Hoof Care

Hot Shoeing

by Tom Berningstall
Hot shoeing, hot fitting, and hot shaping are terms used to describe the process of horseshoeing used by most farriers. The skill needed to hot shoe brings out the blacksmith in the farrier.

Hot shoeing requires a forge, an anvil, hammers, tongs, fore punch and pritchel, hardie (cut off), and more knowledge than I can impart on this page. Your gas or coal forge should be in good working order and your work area free of clutter and fire hazards.

As with any profession, you need schooling, practice, and acquired knowledge to become good, better, and the best at what you do. Assuming you have all the necessary tools and supplies, let's continue to the process of hot shoeing starting with a keg, or pre-made factory, shoe.

After you have trimmed and balanced the hoof, determine the size shoe you need. Despite what some people believe, one size horseshoe does not fit all horses. Pick a shoe that looks like it will fit the trimmed hoof. Put the toe of the shoe to the toe of the hoof. Move the heel of the shoe to one heel of the hoof and then the other to see if the shoe covers the hoof wall. If the shoe is too short get a bigger shoe. If the shoe is too big get a smaller shoe. Wasn't that simple?

After you find the right size shoe, light your forge and put the toe of the shoe into the fire. Some techniques used to shape a hot horseshoe are the same as those for shaping a cold horseshoe (see Cold Shoeing). Other moves are different. Just remember--red-hot steel moves much easier than cold steel.

The shoe need not be uniformly hot, but if you heat it uniformly it will be easier to work. The area of the shoe you're working, however, does need to be hot. How hot is hot? You can determine the heat of steel by its color as you heat it in the forge.

A white heat or welding heat is too hot;
a black heat is too cold.
A good working heat is red to orange.

If the shoe needs to be wider at the toe, hold the shoe with your tongs and place the shoe over the horn of the anvil with the heels down. Start hitting the shoe at the first toe nail hole on the far side of the horn. Rotate the shoe around the horn as you continue to hit the shoe with your hammer.

To open the shoe, hit the shoe on the topside of the horn. To make the shoe narrower, hit the shoe on the side away from the horn.

Always keep the horseshoe level. Let's say one heel is sticking up. With a cold shoe you can't pound the heel back down because cold steel has too much spring. When the steel is hot, however, you can flatten that heel down with a couple taps of the hammer.

To turn in or pull out the heel a little, work the shoe over the anvil's horn by holding the shoe with the tongs across from the heel you want to work. To turn in the shoe's heel, hit the heel on the far side of the horn. To pull out the shoe's heel, hit the shoe on the near side of the horn.

Hot fitting a horseshoe to the hoof has been the subject of much controversy over the years. I feel that hot fitting a shoe to a horse's hoof does no harm if done conservatively. No, I won't argue the point. The reasons I like hot fitting:

  • It helps you check the fit of the shoe to the hoof.
  • It helps you check the high and low spots of the hoof wall.
  • You can burn a notch for clips (I'll cover clips another time).
  • You don't lose the heat if you need to further adjust the horseshoe.

Please do not try to shoe any horse without some training or help from a professional farrier. rh horse logo
F. Thomas Breningstall was a columnist whose work appeared regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the Winter 2001 issue.

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