As a young jackeroo working on a station in very rugged country, I learned that if my horse lost a shoe during the muster, I had to walk and lead my horse till we got back to camp; the result was that my part in the muster was not real good, the boss was not real happy, the horse was lame plus I hated walking. At 14 years of age I had a dream to be a real cowboy and believed that they always rode the horse, not led it, so reality about how this might happen came very early in my education.

Hoof preparation and balance must be correct to begin with, followed by the selection of the shoes that are the best suited for the horse to perform its task.

The selection of suitable size nails to shoes to hoof wall is vital. One size nail does not suit all types of shoes or hooves. As a guide, select a nail head that fits down into the shoe snugly so that when it is clenched the nail head is nearly level with the top of the shoe; this means that the nail head can only wear down at the same rate as the shoe. Conversely it is sometimes believed that big nails hold the shoe on longer, and that those protruding heads don’t really matter, however by the time those big heads have worn down to the shoe, there is very little left to hold the shoe on.

My guideline is that if the nail head fits the shoe correctly, the nail shank size will be comfortable for the hoof, and this is a tried and tested principle to avoid horses becoming ‘nail shy’ from shoeing.

The most stable nail pattern for most shoes seems to be 1-3-5, evenly spaced back from the toe and forward of the heel; studies have shown that this pattern is the most effective in controlling redistortion during growth between shoeings, and I have always found it to be very reliable.

Three nails placed close together anywhere in the shoe is wrong, as it places too much stress on a concentrated area of hoof and if the shoe becomes loose it usually takes that whole section of hoof wall away.

Clenching correctly puts the reliability into shoeing, as it’s no good putting the wheels on if you don’t tighten up the nuts properly.

The nails should ideally be 20 to 25mm up the hoof wall and in a straight line for clenching. Then use the head of your shoe pullers or a clenching block to turn the nails over and down, and use an even number of hammer hits to get the nail tensions even without tearing the outer wall. Clean out under the clench using a curved blade knife to make an undercut, then rasp all the ends of the clenches to an even length of three or four millimetres, then block the nail heads and hammer the clenches down flat into the recess. That is the age old traditional method.

In later years ‘hammer clenching’ has been swapped for the use of clenching tongs to fold the nails over and down, however most people using this method manage to tear the hoof wall in doing so and also the clench is formed round and weak, then they usually have to rasp them down smooth which takes all the strength out of the clench, which is a major cause of lost shoes.

The old traditional way or the modern soft method, both have their valid applications and when used properly they will enhance the reliability of the whole process of shoeing.

Both techniques have detrimental effects when not used correctly; this fact I feel has led many horse owners to go looking for more information about hoof care. The truth is that a good shoeing job is only as good as the clenches, so we have to get better at understanding the technique.

Bad hoof preparation gets bad results, regardless of it being for barefoot or shoe fitting.