To shoe or not to shoe, that is the dilemma that many horse owners face.
When wild horses can survive barefoot, why can’t our domestic animals?
Let’s investigate further and find out exactly why do horses need shoes.
The decision of shoeing horses depends on multiple factors. Horses that have sound hooves and a healthy conformation can be kept barefoot as well. Even those who are kept for pleasure riding or may take part in first-level dressage can survive without being shod. Whereas horses with weak hoof structure and unbalanced conformation can benefit from horseshoes.
If your mind is clogged with questions like, do horseshoes hurt, are horseshoes cruel and does my horse need shoes — then you’re in the right place, my friend. Because we’ll be discussing each of these questions in-depth in this article.
What’s a Horseshoe?
Before we understand the purpose of shoeing a horse, let’s first briefly understand what horseshoes are.
These are somewhat u-shaped, curved metallic pieces that are nailed to the hooves.
Back in history when horseshoes were first created, bronze was the metal used for making them.
Today, these are most commonly made of steel or aluminum. Horseshoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Some horses also need different types of shoes for their front and hind legs to provide additional traction.
Do Horseshoes Hurt the Horse?
Horseshoes, if fitted correctly, do not hurt a horse.
However, they do pose a risk of causing pain in certain conditions such as:
- Your farrier not picking out the correct shoe size. Such a shoe can put excessive pressure on the hooves.
- If the nail is misplaced and inserted into a sensitive area, it can cause an abscess and lameness.
- In case your horse pulls off a shoe, he can damage the tendons & ligaments.
Should You Shoe Your Horse? Factors to Consider
Like human shoes, horseshoes help protect the horse’s hooves from wear and tear.
The hoof walls, made of Keratin are similar to human nails.
These grow constantly and so you need to work hard to maintain your horse’s hoof health.
Horses in the wild are able to naturally wear down their hooves owing to their lifestyle conditions.
They are able to move freely and eat a natural diet.
On the other hand, our domesticated horses are confined to small spaces and at times eat a lot more than they should.
For this reason, the hooves of domestic horses grow at a higher rate and they are unable to wear them down on their own.
Untrimmed grooves can lead to issues such as:
- Excessive stress on the ligaments and tendons
- Hoof cracking and lameness
Horseshoes help prevent the hooves from wear and injuries. Many hoof problems arise due to:
- Ammonia exposure
- Walking on rough terrains and concrete ground
- Training for and participating in sports that involve racing, jumping, and lifting loads
Horseshoes can act as protective barriers against the damage that can be caused by the above-mentioned factors.
This will result in stronger hooves, better performance, and improved immune health.
To decide whether this is a good option for your horse, you’ll have to consider a few factors such as:
- The conformation and soundness of the hooves
- The Activities he will be participating in
- Its living conditions
Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of shoeing in each of the above-mentioned situations:
1. Conformation and soundness of the hooves
- The ideal conformation; the foot-pastern axis has a value between 45 to 50 degrees
- Ideal angulation
- And strong walls
…can survive barefoot as well.
However, horses with soft soles that are prone to bruises, and walls that easily crack do need shoes to prevent injuries.
These can also help solve minor defects and conformational flaws.
Horses that suffer from conditions such as navicular disease, laminitis, and grass cracks can benefit from horse shodding.
2. The disciplines your Horse will participate in
As mentioned above, shoeing isn’t mandatory for horses that are only used for pleasure riding.
Even for activities that don’t include galloping or racing around hard or rocky surfaces, being barefoot would work well.
However, horses that regularly participate in races, are worked & trained need shoes to maintain hoof health.
Horses in the wild are exposed to their natural habitat whereas domesticated horses have to adapt to the environment provided.
Domestic horses walk on concrete roads, spend time in their stalls, and live in wet pastures.
All these conditions pose different risks to their hooves.
For instance, being restricted in a small area doesn’t help wear down the hooves.
Also, since horses stay in their stalls, it results in exposure to urine which contains ammonia.
Shoes act as a barrier from the urine-soaked hay present in their stables.
Thereby prevent contact and exposure which results in stronger hooves.
The Benefits of Going Barefoot for Your Horse
Some farriers are of the opinion that being barefoot is the best for hoof health.
They say that there are no exceptions to this rule and proper barefoot management is what is needed.
Now there are conflicting opinions on this subject, but we can’t deny some of the benefits of going barefoot.
There are cases where horses developed certain dangerous conditions but managed to recover once the shoes were taken off.
One such case is of a gelding that had developed an under-run heel resulting in a weaker hoof.
However, after being barefoot for about 4 months, the hoof became sound and stronger.
Other benefits of having horses without shoes include:
- Improved blood circulation as shoes restrict movement, thereby affecting the circulation of blood.
- Improved shock-absorption.
- Hoof quality is improved.
- Trimming and maintenance are less costly.
The best tip for owners is to keep their young foals barefooted for as long as possible.
Are There Better Alternatives to Horse Shoes?
There are other options available for horse owners if they don’t want to use traditional horseshoes.
1. Hoof boots
These boots are great for providing additional protection when needed without causing any damage.
Unlike shoes, these boots are made out of leather and can be used temporarily when needed.
These offer support to the ligaments, prevent lameness and improve balance.
There are a variety of boots available, but my favorite, pocket-friendly option is Cavallo Trek Regular Hoof Boot
2. Glue-On Shoes
These are an alternative to the traditional shoes that have to be nailed to the horse’s hooves.
Glue-ons work best for horses that suffer from conditions such as laminitis.
In such cases, putting in nails in the hooves can be too painful and cause inflammation.
3. Epoxy Shoes
Shoes made out of composite and plastic material are also gaining popularity.
The biggest advantage that epoxy horseshoes offer is flexibility.
Many horse owners say that these:
- Have helped correct minor hoof flaws
- Are lightweight
- And can be used for various disciplines.
Tips for maintaining your Horse’s Hooves
Healthy hooves play a major role in contributing to your horse’s overall health including:
- His strength
- Circulatory system
But maintaining hooves that are strong require ample care.
Here are a few tips to help:
1. Cleaning the Hooves
It is essential for you to remove any debris, divrt, and grass from the sole and the frog.
Look for any abnormal conditions such as thrush, puncture or cracks in your horse’s hoof.
You should pick the hooves regularly, which means:
- Before going for a ride and after coming back
- Before turnout
- After bringing him to the stall at night
Pay special focus on ensuring that your horse’s nutritional needs are met.
Their diet should be rich in fiber vitamins and minerals including zinc and biotin.
3. Weather Conditions
The weather changes also affect your horse’s hooves.
The hot and dry weather can easily crack them. If the weather is too wet and moist, then the hooves may soften and split.
Make sure you keep them moisturized during the dry season. During the damp summer season, reduce turnout time
Why do wild horses not need shoes?
Wild horses (like the Przewalski) live in the ideal environment as they:
- Have access to a wide range of terrain including rough grassland and rocky grounds.
- Graze continuously and travel large distances.
- Eat fresh grass and a naturally balanced diet.
All these factors help in developing harder and stronger hooves.
Their lifestyle also enables the hooves to wear out naturally so they don’t require any trimming. For these reasons, it is easier for them to survive barefoot.
How much does it cost to shoe a horse?
Shoeing your horse is quite expensive as compared to barefoot trimming. Here is a breakdown of the costs:
- The initial cost of purchasing a metal show can be around $10 to $20.
- You will have to add the additional farrier charges which will depend on the state you live in ranging from $60 to $100 (this can vary.)
You also have to keep in mind that the hooves grow in about 6 to 7 weeks so you will have to get the shoes reset by a farrier.
The shoes may be reshaped or corrected by the farrier which may be an additional charge.
Of course, the horse will need trimming as well since the hooves don’t wear down naturally.
You would also have to change (purchase a new pair of shoes) every year. This means that all expenses of shoeing will be repeated after a year.