“No hoof, no horse.” A horse’s hooves are comparable to a human’s fingernails. They grow, split, and are deformed when put under strenuous activity.
Wild horses have a natural mechanism to wear down their hooves. They trot on harsh terrain and the friction does its work. However, domesticated horses, on the other hand, need a professional farrier to trim their hooves regularly, and if necessary, apply shoes.
Horse hooves were designed to bear a horse’s weight and provide comfort for mobility. The hooves expand and contract when they hit and leave the ground. Their hooves act as shock absorbers that distribute their weight evenly and work to provide traction and protect the sensitive internal structures of their feet. In fact, a horse’s hoof is an overall indicator of a horse’s health and comfort.
Horseshoes have been around thousands of years. The first recorded use of horseshoes was in the 5th and 6th century when Asian warriors nailed bronze and iron shoes to their horses’ feet. They were used predominantly for warfare purposes to protect a horse’s hooves from dangerous terrain. And towards the end of the century, they turned into a status symbol for the upper class.
Wild horses from back in the day had strong hooves that could withstand the ever-changing landscapes of time. But modern horses may not possess that ability. The pressures of riding or uneven terrain slathered with rocks or sand could be too much for their hooves to bear. Hence the need for horseshoes to protect their feet (and joints) from getting damaged — although this notion is still subject to debate among expert farriers.
When a horse no longer lives in the wild, domestication makes them lose their original strength and structure. Without the natural conditions to strengthen and callous their hooves, they become soft and fragile. Some say that their diet directly impacts the overall health and condition of their hooves.
Modern day horseshoes are foraged from steel, iron, aluminon, plastic, and even aluminum. Different horseshoes serve different purposes and you need to have them measured and fitted before you even consider nailing them to your horses’ hooves.
First, let’s take a look at how giving your horse shoes is beneficial to their hoof health.
If you do not properly care for your horses’ hooves, we can guarantee that they will go lame as the result of neglect. Their hooves must be trimmed by a farrier every six to eight weeks and their shoes should be replaced upon necessities. Unlike other domesticated animals like dogs and cats, horses live an active life. They work, sweat, and serve. All this can wither away their hooves, which is why you need to have them fitted for a pair (or two) of shoes.
The truth is, some horses can get away with not wearing shoes. Then again, it all depends on their workload and the terrain they walk on a day to day basis.
Shoes are a necessity if your horse is a working animal that lives in a place with hard and stony terrain. The conditions may cause soreness or bruising that most horses do better on its shod. During temporary unsuitable conditions, some riders will opt for alternative solutions to protect their bare foot horses. Some of them use hoof boots, glue-on and even tape on shoes.
Horses that engage in sport riding that involve high level jumps and eventers could greatly benefit from having that extra layer of protection. Whereas, dressage horses for example are unlikely to encounter uneven terrain, stones or inconsistencies that contribute to soreness and decreased performance.
Farm horses could also benefit from wearing shoes because of the constant change in terrain that they encounter every day. In the morning, they’re used to round up livestock into their pens, in the afternoon they need to do some heavy lifting, and, in the evening, their handlers take them for a ride on the trail.
There are still some exceptions, though. Some horses have hooves strong enough to withstand uneven and rocky ground. But this is usually only ever present in stallions.
Note that weak hooves are often the result of a nutritional issue. Consult with your farrier about your horses’ diet to strengthen their soles. However, if it’s because of an environment with excessive water, then you’ll have no choice but to shoe your horse.
Your horse work quality may improve if you get them shoes to optimize their performance. Horseshoes serve different purposes and you can have them customized to fit the line of work your horse is engaged in. Horses that work in the snow need snowball pads — and yes, it’s as adorable as it sounds. These pads prevent snow from balling up on the bottom of their feet and potentially injure your horses. While horses that constantly hike from once place to another to carry goods or deliver important packages need studded shoes to keep their footing steady. In this case, it’s about traction and not so much on shock absorption.
Horses are stubborn creatures and will often stop working when they’re uncomfortable. Having shoes to protect one of the most sensitive parts of their bodies will dramatically improve how the horse views its workday.
Don’t get us wrong, yes you can make your horse work or train barefoot, but only if you’re doing it in the right environmental conditions. Also, the weather is a pretty good indicator of when you can take their shoes off. Horses have better traction on grass in the spring when they’re barefoot because they don’t have metal sliding against the blades of grass when they walk. During the springtime, the ground is soft, and terrain is cool as the ice has just started to melt.
There are many ongoing discussions as to whether or not your horses should be shod all year round. But our take on is to let them for barefoot for part of the year. Keeping them in shoes 24/7 will negate the intelligent design of their hooves and they will slowly grow dependent on them. Making them go barefoot allows them to grow “callouses” and resistance to the elements as opposed to one that is never exposed to natural terrain.
Now that we’ve established the benefit of shoeing your horse, let’s talk about the different types of shoes that you can ask your farrier to attach. Have you ever noticed that we have different shoes for different occasions? Such as running shoes for sports, sneakers for daily wear, slippers for when we’re at the beach, pumps for the club, stilettos for the workplace, and boots for long hikes. Why shouldn’t horses have the same luxury?
You can think of regular shoes as a horse’s casual wear. Any horse can wear them and they’re perfect to have on for living the daily grind. The regular horseshoe is what the vast majority of horses wear. The machine fabricated, pre-made shoe, is often called a “keg” shoe. This shoe supports a healthy hoof and protects it under normal riding circumstances. Most horses never need anything more than a keg shoe. The grooves lie in nail holes called “fullers,”— a divot that allows space for the nail heads to sit securely and comfortably.
Rim shoes are the equivalent of gym shoes to us (they even rhyme). You’ll see them more often on sport horses. Rim shoes are somewhat similar to regular horseshoes, with the exception of a broad and deep groove that runs through the middle. The shape of the slot allows the horse to gain a little more traction while walking hence their popularity in sports, speed racing, roping, or barrel racing.
Bar shoes consist of an additional “bar” at the rear part of the horseshoe, usually for enhanced provision in the stern of the hoof, heel, or leg. A straight bar is often used for heel support, as it can also assist in holding the hoof together if overdone hoof movement is indicated, which in many cases, is needed as the result of a hoof injury. Think of bar shoes as the kind of footwear that a doctor prescribes after you’ve broken your foot, a cast.
Egg bar shoes provide substantial support to the rear part of the hoof and leg by stretching past the heel. An egg bar shoe is typically utilized for horses with Navicular Disease — a syndrome of lameness problems in horses. It most commonly describes inflammation or degeneration of the navicular bone and its surrounding tissues, usually on the front feet. It can lead to significant and even disabling lameness. This particular type of shoe can also appear in a small wedge design, or farriers can also use plastic pads to accomplish similar results without giving the horse more weight to carry on their presently sore hooves. Egg bar shoes are top tier orthopedic shoes for horses as they provide maximum comfort and stability.
A heart bar shoe offers the equivalent advantages of the other bar shoes, particularly with the bonus of frog support, as well. Heart bear shoes are often used for horses with laminitis — inflammation of sensitive layers of tissue (laminae) inside the hoof in horses and other animals. It is particularly prevalent in ponies feeding on rich spring grass and can cause extreme lameness. You can add soft pads or stand-alone packing elements to pack the spaces within the hoof and frog support.
No foal was brought into this world with shoes tacked to its feet. Some people would like to leave it that way, but others take a different route. Shoeing is situational and you need to have a farrier asses your horse prior to making the decision of nailing their hooves to shoes. Additionally, you should hold off shoeing your horse until it’s at least five years old because your horse’s muscles are still immature prior to that and you need to leave them unshod for them to build up strength and stamina over time.
So, the question remains: to shoe or not to shoe? Our take? For most pleasure horses, shoes probably aren’t necessary, and sensible maintenance, including regular trimming, may be all that is needed. While barefooting is considered the ideal for horses, there are times when shoes are necessary. Horses that pull abnormal amounts of weight require shoes to prevent their hooves from wearing down.