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How, Why, and When Horseshoes Need to Be Changed

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Recently our grandson assisted the farrier; he held the horses and watched the hoofs trimmed and horseshoes replaced. This experience put his curious mind in overdrive, and he wanted to know all about shoeing horses, so I researched to provide accurate information.

Horseshoes attach to a horse’s foot with nails driven through the horseshoes and into the hoof wall. As the hoof grows, the nails loosen, and the effectiveness of the horseshoe is lost and must be removed, the foot trimmed, and a new shoe reattached. Typically horseshoes are replaced every six weeks.

Many new horse owners understand horses need shelter, exercise, and nutrition. But there is much more to caring for horses, and horseshoe maintenance is essential.


Horseshoes are nailed and clinched to a horse’s foot.

Farriers keep a stock of commercial standard-sized metal horseshoes. With a lot of heat and a little hammering, shoes are customized to fit the horse’s feet.

Once the shoe is sized correctly, the farrier drives nails up and through the shoe and into the horse’s hoof wall. The portion of the nail tip that protrudes through the hoof wall is clipped and squeezed to secure it tightly to the hoof, which is called clinching.

How do you know if your horse needs to be re-shoed?

My grandson’s first question was, how do I decide when our horses need to have their shoes replaced? Our farrier is scheduled to check our horses every six weeks, but sometimes we call him out earlier for an unscheduled shoe replacement.

Horses need to be re-shoed when the nails used to attach them loosen, either because the head shears off or fail. Horseshoes also need replacing when the horse’s heel extends past the shoe, the horse has a hoof injury, or the horseshoe is twisted.

Typically your horse needs its shoes replaced between four and eight weeks; six weeks is the average. But as we often say, horses are individuals, and some may need their shoes replaced more or less frequently.

Horseshoe nails sometimes break during normal wear.

Even when put on by the best farriers, Horseshoe nails wear out and break during normal usage. A bad step or rock can shear the head of a nail, or nails weaken and break from continuous walking over coarse surfaces.

Horseshoe nails are designed with a square tapered shank to drive through the hoof wall. They come in various lengths and head sizes to fit the grooves of specific types of shoes.

Horseshoe nails must match the horseshoe; the correct size nails are critical to keeping the shoes securely attached to horses’ feet. But even correctly fitted nails break or wear and lose their ability to hold the horseshoe in place.

cleaning.hoofs edited
Checking shoes

Choosing the correct-sized horseshoe nail is critical.

The horseshoe’s size and weight, the hoof wall’s thickness, and the shoeing cycle’s duration must be considered when choosing the appropriate horseshoe nail.

The nailhead must be large enough to hold the shoe in place and fit the horseshoe groove; otherwise, it will likely shear. It should also be long enough to drive high and have sufficient strength to not break in the hoof wall.

For example, lightweight racing plates have tiny grooves attached with small 3 12/2 racing nails. Racing nails have small heads and short shanks. Racing plates are designed for speed and have the shortest duration shoeing cycle.

Horseshoe nails have different styles of heads.

In contrast, standard shoes are attached with city head 5 nails; these are longer and stronger nails, typically lasting for six weeks. City head nails are flatter, and less of the head protrudes above the horseshoe crease.

Regular head horseshoe nails protrude from the shoe crease and gives the horse traction. These types of nails are used on draft horses and gaited horses.

There are two primary types of horseshoe nail shanks.

Horseshoe nail shanks can be either standard or slim. Standard shank nails are stiff and strong and used to attach heavy shoes and on horses with strong hoof walls.

Slim horseshoe nails are thin and flexible and most commonly used on horses with delicate hoof walls because they disrupt less of their fragile hoof walls. They are typically used with lightweight horseshoes.


When a horse’s heels extend past the shoe, it’s time for a farrier visit.

A properly shoed horse should have noticeable space from the edge of the hoof’s heel to the shoe’s side. Sometimes horses outgrow their shoes and must be attended to as soon as possible.

When a horse’s heel is not supported, it’s susceptible to abscesses and bruising; this also puts excessive strain on tendons, which can cause severe damage and even lameness. This condition, long toes and shoes too small for its feet, is called overrun heels.

If you notice your horse’s heel overgrowing its horseshoes call your farrier and have him address the problem; having the foot reset and the heel fitted properly avoids the potential for long-term problems.

Hoof injuries likely require the removal of the horseshoe.

When a horse sustains a foot injury, such as a hoof crack, it typically requires removing the old shoes, treating the injury, and attaching specialized shoes.

The goal is to stabilize the hoof and distribute the horse’s weight so the crack can heal. Farriers use numerous methods to accomplish this goal, but most use egg-bar shoes or bar shoes.

A farrier often customizes specialized shoes for a horse’s needs. For a severe abscess, a farrier may weld a bar across the back of a horseshoe to protect the injured area but still allow access for treatment.

Serious coronary band injuries, cracked hooves, and other foot injuries are sometimes so severe that a horse requires corrective shoeing for the rest of its life.

Horseshoes need to be replaced when it’s twisted or lost.

When a horseshoe loosens, it may bend and twist. During your daily grooming, always check your horse’s feet and pay special attention to the horse’s shoes’ security.

A thorough check of its feet reduces the risk of your horse losing a shoe during competition or on a trail ride. If the shoe is loose, check the clinches to ensure they are bent over and tight.

If the clinch is loose, tap them down with or use a pair of large channel lock pliers to squeeze them tight. If you think the shoe is too free to ride, it’s likely unfit for the horse to walk on safely, so it needs to be pulled off.

Before yanking on the shoe, check the clinch; if some are still bent, straighten them so the shoe comes off easy. A loose shoe can cause a lot of damage to a horse’s foot.

If you are interested in learning if horses’ hoofs have nerves and feelings, click here to read an interesting article on the topic.

Some horseshoes are glued to a horse’s hoof.

Glue-on horseshoes have been around for a while and are primarily used on horses with weak hoof walls. They are also commonly used to treat horses rehabbing from injuries.

There are two main styles of glue-on shoes, the cuff style and tab style or the direct bond glue-on style. Both styles typically use aluminum shoes attached without nails. The “cuff and tab” style horseshoe attaches to the outside of the hoof and is relatively simple to put on a horse.

The cuff and tab style holds an aluminum shoe inside a fabric material. An epoxy mix is used to secure the to the hoof, and the fabric cuff extends up the outer wall of the hoof and adhesive bonds it; once in place, stretch wrap is wrapped around the foot to hold the shoe in place until the epoxy sets.

Most cuff and tab shoes include a rim pad to relieve stress. The direct gluing style horseshoe is relatively simple; an adhesive is applied to the bottom of the hoof and the horseshoe.

The shoe is pushed to the foot, the glue is spread around the bar at the heel, and the excess adhesive is removed before it sets up. Direct glue-on shoes are aluminum or synthetic.

Picture of a racehorse shoes.

Horses wear shoes for a variety of reasons.

Most horse owners shoe their horses because it’s something they’ve always done without much thought about the reason for shoeing. There are three primary reasons horses wear shoes: to protect their hooves, correct a problem, or provide extra traction.

Horses wear shoes to protect their feet.

Horseshoes protect the hooves and soles of horses’ feet. A horse’s hoof is made of keratin, which is the same material our fingernails are made of. When horses walk on rough and abrasive surfaces, their foot wears down.

Horseshoes are typically made of durable steel that protects the hoof from wearing down and cracking. A cracked or otherwise damaged hoof can render a horse useless.

Horses that stay on soft, moist ground or in a stall are likely to have weakened hooves. In this type of environment, horseshoes provide the horse’s foot additional protection.

Horses wear shoes to correct problems with their feet.

Corrective shoeing is an art form. Sometimes a farrier can help a horse tremendously by applying specific shoeing techniques. This is especially true for horses that turn out or toe in.

Farriers often use specialized shoes to help a horse’s hoof heal correctly after an injury, much like a cast for a broken arm. For example, a bar shoe provides extra protection and support while a horse improves.

Horses wear shoes for a better grip.

Horseshoes can enhance a horse’s ability to perform its task. Most horses benefit from the traction gained from wearing horseshoes, draft horses get a better grip when pulling loads, racehorses dig in a little on the track from their light aluminum racing plates, and showjumpers also rely on the horseshoe to avoid slipping.

Picture of a horse's hoof in dire need of trimming.

How long does it take for a horse’s hoof to grow out?

I recently noticed that our horses’ hooves seem to grow awfully fast. Which prompted me to wonder how long it would take for my horse to develop an entirely new hoof.

A horse hoof grows approximately 3/8ths of an inch every thirty days, so at this rate, a horse will produce a completely new hoof in 12 months or thereabout.

As we know, horses are individuals, and because of this, some horses’ hooves grow faster or slower than other horses’ hooves. Diet, genetics, and breed characteristics can influence the health and growth of a horse’s hooves.

What causes cracked hooves in horses?

Recently, we noticed a small crack starting from the base of our horses’ hoof and ending about halfway to the coronary band. We weren’t aware of any accidents, so I wondered why this horse had developed a hoof crack.

Horses develop hoof cracks for various reasons, such as poor genetics, improper foot maintenance, poor nutrition, lousy conformation, or an accident. Some hoof cracks are superficial and heal on their own, while others can damage a horse’s health and well-being.

As with many issues, when you notice a hoof crack and treat it early, most of the time, it won’t develop into a critical and expensive medical condition. So it’s essential to check a horse’s hoof for cracks during its daily grooming.

Trimming hooves helps prevent hoof cracks.

A good farrier should watch a horse walk toward and away from him to see how each foot lands and how the horse distributes its weight. A correctly fitted shoe ensures the horse’s weight is evenly distributed across the hoof.

Too much pressure on one section can cause cracking. Also, proper trimming and cleaning of barefoot horses help maintain adequate balance in the horses’ feet.

A healthy diet improves the quality of a horse’s hooves.

Most horse owners don’t feed for hoof strength, but they should. A horse’s hoof is primarily made of keratin, the same material as a human fingernail and hair.

Feeding for hoof health isn’t difficult because most of the horse’s nutritional requirements for developing healthy hooves are found in high-quality forage.

The key is to ensure the hay you feed is quality forage, which means it has to supply adequate amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. Biotin, zinc, and the amino acids methionine, cystine, and cysteine are essential for producing and strengthening a horse’s hoof material.

Supplements support hoof growth and strength.

Hoof supplements supply the nutrients your horse’s diet lacks for strong hoof growth and development. So choose a supplement after you’ve evaluated the hay you’re feeding.

Many hoof supplements are fluff and provide minimal benefit. However, Farrier’s Formula is a tried and true hoof supplement. The University of Edinburgh, Veterinary Studies in Scotland, found horses’ hoof quality improved by adding Farrier’s Formula to their diet.

You can read an in-depth article about the Edinburgh study of Farrier’s Formula on here. But remember that horses’ hooves take a long time to grow, so don’t expect immediate results.

Why do wild horses not need shoes?

We recently went to Baton Rouge for the Bureau of Land Management wild horse sale and noticed none of the animals wore shoes. Since we’ve been, he’s been so enthralled with horseshoes; lately, he wanted to know why wild horses don’t need shoes.

Wild horses don’t need shoes because their feet evolved to adjust to the environment. It’s also likely genetically that they have superior feet to their domestic relatives because they’ve never worn shoes, and their constant movement over dry, rough terrain hardens their hooves.

Horse owners breed for specific equine activities without regard to a horse’s hoof. However, in the wild, horses without good feet don’t survive. So it’s very likely that wild horses have genetically healthier hooves than domesticated horses.

Can a horse live without a hoof?

We recently watched a video of a horse with severe hoof disease, which caused it to lose most of its hoof. This made me wonder if a horse could survive if it lost its entire hoof.

Horses can live after losing their entire hoof. However, it will take approximately a year for the horse t grow a new hoof capsule, which will likely be deformed.

Competitive horses that lose their entire hoof capsule are highly unlikely to recover sufficiently to compete again.

Horses’ hooves are used to make glue.

Hoof glue has been around for thousands of years. The keratin and collagen in a horse’s hoof make an excellent adhesive. Horse hooves were widely used in the past to make glue, and it is still used today in limited fashions, such as making fine cabinetry and other delicate woodworking projects.

Below is an informative YouTube video explaining why horses need shoes.


Are horseshoes lucky?

The horseshoe has been traditionally considered a symbol of good luck, especially in Western cultures. The origins of this belief are unclear, but it may be due to the horseshoe’s protective powers or its association with the moon, which is often linked to good fortune.

How many times can you reuse a horseshoe?

In general, horseshoes aren’t reused but replaced. However, they can be reused once or twice depending on various factors, including the type of shoe, the horse’s work, the terrain it covers, and the amount of wear and tear on the shoe.

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