Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up? Do you ever wonder how they get that way? (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!) Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse. Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!
How to Remove a Shoe
We’ve all been there: a sprung shoe, horse steps on the clip, and you’re desperate to get the shoe off. Or, he suddenly comes up lame with an abscess, and you have to remove the shoe for treatment. In these emergencies, it is most helpful to have the tools and skill to pull a shoe yourself, instead of waiting hours (or perhaps even days) for a blacksmith to arrive.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have some wonderful farriers help me through the years. They’ve taught me an awful lot about feet, shoeing, and mechanics. They felt it was very important to teach me how to properly remove a shoe–because it helps them, and helps the horse. Ideally, the shoe should come off cleanly and leave the hoof wall intact. With the right tools, this isn’t too difficult.
I did not have the right tools early on in my “emergency farrier” career. Armed only with an old dull rasp, scissors, wire cutters, and needle nose pliers, removing a loose shoe was a definite challenge. With enough sweat, patience, and perserverence I did get the shoe off. My farrier took pity on me and gave me something no (shod) horse owner should be without: nail pullers. Nail pullers are specialized pincers designed to grip the nail head, allowing you to wrench it out with relative ease (compared to my needle-nose pliers).
Along with the precious nail pullers, your basic kit should also include a good rasp (it doesn’t have to be newly sharp, but some life left in it), and shoe pullers or nippers. You can get by with the rasp and nail pullers alone in many instances,
if you can get your hands on some nippers they are helpful (necessary if glue is involved).
Pick the foot out. Rest the horse’s foot on your knee, as the farrier does.
Using the fine side of your rasp, file down the nail clinches–the folded-over part that actually anchors the shoe. If the clinches are loose and popped (at the end of a shoeing cycle), you may be able to cut them off with nippers (or wire cutters). If they are still tight, just keep rasping until the clinch is flush with the hoof wall. There should be very little left of the clinch, so that it will pull safely and easily out through the nail hole.
Pick the foot up and hold it between your knees, as the farrier does. If your nails are pretty loose, you can probably go ahead and pull them straight out with the nail pullers. However, they often stick pretty tight, and it is easier to loosen them first. Using your nippers or shoe pullers, grasp one branch of the shoe. Yank sharply down and in, towards the shoe, to lift the branch of the shoe slightly. Do the same for the other branch of the shoe.
Tap the shoe back down, flush with the foot, and you will notice the nail heads pop up from the shoe. Now it is very easy to grab them with your nail pullers, and pull them out. Sometimes it takes a bit of twisting to get the nail completely removed, but it should not be too difficult. If the nail won’t budge, check your clinches again–they probably need more rasping. Start with the heel nails on each side, and work your way towards the toe (often the hardest to get).
Once all the nails are out, tap the heels of the shoe with your tool and it will slide right off. The whole process takes just a couple minutes (seconds for a good farrier!), but it can be incredibly helpful in an emergency.
Alternate method: it is also possible to remove a shoe simply with the shoe pullers. Grasp each branch of the shoe, keep pulling down and out sharply, alternating sides working towards the toe. This can be a bit rougher on the clinches, sometimes taking a bit of hoof wall with the nails as the shoe loosens. I’ve had much more luck with nail pullers when it comes to taking the shoe off quickly, easily, and safely.