By Esco Buff, PhD, APF, CF
Copper is an essential mineral
and element in our everyday
lives. Man has been using it
longer than any other metal, dating
back more than 10,000 years — including
a pendant that was discovered in
what’s now northern Iraq and forged
in the year 8700 B.C.
It’s a major industrial metal because
of its high ductility (able to be hammered
thin), malleability (able to be
shaped and rolled), thermal and electrical
conductivity (heat and electricity
transfers at a higher rate) and resistance
to corrosion. It’s an essential nutrient
in our daily diet. Its antimicrobial
properties are becoming increasingly
important to the prevention of infection.
I first started forging pure copper
for horseshoes in the late 1970s to use
for horses used to pull wedding parties.
Tempilstiks were used to determine the correct forging temperature.
The look of a black hoof with copper
shoes and nails is regal. The copper
shoes would not last much longer then
a few weeks, therefore we had to apply
them shortly before the wedding.
In its pure form, copper is not obviously
suited for everyday use as a
horseshoe; however, it’s easily alloyed
with other metals. This alloying with
other metals gives the copper strength,
wear resistance, hardness, antimicrobial,
thermal conductivity and corrosion
resistance making it ideal to use as a
Shaping Copper Alloy Shoes
Copper alloy horseshoes generally
are just a few ounces heavier than a
steel horseshoe of the same size and
dimensions. This is because of the
alloys mixed with the copper.
Copper alloy horseshoes can be
shaped cold and hot. When shaped cold,
A Kawell copper alloy horseshoe is heated to
1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (593 degrees Celsius).
Compare a cooled-down Kawell copper alloy
horseshoe (left) to a non-heated Kawell copper
alloy horseshoe (right).
they work like steel shoes but with a bit
more spring when hit with your shaping
hammer. When shaped hot, my farrier
practice found the copper alloy shoes
easily handle 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit
(593 degrees Celsius), as determined by
Tempilstik (Figure 1), working temperatures
and held together without any
issues or break down of the metal. We
found this temperature good for shaping,
forging and drawing clips. Lower
temperatures are fine for shaping and
some forging (Figures 2-4).
Copper alloy horseshoes produce
a force transmission of a lesser magnitude
than that of steel horseshoes.
There is a slight attenuation of the
magnitude of the force as well. What
this means is copper alloy horseshoes
reduce the impact of vibrations, about
8.53%, according to Dr. Eng. Alejandro
Gutiérrez S. of the Department
of Mechanical Engineering at the
A clip that was drawn on a Kawell copper
A Kawell horseshoe that was reset
6 weeks after its first application.
University of Santiago, Chile.
Copper alloy horseshoes, when worn
out, are a recyclable material.
From personal experience, copper
alloy horseshoes seems to wear someplace
between aluminum and steel
horseshoes depending on use (Figures
Copper alloy shoes can be brazed
or welded just like steel. Steel can be
brazed/welded into the copper alloy
horseshoes, as well as copper alloy into
steel horseshoes (Figures 9 and 10).
Antiomicrobial Properties Copper and copper alloys
commonly can be found in hospitals to minimize
the spread of bacterial and fungal
diseases. The U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) has acknowledged and
tested more than 350 copper alloys.
Copper is the only metal that has been
certified by the EPA for its antimicrobial
Little wear has taken place at the toe of
a Kawell copper alloy horseshoes after
A Kawell copper alloy horseshoe after
its second reset, 13 weeks after its first
Laboratory testing has
shown that copper alloy has continuous
and ongoing antibacterial action killing
greater than 99.9% of bacteria within
2 hours. Initial studies at the University
of Southampton, United Kingdom,
and tests subsequently performed at ATS-Labs in Eagan, Minn., for the
EPA show that copper alloys containing
65% or more copper are effective
The toe wear of a Kawell copper alloy horseshoe after 13 weeks of its first application
and at its second reset.
against methicillin-resistant staphylococcus
aureus (MRSA), staphylococcus
aureus, cancomycin-resistant enterococcus
faecalis (VRE), enterobacter
aerogenes, Escherichia coli O157:H7,
and pseudomonas aeruginosa.
These bacteria are considered to be
representative of the most dangerous
pathogens capable of causing severe
and often fatal infections.
In order for a copper alloy horseshoe
company to make any claims about
their product killing bacteria, they
must have been tested and undergone
registration with the EPA. To date, I’m
only aware of one horseshoe company
— Kawell — that is EPA registered.
This means Kawell can claim that their
horseshoes have a 99% effectiveness
against killing bacteria that comes in
contact with the horseshoe. I personally
have seen these shoes work as claimed (Figure 11).
A copper alloy frog plate that was
brazed into a steel St. Croix X-ES
A copper alloy frog plate that was
brazed into a Kawell copper alloy
A second way bacteria are killed
from copper alloy EPA-approved horseshoes
is through a process of a galvanic
reaction between two dissimilar metals,
the copper in the horseshoe and the
steel nails. This galvanic reaction generates
copper salts that are leached out
onto the sole of the hoof. The leaching
of copper salts makes an inhospitable
environment for bacteria and fungi
to live in. This is why you would not
want to use copper horseshoe nails, as
this reaction would not be produced
(Figures 12 and 13).
The bottom of a copper alloy horseshoe
after its first application 6 weeks earlier. Note the
discoloration due to continuous and ongoing antibacterial actions.
Note the galvanic reaction that generates copper salts, which leached out on to the sole of the hoof. This leaching of copper salts makes an inhospitable environment for bacteria and fungi to live in.
Any horse with bacterial or fungal
hoof, sole and frog infections can benefit
from the use of EPA-approved
copper alloy horseshoes. Habitual
seedy toes, canker cases after debridement
and with a brazed or welded-in
copper alloy frog plate, and thrush
cases all benefit from the contact of
the copper alloy shoes and the galvanic
reaction. Owner compliance in treating
infections can be a challenge and
the use of a copper alloy shoe ensures
constant antibacterial treatment.
I have been highly impressed with
Kawell’s copper alloy horseshoes
A close-up look of the galvanic reaction and leaching of copper salts onto the sole.
because of their strength, wear resistance,
antimicrobial properties and
corrosion resistance (Figure 14).
Berríos A, Martínez R, Peredo A,
Baeza E. (1995) ) “Technical Errors
in the Fitting of Fine Chilean Blood
Horses in the Province of Ñuble, Chile.”
Advances in Veterinary Science. 1995,
Rivas P, Acuña M; Figueroa A;
Troncoso M; Ruiz M; Figueroa G.
(2003) “Study of the Antimicrobial
Activity of Copper Horseshoes in the
Infectious Pathology of Horse Hooves
(Antibacterial Activity in Copper
Horseshoes).” XXV Chilean Congress
of Microbiology, Nov. 24 to 28, Antofagasta,
“Comparative Analysis of the
Behavior of Copper Alloy and Iron
Horseshoes,” Research and Testing
Front and hind patterns of Kawell copper alloy horseshoes.
of Materials Institute (IDIEM in
Spanish) of the Faculty
and Mathematics Sciences, of the
University of Chile.
Copper Development Association, Inc.
“The Copper Advantage — A Guide
to Working With Copper and Copper
Kawell USA Product Booklet, kawell
Gutiérrez S Eng. Alejandro.
“Modeling A Horse’s Gait,” Dept. of
Mechanical Engineering, University of
Santiago of Chile.
Copper Development Association Inc.
“Proper Use and Care of Antimicrobial
Copper Alloys,” updated August 2012.