There will be times when plain, open-heeled shoes are not enough to keep a sport horse performing at its highest level. This can be due to conformation flaws, wear and tear, injury or old age. In these instances specialized shoes, pads or acrylics are needed.
Bar shoes: Bar shoes have many forms and functions. A whole article would be required to explain their different types and functions. I will touch on just the most common.
The bar shoes sport horses use most often are the straight bar, heart bar and egg bar. They are used primarily for caudal support and protection. Bars can also be placed anywhere you need them. Commercial bar shoes of all kinds are easily available.
The problem is it is difficult to find one that fits exactly right. Start-from-scratch, forge-welded bar shoes are wonderful, but very few farriers make enough of them on a regular basis so they will fit and work well. A better choice is to start with a keg shoe and weld in the necessary bars with an electric or gas welder. Bar shoes, when used with various types of pads, will often solve many soundness issues.
Pads: The world of pads is a big one and cannot be covered completely here. Plain leather pads remain the first choice for many farriers, while plastic and high-tech combinations also command their share of attention. They are used primarily to protect the bottom of the foot and can be made from a variety of materials. They are either flat or wedged shaped and of many thicknesses and shapes.
When using wedge pads I have found that some type of frog support is necessary. Stick to the old adage that “less is best,” and try to avoid the use of thick wedge pads.
Hoof-packing materials have been discussed since the first pads were applied. Vettec’s Equi-Pak is currently the most common packing used on sport horses. One of the reasons it is so popular is that it adheres to the foot and the pad, preventing foreign material from working its way in between the pad and the foot. It is also durable enough that you can use it without a pad. It is applied directly to the sole and is referred to as a “soft pour.” Besides providing support, it seals the foot so the sole is not subjected to the constant cycles of wet and dry conditions. This makes the foot much stronger and more functional.
Acrylics: The use of acrylics and glue-on shoes has increased dramatically in the last decade. The Thoroughbred racehorse industry uses more glue-on shoes than any other discipline, but their use on sport horses is rapidly catching up. Some horses, for whatever reason, are “allergic” to nails, so using glue-on shoes can save a horse’s career.
Steel shoes oxidize rapidly, which makes gluing them on impractical. Currently, aluminum and polyurethane are the two shoe materials most commonly glued on. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
The aluminum shoe is useful for horses with weak, rundown heels and damaged feet. The aluminum shoe is rigid enough to keep the heels from flexing, thereby giving relief to the bruised internal structures. If the shoes are left on too long, however, the foot will tend to contract because of the heels being locked in.
The open-heeled polyurethane shoe, on the other hand, allows the foot to flex normally, letting the heel expand. The downside is that they are more expensive than conventional aluminum shoes.
Acrylics have also been a life-saver for hoof repair when the wall is gone or damaged. Now it is possible to have a horse back to work in a matter of hours rather than weeks. The use of acrylic heel builds has also become popular when heel growth and strength are not adequate. No longer is it all just about nails and shoes to keep the compromised feet comfortable.