Copper1Hind at 4 weeks-JimGoede.JPG
I recently became aware of something new in the realm of horseshoes: copper-alloy shoes. As a professional farrier, I’m naturally skeptical about any “unique new product.” I needed to do some research.
The first thing I found out is there is something called “Cu+”, the term used for the registered (as of June 2011) antimicrobial properties of copper. This explains why hospitals are now making the handles on their doors out of copper. A YouTube video shows a test of the reaction of stainless steel plates and copper plates on the MRSA bacteria, common in hospitals and a concern for infections. After two minutes, the bacteria remain unchanged on the steel, but begin to decrease in numbers on the copper plate. Within a couple of hours, all the bacteria on the copper plate are gone, while the stainless steel had no effect.
So now there’s a copper horseshoe? I’ve got to try it myself, as I had just added the word “ethical” to my farrier business card. I won’t use, recommend or endorse any product or technique on a horse that I don’t think would be in the best interest of the horse.
PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
Needing a horse to act as my guinea pig, I found one who had a thrush problem, perfect to test the antimicrobial properties of the shoe. This aging (mid-twenties) gelding has ringbone, chronically atrophied, soft and mushy frogs, and some sensitive tissue exposed as a result of the thrush. His caretaker was not particularly good about regular hoof cleaning (not uncommon) and there was usually quite a bit of manure in the turnout (which also gets less than a regular cleaning) where he stays with five other horses. We had treated the thrush before with the usual suspects with fairly good results, but it always came back when the treatments stopped.
I trimmed him up, cleaned up the frog as best I could, put some rocker toes on (for the ringbone) and told the client “Don’t touch or treat these feet.”
After four weeks, midway through the shoeing cycle, I went out to check the horse. I called the customer the night before to let him know I was coming (as I do with all my customers). He told me, “I checked his feet a couple times and I think you will like what you see.” When I got there, I picked up the first foot, which was, as usual, packed with manure. I stuck my hoof pick into the wad of dirt and manure and the whole thing just popped out in one piece, like a dry clump. There, underneath the wad, was a completely dry, clean and thrush-free foot with a solid frog. In addition, there was no smell at all.
At eight weeks, I returned to shoe the horse. Everything seemed to be going as expected, with continued improvement, albeit slow. The only issue with this horse is that it will take time to fully “normalize” due to the fact that he is older and doesn’t move around much, as is noted by the wear, or lack thereof, on the shoes.
ONE TEST IS NOT ENOUGH
This geographic area (Southern California) is dry and warm, and we just don’t see that much thrush here. What about wet climates? Would it work as well there? I needed to do at least one more test, in a different (wet) environment.
I got my chance when I was contacted by a farrier in Oregon who had a horse with fairly bad chronic thrush in all four feet, as well as wall separation and cracking at the nail holes. This had been going on for 6 years, with the customer treating the feet with up to one bottle of ThrushBuster (purple-colored thrush treatment) EVERY 10 DAYS! I figured that this would be a great test for the shoes. He sent some pictures of the feet before he started, and then trimmed the feet and put the new copper-alloy shoes on, telling his customer not to treat the feet anymore.
Four weeks went by and he went out to check the horse’s feet. They were clean, drier and showed little to no signs of thrush. At eight weeks, the horse’s feet showed no signs of thrush, the wall separation was nearly all gone and the hoof walls were now solid and healthy, showing no signs of cracking.
Most recently, I received some information on a test conducted by a well-known equine researcher. He shod a horse with a copper-alloy shoe on one front foot and a standard steel shoe one the other. After approximately two weeks, the feet were tested for organisms, and the results were that no appreciable difference was found.
SO, DO THEY WORK?
The jury is still out. Practical tests show good results, and the science seems logical. There are many other cost-effective ways to treat thrush, including preventive products such as ThrushBuster, as well as curative products like Dry Cow for horses with advanced cases. To me, the most logical horses to use the copper-alloy shoes on would be ones whose owners do not treat or clean the feet as instructed, as it is the shoes that do the work.
For me, the shoes are simply another tool in my shoeing arsenal.
James C. Goede has run his own Farrier business for over 12 years, shoeing sport and competition horses, and therapeutic shoeing on lameness cases with several local veterinarians. He is a commercial instrument-rated pilot, and in his off time enjoys motorcycle riding, deep sea fishing and scuba diving. Jim currently resides in Southern California.