A lot of people ask me about “hot shoeing”. Some have never seen it. Some have only seen pictures of it. But, all of them want to know more about it. I hope I can shed some light on the subject and help you to understand the reasons, purpose and effects of this procedure.
First off, it does NOT hurt the horse as long as the procedure is performed properly. The horse must have an adequate amount of hoof to burn off. A length of at least 4mm or 3/16 inch excess hoof will provide this amount. A shoe should not be hotter than a “black heat” (less than 1000 degrees). The length of time the hot shoe is placed on the hoof should not exceed just a brief second or two. This time will vary depending on the amount of excess hoof, heat of the shoe, and any shoe modification being burned into the hoof such as rocker-toed shoes or clips. All of these factors vary from horse to horse; therefore, it requires skill and training to effectively hot fit shoes to a horse without causing injury.
Some farriers hot fit shoes only when applying special shoe modifications, which need the advantage of being “burned in”, such as rocker-toes or clip. Some farriers hot shoe all of their clientele’s horses, myself being one of these. I have found a great advantage to the health of the hoof. Hot shoeing does NOT excessively dry out a hoof. It actually helps to regulate the moisture content within the hoof. I have hot shod horses in very dry climates, such as the Rio Grande Valley of Texas where the average rainfall is only 13 inches per year, and had great success with the moisture content of the feet. Also, I have hot shod horses that stood in water and mud nearly year round and seen stronger hooves with no frayed tubules (hair like projections) and fewer, if any, broken walls.
Hot shoeing affords the farrier with the ability to more precisely shape the shoe to the horse’s foot. The burning helps to check the fit of the shoe by showing the high and low spots on the hoof and the fit of the shoe by examining the coloration or char on the shoe. The shoe creates a mirror image of itself onto the hoof creating a tighter fit and better union between hoof and steel. The shoe is then more easily adjusted due to heat that is retained. The heated shoe can also be tempered by proper quenching to help the shoe last longer saving the owner money by charging only for a reset. An interesting side note, I was able to use the same set of shoes once for 5 shoeings on the same horse. That is 30 weeks. This saved the customer a total of twenty-five dollars. The heated shoe also helps to save the farrier. The heated shoe requires less effort to move the steel and a more precise movement can be made verses cold steel which requires a heavy hammer or a harder swing or sometimes both.
Another reason that I have come across is the ability of the heat to kill off any bacteria or fungi on the surface of the foot before it can enter the foot. This is a hot subject when referring to White Line Disease or Onychomycosis. Many articles say that the process of hot shoeing helps prevent and sometimes cure White Line Disease. I have seen mild cases disappear in my personal practice and feel that hot shoeing will aid in some ways to the healing process, yet I do not believe that it alone will cure this ailment.
I have heard some farriers say that hot shoeing aids sore footed horses. I save this for last since some things must be understood before making this judgment. If a horse is sore footed due to thin soles, extreme caution and care should be used when hot seating the shoe. A major artery runs along the inside of the white line. Damage to this artery could be detrimental to the horse. Also, the cause of the soreness should be pinpointed along with severity and location. All of these things will make a difference in how the horse is handled. Now to move on to the reasoning behind this statement, the heat of the shoe causes the blood vessels and nerve endings to slightly recede back into the hoof. This is the reason that care must be taken in the amount of time the shoe is placed on the foot and the amount of foot left to burn. I do not have references to provide about this reason, yet it sounds logical and several farriers have stated that they have seen this occur in their practices.
I am not saying that just because one farrier hot shoes and another does not that the one who hot shoes is better. The same end effect on the average horse can be accomplished. The ability to handle different problems that may arise is the main difference. The ability to hot shoeing allows the farrier to treat more ailments, gait faults, and problems. The skill possessed by the hot shoer enables him to make and customize the shoes to address these issues if they ever surface. If you were to go to any world-class equine event (race tracks excluded since it is impossible to hot shoe with aluminum shoes), you would find that all of the farriers working on these athletes have the ability to hot shoe and do it on a daily basis. It means doing the best job possible for the horse, and that is what we are here to do.
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