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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.
The Importance of Horseshoes for Horses
Horseshoes are more than just a piece of metal. They play a big part in keeping horses happy and healthy. Let’s see why they are so important!
A. Protection Against Wear and Tear
Imagine walking around all day in your bare feet on different surfaces, like rocks, gravel, or even snow. Ouch, right? That’s what it’s like for horses when they don’t wear horseshoes. Horseshoes act like a pair of tough shoes. They help protect the horse’s hooves from getting hurt or worn down from walking or running on hard surfaces.
What are horse’s hooves made of, you ask? Well, they’re composed of a tough protein called keratin – the same stuff that our nails and hair are made from. Despite being tough, hooves can still get damaged from too much moisture, excessive pressure, or simply from overuse.
When a horse’s hooves get damaged, it can lead to some serious problems. These include lameness, difficulties in walking, problems with balance, and even a decrease in their speed. You can imagine how important it is to keep a horse’s hooves in good shape!
Ever since horses were first domesticated, humans understood the need to protect their hooves. They knew that a horse with poor feet was of little use. That’s why, in Asia, riders started to cover their horses’ hooves with animal hides, sewing them around the entire hoof for protection. As time passed, during the sixth and seventh centuries, metal shoes began to replace these hides, leading to the horseshoes we’re familiar with today.
B. Traction and Surface Adaptation
Have you ever slipped while running in the rain or walking on icy ground? It’s not a pleasant experience, right? Well, horses can slip too, and it can be much more dangerous for them. That’s exactly where horseshoes come to the rescue! Just as your sneakers give you a good grip on different surfaces, horseshoes help horses maintain their footing. This becomes particularly crucial when horses are tasked with carrying heavy loads or running at high speeds.
In our modern world, it’s common for horses to wear shoes. These are not just any horses, but those that have demanding roles such as pulling loads, participating in competitive activities, or carrying riders. This includes almost all riding horses and those that pull wagons.
Moreover, many horses live in stables, where they often stand for extended periods on moist bedding. This environment can weaken a horse’s hoof and lead to various foot problems. Horseshoes can be a great help in these situations, providing the necessary protection.
Sometimes, horseshoes play a role beyond protection. They can actually enhance a horse’s performance for specific tasks. For instance, when a horse is working or walking on slick surfaces, a shoe can provide a better “toe” or front to the horse’s foot. This modification creates improved traction, helping the horse move confidently and safely. So, horseshoes are not just protective gear, but they also serve as performance boosters for our equine friends.
C. Therapeutic Uses
Sometimes, just like us, horses encounter problems with their feet or suffer injuries. And just as we might use a special type of shoe or brace to help with our foot or leg problems, there are special horseshoes to help horses too.
These are called therapeutic horseshoes, and they’re designed uniquely to help address and solve different hoof problems that a horse might face. Let’s say a horse has a sore foot; in that case, it might need a horseshoe with extra padding to provide comfort and promote healing.
Did you know that horseshoes can also help correct a horse’s gait, just like corrective shoes do for humans? These ‘corrective shoes’ for horses can alleviate painful conditions in the horse’s feet and legs, making it easier and less painful for them to move.
Racehorses, due to their high-speed activities, may need specialized shoes to address any weaknesses in their legs or feet. These custom shoes provide the necessary support and allow them to perform at their best.
So, as you can see, horseshoes do a whole lot more than just cover a horse’s feet. They protect the hooves, enhance the horse’s ability to walk or run on various surfaces, and even contribute to healing foot problems. That’s what makes them so vital for many horses.
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 horse’s 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 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.
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 but 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 for colts, trail horses, and recreational horses. The center crease, made by a process called “fullering,” fills with dirt, providing more traction and grip.
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 extensively 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 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.
The Process of Shoeing a Horse
Putting shoes on a horse isn’t as simple as slipping on a pair of sneakers. It’s a detailed process and requires a special person called a farrier to do the job right.
A. Professional Farrier’s Role
A farrier is like a special doctor for horses’ feet. They know all about the horse’s hooves and how to take care of them. Their job is to make sure horses’ feet are healthy and that their shoes fit perfectly. It’s not just about putting the shoe on the hoof; they also have to trim the hoof and make sure it’s in the best shape before attaching the shoe.
B. The Process of Fitting and Attaching a Horseshoe
First, the farrier will clean and trim the horse’s hoof. This is like giving the hoof a little haircut to keep it healthy and strong. After that, they’ll measure the hoof to make sure they choose the right size shoe.
Next, they’ll heat a metal horseshoe in a special furnace called a forge until it’s glowing hot. This makes the horseshoe soft enough to be shaped to perfectly fit the horse’s hoof. Don’t worry, though; the hot shoe doesn’t hurt the horse! Once the shoe is the right shape and has cooled down, the farrier will nail it onto the horse’s hoof. The nails go into a part of the hoof that doesn’t cause the horse any pain.
C. Frequency of Shoe Replacement
Just like how you outgrow or wear out your shoes, horses also need their shoes replaced regularly. Typically, a horse will need new shoes every 6 to 8 weeks. But this can change based on how much the horse is working and what type of ground they’re walking on. The farrier will check the horse’s shoes during regular visits and replace them when it’s time.
So, that’s how a horse gets its shoes! It’s a special process that keeps the horse comfortable and ready to trot, gallop, or carry a rider safely.
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 felt when shoes were placed on their feet.
When done correctly, putting on a pair of shoes doesn’t hurt the horse. In fact, the outer wall of a hoof doesn’t have nerves; it’s made out of keratin, just like our fingernails and toenails. However, a farrier could quick a horse.
Quicking is when the farrier accidentally hits the soft inner part of a horse’s foot with a horseshoe nail; this can hurt them but usually doesn’t cause any long-term damage to their feet. Another way a horse can get hurt when shoeing involves hot shoeing.
Hot shoeing entails heating and fitting the metal 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 typically doesn’t hurt the horse.
Horseshoes must be carefully fitted to the horse’s hooves and must be frequently checked and replaced as needed. While horseshoes do not normally hurt the horse, poorly fitted horseshoes can cause pain and discomfort.
In addition, horseshoes can become loose and fall off, which can also be painful for the horse. If a horseshoe is lost, it is essential to have a new one fitted as soon as possible to avoid potential injury.
The Debate: Barefoot vs. Shod Horses
Just like people have different opinions about whether dogs should wear sweaters, people also have different thoughts about whether horses should wear shoes. Some people think it’s best for horses to wear shoes, while others believe horses should go barefoot.
A. Arguments for Shoeing Horses
People who believe in shoeing horses say that horseshoes help protect the horse’s hooves from wear and tear. This is especially true for horses that walk or run on hard surfaces a lot or carry heavy loads. Horseshoes also provide extra grip on slippery surfaces, making it safer for the horse. Plus, as we learned earlier, horseshoes can help if a horse has foot problems or needs to correct its way of walking.
B. Arguments for Keeping Horses Barefoot
On the other hand, some people believe that horses are better off without shoes, just like they are in the wild. They argue that being barefoot allows the horse’s hooves to stay strong and healthy naturally. Being barefoot also lets the horse feel the ground better, which can help with balance. And, of course, it’s more comfortable for the horse not to have nails in their hooves if they don’t need them.
C. The Middle Ground: When and Why Each Option Might Be Best
Like many things in life, the best choice often depends on the situation. Some horses might need shoes because of the work they do or the ground they walk on. Others might do just fine without them.
For example, a horse that pulls heavy loads on city streets might need shoes to protect its hooves. But a horse that spends most of its time in a soft, grassy pasture might be perfectly happy and healthy without shoes.
In the end, the most important thing is to make sure each horse is comfortable and healthy. Sometimes that means wearing shoes, and sometimes it doesn’t. Just like you wouldn’t wear snow boots on the beach or flip-flops in the snow, horses need the right footwear (or no footwear) for the right situation!
There Are Alternatives to Horseshoes.
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 for horseshoes for some horses.
While horseshoes are the most common way to protect horses’ hooves, a few alternatives may be suitable for specific situations. One option is “hoof boots,” similar to horseshoes but has a velcro strap to keep them in place.
Hoof boots can be used for riding or turnout and offer protection against bruising and abrasion. 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.
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 how to put them on your horse.
Why Don’t Wild Horses Need Shoes?
We see herds of mustangs 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 don’t they 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 tough, durable feet that are perfect for roaming free in the wild. Through natural selection, those with sound feet survived while others died out.
Regarding domestic horse breeds, humans selectively bred certain types of horses to be faster or more active than others, but they neglected foot health, leading to weak hoofs in many horse breeds.
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.
Facts About Horseshoes
Horseshoes aren’t just for horses. They have a lot of fun facts, myths, and roles in movies, books, and games. Let’s explore some of these!
A. Interesting Facts and Myths Associated with Horseshoes
Did you know that horseshoes have been considered a symbol of good luck for hundreds of years? This belief comes from an old tale about a blacksmith named Dunstan. The story goes that Dunstan tricked the devil into letting him put horseshoes on his feet.
The horseshoes hurt the devil so much that he promised never to enter a place that had a horseshoe hanging over the door. That’s why you might see horseshoes hanging up in homes or barns – people hope they’ll bring good luck and keep bad spirits away!
Another cool fact is that no two horseshoes are exactly the same. Just like your shoes need to fit your feet, horseshoes need to fit a horse’s hoof perfectly. That means every horseshoe is specially made for the horse it’s going on.
B. Horseshoes in Popular Culture
You’ve probably seen horseshoes in more places than just on horses. In movies and books, horseshoes are often used as symbols of luck or the countryside.
Horseshoes also show up in games. Have you ever played a game of horseshoes? It’s a fun outdoor game where players take turns throwing horseshoes at a target.
In cartoons, a character might throw a horseshoe for good luck or to make something happen. And in video games, finding a horseshoe might give a player extra points or special abilities.
So, as you can see, horseshoes are pretty fascinating! They’re not just important for horses – they’re also part of our stories, games, and traditions.
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.
The following is an informative YouTube video about glue on horseshoes.
Can a horse race without shoes?
Yes, a horse could race without shoes; however, in all my years around racehorses, I’ve never heard of one competing without shoes.
Do horseshoes hurt horses?
Most horses don’t experience any discomfort when wearing shoes. However, some horses can be uncomfortable in shoes; this typically happens when the shoes are put on incorrectly.
Why are horseshoes lucky?
The belief is that horseshoes have protective powers that ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. Additionally, the horseshoe’s crescent shape has been associated with the moon, which is often considered a symbol of luck and fortune.
I love animals! Especially horses, I’ve been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn’t make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines.