Hoof Care

Winter Shoes

by Tom Berningstall
Horses aren't good ice skaters. A horse or mule that works on ice, hard-packed snow, or frozen ground needs some sort of traction for safety's sake. The three most common types of traction devices all have good and bad points and, to use, require different skills and equipment. No matter which device you choose, add a plastic pad between the shoe and hoof to keep snow from packing into the bottom of the hoof.
  1. Borium is tungsten carbide shaped into a soft steel rod 1/8" to 1/4" thick. To apply borium to a shoe, you need a set of acetylene welding torches, welding glasses, welding gloves, a safe work area, and the skill and training to weld. To follow these instructions, you have to already know how to weld. Shape the shoes to fit the hooves, just as you would for summer shoeing. Before you nail the shoes on, add the borium as follows: Stack the shoes on top of each other, which helps avoid wasting heat. As you add borium to the top shoe, the next shoe down heats up, as well.

    Work on one spot at a time. Add a spot of borium to each heel and two spots at the toe, just ahead of the first nail hole. Get the spot up to welding heat and heat the borium rod at the same time. When the steel begins to puddle, pull the welding tip away, adding borium as you go back and forth with the welding tip and the borium.

    For a little traction, make a short spike; for more traction, make a taller spike. Adding borium takes a good amount of skill and practice, but the flexibility of its placement on the shoe and the excellent traction it offers make borium a good choice.

  2. Screw-in studs also work well, but are quite time-consuming to install. Their biggest advantage is that you can remove them when the extra traction is not needed and reinstall them as they are needed.

    Like borium, screw-in studs require some equipment, and skill in using it. You'll need either a drill press or a hand-held drill, a tap or threader to make threads in the holes to screw the studs into, and a wrench to install and remove the studs. Shape the shoe to fit the foot, then drill and thread one hole in each heel and two more holes on each side of the toe, just ahead of the first toe nail hole.

  3. The drive-in stud is the most practical traction device for cold shoeing. Drive-in studs give good traction and require only basic tools and basic skills to install. You'll need a drill press or hand drill, a drill bit sized as recommended by the stud manufacturer, an anvil or something you can use as an anvil (such as a piece of railroad track), and a hammer. Use an old hammer to drive in the studs, because they will scar the face of the hammer.

    As for screw-in studs, shape the shoe to fit the foot, then drill holes in each heel and two more holes on each side of the toe just ahead of the first toe nail hole. Place the shoe on your anvil, ground side up, put the desired stud in the hole, and drive it in with a couple of hammer blows. Then nail the shoe on the hoof as you normally do.

Any of these traction devices may also be needed in warmer months if you work your horse or mule on pavement, rocks, mud, or for logging in the woods where the forest floor is slippery. As when working on ice or packed snow, the horse must have sound footing so it won't slip and slide away.rh horse logo

F. Thomas Breningstall was a columnist whose work appeared regularly in Rural Heritage. This column appeared in the Holiday 1996 issue.

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