Horse Health: Copper Nails vs Steel Nails

No hoof, no horse… right?

If it weren’t for this mantra, would we be so willing to spend thousands of dollars on maintenance for our horse’s feet? How often do we change farriers because the old one did something we didn’t like or made a mistake with the hooves of our equine athlete which causes a fault in their performance? I know at our house, we went through five just last summer. Our current farrier has been around for a while and is constantly learning (as he should be).

Well, one day he handed me a copper nail.

I had never seen a copper-plated nail before, so I was a little confused. He pointed at the copper bracelet on my wrist and the copper flex sleeve on my knee and asked why I wear them. I responded that I have poor circulation and I was trying to help heal some issues I was having (tendonitis in the knee and a recent boxer fracture in my fifth metatarsal). He told me, quite simply, that horses need a little help with circulation and blood flow now and then as well. So, I did some research.

What I found is this: copper-plated horseshoe nails are designed to help horses much the same as the copper items which we wear. These nails were developed in the UK where it is traditionally more damp than many places in the States. They were designed to help combat white line disease, seedy toe and thrush which are prevalent in the damp climates. My farrier showed me the nail when I brought up the fact that I had been researching hoof supplements and had bought some Kopertox due to concern over a prolonged wet spring and the possibility of thrush. Copper-plated nails have even been found to cause less damage to the actual hoof wall than traditional steel nails. Think about it – every time a nail is driven through a hoof, it opens a space for bacteria to grow. Steel nails will rust and leave excess marks behind along with the expected holes. Using copper-plated nails negates the rust and encourages blood flow which keeps the bacteria at bay.

Neither humans nor horses naturally produce copper, it has to introduced from outside sources. Common signs of copper deficiency in horses are lack of luster in the coat, dull or sluggish behavior and hoof deterioration. The hooves will be prone to abscessing, splitting, crumbling and breaking off. As the hoof weakens, it allows for bacterial growth which often must be treated with antimicrobial ointments and salves.

So, what does copper actually do? It promotes circulation and blood flow, which helps to increase healing times and prevent bacteria from reproducing. Copper has shown to be beneficial in reducing inflammation in joints as well. Copper-coated nails have shown a prevalence to negate the hoof issues related to damp climates and seasons. They reduce the wear on the hoof itself as well as fighting off dangerous bacteria. While this is a new science, it seems to be a method worth trying out if it means helping to keep our equine athletes working their best year-round.

Heather Schlecht

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