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Why Horses Need Shoes: 7 Compelling Reasons Explained

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There was a time when everyone I knew kept their horses shod. But over time, people began questioning whether it was necessary, and some horse owners stopped shoeing their horses. After all, many wild horses manage just fine without shoes. However, I believe there are many important reasons why horses need shoes.

  1. Shoes help horses distribute their weight evenly on their feet, preventing lameness and other joint problems.
  2. Shoes protect the hooves from becoming cracked or chipped, which can lead to infection.
  3. Shoes prevent the hooves from wearing down too quickly from being overworked or damaged by hard ground surfaces (concrete, asphalt).
  4. Shoes are essential for correcting many foot problems.
  5. Shoes are used to increase traction.
  6. Shoes are used to enhance a horse’s performance.
  7. Shoes can reduce stress on a horse’s hooves, joints, and legs,

Horseshoes are used for a variety of purposes and can be fitted in many different ways. This guide will cover their primary purposes and answer any questions you may have about what they do and if they are necessary.

cleaning.hoofs edited

What are the primary reasons horses need shoes?

There is a saying among equestrians – no foot, no horse. It is an old saying, but it rings just as true today as ever. A horse’s hooves are tough but also susceptible to wear and tear. Without proper care, the hooves can become cracked or chipped, which can make it difficult for the horse to walk.

In addition, the hooves can become deformed over time, which can lead to pain and lameness. Shoes can also help to improve traction, which is especially important for horses that compete in sporting events. They can also correct problems with the hooves that have already developed.

And in some cases, shoes may be used to correct a hoof imbalance. However, some consider the primary reason that most horses wear shoes is to provide protection for hooves from damage caused by walking on hard abrasive surfaces like concrete. In short, shoes are essential to maintaining most horses’ health.

Below is a helpful YouTube that discusses why horses need shoes.

Horseshoes can prevent numerous hoof-related issues.

Proper hoof care is essential for horses because their hooves are constantly exposed to wear and tear. Without regular trimming and shoeing, the hooves can become misshapen and weak, leading to numerous foot problems with your horse.

Furthermore, unshod horses are more susceptible to injuries from slipping or stepping on sharp objects. Horseshoes help to protect the hooves from damage and prevent numerous issues from occurring.

Here are some of the foot problems horses are susceptible to: 

  • Bruised soles and corns
  • Navicular bone fracture
  • Keratoma
  • Puncture wounds on the foot
  • Pyramidal disease or buttress foot
  • White-line disease 
  • Sheared heels
  • Laminitis
  • Pedal osteitis

Many of these issues can be prevented by proper shoe placement. Naturally, it is very important that a professional and highly experienced vet or farrier fit the shoes since improperly fitted shoes can cause problems and even result in lameness or other complications.

Picture of a racehorse shoes.

Shoes Prevent Injuries

As any horse owner knows, horseshoes are vital to equine care. Not only do they protect the horse’s hooves from wear and tear, but they also help to prevent injuries. When a horse’s hoof hits the ground, the impact can cause strain and damage to the ligaments and tendons in the leg.

Horseshoes help to cushion the impact and distribute the force of a horse’s feet hitting the ground, reducing the risk of concussion or other injuries injury. In addition, horseshoes help to grip the ground, which can prevent slips and falls.

Bruises or injuries on the feet can occur due to sharp objects like stones or from walking on very abrasive surfaces for extended periods. Jarring injuries and trauma can even result in the fracture of the delicate navicular or pastern bones. In some cases, shoes may even prevent more serious conditions such as laminitis or founder.

Shoes can enhance a horse’s performance.

While many people think of shoes as being purely for protection, they can also play an important role in enhancing a horse’s performance. Shoes help grip the ground, providing traction and stability when a horse runs at high speeds.

Our racehorses compete with horseshoes called racing plates. These are lightweight shoes made of aluminum. Most have a small toe grip; however, some tracks have restrictions on their use.

Horseshoes can also provide cushioning and support, helping to prevent injuries. In addition, shoes can help to improve a horse’s balance and coordination. For all these reasons, shoes are an important part of many horses’ training regimens. When applied correctly, they can help a horse to run faster, jump higher, and perform at their best.

Shoes are essential for correcting many foot problems.

Horseshoes are often seen as simple things, but they can actually serve a very important purpose. Corrective shoeing is a horseshoeing technique that is used to correct a variety of foot problems.

Common issues that can be corrected with horseshoes include navicular disease, foundered hooves, and laminitis. Horseshoes can also be used to realign the coffin bone, help with wound healing, and provide support for tendons and ligaments.

In addition, horseshoes can help to improve a horse’s balance and break over. As you can see, horseshoes are essential for correcting many foot problems. Without horseshoes, many horses would be in pain and would be unable to walk properly.

Picture of a horse with cracked hooves. Which is one reason why horses need shoes.
Cracked hooves

What happens if horses don’t wear shoes?

As explained earlier, horseshoes perform three primary tasks: protection, traction, and support. Having said that, not all horses need shoes. After all, wild or feral horses do not wear shoes, yet they travel miles for food and water. 

A horse’s hooves are more susceptible to cracks, chips, and other damage without horseshoes. In addition, horseshoes help to keep the hooves properly shaped, which can prevent problems with the horse’s gait.

If a horse does not wear horseshoes, its hooves will eventually become misshapen and will not be able to function properly. In severe cases, corrective shoeing may be required in order to restore the horse’s normal gait.

However, even with corrective shoeing, the horse may still experience discomfort and not perform at its best. For these reasons, it is important to ensure that horseshoes are worn whenever a horse is being ridden or worked.

Many horse owners choose not to horseshoe their animals, preferring a more natural approach. However, this does not mean that hoof care can be ignored. Without regular trimming and maintenance, the hooves can become overgrown and misshapen, leading to pain and lameness.

For this reason, it is essential to have a farrier check the hooves every six weeks. They will be able to trim the hooves and correct any problems before they cause serious discomfort. With proper care, your horse’s hooves will remain healthy and strong.

Here are some issues that could occur if a horse is not shod:

  1. Increased Risk of Injuries

Although you can always ensure minimizing the risk of injuries to your horse through proper care and good nutrition, there is always a great risk of injuries for an unshod horse. A sharp stone or object could easily injure your horse’s hooves. Shoes also provide support to your horse’s hooves to prevent tendon injuries.

This risk of injuries is slightly lower in horses with shoes, although shoes do not guarantee 100% protection from all kinds of hoof injuries. 

  1. Greater Maintenance

If your horse does not have shoes, you must ensure taking care of its hooves regularly. You must enlist the services of a vet or a farrier to trim its hooves every six weeks. This can be time-consuming and expensive as well. Of course, even a shod horse will need its shoes replaced every six weeks, so foot care is imperative whether or not a horse is shod.

  1. You’d Need to Consider Some Temporary Foot-Protection For Your Horse

If you opt not to shoe your horse, you might still need to consider protecting its hooves from injuries and weather elements under special circumstances. 

For example, if your horse participates in shows or has to ‘dance’ on wet pavement, it will need special neoprene shoes to prevent skidding. Similarly, horses participating in competitions or riding under cold, wet, and slippery conditions will need special temporary shoes for greater traction.

Can a horse survive without horseshoes?

Horseshoes are not essential for many horses. In fact, wild horses live their entire lives without horseshoes. While horseshoes can be beneficial, they are not necessary for all horses.

However, horseshoes should be used when there is a medical need or when shoes will significantly benefit the horse. In some cases, horseshoes are unnecessary and can cause more harm than good.

The reason why horses can survive without shoes is because of their special hoof structures. The hoof is a combination of tough outer material and soft inner material that protects the feet’ bones, tendons, and ligaments.

These materials are also equipped to wear down at a slow rate and yet remain flexible so as to allow circulation to the feet. This ensures proper nourishment to the delicate structures that continuously grow and also provides superior shock absorption to protect the bones of the feet.

Thus, nature has provided protection for horses’ feet: the material wears down and grows continuously. This provides a beautiful balance that ensures that wild horses survive without shoes.

However, when humans domesticated horses, we changed this equation. We bred horses for certain traits such as beauty, agility, size, colors, etc. In this process, we unknowingly caused certain traits to be left behind. 

Domesticated horses are often not ridden on concrete surfaces. They also do not travel as much as wild horses – a factor that naturally wears down their hooves. This has made horse-shoeing necessary, especially for certain breeds.

Furthermore, many breeds, like Paint horses, Thoroughbreds, etc., cannot go without shoes since their hooves are typically weak. This causes chronic cracks, splitting, chipping, winging, low heels, and other issues that shoes help correct.

When a domesticated horse’s hooves are damaged or injured, it will suffer. Some might even die due to lack of shoes because of lameness, bursitis, laminitis, and other hoof conditions described above.

Many unshod horses suffer from recurring foot issues like white-line disease, easily injured feet, etc., which can eventually cause death in some animals.

wildhorse3 edited

Why Don’t Wild Horses Need Shoes?

Wild horses do not need shoes because they are equipped with very strong and healthy feet that can withstand heavy trauma without shoes. Evolution has ensured that wild horses undergo the right balance of wear and growth on their feet.

Furthermore, wild horses walk miles and miles daily in search of food and water. This naturally wears down or trims their hooves which do not need shoes.

The diet of wild horses is also healthy for strong hooves. Many commercial diets that domesticated horses eat have a high sugar content that is bad for their feet. The natural diet of wild horses includes a wide variety of grasses that are not too rich in sugar. 

The delicate laminae in the horse’s hooves that hold together the hoof wall and the sensitive structures underneath can get damaged due to the sugar and other toxins in the horse’s blood. Wild horses are naturally protected from these toxins and tend to have stronger feet.

Do Horses Feel Pain While Being Shod?

Many people want to know – does it hurt a horse during the horseshoeing procedure? Is it humane? Is it cruel? The good news is that it is a completely safe and painless procedure when done by an experienced farrier.

Like human fingernails and hair, horse hooves are made of keratin cells, dead cells with no pain receptors. Therefore, in most cases, horse-shoeing should not hurt your horse.

However, an improperly placed horseshoe can hurt your horse, cause immense pain, and even result in lameness. Furthermore, farriers often need to remove the previous shoes and file down the hooves.

They then melt the horseshoe and hammer it to size to fit the hoof properly. The smoke and the heat generated while heating the horseshoe, as well as the loud noises of hammering, can sometimes spook a horse that is not accustomed to being shod. Therefore, working with an experienced farrier is imperative.

Who Decides Whether a Horse Needs Shoes or Not?

There is a debate in the equestrian community regarding whether a horse needs shoes. Horses have gone without shoes for millennia, and humans only started putting metal shoes on them in the 6th Century.

Many veterinarians say that barefoot is the best if you can go that route. However, they also quickly point out that some horses need the support and traction that shoes offer. Many conditions like founder and navicular can be prevented through proper foot trimming and good shoe placement.

Whether or not a horse needs shoes is a decision best made by the owner with the advice of the farrier or a vet. Horse owners should also carefully examine their horse’s hooves and leg anatomy. They should also read up on all the arguments made by both camps – barefoot vs. shoes. That is the only way to make an educated decision when it comes to the care of their horse’s feet.

Picture of a farrier nailing a horseshoe on a horses' hoof.

How Long do HorseShoes Last? How Often Should They Be Changed?

According to the experts at RSPCA, shod horses need to be re-shod every six weeks. This is irrespective of whether the shoes have worn out or not.

This is because horse hooves tend to grow continuously, and when a horse is shod, the hoof cannot naturally wear down as it would in the case of an unshod horse.

Conclusion – Why Do Horses Need Shoes?

Horses need shoes for protection, support, traction, and stability. Some horses need shoes more than others, particularly horses that perform strenuous activities or participate in races. Horseshoes should always be fitted by a professional and replaced regularly.

FAQs – Reasons Why Horses Need Shoes

Is it cruel to shoe a horse?

No, it’s not cruel to shoe a horse because the shoe is fitted to the hoof wall, which doesn’t have nerve endings or pain receptors. However, some people believe it is unnecessary to shoe a horse. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to shoe a horse lies with the horse’s owner.

Why do horses need shoes but not cows?

There are a few reasons. The main one is that a cow’s hoof is wide and flat, which spreads when walking. In addition, cow’s feet don’t need the same level of protection as a horse’s hoof because they spend most of their lives standing on soft ground.

How do you know when to change a horseshoe?

You should change a horseshoe every six weeks or when needed. Signs that a horseshoe needs to be changed include wear on the shoe, cracking of the metal, and looseness of the shoe. If you notice any of these signs, have your farrier come out and replace the horseshoe.