Why Do Horses Need Shoes? Purpose and Key Considerations

Published March 16, 2022
horse show jumping

Even people who aren't horse lovers can identify a horseshoe. Many associate them with good luck; it's not uncommon for people to wear a horseshoe as a necklace, for example. For equestrians, horseshoes are more than just a good luck charm. They're used to protect their horse's feet and hooves, but some equestrians will tell you there are times when they're necessary and others where they aren't.

What are Horseshoes?

For those who don't know what horseshoes are, they're a U-shaped piece of metal that is designed to protect a horse's hooves. They have been used for centuries and are often developed from steel or aluminum. There are times you may notice horseshoes made from other materials, including plastic or rubber. The type of horseshoe a horse needs, or the owner wants, is dependent upon what the horse is being used for.

The horseshoe is fitted to the individual horse and often attached using nails to keep it in place. Those who specialize in trimming and shoeing horse hooves are known as farriers, and skilled farriers are can place horseshoes without causing the horse any harm. In cases where the shoes only need to be on temporarily, a type of glue may be used as opposed to nails.

There are two types of shoeing you will see; hot and cold. When a farrier is using a cold shoeing method, they bend the metal of the shoe without heating it to produce the desired result. If they are using a hot shoeing method, the farrier heats the shoe up prior to shaping it to make it more malleable.

The Purpose of Horseshoes

Horses wear shoes not only to protect the hoof from damage, but also to prevent their hooves from deteriorating too quickly. Like our nails continue to grow and need to be clipped, horses' hooves grow continuously and need to be clipped. Or, they may become too short and become painful, which is where horseshoes also come into play.

So, why don't horses in the wild need shoes? Wild horses wear their hooves down regularly through their various activities. Horses that have been domesticated, and are used for pulling or racing, may wear down their hooves faster than normal and therefore need some sort of protection to prevent from wearing their hooves down too quickly. If the horse is walking on the shoe rather than the actual hoof, it is less likely to be worn down.

Shoes can also provide protection to horses who are walking on difficult terrain, such as over rocks, or on wet terrain, through mud. Horses that compete in horse sports also benefit from the protection horseshoes offer.

Other horses may have a medical reason for wearing horseshoes. Some horses may have balance problems or be considered lame without horseshoes. Corrective shoeing by a professional farrier can offer additional support to the hoof capsule where necessary, allowing the horse to improve in their walking.

When the Horse Needs New Shoes

close up of horseshoes on a horse's hoof

When it's time for the horse to get new shoes, the farrier will remove the nails from the old shoes, trim any excess hoof, and shape the hoof as needed. They will inspect the hooves to make sure everything appears healthy and prepared for a new set. The new shoe is attached with nails that are hammered into a comfortable part of the hoof. When a farrier is good at their job, the horse doesn't mind the shoeing process and it causes them no pain.

If the shoes they are using are still in good condition, they may reshape the shoes if they weren't exactly as needed the first time around. If they are too thin or worn down, a new set will be provided.

The amount of time that passes before your horse needs new shoes varies based on a number of factors, including how fast their hooves grow, how quickly the shoes deteriorate, and if there are any medical issues. As a general guideline, shoes are checked every six to eight weeks.

What to Watch For

There are several factors to keep in mind when your horse has shoes on. You will need to remain observant throughout this time. If you notice any of the following, contact your farrier or your equine veterinarian:

  • If a shoe or both shoes are loose or missing
  • If the nails are in the wrong place
  • If the hoof begins to grow over the shoe
  • If any nails are protruding
  • If the shoe appears worn down
  • If the shoe appears to not fit properly

If you notice any issues with the horseshoes, it's important to get them fixed by a professional farrier as soon as possible. If you let the problem continue, this could severely impact your horse's hooves.

Deciding to Get Horseshoes

If you're having trouble deciding whether or not to get horseshoes, contact a professional farrier to discuss the pros and cons of shoes as well as what your horse does throughout the day. They will likely ask about the terrain your horse is walking on, what your horse is used for, and if you have noticed any abnormalities within the hoof yourself. The farrier will let you know the health benefits and the risks of shoes and may schedule a time to visit if you're leaning toward shoeing your horse.

Why Do Horses Need Shoes? Purpose and Key Considerations