Shoes for Traction
by Dave Farley
Most equine breeds and disciplines require some degree of traction in order to perform. A horse’s ability to perform would be extremely limited if you took away all traction. The natural concavity of the sole and the hoof wall provide a certain degree of traction when barefoot. Under domesticated conditions we normally apply horseshoes so we have to be prepared to provide adequate traction with the shoes. In the past, most traction devices had to be hand forged into a shoe. Advances in manufacturing technology have led to a number of ready made traction shoes and other simple methods to modify the factory shoe.
The majority of horseshoes manufactured today are flat shoes. These shoes often have a crease from just in front of the toe nail to just behind the heel nail. For our purposes we’ll refer to these as plain shoes. Your challenge is to decide if you need more traction than this shoe provides. I’ll work through a selection of choices you might make to get the job done if you decide you need more.
The simplest device might be the selection of a factory shoe that already has a crease through the toe area or around the entire surface of the shoe. These shoes are often referred to as rim shoes. A shoe creased through the toe or from heel to heel can be used on the front or hind to add traction. The photos show a factory shoe creased through the toe and a plain factory shoe being creased on the job. The determination you can make is whether you require the extra traction provided by the crease often enough to warrant carrying the ready made rim shoes in your inventory. If there is only an occasional need a quick one heat modification with the creaser to your plain shoes is probably more cost effective for you.
I have a modification that I use for horses that need medial-lateral traction. The in-line jar calk helps with quick turns but doesn’t hinder the forward motion like a block heel or heeled shoe might. I use this most often with the jumper that needs to have speed and traction in turns as well as the straight to perform best. Other disciplines that can be helped with this modification are the hunter, polo and cutting horses. This is a one heat modification that only requires the hammer and anvil.
A traction device that has been popular for years in Canada and Europe is the drive-in stud (calk). There are various brands and styles but generally the drive-in studs have a carbide center that give additional grip even on the hardest surfaces. They can be almost flat with the ground surface or you can select studs that are elevated above the ground surface. The photos show a typical application for my work. I have used these on general purpose riding horses, hunters, jumpers and trail horses. I find they are a fairly easy device to apply (drill and drive) and are often reusable. Be sure to have an annealed face on your hammer to avoid chipping. The carbide will be harder than any hammer face you might have.
The screw-in calks are most often seen on the hunter/jumper circuit, particularly for the three day event horse and dressage. There are many different drive-in studs providing a wide range of traction possibilities. They should be used carefully as there are some very severe calks available. The taller calks might be used for very wet, muddy grass surfaces but on hard surfaces can create undesirable impact in the calk area. The photos show two common sizes of calks that I see used by my customers. I generally only drill and tap the shoes for the customer and let them decide when and what to use. One big advantage of the screw-in calk is that it is easy to put in and take out and therefore can be applied only for the length of time it is determined to be useful.
These are some ideas for you to consider when evaluating the needs of the horse for the job he has to do. I am always cautious about applying traction devices that may not be necessary. Over the years I have seen a number of problems that are a result of too much traction- causing lameness that could have been avoided. Start with the least severe option and work your way up until you have reached the level that gets the job done for you but keeps your horses sound as well.