Providing Traction for Winter Equine Foot Care

Nov 13, 2009 by Butler2318 Category: Horse Foot Care 0 comments

There are several ways of providing traction in the winter time. Traditionally horses were shod with sharp shoes. Shoes were calked (toes and heels) and these were sharpened periodically by the blacksmith. This was a difficult job as the shoes had to be removed and it had to be done more often than a normal reset. There was also a great risk of horses injuring themselves with the sharpened calk. Neverslip screw-in calks were patented in the late 1880’s. They were steel-centered and self-sharpening. They had the advantage of giving confidence to the horse while avoiding the need to frequently reset the shoes. Most of the patents granted horseshoe makers in the 19th century were for different ways of “roughing” shoes to provide traction.

A flat, fullered concave or rim shoe is an ideal solution to the traction problem for many horses. It is fullered all the way around and is beveled on the inner ground surface so as to be self-cleaning. Nails with a tungsten carbide core can be used to reduce wear and provide some traction. Frost nails (with a wedge-shaped head) can be used temporarily.

Where more traction is needed, screw-in or drive-in studs are used. These vary in height according to conditions and diameter according to shoe size. Their use is very widespread today, especially on sport horses, due to the flexibility the owner/rider has of being able to change their height according to the ground conditions encountered.

Threaded studs allow them to be removed when trailering a horse or when it is stabled. When the sharp studs are out, the holes can be filled with screw plugs or a piece of cotton or cork. A small crescent wrench and a tap of the proper size for cleaning up damaged threads should be kept with the assorted studs in the owner’s tool box. Stud holes can be punched or drilled in shoes and then “tapped” with the screw tap held in a carpenter’s brace or power screw driver. Be sure to anneal the shoe by letting it cool slowly before tapping. Quenching a red hot shoe will harden it. A few drops of cutting oil make the job of tapping the stud hole easier.

Acetylene tube horseshoe borium has been popular for many years, especially in the Eastern U.S. It can be spread on the shoe to prevent wear and give traction on treets or it can be applied in sharp spots to give traction on ice and turf. The exposed particles of tungsten carbide cut into the ice. The shoe will wear out before the borium.

Borium must be applied in a matrix of mild steel or bronze with an acetylene torch. This must be bonded to the shoe to prevent it from coming off when the shoe is nailed on if the horse is worked on the street. Borium particles will project above the matrix if “washed” with the torch (passed over) after application. Borium “nuggets” are available for gas forge application when a torch is unavailable. They are harder to control and contain than torch borium, but will provide satisfactory traction.

Borium has the disadvantage of being permanently on the shoe once applied and special application equipment is required. Borium coated screw-in studs and made-up borium coated shoes are now available.


Additional information on snow studs and balling can be found on pgs 810-811 in The Principles of Horseshoeing (P3). For a complete list of horseshoeing books and products available from Doug Butler, visit For more information on Butler Professional Farrier School, visit

  1. Brian HullNovember 24, 2009   

    Hi, Doug, When i shoe for the winter months i tell the customer, the horse has to be shod with winter shoes all round or go barefoot, i wont put winter shoes on the front and leave the hind hooves bare. The horse is only as good as the traction you give them, the horse can do a lot of harm to it’s self if the hind quarters slide fron under it. Theres a lot of farriers who do not believe in this way of thinking. I told one customer try driving a car with one rear snow tire and one rear regular on a snow covered road.
    they got the message.
    Brian Hull. Grand Valley. Ontario. Canada.

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