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Are Horseshoes Cruel, Painful? Do Horses Like Being Shoed?

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When it comes to horseshoes, people have split down the middle. Some believe every horse needs shoes and others think they should never wear them. But how do these metal clogs affect our horses, and how painful are they?

Horseshoes aren’t cruel or painful for horses and are often essential in protecting the sensitive soles of horses and correcting foot abnormalities. Most horses take to being shoed relatively quickly, but do they like it? It’s hard to know for sure.

When dealing with horses, there is no hard-and-fast rule, each one is different, and there are many issues to consider when deciding whether or not it will need horseshoes.

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

In this guide, we discuss:

  • Are horseshoes cruel?
  • Are horseshoes painful? Do horses like being shoed?
  • What happens if you don’t put shoes on a horse?
  • Why don’t wild horses need shoes?

Are Horseshoes Cruel?

The horseshoe is secured to a horse’s foot with nails driven through the hoof wall. This has led many people to believe that the application and removal of this shoe can be painful for both horse and human – but in reality, it doesn’t hurt either time.

The good news is that the nails that hold the shoes in place only go through the part of the hoof that doesn’t have nerves. That makes putting horseshoes on and taking them off painless. In short: horseshoeing isn’t cruel, inhumane, or painful.

Most horses do not even flinch at the time of shoeing. If they could talk, they’d probably tell us that being shoed is similar to clipping your fingernails.

Not all horses need shoes.

Horses work in many different environments and on varying terrain types, which can determine whether or not they need shoes at any given time.

Horses used for work, transportation, and recreation likely need shoes to protect their hooves from damage when they walk or run over rough terrain such as concrete or to get a better grip.

Without shoes, a horse can get injured very quickly and be less useful, which is why you must ensure your horse has always got horseshoes before heading out into potentially hazardous areas.

A horse that grazes most of its day or is worked over soft ground is less likely to need protection for its feet. But each horse is different, and you must decide for yourself if your horse needs shoes.

Benefits of Horseshoes

Here are the benefits of horseshoes:

  • Horses should always wear shoes when they are on rocky terrain or the roads. Shoes prevent their hooves from wearing down and protect their soles.
  • A good farrier can correct a horse with a foot problem by fitting it with the right shoes to reshape its hooves. With time these horses may even go barefoot safely.
  • Corrective shoeing can also help with many hoof conditions, such as: sole bruising, navicular disease, laminitis, side bone, hock arthritis, contracted flexion tendons, and severed extensor tendons.
  • Horseshoes prevent slipping. Some horseshoes are made with unique materials that act like the oil-and-slip resisting Duratread™ sole of your ARIAT riding boots: they provide traction and prevent your horse from skidding on loose, gravelly areas. This is vital for your horse and rider’s safety.
Picture of a racehorse shoes.

Are Horseshoes Painful? Do Horses Like Being Shod?

Putting shoes on and taking them off doesn’t typically hurt horses unless the farrier sinks the nail into the wrong spot. Correctly attached shoes are nailed through the hoof wall, which does not have nerves.

The horses seem excited when the farrier arrives. And, I’m not sure if it’s because they enjoy attention from him or their new shoes. But most of them do like having their hooves picked and don’t mind shoeing at all – so long as an expert does it!

Nevertheless, most horses are relatively “neutral” when it comes time for them to be shod. They might not like the process, but they don’t hate it either.

Horses will feel the force of each hammer blow as nails are driven into their hooves, but they won’t experience any discomfort from that sensation going in and out of their hoof wall.

Naturally, it is crucial to select a good farrier for the job. And unless you’ve been trained, I wouldn’t advise attempting to shoe your own horses; it’s easy to end up hurting your horse by driving nails into the wrong area.

What Happens During the Horse Shoeing Process?

An understanding of the horseshoeing process can help you get an idea of why it isn’t painful.

  • First, the farrier will pick the horse’s feet and clean its hooves,
  • S/he will remove old shoes, if any. This is also a painless process.
  • The farrier will then trim and file the hooves if they have grown.
  • Next, they will attach the new shoe to the hoof. This is done by driving nails into the hoof wall. Worry not: your horse won’t feel a thing.
  • Finally, the farrier will clinch the nails and file them down, so they do not stick out. Some farriers also use glue-on shoes – these last about 5-6 weeks.
  • The process is then repeated for all other hooves.

Straying from the conventional wisdom of shoeing horses is risky. It’s no secret that some pain and discomfort may come with putting shoes on, but being barefoot in rough terrain hurts much worse than any temporary ache.

What Happens if You Don’t Put Shoes on Your Horse?

Every once in a while, you might come across a working horse without shoes.  Some horses with naturally tough feet can endure riding without shoes.

We often take the shoes off our horses when we turn them out in the pasture and lay them up. Another reason to take their shoes off is if the horse has a problem wearing shoes- its hooves might be too brittle to nail a shoe on.

You may be able to ride a horse without shoes, but you’ll have trouble on paved surfaces. Without the proper footwear, your animal’s hoofs will wear out, and they will eventually become lame.

Your working horses may need protection to prevent their hooves from wearing down caused by running on trails with mixed terrain of pavement and packed dirt – so make sure that there’s always some type of protective gear in place.

Hoof boots are a great alternative to shoes since they have excellent grip and solid protection and the ability to remove them when they are not needed.

Why Don’t Wild Horses Need Shoes?

Wild horses with weak feet couldn’t survive, so through the years, they evolved to have strong, durable hooves. They also wear down their hooves while walking, which means that wild horses don’t need their feet trimmed or shoes.

Moreover, domesticated horses rely on their human masters to take care of them, and wild horses don’t need the superior gripping that farm horses require when pulling plows.

And an important part of horse care is looking after the hooves and ensuring their health and safety for years to come. Horseshoes can help with that.


Horseshoeing is often considered to be cruel and painful, but the truth is that horseshoes are placed on parts of their hooves without nerves. This means they do not feel pain during either application or removal – if done right!

Horseshoes protect horses’ feet and provide excellent traction on slippery surfaces for both rider and horse alike. It’s crucial as an owner to treat each horse as an individual so you can make informed decisions about whether or not shoes are right for your particular animal.

With so many benefits, it is little wonder that most horse owners opt to get their horses shod. An exception to shoeing is horses that do not work too much on rough terrains – they can do without shoes. You can even consider hoof boots as an alternative to shoes.

Below is a YouTube video showing the benefits of hoof care.


How long should horseshoes be kept on?

Replace the horseshoes once the heel extends past the shoe or if your horse’s hooves become brittle, injured, or crooked. Replace damaged or twisted shoes right away as they can do more harm than good.

How much do horseshoes cost?

The National average price of trimming plus shoeing four hooves is about $120. Trimming only can cost between $30 and $50.

Is it illegal to shoe your own horse?

Horseshoeing is not an easy process; it needs skills. A farrier undergoes four years of training to achieve this qualification. Hence, shoeing a horse should only be done by vets or farriers.