The old-timers go misty eyed when they recall the sight and the smell of the local blacksmith fitting hot shoes to the horses, and I for one still love the aroma and the clouds of smoke from hot shoeing.
The tradition of hot shoeing was born out of necessity. When hand making horse shoes prior to the machine made shoe era, the hand tools were not as refined as they are today. The old style hoof cutters were difficult to use as they only had one cutting edge which was very narrow, the rasps were also narrow so achieving a flat hoof surface was difficult, thus while hand making the shoe, which was still hot from the forge, it was a better option to simply burn it on to get a perfectly married fit to the hoof.
This system today still holds true with regards to shoeing heavy horses, as the shoes are difficult to shape cold due to their weight and size.
Much has been written about the fact that hot shoeing seals the hoof and thereby prevents white line disease, ie that bacterial infection which creeps into the laminae area under the hoof wall. In my opinion this problem is quite misunderstood and needs to be examined from another angle.
White line disease is the first stage of hoof wall separation from the sensitive laminae, where the hoof wall is stretching outwards because it has become too long and out of shape. This separation then allows dirt to penetrate into the area which in turn causes inflammation then infection then an abscess, leaving a cavity between the hoof wall and the white line/laminae structure.
So now let’s reconsider the belief that hot shoeing helps prevent white line disease. What really stops white line disease is correct hoof preparation and the elimination of flares.
The next statement in support for hot shoeing is that in a wet climate hot shoeing helps prevent the hoof wall from becoming water logged, by sealing the surface under the shoe. This is quite correct as the hoof wall is made up of hollow hair-like fibres and they melt together like burnt toast when the hot shoe is applied, definitely sealing it.
Six weeks later when those shoes are removed it is quite obvious that the hoof wall is still dry up to 1.5cm above the edge, also the naturally produced hoof oil seems to come down to there but no lower. However in constantly hot shod hooves, this dry area eventually deteriorates, so there are good points and bad points for hot shoeing in wet conditions.
Hot shoeing on thin shelly cracked hooves is also very beneficial, as it allows us to use light weight shoes and finer nails which put far less stress on that type of hoof, however these are few in numbers and they should only need to be hot shod a couple of times to correct the problem.
Shaping shoes while hot is also less physical stress on the farrier’s delicate anatomy for those who are heavily into occupational health and safety, as some of us are actually quite delicate petals.
So now we live in the twenty first century. We have access to world class hand tools and we are able to cold shape and cold fit our modern horse shoes to most horses very successfully, with less physical effort. I personally prefer to cold shoe and I reserve hot shoeing only for those remedial reasons previously stated.
From the horse’s point of view, we only shoe him to satisfy our own needs so let’s keep it as non-intrusive as possible. And think about this fact – if his hoof was meant to be barbequed every time he is shod, why is it made of hair?
Too many horse owners are mistakenly led to believe that because their farrier only hot shoes, he must therefore be better at his trade than a farrier who only cold shoes. The truth is that hot shoeing can disguise a multitude of preparation faults whereas cold shoeing cannot.
If the hoof is not correctly balanced, then hot or cold fitting the shoe won’t make it right.
So in conclusion, having reviewed these simple observations, if what you are doing now is resulting in your horse being sound then don’t change anything, but if the reverse is the case then you should consider the options for your hair footed horse’s sake.