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Why does a horse need shoes?

As equestrians, we know that the bond between a rider and their horse is truly special. In order to maintain that unique connection and keep our equine friends in top condition, it’s essential to understand their needs – particularly when it comes to their hooves. 

With that in mind, there’s a good chance that at some point, you’ve pondered the age-old question,Why does a horse need shoes?”

Well, let’s uncover why horses wear horseshoes and evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of horses being barefoot vs wearing horseshoes…


What are horseshoes?

A horseshoe is a man-made, curved, U-shaped piece of metal or other material that is designed to fit around a horse’s hooves. The primary purpose of it is to protect the horse’s hooves from wear and tear, provide traction on various surfaces, and support the horse’s foot while distributing weight evenly. 

A horse that wears shoes is referred to as a “shod horse” – meanwhile, a horse without shoes is referred to as “unshod” or barefoot. 

Understanding the anatomy of a horse’s hoof 

In order to understand the importance of horseshoes, it’s essential to grasp the basic anatomy of a horse’s hoof. Luckily for you, we’ve just recently put a detailed Horse Hoof Anatomy guide together, which you’ll find here

If you’re short on time, we’ll quickly summarise the three main structures below:

  • The hoof wall – The hard, pigmented outer layer of the hoof.
  • The sole – The hard, concave structure on the underside of the hoof.
  • The frog – The soft, V-shaped structure that points down from the heel of the hoof.

Each of these parts work together to give the needed support and protection for the horse’s foot while it moves across different terrains. 


Why does a horse need shoes?

Horses wear shoes to strengthen and protect their hooves and feet. Horseshoes prevent the hooves from wearing down too quickly, protecting them from damage and injury. 

In particular, the frog, due to its soft and tender nature, can be more susceptible to injuries than other parts of their hoof.

The frog’s delicate and fragile nature is due to the several oil glands and blood vessels it contains, even though it is composed of the same material as the tough outer wall.

Horseshoes help diminish the risk of injury to the frog and keep their hooves in a healthy and optimal condition.


What are horseshoes made from?

Horseshoes are typically made of steel or aluminium; however, in special circumstances, they could also be made of materials such as rubber or plastic. However, metals are preferred due to their hard and sturdy nature, which means they easily maintain their shape. 

The horseshoe is attached to the hoof by a farrier using tools such as nails or glue. As long as the farrier is skilled, it doesn’t hurt the horse any more than trimming your nails with a pair of nail clippers would. 


Do horses need to wear shoes?

There are pros and cons to shoeing, and what works for one horse may not work for another. The truth is that it really depends on the circumstances and who you’re asking!

We’ve explored the advantages and disadvantages of horseshoes for horse owners to consider: 


Advantages of horseshoes

  • Protection – Shoes protect the hooves from wear and tear, especially when on rough and uneven terrain. They can also help to prevent injuries.
  • Traction – Horseshoes provide improved grip and stability on various terrains – this is particularly important for those involved in sports or activities. 
  • Support – They can also help to distribute the horse’s weight evenly across the hoof.

Disadvantages of horseshoes

  • Cost – Depending on your budget, horseshoes and visiting an experienced farrier can be expensive.
  • Potential for injury – If not fitted correctly, horseshoes can cause discomfort or even injury to your horse. 
  • Frequent maintenance – Horeshoes require regular maintenance, including frequent farrier visits and regular shoe replacement. 


What if I want my horse to go barefoot?

Great question – let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of letting your horse go barefoot…

Advantages of going barefoot:

  • Potentially more cost-effective – Trimming alone is usually less expensive than getting them shod, as you won’t need to pay for shoes too.
  • More natural – Some equestrians believe that keeping a horse as close to their natural state as possible is healthier and more comfortable for the horse. 
  • Potentially enhanced performance – Some equestrians claim that their horses perform better when unshod.

Disadvantages of going barefoot:

  • Increased risk of injury – Horses that are not wearing shoes are more vulnerable to injuries caused by sharp objects or uneven terrain.
  • Hooves still require trimming – Even barefoot hooves still require frequent and regular trimming to ensure they’re in a healthy condition.  If we don’t trim a horse’s hooves, they will continue to grow just like our fingernails do.
  • Wear and tear – Horses that spend a lot of time on hard surfaces or rough terrain may experience excessive wear and tear on their hooves, leading to cracking, chipping and other problems.


How do wild horses manage without horseshoes?

a photograph of some wild horses

Wild horses get by okay without hoof trimming and maintenance because they are continuously running on hard and textured terrain, which naturally wears down their hooves.

Ultimately, the choice of whether to shoe your horse is highly personal – and depends upon several factors. Therefore, we always advise seeking advice from a professional and doing your own thorough research. 

Nevertheless, we hope you’ve learned a thing or two about why you’ll find many horses in horseshoes and the benefits of wearing them. 


Support hoof health with Equestrian Surfaces Ltd

Explore our range of award-winning riding surfaces designed to offer optimal support and protection for your horse, whether shod or barefoot. For bespoke advice and guidance, please get in touch with us on 01282 834 970 or browse our range of award-winning riding surfaces here. 

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