Rural Heritage Village Smithy

by F. Thomas Breningstall

In the near past the market has been thrown a lot of new types of horseshoes. Some are ringers, some are leaners, some are close enough for a point, and some are not even in the pit.

Here's a look at the stuff horseshoes are made of, and what I like and dislike about each. I'll not name manufacturers, but will instead talk about the materials used to make the shoes. Each type has its place.

Shoe Good Bad
Glued shoe
Can you believe, glue-on shoes? One particular shoe has an aluminum core bonded with a polyurethane coating and is glued with tabs to the outside hoof wall.
This combination lets you shoe a horse when there's no way to nail a shoe to the hoof, because the walls are broken or chipped away, or because the horse is too young. Cost to the customer is about $200 over the cost of four steel shoes, and the shoes don't stay on well in cold or wet climates because the glue won't hold.
Two-piece shoe
This is a steel shoe with a removable plastic insert. You nail the specially designed steel shoe to the hoof with specially designed nails, and then you insert a plastic liner into the ground side of the steel shoe.
Adds some cushioning to the hoof. Costs about $150 over the cost of steel shoes. This shoe is hard to shape to the hoof, can't be put on hot, and you need special tools to put on the inserts, and special nails to nail the shoe to the hoof.
Plastic-coated steel or aluminum shoe Add some cushioning that's kind on horses used on hard roads. Four shoes cost about $100 over the cost of steel shoes, they're difficult to shape to some feet, they can't be put on hot, and they're too thick for some horses, causing the horse to stumble.
Plastic shoe Provide nice padding that cushions the hoof from shock, aiding in the recovery of hoof injuries and diseases that require cushioning (such as bruises and injuries to the soft tissue of the hoof and leg, or bone and joint problems). Plastic shoes are easy to fit to the hoof and can be trimmed with nippers, knife or rasp. They cost about $40 over the cost of four steel shoes, they're slippery on grass and wet pavement, but work better with grabs (traction devices on the ground side of the shoe.) Plastic does not support the hoof equally, and the hoof wall will sometimes chip under the shoe, and mud or stones will collect between hoof and shoe. Nails are sometimes difficult to place. Plastic doesn't hold up worth a hoot in the forge, either, so you can't hot shoe.
Aluminum shoe Light weight, easy to work cold, can be worked hot with some practice. They cost about $40 over four steel shoes, they wear away and need to be replaced more often than steel, and these shoes bend readily if the horse is a trailer or is a stall kicker.
Steel shoe
Steel shoes have been around for roughly 2,000 years and have a proven track record, and steel is cheap—I mean inexpensive.
Easy to modify cold, easier hot, can be welded and made into any needed shape, give good support to the entire hoof wall, wear well, most of the time can be reset (used more than once), nail up nicely.  

Most farriers base their shoeing practices on steel shoes and add extra cost to the base price if shoes other than steel are used. The typical cost to the horse owner for shoeing includes the cost of four steel shoes, nails, labor and overhead (truck, equipment, tools, supplies insurance, taxes and a little left over as income for the farrier)—all for only $80.

Here is the average cost to the horse owner for four shoes of each type, in my order of preference:

  1. Steel = $80.
  2. Aluminum = $80 + $40 = $120.
  3. Plastic=$80 + $40 = $120.
  4. Plastic-coated steel or aluminum = $80 + $100 = $180.
  5. Two-piece shoes = $80 + $150 = $230.
  6. Glue-on shoes = $80 + $200 = $280.

Prices vary in different parts of the world and with different farriers in the same part of the world, but you get the idea.

Horseshoeing has not changed for a long time and I don't see any reason for it to change in the near future. But we farriers have become better educated and more open to sharing what we know. Products and tools have improved and will do so forever. We use what we like—the good stuff will survive.


F. Thomas Breningstall is a full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. His column “Hoof & Hammer” appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column was in Holiday 1996 issue.

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16 April 2012 last revision