Get a Grip on When and How to Use Studs in Horseshoes
Updated February 15, 2023
Thanks to Professional Eventing Grooms Emma Ford and Stephanie Simpson for offering their insight and expertise to help us write this article.
While studs are eventers’ best friends for cross country, you may also see jumping, combined driving, fox hunting, or any discipline of riding using studs on their horse’s shoes. Studs are small metal attachments designed to screw into the bottom of horseshoes to provide better traction on natural turf or slippery terrain.
There are lots of different studs with various sizes and shapes, and you don’t need to be a farrier to learn how to use them or put them on your horse! Here we’ll discuss different types of studs, when to use them, how to attach studs into horseshoes and more so you can master this tiny, but important, part of your horse’s equipment.
Parts of a Horseshoe Stud
- Barrel - The external body of a stud, which can be shaped and sized for different purposes.
- Thread - The part that screws the barrel into the stud hole.
- Tungsten core – Running from top to bottom inside the stud with an exposed tip for extra grip, the core has a hardy design meant to stand up to repetitive concussion.
When Should a Horse Wear Studs?
Often, horses who slip or have trouble maintaining balance under saddle are considered candidates for studs. These horses are usually working outside the riding arena, on roads, turf tracks, and natural terrain, like grass or mud.
In sports like cross country, jumping, and combined driving, riders turn to studs to help reduce slipping and improve their horse’s balance, especially while galloping or making tight turns in difficult conditions. Studs can be useful for providing traction when riding on wet grass or hard ground with poor cover, which can feel slick with morning dew or minimal rain as water might sit on the ground rather than soaking in.
Different Types of Studs for Horses
Deciding what studs to use can be a difficult decision as there is a wide range of studs; small, medium, large, round, square, flat, pointed, hexagonal, and so on.
First and foremost, keep in mind that studs need to penetrate the ground. However, studs that are too big can cause serious concussion to the foot and lower limb structures if the hoof cannot land on the ground in balance. When in doubt, go smaller, and if you’re at all unsure, don’t be afraid to ask someone who may have more experience.
The most popular styles of studs include:
- Grass studs - A more narrow or pointy stud that helps horses grip grass that is in good condition.
- Mud studs (also known as bullet studs) - Provide traction for slick or deep footing as they help pierce through the top layer of mud to get to firmer footing underneath. Bullet studs are wider than grass studs and protrude longer than road studs.
- Road studs - Popular for horses in normal work on decent footing. Despite the name, these studs are often used on a nicely packed dirt surface or grass. They feature a small dome top in the middle for light traction, which is how they differ from the similarly-style blank studs.
- Blank studs (also called sleeper studs) - A small stud mainly used to keep the stud hole clean and protected when a horse is in light work.
Studding for Various Types of Shoes
The type of shoe that your horse wears should also influence the studs you use. Horses that have pads will need slightly larger studs than those that do not. Pads take away from the concave shape of the horse’s foot making it a flatter surface with less natural grip.
Plastic wedge pads, full leather pads, and other variations play an important part in managing soundness but can be problematic for cross country riding that requires maximum traction even in the best ground conditions. Bar shoes can have a similar effect, so consider studding slightly larger when bar shoes are used.
Which Studs Do You Need for What Ground?
- Referencing the above photo, the top row would be used heavily, going mainly on the hind feet. The bullets can be put on the inside if you want to pair them up with the large squares.
- The middle row consists of a variety of grass tips. You could use the first five of these in the hind feet on the outside of the shoe when the ground is on the harder side. They could be paired up with any of the last four in this row. Just remember, you want to keep the height of the studs similar. The last three in this row are popular choices for hard and/or slick ground. They can be paired together for front feet or used as outside studs in front along with small road studs on the inside (see the third row).
- The studs in the final row are all classified as road studs. These would be the most commonly used at lower-level events where speed and sharp turns are at a minimum. They’re normally used the same in both front shoes, although the point of the third stud in from the left is too sharp for an inside. This one can typically be paired with the flatter hexagonal stud on the inside (second stud in from the left, third row).
Hard ground can often be just as slippery if not more so than soft ground. When choosing studs for hard ground, consider how much turning you will be doing. If the cross country course is relatively straight with few turns, stud minimally (second row, last stud) whereas if the course has more turns and combinations, a stud with a bit more body may be needed (second row, third last from the right.)
As previously mentioned, hard ground is already hard on the structures of a horse, so adding studs must be done in a way that gives traction but does not have a jarring effect upon landing. Uniformity in stud size is key.
Depending on the number of horses that will travel your same path, for riding events like cross country and fox hunting, studding will vary. If your ride is scheduled for earlier in the order of go, you can stud smaller than if you are 50th to go. As horses travel the same path or over the same jumps, areas of high traction, such as take offs and landings, will deteriorate and you will need to take that into consideration.
How to Put Studs in Horseshoes
- Pick up your horse’s hoof and make sure it’s clean. Use the pointed end of your stud cleaning tool, or a horseshoe nail, to remove the plug from the stud hole.
- Use the bristled end of your stud cleaning tool to get any dirt out of the hole. Then, clean the threads of the stud hole using your tee tap (or a safety tee tap). Tee taps are screw-like tools that help clear the threads so the studs can be fully attached. Make sure the tee tap is flush with the hole and screw it in, carefully following the thread, then unscrew.
- Place the stud over the hole making sure it’s level and screw it into the hole as tightly as you can. Go slowly so the stud doesn’t get misaligned – which could damage the thread.
- After your ride when you’re ready to take the studs out, unscrew them and immediately re-plug the stud hole using designated rubber plugs. It’s important to remove the studs as soon as possible and not to leave a horse unsupervised while wearing studs.
Care and Maintenance of Your Horse’s Studs
Taking care of your stud holes whilst not competing is essential for quick and easy studding at shows. We recommend cleaning your stud holes a day prior to the event. There’s nothing worse than trying to keep to a time plan and then not being able to correctly stud a shoe.
Many eventers will use rubber stud plugs, which are easy to use and convenient while at shows that run multiple days as they keep the stud holes clean enough to prevent re-tapping on consecutive days. Repetitive tapping can cause crossed threads, which are a hassle and time-consuming to deal with.
After taking them out of the shoes, wash the studs off in water or with a special stud cleaner, towel dry them, and spray with oil to keep them lubricated.
Studs should be kept in a box or stud kit where you can keep each set tidy and together. You can line each section with paper cloths or a soft towel and spray it with WD-40 to keep the studs slightly oiled and less likely to develop rust.
Stud Kit Essentials
- Adjustable wrench - a medium size wrench will work well, and if it has an all-metal handle, you could wrap it in vet wrap to provide a better grip in sweaty or wet conditions.
- Large horseshoe nails to clean out the holes.
- Magnetic stud plate – this can reduce costs spent on replacing lost studs.
- Rubber stud plugs.
- Round flat head tap – Generally safer to use than the ‘t’ tap. The shorter screw stem allows easier tapping and you are less likely to cross threads.
- Hoof pick.
- Small towel to wipe off wet hands or studs.
General Rules When Using Studs on Your Horse’s Shoes
- Use the same type of studs in both front shoes, and always put inside and outside studs in so the foot is balanced when landing.
- Always use more blunt studs on the inside so that there is less chance of the horse striking himself and causing injury. You may want to put a small road stud on the inside and a small grass tip on the outside if a little extra grip is needed.
- Never leave a horse studded without some sort of boot protection. You can take eventing studs out after cross county but before removing the boots (to prevent the horse from injuring himself).
- If your horse tucks his knees well when jumping, remember to check his belly area to make sure a stud guard isn’t needed for extra protection.
- Avoid traveling with your horse while wearing studs. The studs may cause damage to your trailer as well as increase the chance of your horse being injured.
Suggested Stud Combinations for Front and Hind Shoes
Each of the following photos shows a different pair of studs that may be feasible to use depending on the individual horse, the competition, and environmental conditions. In all three photos, the one on the left of each pair would be the outside stud.
When studding, you should follow the three simple rules:
- If unsure, go smaller rather than bigger. But remember, the stud must always be able to penetrate the ground.
- If not pairing the same stud, ensure the height of each stud is similar, always put larger studs on the outside.
- The hind studs should either be the same or larger than the front studs.
About the Authors
Stephanie Simpson is the head groom and barn manager for Team SmartPak Rider Boyd Martin and has attended World Championships, Olympics, and numerous Five Stars around the world. Emma Ford worked for Phillip Dutton, grooming for him at World Championships, Pan American Games, Olympics, and more international events.
Emma reflected, “When working for Phillip I would pick the studs at the lower-level horse trials. Sometimes he would come back from XC and tell me he needed different studs, but for the most part, I could make the right decision using previous knowledge from competing at the event and the weather that we had had during the past few days! At FEI competitions he would choose what he wanted to run in, and I would always take a selection up to the warm-up in case he felt that he needed to change things up.”
Originally published May 17, 2013