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Using studs in your horse’s shoes can improve his confidence, especially when competing on tricky going, but making the wrong choice can have disastrous consequences due to potential for injury through twists, strains and other injuries.

But don’t worry, as the team here at Horse & Hound is here to help. From understanding when to use studs, to choosing the right stud for the going, our expert guide contains all you need to know.

Does your horse need studs?

Obviously in order to use studs, your horse needs to be shod and for the shoes to be fitted with stud holes by your farrier. The most common type of shoe used on competition horses has a fuller (groove) that the nail heads sit inside and a concave inside edge, which act together to give the horse some grips without studs.

Before turning to studs, if your horse has a tendency to slip while on the roads, the most popular choice is to add tungsten nails to their shoes. This is a standard horseshoe nail with a tungsten carbide pin inserted into the head, which protrudes about 1mm and digs into the surface as the foot hits the floor.

Often referred to as ‘road nails’, they should always be used in pairs of feet, either fronts, backs or all four, to maintain the medial lateral balance of the foot and limb, and as far back as possible, to reduce shock to the hoof as it hits the ground.

In some horses this will be sufficient to provide the necessary grip to maintain their confidence, but if you are finding your horse still has a tendency to slip on certain going, then adding studs is the obvious next step.

However, studs should not be used to make up for poor riding or a lack of training in horse or rider. It’s important that riders invest sufficient time in ensuring that their horses are used to working on different surfaces to reduce the likelihood of slipping.

As showjumper Holly Smith says: “Some people spend too much time blaming their studs, rather than worrying about how they are riding.”

It’s also important to remember a little slipping of the hoof when it lands on a surface is a natural and important part of the normal function of the forelimbs in absorbing concussion. Studs prevent this from happening, leading to increased forces going up the leg so should only be used when absolutely necessary.

How many studs?

If you feel that your horse would benefit from having studs, you need to decide whether they need them in both front and back shoes, as well as how many in each shoe and which types of studs to use.

Traditionally many riders only used studs in the outside of the shoe and there is a school of thought that believes a single stud on the outside of the hoof reduces strain on the leg’s structures when making a tight turn.

However, most farriers now recommend using a pair of studs (one in each side of the shoe) in either both rear shoes or all four shoes in order to maintain medial lateral foot balance. Studs should be of similar size across a pair of feet and slightly larger studs can be used in rear shoes compared to in front.

In all cases the smallest possible studs should be chosen. Prolonged use of big studs on firm ground can produce vertical fractures in the hoof wall directly above the studs, so this should be avoided.

Riders should avoid using pointed studs on the inside of the hoof due to the potential for strike damage to the opposite leg. For this reason it is sensible for horses with studs to wear boots for protection. A stud girth is also a wise precaution if your horse is wearing studs in their front shoes.

What’s in your stud kit?

Your stud kit should contain a variety of different shaped studs to suit your horse’s needs, a stud tap (to clean the thread in the stud hole before use), a spanner (the adjustable ones are ideal) and stud plugs plus a spare horseshoe nail.

In addition you may find it useful to invest in a magnetic metal bowl, which will keep your studs exactly where you need them, even if the bowl is knocked over, and is also useful for finding studs when dropped on the grass. There are also magnetic wristbands available that do a similar job, holding the spuds for you until you need to use them.

Stud holes should always be plugged when not in use, to prevent dirt and stones clogging them up. Designed to keep the empty hole clean, ready-made plugs (or sleepers) come in shaped cotton wool, metal, rubber or plastic, although many riders make their own with a piece of cotton wool covered in petroleum jelly, which is an inexpensive and effective alternative.

It also makes sense to clean the stud holes out the day before a competition, before replugging them, rather than attempting it at the show, when the horse may be impatient to get on with the job. There are few things worse than arriving at a show with limited time to find you have a small stone wedged in a stud hole!

The studs should be cleaned after use and carefully stored to avoid the thread deteriorating, which can render them useless, and at worst necessitate a visit from the farrier if one cross-threads and gets stuck in the hole.

Which studs to use?

Studs are typically most useful when the ground has been firm and then it has rained, causing the top surface to be slippery, but there is a wide range of studs on the market, so it’s important to always choose the appropriate stud to suit the conditions.

  • “Good” grass going: cone-shaped jumping stud
  • Fibrous indoor surfaces: cone-shaped jumping stud
  • Firm ground: slim, pointed stud
  • Loose sand schools: short dome-topped studs
  • Well watered grass: short dome-topped studs
  • Varying terrain (such as cross-country): pointed jumping stud
  • Slippery on top, firm underneath: fat at the top with pointed lower section
  • Boggy, deep going: very large, uniformly fat studs

While most riders like to emulate top riders or trainers, it’s important that you take time to discover which studs are right for you and your horse. Trying studs out while you are schooling, where you can stop and make changes if necessary, is advisable rather than trying a new set-up of studs at a competition.

Expert tips for using studs

  • Use two studs in each shoe (in most cases)
  • Use blunt (not pointed) studs on the inside branches of the shoe
  • Use the smallest studs that will do the job
  • If you need studs in all four shoes, use smaller studs in front than behind
  • Choose studs according to conditions, horse type, movement and type of competition
  • Typically the softer the ground, the larger the studs needed
  • Stud up just before you compete and remove them immediately after you are finished
  • Don’t load or travel horses in studs (unless the studs are nearly flat and designed to be worn during travelling)
  • Avoid leading or riding horses on hard surfaces in studs
  • Clean and retap stud holes the day before you are planning to use them
  • Keep stud holes plugged with an appropriate material when not in use
  • Practise putting studs at home before trying at a show
  • Most farriers are a useful source of advice, so do ask their opinion
  • Clean studs after use and to avoid rust, wrap them in a lightly oiled cloth
  • Store your stud kit together so you don’t lose anything