time for shoeing, a good way to calm down a nervous colt is to tie a gentle horse nearby. With a nervous horse that is spooky too, you can use a blind and then put a sling on a hind foot to prevent him from kicking straight out or to the side with any force.

This sling can be a big cotton rope, but if your horse is not hobble broke it is best to protect his foot by wrapping a gunny sack over the loop so he won’t burn himself if he jumps around. A loosely braided cotton rope is good for this, or a rope run through an old piece of rubber hose. We used to make a special rope about 30 to 35 feet long for the first lesson in being staked out, and for jobs like this. A winter hide with a heavy coat of hair was cured with saltpeter, alum, and tallow on the flesh side. Then the strands were worked over a wedged post like that for the rawhide latigos to soften them before braiding into a four-strand rope with the hair left on the outside. This prevented any rope burns.

When I was buckarooing we did our own shoeing, and often tacked on the first shoes shortly after this ground work and the first good ride.
Photo Courtesy of Western Horseman Archives

A sling like this is especially good on the wilder type colt when you want to pull his tail or use shears or clippers around the fetlocks. I mention these bits of information so anyone can know how to take the necessary precautions to protect himself, depend ing upon the temperament of his particular horse. Many horses are not wild, but are very nervous and easily upset when first handled, and they don’t know what to expect. These methods mentioned are a little bit slow in accomplishing, the job ahead. However, the point is that the easier you go with a green colt in his early stages of handling and shoeing, the better the results will be. Beating him up, yanking him around, and yelling at him are good ways to make a fighter and kicker. These and other rougher methods are used by some, but are no credit to the horsebreaking game.

If the sling is necessary, make it long enough so the foot is just resting on the ground and he can put his weight on it. The foot can be raised up and rested on your leg as in Fig.1 while you start rasping, so the shoe will set fairly even. It does not need to be a fancy job the first few times, but the purpose is to get the colt accustomed to having his feet handled as well as getting him used to having the nails pounded in and clinched as in Fig. 2. If a little extra time and patience is used in this first operation, so the colt finds you aren’t going to hurt him, the job will be easier each time until you have no further trouble. This is something that will have to be repeated time and again throughout a horse’s useful life, so start him out right. Some horses never give in com pletely, and resemble some riders you find who maintain you have to fight a bronc to make anything out of him, and nothing can change their minds.

When I was buckarooing we did our own shoeing, and often tacked on the first shoes shortly after this ground work and the first good ride.
Photo Courtesy of Western Horseman Archives

Another way to hold up the hind foot for shoeing is to tie an iron ring to his tail and then tie the foot to this.
Look at Fig. 3 for the right height. This method has its advantage over the sling because you do not have to hold up the weight of the horse, and you can do all your work with the foot in this same position.

If you use the sling while working on a hind foot, it doesn’t hurt to stop there for a while and start on a front one for a change. Of course, the amount of time you have spent should be considered, as you can let the front feet go until the next day. He will remember this lesson and will not be so skittish; but if he does give you trouble, tying the foot up as is done in Fig. 4 will help a great deal: This way will not give him liberty to pull his foot away and cut you with an unclinched nail. He may get tired of standing and fight a little, but he won’t hurt himself. Let him go down on one knee if he wants.

When I was buckarooing we did our own shoeing, and often tacked on the first shoes shortly after this ground work and the first good ride.
Photo Courtesy of Western Horseman Archives

It is best to have everything ready when you start this shoeing job so you can get it done as quickly as possible without tiring him. and thus getting him in a fighting mood. In many instances, you will be able to tack only three nails on each side of the hoof. Keep your finger where the nail is supposed to come out, because if it goes in too far you can injure him. Usually the best size is a light No. 2 or No. 3 shoe for the first time. This may have to be reset every two or three weeks, depending upon how well you can get them on and how much riding you do, because a shoe usually is not clinched too tight for the first few times.

This article was originally published in the June 1954 issue of Western Horseman.

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