INSTALLING THEM HOT
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If you go back the two thousand plus years of documented horseshoeing you’ll find that very little has changed up until the last forty years. This change resulted from the production and easy availability of keg shoes (premade horseshoes). Until then, horseshoes were hand forged by the blacksmith. As the shoe was nearing completion and starting to take shape, the farrier would go to the foot with the hot shoe and check his fit by holding the hot shoe to the bottom of the foot. It would have been a waste of time to quench it and check the fit only to find it needed a modification that would have been easier to make when the shoe was hot.
It may have been that these early blacksmiths had little idea of the benefits of hot fitting. The first known case study took place two hundred years ago during the Napoleonic wars. The blacksmiths of Napoleon’s army were arguing. Some argued that making shoes in advance and fitting them cold would save time while others argued you could not achieve a good fit. Napoleon allowed them to experiment. The horses were split between the two opposing parties and, as it turns out, the horses that were hot fit lost considerably fewer shoes. They figured out right away that a better fit could be achieved through hot fitting.
Bending cold iron is hard to do! This results in farriers cutting corners instead of properly fitting a shoe to the foot. They begin making the foot fit the shoe. My mentor, Dick Becker, would always remind me that shoe fit starts with the toe. If you don’t have the toe properly fit you will not achieve a good fit in your quarters or heels. So fitting the toe is often the first corner that a farrier who is cold shoeing will decide to cut. They simply ignore the toe fit altogether and slide the shoe back. I do not like seeing shoes slide back off the toe, but that’s a whole other article.
Besides perimeter fit that I just covered, there is also the contact between the shoe and the foot to be considered. No matter how skilled a farrier is, he will never achieve a perfectly flat foot when trimming or a perfectly flat shoe when forging. This creates gaps between the shoe and the foot. When the shoe is burned onto the foot these gaps disappear.
Another more recently discovered benefit of hot fitting is that when burning the shoe on, we are, in a sense, cauterizing the white line. In regions where weather is humid, feet tend to be soft and hold more moisture. This increases the chances of white line disease which is caused by an anaerobic bacteria that eats away at the white line. The white line is a lamina that attaches the hoof wall to the coffin bone. Your horse needs it! The lamina is made up of linear tubules which are easy for bacteria to enter. When we burn a shoe on we seal off the ends of these tubules making it harder for the bacteria to enter.
Any kind of shoeing when properly done is acceptable. But my point in writing this is that there are, in fact, good reasons to hot shoe. Hot shoeing takes more resources (propane or coal) and a great deal of skill. I think farriers who primarily hot fit indicate a concern for proper shoe fit. This being said, proper shoe fit can be achieved cold shoeing. On most horses, though, it’s just harder to do.
It is amazing how quickly this form of shoeing is being abandoned. I often run into horse owners who state that they have never seen a horse hot fit. Many of them tell me they have “grown up around horses.” I’m finding this statement doesn’t hold much water but, again, that’s a whole other article I’ll probably never write!
Re-posted with permission