Why do horses need shoes?

HORSESHOES are man-made U-shaped plates designed to protect a horse’s hooves and they've been used for centuries.

So why do horses need them and does it hurt to put them on?

Why do horses need shoes?

Horseshoes are worn primarily to strengthen the hooves to prevent them from wearing down too quickly.

The hooves are made up of keratin, the same material as human's fingernail, but they have a soft and tender inner part called the frog which can be injured.

As the hooves will naturally wear away when horses walk, adding a shoe onto them can help keep the frog in healthy condition and therefore reduce the damage.

Besides protecting the hooves, horseshoes can also serve other functions including to give horses added grip in difficult terrains and to help those with balance issues.

In some cases, they could be worn for medical reasons. Horseshoes can provide additional support for those suffering from laminitis, arthritis, or ringbone.

There are also “boots” that horses can wear in the case that they have a hoof or foot injury. These shoes are made of rubber which provides a much softer walking surface and more significant support.

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Can horses go barefoot?

Whether a horse needs shoes depends on the type of work it does. For example, horses that are involved in high impact activities such as cross-country events, may need the extra protection horseshoes provide.

On the other hand, for leisure horses, shoes might not always be required. It's argued that regular trimming and maintenance should be enough to keep them in good condition, when combined with quality nutrition.

Whether horses should go barefoot also remains a personal choice, with some horse owners advocating that barefoot is the only way, the “natural way.” Others would never dream of letting a horse go without shoes.

Experts say that deciding whether or not your horse needs shoes should come down to these key factors: protection, performance, conformation and medical conditions.

Do putting on horseshoes hurt the horse?

The shoes are typically crafted from metals like steel or aluminium, but may also be made from other materials including rubber, plastic, or copper.

People who put horseshoes onto horses are called farriers and they use nails to fix the horseshoe to the hoof.

The horseshoe is fitted to the palmar (ground) side of the hoof. As long as the farrier is skilled, it won’t hurt the horse any more than trimming your nails with a pair of nail clippers would.

Once the nails are put through the outer edge of the hoof, the farrier bends them over and file away the sharp points left to ensure a good fit. As the hoof grows out it will eventually overlap the shoe.

Why do wild horses not need shoes?

The main reason wild horses can exist without shoes is that they do not perform the kind of activities domesticated horses do.

Living out in the wild also means there is a lot of movement so they regulate their own wear and balance as they move through soft, hard, and rocky terrain.

Wild horses can also survive without any trimming because their hooves are worn down over time by long walks over hard terrain.

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