High Performance Hoof Care, LLC
Vickey M. Hollingsworth, DAEP 

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Horseshoes...Metal vs. Polyurethane


If you know me at all, you know that I really hate traditional steel and aluminum horse shoes. No doubt they have a very specific role in the horse world and they serve a purpose. They are generally quite affordable, they offer the horse protection from rocks and hard footing, and they can give therapeutic support for specific lameness issues. They can be applied in any weather circumstances and what's not to love about the sound of a steel shoe on concrete! But I hate them for equally specific reasons....Nail holes can wreak havoc on hoof walls. Especially over time and multiple resets of metal shoes, the hoof walls can become so full of holes that there is very little solid wall left. Nails introduce bacteria artificially very high up into the white line, and a rim shoe essentially suspends the coffin bone in the center of the shoe with no support or protection. Years of shoeing tends to cause prolapsed frogs, thinned soles, weakened walls and white line disease.


However ... I still use steel or aluminum shoes for short periods of time on horses that already have good solid feet and can be maintained on a short cycle. Metal shoeing is not detrimental if used properly in the appropriate circumstances. I prefer Natural Balance shoes in steel and aluminum when metal shoeing is needed. The shoe is wide web with a large toe box which offers the maximum amount of solar coverage.


So why not just use pads and sole packing under metal shoes? I'm not a fan of pads because they compress during the shoeing cycle, loosening the clinches. Traditional solar packing such as oakum or Magic Cushion is helpful, but it tends to get pulled out of the back of the shoe and replaced with mud and manure in the back 1/3 of the shoe throughout the cycle. If I were to choose a metal shoeing package I like above all others, it would be Natural Balance shoes with Vettec EquiPak CS (copper sulfate) applied with mesh to hold it in. 


Polyurethane and plastic horseshoes tend to offer more support, covering most of the solar and frog surface, and they tend to be glued on which eliminates the whole nail hole problem. Even when plastics are nailed on, the hoof is generally healthier over time than in metal shoes. Offering full coverage to the coffin bone and the sensitive sole means the horse can stride out absolutely confident over all footing without fear of hitting a rock inside a rim fit metal shoe on the uncovered sole. Hoof packing material can easily be added for full support and anti-bacterial purposes. 



Polyurethane Glue-On Shoeing 

Glue-on poly shoes offer excellent traction, comfort, and performance to the horse. Without nails, there is no infiltration of the white line, no chance of "hot nails" and no danger of hoof wall damage.  Poly shoes offer an excellent alternative

to keeping a horse barefoot when certain lameness issues are present, such as laminitis, pedal osteitis, or navicular disease.  Plastics are excellent for developing sole depth and heightening the internal arch of the foot so the horse can be more comfortable barefoot.


Glue-on composite polyurethane shoes stay in place on the horse from 4-10 weeks, depending on the needs of the individual. Gluing on horseshoes requires an experienced professional who is well educated in biomechanics, as well as hoof preparation and glue handling! Gluing requires meticulous hoof preparation to ensure a strong clean bond. I personally use and advocate the Easycare Inc. brand Easyshoes. They come in four styles: Performance, Performance N/G, Compete and Sport. The Performance and Performance N/G are the most popular for their ease of use and superior solar protection and support.
 
APPLICATION PROCESS
Step 1:  Shoe Selection
Shoes are selected according to the use of the horse, any lameness that is present, hoof conformation and owner preference. The Sport is great for horses with two different sized hooves such as with club feet. The internal metal bar allows the shoe to be compressed or stretched to a more narrow or a wider hoof shape. One shoe can be opened up through the heel branches while the other is more closed. The Performance is great for most horses, while the N/G is good for horses needing additional hoof capsule stability from the  steel plate.


Step 2: Hoof Trim

If the horse is wearing shoes, they will be removed and the hoof trimmed to address balance. Glue on shoeing provides so much support and hoof coverage that flare and other hoof abnormalities can often be addressed more thoroughly than with metal shoeing. Unlike metal rim-fit horseshoes, plastics don't require a perfectly flat trim. The shoe is very forgiving and the glue will fill in small voids. Flare will need to be addressed thoroughly so the cuffs will fit smoothly through the quarters. The white line and frog will be cleaned out thoroughly and the bars trimmed with a smooth transition into the sole.

Step 3: Hoof Preparation
After the hooves are well trimmed, then it is important to wire brush the feet thoroughly to remove any excess shedding sole or dirt. The Manufacturer recommends using a dremel tool to rough up the entire sole. I haven't yet found this to be necessary but some farriers may use this technique. Using the edge of the rasp, I will add some small scuff marks to the outer wall, giving the glue a rougher surface to adhere to. Finally I use a heat gun set to Low to completely remove excess moisture from the white line, sole, and outer wall where the cuffs will be glued. It is critical to keep the work area clean and dry at this point.

Step 4:  Gluing Process

The hoof is given one final pass of the heat gun. The shoe to be applied is warmed with the heat gun, and the glue gun is prepared with the glue cartridge. Although I have tested several brands of glue, Vettec Adhere continues to be my favorite. The shoe is glued in two stages. The first stage is to apply a small bead of glue to the solar surface inside the shoe. The shoe is then fitted onto the hoof and perfectly positioned to give full heel support. After about 1 minute, the foot is placed gently on the ground and the opposite hoof is lifted for an additional minute. The second stage of the gluing process is to pull back the cuffs with a hoof pick and apply glue inside the cuff. Glue will be applied in any voids at the heel and allowed to cured thoroughly.

Step 5:  Final Dressing

After a total of about 6-8 minutes, the glue will be fully cured and ready for rasping. Excess glue is rasped away and the hooves given a neat finish. Although Vettec Adhere glue is completely cured by the end of the shoeing, I always advise waiting about 12 hours if possible before working the horse. Resuming normal turnout should be fine.


My shoes last a full cycle of 6-9 weeks, depending on the needs of the horse. The owner will need to pick the shoes out every couple of days to remove dirt and debris that may accumulate. After a couple of weeks, the glue will begin to separate at the heels, which is normal and should be no problem.