Shoe for Rough Ground

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Shoeing strategies to help keep horses sound.

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Photo by Ross Hecox

Horses that travel and work in rough country do best while wearing well-fitting shoes. At least that’s a good place to start, say veteran farrier Ted Shanks and shoeing partner Antone Teves. With nearly 50 collective years of shoeing experience between them, Shanks and Teves have earned a reputation for producing sound horses and satisfies owners.

“You can keep a shoe on a horse and still end up with a lame horse,” Shanks says. “Your focus needs to be how to keep that horse sound for the long run, not just for the next four to six weeks.”

There are no tricks to shoeing horses for difficult terrain. The best you can do is to consider these horseshoeing tips before you and your horse head out for rough country.

These four tips will help ensure your horse remains steady and sound over rocky terrain.


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Shanks prefers to make his own clips, opting for a thicker, quarter clip. Photo by Ted Shanks.

Unfortunately, says Shanks, clips received a bad rap from veterinarians back in the 1980s. At that time, not all farriers understood the science of applying the devices, and the technique remains a fear factor for most. Shanks and Teves prefer a handmade clip with a thicker base to the thin clips included on most factory shoes. Handmade clips “get in” the hoof to a small degree, rather than resting outside the hoof. The farriers burn, rather than hammer, clips into the hoof, and prefer to use quarter clips, which are located in the vicinity of the first and second nail holes on a hoof. This strategic setting keeps the shoe from being driven back.


Back-punching is done from the hoof surface of a shoe to enlarge the nail holes. It is another method used to make sure nails seat properly.

It’s not always technique, but rather the location of the nail holes in a shoe that determine whether a nail “seats” well, Shanks says: Not only is finding a shoe that fits important for soundness, but so is finding one that has nail holes that meet a horse’s individual contours. A shoe with a nail hole close to the outside edge of the hoof is counter-productive for a horse with a low-angle hoof or steep hoof walls, Shanks says. When in doubt, farriers should build a shoe and punch their own holes for a truly custom fit.


To achieve a perfect fit, Shanks shoes with a lot of support in the heel and then fills the remaining space with Equilox, a hoof repair adhesive.

Ill-fitting shoes work against your horse in rough terrain, exposing him to shoe loss, hoof damage and lameness. Manufactured horseshoes are available in hundreds of styles, sizes and weights, and farriers can also forge their own should ready-made products fail to provide the proper fit. The key is to purchase or build shoes that remain well-fit weeks after the final nail has been clenched, Teves says. Beveling the rough edges on each shoe further reduces snags.


Today’s new pour-in pads provide excellent sole protection without compromising traction.

Pads are the most common treatment for a tender- or sore-footed horse, and are also used to prevent soreness and injury. In rough country, however, traditional pads are not the wisest choice because they can make a horse slide more. Today’s pour-in pads provide hassle-free, all-in-one protection for the hoof. Vettec’s SoleGuard and Equi-Pak CS are Shanks’ and Teves’ top choices. A thin layer of Sole-Guard provides additional sole protection without compromising traction, while Equi-Pak CS, a softer material, offers cushioned protection with the added bonus of copper sulfate to deter bacteria growth. The latter product is also spongy enough to provide added traction in rocky conditions, Teves says. Both two-part mixtures are easily applied by anyone, anywhere.

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