How to Pull a Shoe (In an Emergency)

Obstacles and trail conditions affecting a horse's shoes
Obstacles and trail conditions affecting a horse's shoes - Merimel

Are shoes really that important?

Farrier Reviewed

Horses are shod to protect their feet, to provide better traction, to improve the horse's gait, to correct the shape of the hoof, or to make the foot more comfortable in cases of injury or disease. When a horse has a loose shoe, it can lead to lameness and other serious damage if the hoof is not protected promptly.

You never know what might cause a shoe to lose its grip, so it is wise to be prepared at all times. Waiting too long between shoeings or riding on rocky terrain often causes a shoe to come loose. In some cases, the horse paws at a wire fence, catches the front shoe with a misplaced stride, or simply loosens a shoe while walking through mud in the pasture. Any of these situations make it necessary to pull the shoe before it creates damage.

Tools you will need

  • Gloves to protect your hands
  • Chaps or some sort of protection for your legs
  • Pliers
  • Flat-headed screwdriver or a dull wood chisel
  • Hammer
  • Rasp
  • Hoof boot or material to make a hoof cover

Steps in removing the shoe

  1. Lay out your assortment of tools where you can easily reach them.
  2. Secure the horse with cross ties or have someone hold it.
  3. Pick up the horse's hoof and and bring it forward to rest on your thigh or a hoof stand.
  4. Straighten the nail ends that have been clinched (bent down on the hoof wall) by carefully placing the flat edge of the screwdriver or wood chisel under the lip of each clinch and tapping it upward with the hammer.
  5. Swing the horse's leg back and place it between your legs (front foot) or in your lap (hind foot).  If the shoe is very loose, skip to step 7; otherwise, proceed with step 6.
  6. Gently pry the shoe away from the sole by working around it from side to side with the screwdriver or wood chisel, pushing it out and up.  Starting at the heel area and working toward the toe will provide better leverage.  Always use the tool by pushing inward toward the center of the sole since prying outward can damage the hoof wall.  Do not try to pull the shoe off in one tug as this may break or weaken the hoof wall.
  7. Once you've loosened the shoe, gently tap it back against the sole with the hammer, making it easy to pull out each remaining nail with the pliers.
  8. Using the rasp, smooth any rough edges on the hoof wall and gently roll the edge to minimize opportunities for breakage.
  9. Put a hoof boot on the hoof to protect it, or make a hoof slipper by centering a wad of padding over the sole and wrapping the edges up around the hoof wall.  Hold it in place with either an elastic bandage or duct tape. (Note: Some farriers recommend use of a disposable diaper for a make-shift hoof boot!)
  10. Keep the horse either in a stall with plenty of bedding material or a grassy paddock until the farrier is available to reshoe the horse.

If your horse looses a shoe, a hoof boot may be used to protect the foot, or the hoof can be wrapped or bandaged.  In an emergency, simply swathing the shoe-less foot with duct tape will protect it until further measures can be taken. 

If you find yourself needing to pull shoes on a regular basis, you may want to invest in farrier tools designed for the specific purposes of pulling shoes and taking care of the horse's hooves.  These include a clinch cutter (sometimes called a buffer), farrier's pull-offs, crease nail pullers, and a farrier's rasp.

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

Author picture

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere.