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Horseshoes: Why Horses Need Them Plus Facts, Uses, and Types

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When my grandson and I were at the racetrack, he noticed the racehorses’ horseshoes appeared different than the ones on his horse. This prompted him to ask why racehorses’ shoes are different and why they wear them in the first place.

The most common reason a horse wears shoes is to protect and preserve its hooves. There are many types of horseshoes, and each has a specialized purpose; for example, racing plates are light for running, rim shoes provide better traction, and egg-bar shoes protect an injured foot.

The practice of shoeing horses began a long time ago and has since developed into a specialized skill used for many purposes. It is not as simple as tacking metal to the bottom of a horse’s foot.

why horses wear shoes, horseshoes,

Why do horses need shoes?

Horseshoes serve various purposes. In this article, we’ll examine horseshoes’ common uses, explain why they’re needed, and provide information about their designs.

Horseshoes are used to protect horses’ feet.

Horses’ hooves are made of a tough protein called keratin – the same stuff our nails and hair are made of.  They can become damaged from exposure to moisture, pressure, and overuse.

Damage to a horse’s hooves can lead to lameness, problems walking, balance issues, and decreased speed. Soon after horses were first domesticated, humans sought ways to protect their horses’ feet.

They understood that a horse without good feet renders it useless. In Asia, riders covered their horses’ hooves with hides sewn around the entire hoof. During the sixth and seventh centuries, metal shoes began to replace hides.

Horseshoes are used to increase traction.

Today it is common for horses to wear shoes. Shoes are needed on horses used to pull loads, compete in equine activities, and carry loads. This would include almost all riding horses and horses used to pull wagons.

Also, many people keep their horses in stables, and they will also need shoes. Standing for extended periods on moist bedding weakens a horse’s hoof and creates other foot problems; horseshoes may be beneficial in these situations.


Sometimes horseshoes are worn to enhance the horse’s ability to perform a task. When working or walking on slick surfaces, a shoe provides an improved front or “toe” to the horse’s foot, creating better traction.

Horseshoes can correct a horse’s feet.

Horseshoes are also used to correct the way a horse walks. For humans, we have corrective shoes, and so do horses. These corrective shoes can be helpful to relieve painful conditions in the horse’s feet and legs.

Racehorses have specialized shoes to help with any weakness in their legs or feet. However, horses kept in a dryer terrain and not pushed hard are probably ok without shoes.

Racehorses use a variety of horseshoes.

A racehorse may require a variety of shoes based on the surface of the track and the wants of the horses’ trainer. However, one thing is sure they want a light shoe that will allow the horse to run its best.

Aluminum shoes are the most common type worn by racehorses.

Most racehorses run in an aluminum shoes designed for traction and made with smaller, finer nail holes. Racehorses and, more specifically, thoroughbred horses generally have hooves with a thin wall, making them more prone to hoof damage than other horses. To learn about the problems associated with Thoroughbred feet, click here.

Couple in the fact that racehorses spend a lot of their day in a stall, and you have a recipe for disaster. But with a good maintenance plan a proper shoeing technics, they can be kept sound.

Picture of a race horse with rear leg wraps.

Some racehorses wear corrective shoes.

It is not unusual for a racehorse to need a specialized shoe because of the problems they may develop in their leg or hoof. These specialized shoes will be made on-site by a farrier.

The two most common types of corrective shoes used in horseracing are Z-bar and V-bar. A Z-bar is used when a horse hoof has a quarter crack; it helps distribute the weight to heal correctly. A V-bar sits over the frog to help that structure pump blood, and the increased circulation promotes healing.

Most horseracing shoes have a toe grab.

A typical racing shoe is designed with a toe grab. A toe grab isn’t a shoe type itself but rather an accessory attached to an aluminum plate. Like a cleat, the thin steel bar digs into the ground to provide additional traction, especially at high speeds.

The height of a toe grab depends on the track surface and the amount of traction needed. Too high of a toe grab can lead to lameness by putting too much stress on the flexor tendons. 

Common Types of Horseshoes

Horseshoes are made from various materials and come in many shapes and sizes. The most common materials are steel and aluminum, but specialized shoes may include rubber, plastic, magnesium, titanium, or copper.

Fullered front horseshoes

Fullered front horseshoes are the most popular shoes used on colts, trail horses, and recreational horses. The center crease, made by a process called “fullering,” fills with dirt, providing more traction and grip.

Rim horseshoe

Rim shoes contain a groove that runs the entire shoe length and provides additional traction for horses traveling and stopping at high speeds.

On an “outer rim shoe,” the outside rim is higher than the edge on the inside of the shoe; on an “inner rim shoe,” the lip on the inside is more elevated. Rim shoes are often used on barrel horses and polo ponies.


Sliders are also called sliding plates and are used on reining horses to help them achieve the exaggerated slides for which the discipline is known. A slider is built more extensive than a standard shoe, spanning 1 to 1¼ inches in width.

Straight bar horseshoe

A straight bar shoe is aluminum or steel and features a bar between the heels, preventing expansion and protecting the heel area from a concussion. It can also be used to protect the frog and the bulbs behind the heel.

Egg bar horseshoe

The egg bar shoe is similar to a straight bar, but it extends further back, up to an inch behind the heel of the hoof. The egg bar shoe prevents impact to the rear portion of the foot and is used for horses with navicular syndrome or sheared heels.

Many other different types of shoes can be used for specific therapeutic or performance reasons.


Does it hurt to put horseshoes on a horse’s feet?

Recently I watched the farrier trim, rasp, and nail horseshoes to our horse’s hooves. The horses stood stoically and never flinched; this made me wonder how they feel when shoes are placed on their feet.

If done correctly, putting shoes on a horse does not hurt them. The horse’s hoof is not much different than our finger or toenails. The farrier (horseshoer) drives nails into the foot at an angle to attach the shoe to the horses’ hoof.

Sometimes the farrier may not drive the pin at the proper angle and accidentally hit the soft inner part of the foot. Hitting the foot hurts the horse, but it usually causes no long-term damage. When this happens, it is called quicking.

Some farriers hot-shoe their horse. Hot shoeing entails heating the metal and fitting it to the horse’s foot. However, before nailing the shoe in place, the farrier cools the shoe in the water. The shoe may still be warm, but it will not hurt the horse.

There are alternatives to horseshoes.

Some horses do well barefoot.

You can remove the shoes and allow a horse to go barefoot. If you elect to remove the shoes from a horse, it is normal for him to have tender feet. So it is advisable to allow the horse to transition.

Some people will remove the back two shoes first and turn out their horse for a couple of hours each day before removing the front two shoes. Over time his foot should get durable.

It is no different than it is with humans. If we always wore shoes outdoors and then had to walk outside barefooted, our feet would be tender and uncomfortable. It’s no different for a horse.

If you’re interested in learning more about riding your horse barefoot, you may want to read this article I wrote: Can You Ride a Barefoot Horse on the Road? 10 Tips

Hoof boots are a viable option to horseshoes for some horses.

Hoof boots provide additional protection to a barefoot horse. The more advanced hoof boots are similar to our shoes. They slip over the hoof and typically bind with velcro.

The bottom is made of rubber or plastic with various designs depending on the purpose and surface the horse will be traveling over. (click here to read our review of hoof boots)

Glue-on horseshoes are often used during rehab.

Lastly, some equestrians have elected to go with glue-on shoes as an alternative to nailing shoes to their horse’s feet. Glue-on shoes give a horse’s feet a break from regular nailed shoes.

They are typically used when horses are rehabbing a foot injury. There are different styles of glue-on shoes. Some mount with clips on the side of the hoof wall, but the more traditional ones are glued on at the edge of the foot.

As with most anything else, maintenance is the key; regularly trim and clean your horse’s hooves and call in an expert if you have any concerns. There are many styles and types of glue-on horseshoes. Below is a video explaining their usefulness and showing how to put them on your horse.

Why don’t wild horses need shoes?

We see herds of wild horses in federal parks that live their entire lives without shoes when traveling out west. Watching them run over the rough terrain makes me wonder why they don’t need shoes, so I researched the answer.

Wild horses don’t need horseshoes because they genetically have tough hooves through natural breeding; they also harden their feet naturally when traveling. They aren’t used for a specific purpose that requires a specialized shoe.


Wild horses have more durable feet naturally. Through the evolutionary process, horses with sound feet survived. Through selective breeding, humans bred horses for speed and other equine activities and didn’t worry about foot conformation.


The lack of focus on foot health has led to the necessity of domesticated horses needing shoes. Another reason wild horses don’t need shoes is they develop healthy hooves by traveling long distances on hard surfaces.


But one primary reason is that wild horses aren’t worked like domesticated horses; they are not kept in stalls or used to pull loads, carry riders, or walk on unnatural surfaces like concrete.


Horseshoes are a part of the equine world that has been around for centuries. Whether you believe it or not, some horses need horseshoes to be comfortable, protect their feet, and stay healthy.

They can also provide other benefits like protecting against hoof injuries, preventing excessive wear on their feet, and ensuring they don’t slip during rainy conditions. Discarded horseshoes have a purpose; they are used as hangers, welded together for decoration, and even used to play the horseshoe game.