How high should the farrier put the nails?

Q: Hi David. My friend’s farrier says that nails should always be put in ‘as high as possible’, but my farrier says this is completely incorrect. What is your view on this?
Nellie, Manawatu

Answer: Thanks for your question. “As high as necessary” might be a better approach.

That is, only as high as necessary to hold the shoe in place for the duration of the period before the next shoeing and also to cause minimal damage to the hoof wall during this period.

It would be possible to nail shoes on as high as the nail is long but, in everyday situations, this would be both pointless and potentially harmful.

With a very fine line between sensitive and horny structures, nailing shoes on can be a tricky thing at the best of times. Nailing excessively high increases the likelihood of the nail pricking the hoof or pressing on the sensitive structures. These scenarios are commonly referred to as “nail prick” or “nail bind” respectively and can result in lameness and/or some blood. Of course, there’s always a small risk of these things happening when shoeing any horse regardless of how skilful and careful the farrier is.

On a similar topic, a visually pleasing row of neatly placed nails is not always important. Nails that are placed in a row and close together are more likely to pull a chunk of hoof away if a shoe it lost or torn off. Placing nails in the most appropriate and strongest part of the hoof wall can be better than only nailing for symmetry. The concept is, “don’t sacrifice a good nail for one that’s in line”.

David Hankin Dip.WCF

First published in NZ Horse & Pony magazine in October 2011.

Read more of my hoof related questions and answers blog posts