Shoeing pads are used for a number of reasons, from adding weight and/or toe length, to protection of the sole, to cushion from the racetrack. Technology, innovation, and marketing have introduced many new pad types, shapes and materials.

For many years, the standard pad for any shoeing application was leather. Shoeing options with pads these days are numerous. Leather still remains a viable choice for pads, but not as popular or in vogue as they used to be.

In terms of maintaining a good hoof wall, integrity leather may still be the best option.

At a farrier clinic last winter, clinician Mike Wildenstein of Cornell University brought up an interesting idea regarding leather pads. He pointed out that the hoof is normally in very good condition after removing shoes with leather pads—something that most farriers already know.

His theory on why this happens was the interesting part. He suggested that the anti-bacterial agents (tannins) introduced into the leather during the manufacturing process also benefit the hoof. It is well-known that the bacteria a hoof picks up in the stall can have a negative affect on hoof wall quality. If those anti-bacterial agents in the leather have the same affect on the bacteria in the hoof, or simply protect that hoof better from those existing negative elements, it would explain this benefit of leather pad.

Trainer Terry Cullipher and I tried leather pads on a horse with poor hoof quality last March. That horse shipped to Hoosier Park shortly after and was re-shod 30 days later while showing a much improved hoof. After shipping to Indiana, he qualified and raced well in the early going of that race meet.

Another case involved a show horse with chronically poor hoof walls. After trying to keep his feet together with acrylic glue (equilox) last year, we elected to try full leather pads when he went back into training. He has been shod for the first half of this show season without the benefit of any hoof wall repair.

These days I think it is easy to fall into a habit of using the hoof repair materials that were not available in past years instead of evaluating the shoeing package when things deteriorate. One problem with acrylic hoof repair products is that the hoof wall underneath the glue (acrylic) can deteriorate.  That is why rebuilding the hoof wall is last in the list of options for bad feet.

However, when there is no hoof wall, there isn’t any choice.  The podiatrists at Rood and Riddle Vet Clinic have been putting copper sulfate into the acrylic glue while mixing it for use; this seems to have reduced the negative effect of the glue on those existing hoof structures that the glue adheres to. 

Leather pads are kind of an old-school idea. Another old-school thought brought up by Wildenstein is pine tar. He referred to a study at Texas A&M that has shown pine tar to be very effective against the various bacteria found in a stall. The next time your horse is in need of a full pad, consider leather with pine tar under it. 

If protecting sore hoof soles as was the case with that horse in the Cullipher stable, Magic Cushion under the pad works well, or simply venous turpentine.  These are all concepts that have been around for years and are still good ideas today. In fact, there are more options for leather pads now in terms of thickness and/or a wedge profile.  Some are thin enough that they don’t cause a significant weight change (always an issue with pads).

This is kind of a new-school thought on an old-school application, but if it works, why not?

Veteran Standardbred farrier Steve Stanley of Lexington, Ky., authors a monthly column for Hoof Beats, the official harness racing publication of the U.S. Trotting Association. The American Farriers Journal Editorial Advisory Board member offers plenty of practical advice that will be of special interest regardless of the type of horses that you work with. Click here to read more from Steve Stanley's Hoof Beats series.