Who Needs Nails?

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To many, the image of nail-less glue-on shoes is a messy one of hard-to-apply shoes that don’t stay on reliably. With current technology and advances in glues, that perception is no longer true. First introduced in 1986, glue-on shoes have become much more effective for both therapeutic and regular shoeing options.

Dr. Stephen O’Grady, a veterinarian and farrier, and Edgar Watson, a certified journeyman farrier, presented their ideas and methods for glue-on shoes at the 1999 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) convention. They cited acute or chronic laminitis, extensive hoof wall separations, coffin bone fractures and severely damaged heels as a few conditions that could benefit from “non-nailing” shoeing techniques.

Another proponent is Dr. Jon Cohen, a veterinarian and a farrier based in West Virginia. He has found glue-on shoes to be beneficial for horses that have hoof walls too bad to nail into or feet that are too sore for pounding nails. “They aren’t a cure-all,” he said. “They are another tool in your toolbox and have several very important uses.”

Everyone agrees that strict attention to hoof preparation and composite application is crucial to the procedure’s success, and this can take longer than traditional shoeing. No glue-on shoes will stay on with improper prep, and it is very important to make sure that everything is clean. Hoof dressing, oil and a crumbling hoof wall all reduce the adhesive properties.

One of the earliest versions of glue-on shoes came with multiple plastic tabs. These, too, have advanced with the times, and are now made with polyurethane either on top of, or completely encasing, the metal shoe. These are more labor-intensive than other types of glue-on shoes, but Cohen still uses them at times, mainly for foundered horses. He also likes them for multiple applications and for feet that are fairly normal in shape. In his experience, the tabs adhere quickly, but if the farrier doesn’t have the shoes fitting perfectly, they tend to break loose more easily.

Another common glue-on shoe in use today is an aluminum shoe with a fabric cuff, which is attached to the hoof wall. This cuff acts like a continuous clip, and there is no glue on the bottom of the hoof. These shoes can also come with a urethane rim pad to absorb shock. They use epoxy-methylmethacrylate adhesive, and the attachment is said to be stronger than nail-on shoes.

Cohen agrees that the cuff shoes have better adhesion, but he has found that after several consecutive uses, the foot starts getting soft and crumbly because air isn’t getting to it. He does like this shoe for foundered horses, and for cases that need only one application and for which it’s important that the shoe stay on securely.

For gluing shoes directly to the bottom of the horse’s foot, aluminum shoes are the most common, but steel is also an option. In the past, acrylic or resin glues took about 20 minutes to set up sufficiently that the horse could move around without the shoe shifting. However, a faster-setting polymethylmethacrylate was introduced in 1988 to repair hoof walls and cracks. “This acrylic,” wrote O’Grady, “has been modified to provide flexibility and at the same time, adheres well to hoof walls. More recently, this material has been used with excellent results to attach therapeutic shoes (or any shoes) to the hoof.” This product, sold as Equilox, has become a common choice for glue-on shoes, thanks to its superior adhesive qualities and quick set-up time. Cohen says that application is fairly easy once the farrier gets used to doing it, but the foot does need to be in the air longer. He likes this method for some thoroughbred racehorses because the hoof walls don’t get as torn up when shoes need to be reset frequently.

While early glue-on shoes had a short lifespan, they now typically last the normal 6 to 8 weeks, and the procedure can be repeated at regular intervals as necessary. They are usually used on the front feet, but all four feet can be fitted with them. They are more expensive than traditional shoes, but could be well worth the cost if the horse benefits from them. So, the next time you are faced with a shoeing problem, consider the nail-less shoe. It could be exactly what your horse needs.