If you follow any fellow horse lovers on social media (and even if you don't), chances are you've seen a photo of these nail-free, iron-free, colorful clip-on horseshoes sometime in the past several months. Photos of the Megasus Horserunners, as the shoes are called, have gotten a lot of attention on Facebook due to their bright colors and claims of a gentler, more supportive shoeing option for horses.
The Horserunners, expected to be available for sale later this year, are clip-on shoes with bottoms designed similar to human running shoes. The shoes are meant to be shock-absorbing and easily removed for riders who want to work their horses in shoes but turn them out barefoot. According to the company's website, Horserunners are applied by placing two strips of Mega Lock tape onto the foot's outside wall and adhering the shoe's clips onto the tape strips.
So, will we soon see Thoroughbreds with equine running shoes color coordinated to their silks?
Pat Broadus, owner of Broadus Brothers Horseshoeing in Central Kentucky, has his doubts. A galloping Thoroughbred exerts roughly 30,000 pounds of pressure per square inch in his feet. Broadus isn't convinced, from what he has seen of the Horserunners, the velcro-like tape combined with the shoe base would provide the right combination of adherence, traction, and slide needed to the hoof in that high-pressure situation.
“I've never seen a pair put on,” said Broadus, who had concerns about the tape used to adhere the clips. “It's like Velcro. You know with Velcro, as soon as it gets dirty, it won't stick anymore.”
Indeed, the target audience for Horserunners seems to be trail and casual riders, although initial tests suggests the clip-ons can withstand the force of jumping.
While the act of using nails to affix shoes is painless to the horse when done correctly, nails can pose problems. Horses with thin hoof walls can have shoes loosen, and nails can predispose the wall to cracks, chips or tears if the horse is stomping flies or steps on the edge of a loose shoe and pulls it the wrong way. Some horses, especially Thoroughbreds with thin walls, struggle to keep nailed-on shoes affixed.
If not clip-ons, what are the best options for racehorses needing a break from nails?
Broadus said glue-on shoes remain the standard for Thoroughbreds with special shoeing needs. They were initially found primarily in hospital settings but have become much more mainstream in the past few years.
“It used to be you'd go in a barn and it was taboo for them to have glue-ons, and now you'll have three out of 20 with glue-ons on,” he said.
Broadus, who co-owns glue-on shoe company Hanton Horseshoes, says people have gained a better understanding of how to glue shoes to horses' feet.
“When glue-ons first came around, everybody thought you needed a half a bucket of glue to glue a horse on,” he said. “I think we were way overkilling it and putting glue in places that didn't need glue, and I put myself in that group. It's the human mindset of, 'More is better.' It only sticks to so much. The more you put on, the more chance you have of part of it failing.”
Hanton's shoes are a modified type of Victory Racing Plates with clips that rest against the outside of the hoof wall, and it is these that are glued on. More traditional glue-ons require a small amount of glue at the edge of the foot and are easy to remove as the hoof grows out, since the portion with the glue is often the part that would be trimmed off anyway.
Despite his involvement in the glue-on shoe business, Broadus said he only has about four horses actively wearing glue-ons across a practice with five farriers.
“I glue to get horses out of glue-ons, I do not put them on planning to leave them on for their entire life. That being said, I have done it when I've had a bad situation on certain horses,” he said. “A lot of times, I get a call to come put glue-ons on a horse and you're not putting nails in so the feet grow out and they look beautiful, then they're scared to go back to [nails].”
Broadus has one client whose top-level driving prospect had to be retired when he pulled a shoe, stepped on the nail, and developed an infection that spread to his ankle. She keeps her current driving horse in glue-ons for peace of mind, even though she acknowledges it's unlikely such an accident would happen again.
The downside of glue-ons is they're more expensive; some can run $75 to $80 a pair, a cost that gets passed onto the client. A pair of glue-ons cannot be reset after one use, which contributes to the bill, too.
Another option Broadus sees for Thoroughbreds needing a break from traditional shoes: hoof boots. Broadus has had good luck rehabilitating a horse on his farm with hoof boots for about seven months. Hoof boots have become better-fitted to horses' feet in the past several years and have been a popular option among endurance riders negotiating significant mileage at a slow speed over tough terrain. He hasn't had a request to try hoof boots from one of his racing clients yet, but he wouldn't be surprised if it comes soon.
“I'm not so sure that that type of boot wouldn't have its place at the racetrack at some point,” he said. “I don't know that a horse would run in them because of the traction on the bottom. But I could see a horse come up with a bruised foot or something, and you put that on for a few days while you treat it. I could see where it would be a lot of protection. They've improved them so much.”
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