Why do Horses Need Shoes ?

Why do Horses Need Shoes ?

In the equine world, it is customary to say "no foot, no horse". And if there is one question you should ask yourself quickly if you become a horse owner, it is what to do about the shoeing.

First of all, should you shoe your horse, a subject that is widely debated in the industry, and which you will have to decide for yourself. Why shoe your horse, and how ? What are the best practices ?

Here is everything you need to know to shoe your horse properly !

horseshoe smith

Should you shoe your horse ?

It is common to think that shoeing a horse protects the horse's hoof, much like we do with our shoes. Except that, we are not born with them. So is it natural to shoe your horse anyway ? Let's just say that the choice of shoeing will depend on the age of your horse, its breed, its type of activity, whether it is at rest, in leisure or very sporty, and the type of ground on which it evolves (track, box, meadow).

In any case, it is the farrier and the veterinarian who will be able to tell you what type of shoeing is best for your horse, depending on its stance, specific needs and potential locomotor pathologies (tendonitis, navicular diseases).

It is commonly thought that foals, young horses or retired horses can be left barefoot. So can horses with little activity or on soft ground. Or even horses that are resting, on holiday or in winter.

horse shoeing

What to think about when it comes to shoeing your horse ?

Once the farrier comes to look at your horse and see what it needs, there are several questions you should ask yourself :

The material of the shoe

Should plastic, aluminium or steel shoes be used ? In general, steel shoes are the most commonly used, as they are all-purpose, multi-tasking, easy to fit, fairly ideal for leisure or moderate sport horses, as well as for orthopaedic needs. Aluminium and plastic are clearly more precise and comfortable shoes, more suitable for race horses requiring state-of-the-art performance and tools.


Do I need to put plates on ? This protection is added between the shoe and the horse's sole, for greater comfort. They can be made of plastic, silicone or even leather, the most comfortable for your companion, but also the most fragile. Again, this is not mandatory and will depend on the use of your horse.

The trim

This is the extra shoe that can be left around the horse's hoof. As the horn is constantly growing, you must always leave a little margin. Otherwise, it's a bit like wearing shoes that are too small and very unpleasant. However, the risk is that the horse will unshoe more easily. Once again, the farrier will decide on this part, depending on the activity of your horse.

The cover

This is the width of the shoe. The classic average is 8 mm, but this can vary according to the needs of the horse. The wider the shoe, the more comfortable it is, obviously. But it is also heavier, which increases the rate of vibration during exercise and the risk of injury. The blanket is widely used to compensate for certain pathologies, as the heavier the shoe, the more it can counteract certain imbalances.

Bevelling the shoe

The more the shoe is bevelled, the easier it is to roll, the natural forward swing of the foot when walking or running. This movement is essential for horses in competition or with high sporting activity.

How do you shoe your horse ?

Before shoeing, the farrier trims the horse. This consists of removing the excess horn, which, rather like our nails, grows constantly and not always in a very regular manner. The farrier also corrects the horse's posture and can work on the shoe before fitting, to adapt it to the horse.

Once the shoe is ready, the farrier places the shoe on the horse's hoof and pins it with nails that he drives into the horn. The nails come out higher on the wall of the foot. This procedure is of course painless for the horse, as long as no sharp part of the foot is touched.

The farrier then cuts off any protruding nail tips so as not to injure the horse. The remaining part is folded back into the horn and grated if necessary, to avoid any potential injury.

The shoeing should be done about every 6 to 8 weeks, between 40 and 60 days for a wide range, because of the regularly growing horn.

horseshoe on a horse

What about shoeing the horse in case of pathology ?

Apart from the needs of certain horses according to their environment or activity, shoeing is also one of the best ways to compensate for certain pathologies in horses, such as problems with aplombs, tendonitis or naviculars.

Indeed, the blanket, which we mentioned earlier, has a direct impact on the weight of the shoe (the larger, heavier shoe), and therefore on the inclination of the horse's foot.

For example, horses that are panties, with their feet turned outwards, or horses that are gaited, with their feet turned inwards, tend to put more strain on the tendons on either side of the foot because of this imbalance. Orthopaedic shoeing can help to redress this by using the counterweight of the shoe to put more weight on one side of the foot or the other.

Why and how to shoe a horse ?

Shoeing your horse has become almost automatic. The vast majority of horses that are ridden in recovery, trail rides or competitions are shod. Have you ever wondered why shoeing is so important ?

Have you considered leaving your horse barefoot or changing its shoeing ? Here are the answers to all your questions about the principle of shoeing and the different types of horse shoes.

History of the horseshoe

The first traces of horseshoes date back to the Roman Empire. At that time, horsemen used hipposandals to prevent premature wear of the horns on their horses' hooves. These pieces of metal held together by leather laces are the true ancestors of the horseshoe.

But it was in the 11th century, in the heart of the Middle Ages, that this accessory became indispensable. Horsemen placed iron plates under the feet of their hoofed companions and noticed the very positive effects on their movements. The horseshoe in its current form was born : it would evolve very little afterwards.

The first treatise on farriery was written in the 16th century in Italy ("The way to properly groom, handle and shoe horses"), then this discipline was gradually codified until the 18th century. During the First World War, horses were massively shod before going into battle.

A century later, orthopaedic shoes were developed to correct the plumbness of horses. Since then, the composition of shoes has been greatly modernised : alloys of materials such as aluminium, silicone and composite resin have been added to the traditional steel. Shoes have become more efficient and lighter, for greater comfort of horses in their daily lives.

Focus on the farrier

It was also in the Middle Ages that the profession of the farrier was born, which has survived the centuries. This profession is as old as the hills and consists of fixing shoes to horses' feet with nails. Seen as a blacksmith handling fire and steel with strength and skill, he soon became a respected craftsman among his peers.

Nowadays, the farrier is indispensable in the world of horse riding. His profession has spread all over the world, from France to the United States, via China. They work in a wide variety of places: riding schools, stud farms, horse racing and equestrian sports stables, and private homes.

The farrier also works in collaboration with the veterinarian in the treatment of ailments and diseases of the horse's foot. This expert must have a specific diploma to be able to practice. Some have additional orthopaedic skills that are very useful.

Why do we shoe a horse ?

For centuries, people have sought to improve the comfort and performance of the horse and rider through equipment. The creation of the saddle, the bit and the gaiters. Horseshoes fit perfectly into this approach to improving riding needs. Here are the reasons for fitting horseshoes :

Preventing hoof wear

The first and most obvious reason is to protect the horse from hard or abrasive ground. In nature, the horse chooses the ground on which it walks. In a natural and instinctive way, it alternates walking on grass, earth, sand and mud.

However, since he has been domesticated, our hoofed companion is no longer allowed to roam wherever he pleases. His pasture is enclosed by a paddock and he is ridden on very specific terrain. Asphalt and paving stones attack the horn of the horse's hoof and wear it out prematurely. This is why the first horseshoes were invented.

Furthermore, even horses that are used for trail riding (dirt, grass) or riding in the arena (sand) need good shoeing. Walking on the same type of ground and in a set rhythm, such as a fast trot, can be detrimental to the condition of the feet.

Bringing more stability

Small stones that get stuck in horses' hooves can cause injuries and abscesses. However, it is difficult to do otherwise when riding on varied terrain. The same applies to sandy, muddy or snowy ground, which can cause a lot of slipping.

Fortunately, crampons can be attached to most horseshoes. Fortunately, cleats can be attached to most horseshoes and are very useful in show jumping, eventing and western riding competitions.

Correcting faulty legs

Orthopaedic fittings can do wonders for the legs of horses. The reason for this is that these defects in foot positioning cause lameness, stumbling and even injury in the long run. They also put pressure on the horse's tendons and joints by over-stressing them. Many shoeing problems can be solved with proper shoeing.

How often should a horse be shod ?

On average, it is advisable to have the farrier come every six to ten weeks. This depends on how often and what kind of activity your horse does, as well as the kind of ground it walks on. In addition, it also depends on the individual horse : some horses grow their horns particularly fast or unevenly, depending on their plumbness.

This can be seen by looking after their feet regularly, especially during grooming. Ask your farrier for advice, he is the person best able to make recommendations, especially if he has been looking after your horse for a long time. All horses are different and require specific shoeing adapted to their needs.

The different types of horseshoes

The horseshoe is made up of different parts : the sponges at the ends of the two branches, the quarters on the rear part, the nipples on the middle part and the clamps on the front part. The stamps are the small holes that hold the nails. However, it can take many forms depending on the type of needs of the horse.

We distinguish :

The size of the shoe

Just like our shoes, horses also have different sizes ! However, the number of stamps never changes : between eight and ten depending on the shoe manufacturer.

The material used

Iron, mild steel, aluminium, plastic, nylon, rubber, Kevlar. Many materials can be used to make irons. Most of the time, they are alloys designed to make the irons lighter or more efficient.

The shape of the shoe

This is entirely personal to each horse. The farrier will apply the shoe to the hoof and shape it so that it fits perfectly.

Accessories and improvements

Crampons, protective plates, silicone reinforcements, snow prevention systems. There are many small adjustments that can be made to the horseshoes on request.

The different types of shoes

Some shoes are specifically adapted to a type of activity or morphology of the horse. Here is a short, non-exhaustive list of exceptions and particularities.

Rolling shoes

For horses that find it difficult to wear shoes, rolling shoes are a real solution. It consists of bevelling the front of the shoe to improve the tilting of the foot. This is very useful for horses that prematurely wear out the claw of the hoof rather than leaning on the heel.

Shoeing a foal

There is no point in shoeing young horses before they are broken in. On the contrary, walking barefoot will allow them to strengthen their hoof horns naturally. Ask your farrier and vet for advice on scheduling the first shoeing session.

However, it is important to teach the foal to give its feet early on to make the professional's job easier.

Shoeing a gaited horse or a horse with a pathology

Horses that are gaited have their feet naturally turned outwards, and the opposite is true for horses that are gaited. To remedy this serious plumbness problem, the farrier will place asymmetrical shoes to rebalance the horse's limb. Equines suffering from locomotor pathologies (navicular disease, performer's tendonitis, podotrochlear syndrome) can see their suffering reduced thanks to an adapted shoe.

The farrier then becomes a craftsman of the well-being of your horse by creating a custom-made shoe. Sometimes, the result is spectacular and allows to really relieve the imbalances in the locomotion of the horse.

Shoeing a racehorse

Racehorses in gallop, trot or steeplechase require special shoes. They must be particularly light, as every gram counts during the race, and must not hinder them when galloping. Some aluminium shoes are specially designed for racehorses.

Now you know everything about shoeing your horse. If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to contact the real expert on your horse's feet : the farrier !

By Luisina Giovannini

I created Horse Placenta with the aim of showing all the beauty of this incredible animal which is the horse. I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. I invite you to continue reading to find out more.

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