Quite recently, a racehorse called Battash won the prestigious King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood in the UK and he was wearing on his feet, copper shoes. This became quite a talking point in the racing media and beyond with the horse attracting the moniker, ‘Golden Boots of Battash’.
First off, Battash’s shoes were not actually copper but copper-coated so why coat a stainless steel horseshoe? Copper is a reddish/brown metal well known for its antibacterial properties. Copper has shown good effectiveness in killing bacterial organisms compared to aluminium normally used to make racing plates because it is lighter than steel. Racehorses spend long periods of time standing in their stables and may be more at risk of these conditions. Combine that with the natural propensity of the Thoroughbred to have weak horn plus the increased frequency of shoeing for racing and the whole issue becomes much more of a problem.
The science is that copper discourages the growth of fungus and bacteria. Copper- coated shoes have shown when removed, a much healthier presentation on the solar surface of the shoe. Usually, the farrier would expect to see a black necrotic residue but the copper coating is still intact after a couple of weeks especially in the toe region and around the nail holes. Also, the copper oxidises. The molecules in copper are able to break down and reduce the integrity of the bacterial cell leading to the degeneration of its DNA hence its effectiveness as a protective agent against infection and it is this process which is thought to lead to the oxidisation.
Not touted as an actual cure for common and chronic hoof conditions, copper-coated shoes could be helpful to support good hoof management for these horses. Copper- coated nails are also being used now by many farriers with a standard steel shoe, for the same reason as the nail hole is a popular place for the entry of bacteria.
These nails have been made by The Royal Kerckhaert Horseshoe Factory in the Netherlands and they are groundbreaking in that they have made the first nail in over 1,000 years that is intended to do more than hold on the shoe. Good reports are coming back from their use on horses who suffer from weaknesses and degeneration around the nail hole. These nails first appeared around a couple of years ago and have a longer shank so are a slightly different design in addition to their copper coating. The longer shank allows the farrier to drive the nail higher into the hoof wall without causing cracking, ideal for horses which have a thin wall as well.
So why not copper nails and copper shoes? Copper as a metal has proved too soft to be used entirely on its own and Kerckhaert spent a long time understanding just how much copper they needed to use on a nail or shoe in order to be effective, enough so that it doesn’t rub off but not too much so that the integrity of the base metal is maintained,
The key with horses’ feet is a holistic approach and horses with poor foot quality need good attention from their farrier but also nutritional support and correct hoof care on a daily basis by the owner. Copper nails or copper-coated shoes could form part of a healthy hoof regimen so why not discuss this with your farrier.