HOT SHOEING: THE BEST FIT FOR YOUR HORSE
It may take patience and a gradual, step-by-step introduction to the process over several shoeing cycles to accustom an apprehensive horse to hot shoeing. If you’ve been around horses, you know that “tough love” isn’t going to work; it will only make the horse more fearful and potentially more dangerous. I do a little bit at a time, then back off and give the horse “release,” as my Horsemanship friends suggest... then do a little more and release again... petting and praising good behavior, and never forcing the horse to accept more than she or he is ready for. Once the horse becomes comfortable with the sights, sounds and smells, the full benefits of hot shoeing can be gained.
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After the horse’s hoof has been trimmed and prepared to be shod, the new shoe must be carefully shaped and fit to the foot. A capable farrier should be able to achieve a good fit for a healthy foot using either cold shoeing or hot shoeing techniques. I can employ either method, as there are some horses that cannot tolerate hot fitting and, in some environments, using a forge may pose a risk. However, I highly recommend hot shaping and hot fitting — for a variety of reasons.
Cold shaping the horseshoe requires bending and/or cutting the metal without the use of heat. Heating the steel in the forge until it is red hot, prior to shaping, makes the metal more malleable, facilitating a much greater degree of precision in adjusting the bends and dimensions of the horseshoe. If the shoe requires corrective, therapeutic or other specialized modifications, then hot shaping is definitely called for.
Cold fitting is accomplished through the separate processes of hammer-leveling the horseshoe and rasp-leveling the horse’s hoof. Hot fitting, also known as hot setting or scorching, is the practice of heating the shoe in the forge and very briefly placing it on the foot before securing it, in order to imprint and sear the path where the shoe will be seated. This process evens out any variations in the hoof to create a smooth and level interface between the foot and the shoe, ensuring an exacting fit without gaps. It also better stabilizes shoes with clips by slightly burning recesses for them that will lock them into the hoof wall. Plus, the intense heat also kills off fungi or bacteria that may cause problems, and seals the horn of the freshly trimmed and rasped hoof rendering it less likely to either dry out and become brittle or to suck up moisture and soften when exposed to dampness. The hoof is an excellent insulator; when performed properly by an experienced farrier, the hot shoe does not touch any live tissue nor does hot fitting cause any damage. The new custom-fitted shoe is cooled in a bucket of water before being secured to the hoof with nails.
Although the process is painless, some horses — even those who have always been perfectly behaved for cold shoeing — may react fearfully to the hissing sound of the forge, the sight of the flame or the smoke, or the smell of the seared horn. My predilection for hot shoeing notwithstanding, safety always comes first: for the horse, for the handler and for myself. When a horse is apprehensive, I introduce hot shoeing gradually, over the course of two or three shoeing cycles. Or, if I am at the barn to shoe multiple horses, and space allows, I might suggest that the horse be moved into a stall adjacent to my workspace where the sounds and smells of hot shoeing other horses throughout the day will accustom the horse to the idea.
Every so often, I do encounter a horse that just cannot overcome the fear of hot shoeing. In these cases, I can construct the shoe away from the horse and cold fit the horse or, if hot fitting is absolutely needed to best accomodate the foot or correct a special
condition, a veterinarian can sedate the horse, just as might be done to perform equine dentistry.