Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Studs 101

Disclaimer:  If you have never used screw-in studs (aka caulks, aka corks) before, and even if you have, they should be employed under the guidance of your farrier and/or trainer. Adding studs to your horse's shoes will change the way that the feet move across the ground, making it very important not to over-stud, and it's possible to damage a shoe or your horse's foot by putting them in improperly. For these reasons, I strongly recommend that you use this post only as a reference while getting hands-on help from a horse person who you trust.

Your stud kit

Some tack shops sell ready-made stud kits, which can be convenient but could make it difficult for you to grow your stud collection or store additional tools. It isn't difficult to assemble your own kit.

A stud kit
For your stud kit, you will first need a box in which to store everything. It's best to keep everything together so that you don't end up missing a vital component when you're away from home. Plastic tackle boxes work extremely well for stud kits; they come in a variety of sizes, often with removable dividers that will allow you to keep the studs grouped appropriately.
A stud hole cleaner

Next, you will need a stud hole cleaner. Some riders prefer to just use a horse shoe nail to clean the holes, but I appreciate having the wire brush as well to make the holes even cleaner. They are very inexpensive and are available at most tack shops.

A T-tap (left) and a hardware store
tap (right) with homemade handle
You will also need a tap. They come in a variety of shapes, from the traditional t-tap to the more modern safety taps. You can even purchase taps from hardware stores, in which case you'll need to bring along a stud or tack store tap to check for the correct size with the store's thread checker. I have found that these taps are much sharper/more effective, but for that reason might not be ideal for someone starting out who might cross-thread more often. You'll also need to purchase or create a handle for a hardware store tap (which allows just the tap section to be replaced when it wears out).

Next on the list is at least one wrench. Adjustable wrenches work well if you have studs of different widths, or you can just keep a plain wrench on hand of each size that you need so that there's no need to fiddle. Do not use vise grips as these will strip the edges from your studs and eventually give you nothing to grab onto to get them out of the shoes!

Another item that you should keep on hand is some sort of oil or specially-formulated stud soap to keep the studs in good shape. I just use WD-40.

Your horse will need to be shod, preferably in steel as opposed to softer aluminum shoes that will not maintain their threads as well. You will need to ask your farrier to drill holes for the studs in the shoes before they're put on your horse's feet (there is usually an extra charge for this).

Last but not least, you'll need the studs themselves, available from most tack shops. You'll want to start with enough of each type/size that you think you might need for either two or all four shoes, as well as a couple of extras for when those get lost (with studs, it's always a "when" and not an "if").

There are some extra items that you can purchase, such as a magnetic stud dish or arm band to lessen the chances of dropping/losing a stud, but the basics that I listed above should get you by easily.

Choosing studs

Studs can be roughly divided into four categories, depending on their shape and size, although there is a lot of overlap between categories. Most horses will not need a wide variety of studs as the larger ones are typically used for extreme footing/terrain or horses that really need that extra grip for the bigger jumps. Your coach or farrier should be able to suggest the best types for your horse and the particular footing that you expect to contend with.

Usually the studs on the front shoes will be smaller than on the back to minimize injury, both to the horse's stomach and to the legs (a belly pad girth will help to protect the stomach from front studs). The hind end requires the most traction anyway and there is less potential for injury when using bigger studs there, though a horse can still puncture itself by stepping on one hind foot with the other. You can use different studs of similar height on the same foot if you want to have something sharper on the outside, but it's necessary to try to keep the forces on the foot as even as possible when doing so.

Road studs

These are only a few millimetres high and give just a small amount of traction. Because they are small, they don't change the horse's way of going very much and are less likely than other types to cause injury. They are often used for the front shoes when nothing bigger is required.

Grass tips
Grass tips are narrow, pointy studs that can bite into fairly hard ground. Because they are so sharp, they are risky to use on the inside branch of the horse shoe where the horse might accidentally step on itself.

Bullets are a good general-purpose stud because they are fairly pointy, enabling them to grab into the footing, while having enough surface area that they can provide some traction in deep or wet footing. They also come in many different heights to suit a variety of purposes.

Blocks are fairly blunt, square-ish studs intended to provide a lot of surface area for the horse to push against in soft or muddy footing. They're less likely to draw blood if a horse missteps than the sharper options but they don't have the same ability to sink into and grab more solid footing. They may or may not have a small tip.

Inserting studs

The first thing you'll need to do is clean the holes. If possible, have the horse on clean, hard ground so that you won't lose all of your hard work if the horse pulls its foot away from you. Otherwise, you'll need to go through every step one foot at a time without putting the foot down in order to keep the holes clean.

With the nail end of your stud hole cleaner, loosen up the dirt in each stud hole, flinging as much out of the hole as you can. Once that's done, turn the tool around and twist the wire brush into the hole. Give it a turn or two at the bottom and then twist it out again. If there is any large debris left in the hole (a small piece of gravel, etc.), keep cleaning until you get it out.

Next, you'll need to use your tap. If you use studs frequently it might not be necessary to tap every time, but you aren't likely to be able to avoid it otherwise. The tap will clean up the threads of the stud hole, which can get damaged by dirt and other debris, while also clearing out any dirt that the wire brush missed. Insert the tap so that it is in line with the hole, never at an angle, and gently allow the threads to catch. Don't force it or you risk cross-threading and potentially ruining the hole. Turn the tap just until you encounter resistance; go any further and you risk hurting your horse's hoof.

It's extremely important not to allow the horse to put its foot down while the tap is screwed in (even safety taps could potentially bend slightly in such a case). Not only could the tap get jammed up into the hoof, but it could also damage the stud hole enough to get itself stuck or to make it difficult to screw a stud in later. As soon as you feel resistance, unscrew the tap without delay.

At this point, the hole should be ready for a stud. You can clean the holes ahead of time and plug them to make inserting the studs easier later (for example, to allow the horse to trailer without studs or to keep your show clothes clean), or you can immediately insert the studs.

To insert a stud, simply align your chosen stud with the hole and gently screw it in at least one turn by hand. This will keep the stud from falling out of the hole while you fasten the wrench. Attach the wrench and tighten the stud until it's snug (if your hole and stud are clean, there should not be a gap left between the shoe and the base of the stud). If you don't tighten enough, the stud could work its way loose during your ride and come off, while over-tightening can make it difficult to get the studs out again without torquing your horse's foot.

To remove a stud, simply reverse the process: use the wrench to loosen the stud until you can do the final turns by hand to avoid the stud flying off. You will need to clean the studs before the dirt hardens (the wire brush on your stud hole cleaner works well for this, as well as the nail for scraping the corners) and then oil them to keep them from rusting. Some people prefer to use a product such as Stud Suds to immerse their studs in a cleaning/lubricating solution, but I like to just put my clean studs back into their section of the box and give them a spray of WD-40. Close the lid, shake the box gently, and you'll end up with evenly-coated studs without you having to handle them while they're really oily. You can fit a small piece of paper towel to the bottom of each section of studs to absorb any excess oil.

It's important to remove the studs promptly when they're no longer needed to keep the stress on the horse's tendons to a minimum (studs on hard ground change the hoof angle in addition to changing how the hoof moves across the ground), as well as to prevent injuries from the horse stepping on itself.

If you wish to use plugs, there are several options available:

There are screw-in metal blanks that can be inserted and removed with an Allen key, the most expensive option initially and a risk if you lose your Allen key or if they get stuck from a lack of grease.

Foam, rubber and cotton plugs are all disposable and each has its pros and cons. There doesn't seem to be a consensus on which works best so you'll need to judge for yourself. I use the foam ones as I find that they keep the holes clean and are fairly easy to remove in one piece. Whichever you use, try to remove them from the edge rather than from the middle to prevent ripping them apart or pushing them deeper (a nail works well to lever them out).

If you use disposable plugs, keep in mind that they can fall out or get pushed deeper into the hole over time, so they work best overnight or for just a couple of days.

When to replace studs

A road stud in good shape (left)
compared to one that is worn out (right)
Studs last a very long time; most of the studs that are pictured here are almost ten years old and many riders have studs in their boxes that have been around for far longer. If you take care of them and don't use them daily or on hard, abrasive ground, they should last you a long time.

If your studs have a sharp tip, that's the part that is most likely to wear out first. Alternately, using improper tools, like vise grips, can ruin the edges of your studs and make them difficult to grab onto with a wrench, requiring the studs to be replaced. The threads are usually well-protected by the shoe and aren't likely to wear out very quickly unless they're allowed to rust. A quick visual examination after each use should be enough to tell you what sort of shape your studs are in because there isn't much else to watch out for.


  1. What did you use for the handle of your homemade tap?

    1. Hi Jessica, I think it might be a gardening hose attachment filled in with epoxy. If you go to a hardware store, you should be able to find handles near the taps (they will likely be more bulky than mine but will also allow replacement).