Why do Horses Need Horseshoes? All You Need to Know

Horseshoes have been a hot topic since forever and still are. Some people believe that they are necessary, while others believe they are obsolete since feral horses live without them. And then there are the loud voices claiming that horseshoes are even immoral and inhumane.

As you would expect, the truth is somewhere in the middle. This article will take a deep dive into the issue to help you understand everything there is to know about horseshoes.

The Purpose of Horseshoes

To understand the purpose of horseshoes, you first need to understand how the hoof works. The hoof consists mainly of two parts – the hoof itself and the frog. If you will, the frog is the horse’s foot, while the hoof is the shoe, growing naturally around the foot. The frog is the interior part of the hoof, and it’s just meat, blood vessels, and nerves.

The hoof consists of keratin, which is the same substance that makes up your fingernails and hair. The hoof will wear off with time at a pace depending on the terrain that the horse runs on. The harder and more abrasive the terrain is, the faster the hoofs will wear off. This is where horseshoes come in.

Horseshoes protect the hoofs from natural wear and tear and keep the frog safe since it creates more distance between the horse’s foot and the ground.

How Are Horseshoes Put on Horses?

Ideally, you should have a professional to handle the issue. The experts whose occupation is to put horseshoes on horses are called farriers. If you can, call one to mount or replace your horse’s horseshoes since it’s a delicate business that requires knowledge and precision.

If, however, you believe you’re up to the task and want to handle it yourself, here’s what to do:

  • Grab the horse’s foot and turn it so you can see the bottom side
  • Use a nail or any other sharp object to clean the nail holes of the previous horseshoe
  • Use a straight horseshoe that has no indentations so it doesn’t affect the horse’s walk
  • Hammer the nails with care, using the holes that are already there
  • Make sure you follow the holes and don’t insert the nails at an angle; otherwise, you will hurt the frog
  • Bend and cut the nails that will pierce the hoof on the other side

There are plenty of instructional videos on Youtube that you can refer to if you need that visual input as well.

Are Horseshoes Painful for Horses?

In general, horseshoes are not painful. They aren’t painful when mounted, and they shouldn’t be painful in the long run either. As a matter of fact, horseshoes should help horses with foot pain, uneven walking, or other hoof issues.

That being said, there are cases where horseshoes can be painful, especially during mounting. Hammering the nails at a more abrupt angle can cause you to hurt the soft portion of the hoof. To prevent that, I advise relying on a professional to mount the horseshoes.

At the very least, you should investigate the topic thoroughly before proceeding on your own. One mistake and you can hurt your horse’s foot severely and even cause an infection. It’s not worth the added risk if you’re unsure of your skills.

Can Horses Live Without Horseshoes?

This is where opinions vary drastically and for good reasons since the answer is split. On one side, horses have lived without horseshoes since forever. On the other side, domestication has removed horses from their environments and forced them to adapt to new habitats.

This has led to situations where breeds with naturally softer hoofs had to live in areas with rugged and unforgiving terrain, including asphalt. In those situations, horseshoes are almost a must. Overall, there are a handful of factors to consider when assessing whether your horse needs horseshoes or not:

  • The horse’s breed – Some breeds, like mountain-born ones, have naturally harder hoofs that don’t wear off as easily. They don’t always require horseshoes, except for when they have very active lifestyles, which may include competitions, fieldwork, etc.
  • The level and intensity of physical activity – Your horse doesn’t need horseshoes for casual riding. But it may need them if you take it to competitions, equine events, or ride it daily.
  • Feet problems – Many horse breeds come with low leg musculature, along with thin and delicate joints. Horseshoes will provide these horses with the much-needed support to run or jump without risking any injuries.

If your horse doesn’t participate in any physically demanding events regularly and you only ride it occasionally, horseshoes aren’t necessary. You should only consider mounting them if the horse shows problems with walking or standing.

Do Foals Need Horseshoes?

No, foals don’t need horseshoes, except for sporadic cases when the foal needs corrective trimming or struggles with DOD (Developmental Orthopedic Disease). Even more, broodmares shouldn’t wear them either. The broodmare could accidentally step on the foal’s legs and inflict serious damage when wearing steel horseshoes.

I suggest only mount horseshoes on a foal when it’s time to begin training. That’s when the foal might benefit from the protection that the horseshoes can provide.


I really hope that this article will put an end to the – To Horseshoe or Not to Horseshoe debate, although I doubt it. The situation, as I see it, is rather simple.

The horseshoe is necessary if:

  • The breed your horse belongs to has naturally softer hoofs which can wear off faster on solid terrain
  • The horse participates in a variety of physical activities that demand an extra layer of protection
  • The horse has weaker legs and needs extra support

If you’re still unconvinced, I advise you to look for other articles or videos on the matter and make up your own mind. I only hope that this article was able to shed some light on this issue.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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