Knowing how to deal with a loose shoe can prevent serious damage to your horse's hoof and minimize the time he is out of commission. It's good to know when and how to pull the shoe yourself and when to leave it alone until a farrier can come out and reset it. A horse with a loose shoe should not be ridden, worked or turned out for exercise until the shoe has been reset or replaced by a professional farrier.
If the shoe appears bent but is still firmly attached, or if it is only slightly loose but still in position on the foot, your best bet is to leave it alone, keep the horse confined to a pen or stall, and call your farrier at once. In this case, the hoof is more likely to be damaged more by being barefoot or by having an inexperienced person pull the shoe than by leaving the shoe on.
Proper tools will make this job much easier and safer. Attempting to remove a shoe using a screwdriver and pliers is awkward and frustrating and can result in serious hoof damage and lameness. Equip your barn with an emergency hoof kit containing a clinch cutter, hammer, pull-offs, and crease nail puller. At the very least, keep a pair of pull-offs on hand. This tool resembles heavy-duty hoof nippers with dull jaws, and can be purchased from farrier suppliers and at tack and ranch supply stores.
Open the clinches
A clinch is the end of the nail that’s folded over against the hoof wall it prevents the nail from pulling out and keeps the shoe tight. Pulling a shoe is much easier if you first open the clinches or remove them. This lets you pull the nails through the hoof wall with less effort and reduces the risk of tearing off pieces of hoof.
Hold the foot between your legs and place the chisel edge of the clinch cutter under the end of a clinch. Tap the other edge of the clinch cutter with a hammer to open the clinch. Repeat on all clinches.
Alternatively, you can use a file or the fine side of shoeing rasp to file off the clinches. But be careful not to file off any more of the hoof wall than you have to.
Pull the nails
If you pull all the nails one at a time the shoe will fall to the ground. Most horseshoes have a crease on the ground surface where the nail heads fit and are protected. A crease nail puller has jaws shaped like a parrot’s beak that enable you to reach into the crease, grab a nail by the head and pull it out.
Nail heads that protrude past the shoe can usually be pulled using pull-offs.
Pull the shoe
If the nail heads are so worn or fit so tightly that you can’t grab them, use the pull-offs to remove the shoe and nails together. This will be much easier for your and less stressful on your horse if the clinches have been opened or filed off.
Hold the foot between your legs and work the jaws of the pull-offs between the shoe and the hoof at one heel. Move your hands downward toward the center of the foot to pry the shoe away from the hoof. Remove any nails that protrude from the shoe as you are prying.
Do the same at the other heel and then move to one branch of the shoe near the toe. Pry around the shoe a little at a time until it comes off. ALWAYS PRY TOWARD THE CENTER OF THE HOOF, NEVER TO THE OUTSIDE. Otherwise you risk ripping large chunks out of the hoof wall which will make it more difficult for the farrier to nail on a replacement shoe.
Use the pull-offs to pull any nails that remain in the hoof after the shoe is removed.
Protect the hoof
A hoof is easily chipped or broken once the shoe has been removed. Protect the hoof with a protective boot or by wrapping the edge of the hoof with several layers of tape (duct tape, vet wrap, adhesive tape). If your horse has been wearing a hoof pad and seems to ouchy on his sole, use a protective boot or tape a cloth over the bottom of the hoof.
Call your farrier as soon as possible and keep the horse confined to a stall until he arrives.
Read more articles about hoof care and shoeing at www.horsekeeping.com.