Many horses wear horseshoes but why? Most domestic horses wear shoes to protect their feet during long days on the farm and walking on hard surfaces or rocky terrain. There are pros and cons concerning the use of horseshoes and some disagreement among horse lovers about if a horse should be shoed or not.
Please note that we are not veterinary professionals. This article is for informational purposes only. If you have concerns about your horse’s health or questions about horseshoes contact your veterinarian immediately.
Keep reading to learn more about the history of horseshoes and proper care for horse hooves.
History of Horseshoes
Types of horseshoes can be traced back all the way to nearly 400 BC!
These fancy shoes were actually called “hipposandals” by the Romans and were used on horses ridden into battle or used on farms.
The ancient horseshoes were fascinating as they were not made of metal, but rather organic materials like plants, rawhide, and leather.
The modern-day horseshoe that we know and love was not made until around the 7th century.
Europeans found that horses struggled to walk and work on wet, marshy ground which gave them the idea to create a more sturdy shoe.
They then had their blacksmiths invent the metal u-shaped plate we are familiar with and nailed them into the horse’s hoof for security.
What Are Horseshoes?
Horseshoes are metal “shoes” designed to protect and strengthen your horses’ feet or hooves.
These curved, flattened metal shoes are nailed into the horse’s hoof using small nails to keep them tightly attached to the horse’s foot.
These metal shoes then protect your horse’s hooves from excessive wear during everyday activities or from developing common foot injuries on the farm.
Advantages of Horseshoes
- Protect the horse’s hooves
- Strengthen the horses’ hooves
- Provide extra traction on some slippery surfaces
- Certain medical issues where the horse has weaker hooves
While it may seem like these U-shaped metal plates aren’t necessary many horse experts say they can significantly improve the durability of your horse’s feet.
Without horseshoes, your horse may be susceptible to overworked or weakened hooves which could cause foot pain.
When in doubt ask your vet and farrier if you should use horseshoes on your horse.
Types of Horseshoes
There are several different types of horseshoe including the following…
- Regular Shoe
This open-healed shoe is what you will find on most horses
- Rocker Toe Shoe
A rocker toe is a horseshoe with a varied shape. It is not the same shape across the whole shoe and is said to resemble the bottom of a rocking chair.
- Rim Shoe
Rim shoes have a deep groove built into the horseshoe to provide extra traction.
- Bar Shoe
Bar shoes provide greater support and stability for a horse’s hoof by placing a steel bar across the back of the horseshoe.
- Egg-Bar Shoes
Egg-bar shoes are often suggested by your vet if your horse is suffering from navicular disease as they provide additional support.
- Heart Bar Shoe
Same as the bar shoe except for the extra metal in the rear of the shoe also covers or supports the frog on the underside of a horse’s hoof.
Two Types of Horses
There are two different types of horses, wild and domesticated. Wild horses have no owner and can be seen in wild environments.
Domesticated horses are owned by a person or people and are typically found on farms or similar environments.
The type of horse you’re dealing with matters as one may need horseshoes and one doesn’t.
The amount of work a horse does and the surface it walks on directly dictates whether it needs a shoe to protect its hooves or not.
Wild horses are found in nature and are not typically owned by any specific person or people.
If they are in possession of a human, it is typically because this person owns a large portion of land on which the horses freely run and travel over long distances.
These horses are not used for working or riding and are left to enjoy their days traveling and grazing.
Wild horses do not typically need horseshoes. This is because their hooves file down naturally as they run and do not get over-filed from working or carrying heavy loads.
They do not need extra support because they don’t support any extra weight or do any forced walking in the wild.
Is a Mustang a Wild Horse?
Mustangs is the name given to free-range horses in the western parts of the United States.
They are usually domesticated animals that got loose or related to domesticated horses in some way.
What is a Przewalski’s Horse?
Przewalski’s horses are found in Mongolia and are considered to be the last truly wild horse.
Domesticated horses are the horses you see on your local farm or horse stables. These horses are often used for pulling heavy items or pleasure riding to different locations.
They can also be used to carry heavy bags or cargo.
Domesticated horses always need horseshoes. This is because the extra walking and weight required to work wear down their hooves faster than wild horses.
Without a horseshoe for protection, their hooves can get shortened too far which can result in several health issues.
How to Care for Horseshoes
Horseshoes are not a one-and-done situation. Horseshoes need to be regularly maintained because the horse’s feet are always changing and they get worn over time.
As a rule of thumb, horseshoes should be changed on a horse every six weeks or so. Horses should have regular cleaning and shaping of their hooves when changing their shoes.
What is a Farrier?
This can be done by a professional who is trained in horse hoof care called a farrier.
Choosing a good farrier will involve a little research and effort on your part. Call different horse owners, boarding stables, and horse veterinarians for help.
It is important to schedule regular farrier visits to maintain your horses’ health. Competent farriers can also ensure the horse’s shoe fits properly and is the right size.
You should also make sure that all the horseshoes are the same thickness so they have good hoof balance and can walk properly.
Finally, keep an eye on your horse’s shoes to make sure they are not coming out prematurely as loose nails can cause pain and even damage your horse’s feet.
Improper Use of Horseshoes
Beyond using high-quality horseshoes and replacing them every six weeks, horseshoes still need regular care.
One of the most important aspects of caring for your horse’s shoes and hoofs is using a hoof pick. Talk to your vet about the proper use of a hoof pick.
This pick is used to clean out hardened mud or impacted dirt from your horse’s hoof, which if left can lead to instability and even abscesses in the hoof.
Horses should also not be given “breaks” from their horseshoes. Some horse owners may be tempted to remove their horse’s shoes if they are not required for a period of time.
It is always better to keep shoes on than to take them off and run the risk of hoof health issues in the near future. What your horse is used to is what is best.
Potential Consequences of Not Wearing Horseshoes
There could be serious consequences of not putting horseshoes on your horse in certain situations.
Not only can it be painful depending on the environment your horse encounters, but it can also significantly affect their walking and even lead to more serious medical conditions.
If you are concerned for your horse’s feet, contact your vet for an assessment immediately.
Not putting horseshoes on your horse can be a common reason for long-term foot pain in horses.
This is because the more your horse’s hooves are worn down, the closer you get to nerve endings inside the foot.
Like your human nails, if you cut them too short you can expose sensitive tissue and experience bleeding and pain.
Using horseshoes prevents pain in your horse’s feet by preventing them from being worn down too much.
They also help with joint pain as your horse will walk more stably than without shoes. A normal gait keeps your horse’s muscles strain-free.
Issues from not using horseshoes can lead to more serious medical and health conditions. The most common of these is hoof infections.
Without using shoes, your horse’s feet can be exposed to the full impact of rocks and other debris, which can lead to infection.
In addition to debris, if your horse’s hoof is filed too short from not wearing a horseshoe, this can also lead to infection.
Any potential exposure to the soft, fleshy part under your horse’s hoof wall can cause serious infection which can cause lameness and even sepsis in your horse.
Horseshoes can prevent many of these issues.
Horses that don’t wear shoes can have their walking affected. Without horseshoes, their hooves can file down too quickly, which can cause walking issues from pain.
They could also file down unevenly, which can also contribute to an awkward gait.
If walking becomes too painful, the horse will become lame and will refuse to walk. If this happens, the cause of the pain and treatment options will have to be addressed.
Be sure to contact your vet if this happens as lame horses can become sick with infections and other ailments quickly.
Horseshoe neglect is a serious issue that will need quick medical attention.
If your horse’s shoes are not removed or replaced every six weeks, they can become overgrown or chipped from loose nails.
Overgrown hooves can also cause discomfort and infection and will need regular trimming. If your horse’s hooves are chipped, they may need to be filled in, filed, or wear hoof boots.
Depending on the severity of the crack, some medical fills are available but should only be administered by a professional.
In addition, be sure to provide your horse a flat, stable environment to walk on during his healing period so he does not injure himself or worsen his hoof injury.
Disadvantages of Horseshoes
There are potential issues with the use of horseshoes which include the following.
- It is possible that a horseshoe could mask a hoof problem
- Decreased flexibility of the horse’s foot
- Less grip because a metal horseshoe is slippery on some hard surfaces
- Have to hammer nails into the horses’ hooves to attach the shoe
- Nail holes in the hoof could create issues
- Extra weight added to a horse’s hoof
- If a Horse with shoes kicks an animal or person it can cause more damage
There are other disadvantages to putting shoes on your horse. Have a discussion with your vet and farrier to learn more and determine if horseshoes are the correct choice for your horse.
Related Horseshoe Questions
Is it Painful For a Horse to Have Shoes Installed?
Despite the fact that horseshoes are attached by hammering nails into the horse’s hooves they do not suffer any pain unless it is done incorrectly as there are no nerves in a horse’s hoof.
Are Horses Required to Have Shoes?
No, horses can function without horseshoes if proper care is taken. It is a personal choice as to if you feel your horse needs them after discussing the matter with your horse vet and farrier.
Can You Ride a Horse Without Horseshoes?
There are different opinions on if you should ride a horse that does not have shoes but it is possible.
When I lived in Florida where it is soft ground and sandy, with no rocks, we used to go trail riding on our horses all the time without shoes.
Do Pleasure Horses Need Horseshoes?
So if all you do is pleasure riding and keep a good eye on their hooves and take good care of them you should be ok.
It depends on the activity of your horse. If your horse is not used for any labor or riding, they may not need horseshoes if they live on stable, dry land.
If you ride your horse on a paved road or hard surface or use it to pull or carry items, many say you need to use a horseshoe on them to protect their hooves.
Each horse is different so consult your vet and farrier to find the best choice for your horse.
What are Horseshoes Made Of?
Horseshoes have come a long way! At their invention, they were made of plant material, rawhide, or leather.
Nowadays, you typically find steel or aluminum shoes, though they can also be made of rubber, plastic, or copper.
Some horseshoe materials may be better than others for specific horses depending on your horse’s needs.
If your horse is typically a hard worker around the farm, they may need steel horseshoes. If your horse is used for basic walking or light carrying, aluminum may be just fine for them.
When Were Horseshoes First Invented?
Horseshoes have been around since about 400 BC. This is the earliest evidence found for them, though it is possible they were around longer.
However, these horseshoes were different than the ones we have today and were made from plant material and leather.
Modern-day horseshoes that are made of metal did not come about until the 7th century. It is at this point that metalworkers began forging U-shaped metal shoes to nail into horses’ hooves.
Once people saw how much sturdier these shoes were, they quickly chose those as primary shoes over leather or plant ones.
How Much Do Horseshoes Cost?
The cost of horseshoes greatly varies depending on the material used to make the horseshoe and the company it is being sold by.
On average, horseshoes can range between $10-50 per shoe, depending on materials and labor.
There are also the added fees of using a farrier. It can cost between $100-150 every time you need to re-shoe your horse.
It is recommended that you let a good farrier shoe your horse if you are not trained in doing it. Trying to shoe a horse when you are not properly trained can injure the horse.
How Often Do I Have to Change My Horses Shoes?
Your horse’s shoes should be changed approximately every 6 weeks.
However, you should check your horse’s shoes and hooves regularly to see if they need to be changed sooner than that.
Horseshoes with loose nails or damage should be changed quickly and not left to complete the six-week cycle.
Horses that work less often may be able to wear their shoes for a few more weeks depending on the quality and material of the shoe.
Steel horseshoes will need less changing than aluminum or copper shoes. Always keep an eye on the condition of your horse’s shoes to determine when they should be changed.
What Does Being Shod Mean?
A horse that has horseshoes installed on the bottom of its hooves is said to be ‘shod’. A horse that is ‘unshod’ is barefoot with no horseshoes.
Do Dressage Horses Wear Shoes?
Yes, most dressage horses will probably have horseshoes to provide extra support. A horse’s gait, the way a horse moves and walks, can and often will be changed by wearing shoes.
However, some dressage horses may not be shod.
Do Race Horses Wear Horseshoes?
Yes, most race horses do have horseshoes due to the great force their hooves hit the ground running at high speeds.
Do Any Other Animals Use Horseshoes?
Surprisingly, no other hooved animals need to use shoes as horses do.
Horses in particular have weak hooves compared to other animals and have more foot strain when walking which is what causes them to need horseshoes.
Donkeys are similar to horses, but research shows they have less foot strain as they are lighter than horses and walk with a slightly different gait.
Giraffes have hooves, but they are much stronger than horses’ and giraffes do not engage in farm work.
Finally, cows have strong feet and their hooves are stronger than horses, so they also do not need shoes.
Most agree that horseshoes can be an important aspect for a horse to have healthy hooves. There is some disagreement though on if shoeing is really necessary for many horses.
Proper shoeing can help reduce foot pain and assist with other medical conditions that can actually be prevented with a high-quality pair of shoes and regular care.
If you have any questions about regular horseshoe care or need help with your horse’s hooves, always reach out to a veterinarian for assistance to keep your horse happy and healthy!