If your horse's hooves are suffering from the summer footing and you are having trouble finding a place on hard, dry ground to ride, you may want to ask your farrier about using studs, which act like cleats on the bottom of golf or football shoes and help keep the horse from slipping in a variety of conditions.
The summer's cement-hard ground and dry, dusty show rings can take their toll on your horses' hooves. Chances are they have become as dry and brittle as the ground. They may be crumbling or splitting, resulting in difficulty with retaining shoes. If you've found that it's tough for horses to even walk on the ground because the grass is too slippery, you may need studs, also called caulks.
Many people use studs in competitive situations and for cross-country schooling because of the variety and types of terrain involved. But rarely are they needed for everyday work. In especially dry years, though, you can't work without them, unless you ride in a sand or stone dust arena.
Farrier Chuck Melius of Oxford, Conn., says that many people use studs in competitive situations and for cross-country schooling because of the variety and type of terrain involved. But rarely are they needed for everyday work. "Studs, when used carefully, can enhance the horse's balance, especially on uneven terrain," says Melius.
Choosing and Inserting Studs
If you haven't used studs before, do so carefully. Misuse of studs can damage your horse's legs. It's important to take a crash course with your farrier on when and how to use them.
If you use them, your farrier will drill-tap your horse's shoes so that you may insert the studs when you need them. He will drill two holes, one on either side of the heel of each shoe, with threaded holes into which you can screw the studs.
But here's where it gets complicated. There are almost as many kinds of studs as there are horses. Choosing the appropriate shape and size comes with experience and determining what works for your horse, as well as a good knowledge of the footing you're on. Page through one of the good equestrian catalogs, such as Dover (1-800-989-1500) or State Line (1-800-228-9208), and you will find a variety of lethal-looking caulks from which to choose.
"Too much traction can be as harmful as too little," stresses Melius. You don't want to subject your horse's legs to unnecessary jarring. This happens when your stud is too big and doesn't allow any of the normal slippage that occurs when your horse's feet hit the ground – an equine shock-absorbing mechanism that protects his joints.
So the trick is to find the stud that allows a little slipping, but not so much that his balance will suffer. This choice is determined by the footing, which brings us back to the hard ground in many areas of the country this year.
Frequently-Used Studs Grass tips. These are narrow, pointed studs that dig into the hard, dry ground and help prevent slipping. You don't want large, bullet-type studs for this because they would be too jarring to the horse's legs. It's important to note that studs that are sharp and pointed-like grass tips should only be used on the outside of the shoe.
Pointed bullets. These are recommended if you're choosing a limited amount of studs for your kit but want variety. They are helpful when a little rain has fallen on hard, dry ground, creating a slick, greasy layer on top of the firm base. These studs have large, sharp points and, once again, only use them on the outside of the horse's shoes, with road studs on the inside.
Road studs. These are small bullets and should be used on the insides of the shoe. Always use small, blunt studs on the inside of your horse's shoes. A large, pointed stud can cut him.
Medium bullets. These are slightly larger than road studs and are useful to have on hand when the footing is good, but firm, for a moderate amount of traction.
Square studs or bullets. These are best for deep, muddy ground.
Things to Remember When Using Studs
Here are some guidelines for the use of studs: Always remove them immediately after riding.
Don't leave a horse in the stall with studs in his shoes.
Never, ever, ship your horse with studs in his shoes.
Use protective boots if possible to prevent injuries to the horse's legs.
Reconsider the use of studs in a horse with lameness.
Horses that tend to "backfire" can be dangerous with studs.
Keep the threads in the shoes packed when you don't have studs in. This protects the screw threads and keeps them from getting dirty.