Barnyard Basics: Innovative emergency foot fixes

Courtesy of Heather Smith Thomas
We used a shirt to make several layers of padding for the bare foot, so we could lead Diablo home through the rocks.

Heather Smith Thomas

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two parts about trail emergencies with your horse.

One time, my husband and I were riding range and checking cattle, very far from home, when his horse lost a shoe.

It was very rocky country and the horse would have gone lame in the rocks trying to get home without the shoe, so we tied a jacket around the foot to protect it. We were able to get the horse home without soreness or stone bruising.

We used this same trick again a few years later when my daughter and I were checking cattle. The young, black gelding she was riding was very flat footed and had been shod with hoof pads to keep from stone bruising, since we have to travel through a lot of very rocky terrain checking and moving cattle. This gelding, named Diablo, was sometimes a little clumsy and while scrambling through some big rocks and sagebrush on a steep mountainside, he somehow managed to step on the heel of his left front shoe with a hind foot and pulled the shoe and hoof pad off.

We were 6 miles from home and didn’t want to risk a stone bruise or having him break his hoof walls to where it would be difficult to put a shoe back on. The terrain on most of our route home was extremely rocky. Diablo had been recently shod and didn’t have much extra hoof wall; he would go tender and lame very quickly if we led him home without a shoe on that foot.

So we made an instant hoof pad using one of our sweatshirts, folding it across the bottom of the foot in several thicknesses, and then we used the arms of the shirt to tie around his pastern to help hold it in place.

I also had a few pieces of baling twine in my coat pocket, which I keep there for emergency fence repairs, such as tying loose wires back onto posts when elk have knocked the staples out, tying broken fence wires back together or tying branches or small dead tree trunks across a gap where a tree has fallen over and knocked the fence down. We often make an instant pole fence that way to close up a gap where the fence has been smashed flat. The baling twine comes in handy for all kinds of temporary repairs, holding the fence together until we can bring fencing materials out on the range to fix the fence properly.

I used some of that twine to help tie the sweatshirt padding securely to my daughter’s horse’s foot so this makeshift bandage wouldn’t work loose as he walked. She was thus able to lead Diablo the 6 miles home without any rocks hurting his shoeless foot and the hoof was in perfect shape for putting a new shoe back on. The hoof wall was not chipped or worn and we were able to put a new shoe and hoof pad on him after we got home. The sweatshirt was completely worn through three of its four thicknesses, with big holes through it, but Diablo’s foot was just fine.

Commercial hoof boots are the easiest thing to use in an emergency like a lost shoe, but sometimes a person doesn’t have one along. We always take coats and extra layers of clothing with us, however, because of the fickle weather in our mountains, but over the years we’ve learned that sudden, cold thundershowers are not the only emergencies that might arise. There are times we’ve been very glad we had something we could use to improvise for first-aid purposes, and we never start a ride without them. I have an old jacket and sweatshirt that stays tied on the back of my saddle!

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on a ranch in the mountains near Salmon. To contact her or order her books — which include “Horse Tales,” “Cow Tales” and “Ranch Tales” — call 208-756-2841 or email