Why do horses need horseshoes?

Horseshoes are a common blacksmithing project for those who start out metalworking. However, even those who do not ride horses nor are involved with blacksmithing can recognise a horseshoe. A horseshoe is a ‘U’ shaped object made of metal, that is attached to the hoof of a horse in order to protect it from damage and wear. Horses are the only animals most will ever know to need shoes. A horse with horseshoes is referred to as a ‘shod’ horse and one without is known as an ‘unshod’ or barefoot horse. But why do horses need shoes? Do they even really need them? These questions are what this article will attempt to answer.

Horses’ hooves, like our fingernails and composed of dead cells which protect the inner part of their foot. The hoof grows continuously and must be trimmed if it does not naturally wear down. In wild horses, this occurs naturally when the horse moves large distances or travels through rough terrain. However, in a domesticated horse which may be carrying heavy loads, racing or running more than a wild horse would, the hooves wood wear down much faster. Therefore, it a horseshoe is attached to the hoof with nails to give it more durability. The process of shoeing a horse is not painful to the horse, provided the farrier is skilled. Since the shoe is attached to the dead skin of the hoof, the horse does not feel any pain. The horseshoe is most commonly made of metal but depending on the brand (for example, kerckhaert horseshoes), type and required durability can be made of aluminium, or even plastic.

Other functionality provided by horseshoes include increased traction and medical corrections to the hooves. Horses may be less well equipped to handle certain terrains naturally, which can be solved by using a suitable horseshoe which helps their hooves grip the ground better. Additionally, if the horse suffers from imbalanced hooves or a lack of strength in its feet, horseshoes can help, although they should be specially crafted based on the need of the horse.

Do all horses need horseshoes?

No. This is generally up to the personal preference of the owner of the horse. But the general consensus is that while most do shoe their horses, it is not considered necessary due to any medical reasons. Horses naturally wear their hooves, and they grow back. The conditions of the horse’s life are a significant factor in deciding whether it needs shoes. Horses who carry heavy loads or run often are more likely to need shoes than those who do not.

Horseshoes have several advantages and disadvantages and there is also an ethical argument against horseshoes by those who claim that they are wholly unnecessary and may cause injury to the horse. Shoeing a horse offers additional protection, supports horses with medical issues and decreases rate of wear while being more expensive as well as carrying a slight risk of injury, especially with less trained horses.