Why Do Horses Wear Shoes?

Why Do Horses Wear Shoes

I used to leave my horse barefoot. Just like many other horse owners, I grew up knowing that horseshoes are sometimes not the best. My horse started developing many foot issues, and the farrier visits became a little too many, and I thought that was normal. In hindsight, I would have saved my horse from the pain and me from unnecessary expenses by getting him shod. I wish I had known earlier just how helpful horseshoes can be.

Why do horses need shoes?

Shoeing horses is a hoof care practice that goes back several centuries. It was invented because even the best-footed horses need protection when they train, work, or walk for long periods carrying heavy loads. Most a time, those against horseshoeing live in areas with easy terrains, and they don’t work their horses as much. Leaving your horse unshod in adverse terrain and severe working conditions could lead to lameness. Watch out!

Why do horses wear shoes?


The gait or how a horse moves depends much on the structure of their feet. Shoeing a horse helps to improve performance by correcting gait. Gait correction with horseshoes works exceptionally well on young horses before the foot matures and takes on an uncorrectable outer shape.

So before deciding to shoe your horse for performance purposes, assess its hoof situation first to find out if the posture abnormality is caused by hoof length or trimming errors. If the problem is as severe as club foot where one foot is lower than the other, then you must explore shoeing.

When there is a mismatch in angulation between feet, the two legs cannot move uniformly. That kills speed. Shoeing offers a natural way to equalize the height and solve performance issues that result from mismatched feet.


Horseshoes protect the foot from bruising, splitting, and wearing. They provide working comfort and also prevent slippage when the animal moves on ice or slippery ground. Horseshoes protect the feet of horses from wearing down excessively. It also prevents the hoof wall from splitting.

Proper shoeing keeps the animal working in comfort. It helps to achieve a balanced foot with a normal axis and helps minimize injuries. The right type of horseshoeing keeps the pastern and hoof axis unbroken. It reduces uneven concussion on the foot and can help to cure hoof diseases and defects.


Horseshoes are strongly encouraged for medical reasons. Shoeing safeguards your animal from the risk of laminitis. The latter is an inflammation of the laminae in the hoof and manifests as lameness, warm feet, and sensitivity around the area.

Laminitis is caused by a series of factors that can all be resolved by getting your horse shod. These include trauma and concussion from running on hard surfaces, stones, and sharp objects. Laminitis is also a result of cold weather, colic, and taxaema. Shoeing is an effective remediation strategy against laminitis.

Other foot issues that compel the need for shoeing include:

  • Cracks
  • Hoof recession
  • Collapsed heels
Why Do Horses Need Shoes?
Why Do Horses Wear Shoes?

What are horseshoes made of?

A horseshoe is typically made of metal or polymer materials. The use of different materials produces varying weights of the shoe. You must know that weight influences the biomechanics and performance of your horse. A heavy shoe needs the animal to expend more energy in acceleration and deceleration in every limb cycle. A lighter shoe is good for performance.

Different materials also have varying degrees of durability, cushioning, and, cost-effectiveness. These are the critical factors for discussion between an owner, farrier, and vet with regards to horseshoeing.

The standard horseshoe is made of steel or aluminum designed to represent the shape of the hoof wall in relation to the ground. For proper fitting, the shoe needs to be wide enough to cover the hoof wall plus the adjoining sole. The best shoe is also flat in relation to the ground surface.

Note that horseshoes are designed differently based on the animals:

  • Breed type
  • Movement traits (whether the animal is a trotter or pacer)
  • Function (whether it’s a workhorse or a racehorse)

How often do shoes need to be replaced?

Regular shoe replacement is part of the best practices for better hoof health. As the owner, you must always be on the watch for indicators of loosening on the shoes. Worn horseshoes are also a danger; instead of preventing posture issues, laminitis, and other horse hoof problems, they can accelerate them

Experts concur that horseshoes need replacement after every 6 weeks. That’s the general rule of thumb. The process of changing horseshoes also allows for hoof trimming and resetting. You can only attain the right postural balance for your animal if the shoe fits right.

The hoof never stops growing even when the shoe is on. When the hoof grows, the nails around the shoe become loose. It, therefore, becomes problematic for the animal to keep the shoe on—this slippage can pose a severe danger to the animal’s foot. This is why you need regular trimming and resetting for your horse hooves and shoes.

There are tell-tale signs that your animal needs re-shoeing. Don’t ignore them. The signs include:

  • Loose nails pushing up from the hoof wall
  • Protruding nails on the out or underside of the shoe
  • Shoe loosens or comes off
  • Hoof has started to overgrow the shoe
  • The shoe has worn out unevenly or excessively
  • The shoe sits twisted on the foot

If you observe the 6-week rule, you won’t wait for these signs. These signs could mean that your animal is already sustaining damage to its hoof structure and tendons and ligaments. Usually, if there is too much wear to the metal, the shoe must be replaced. If it is an issue to do with overgrown hoofs, these can simply be trimmed as the old shoe is reset.

Why Do Horses Wear Shoes

Are horseshoes good for horses?

The shoeing versus barefoot debate has been in existence longer than any of us. There are compelling reasons for why you might have to leave your animal barefoot, and there are good reasons for shoeing.

If the animal has the right gait and hoof-leg contouring, and if they forage for their feed over long distances and do not carry heavy loads, don’t shoe them. These conditions naturally create better hoof health.

However if you are a modern horse owner like me who keeps your horse in a terrain that is plowed/irrigated and the animal does not walk long distances while grazing, you must consider shoeing. These animals, along with those that walk on concrete, wet stall bedding and roadways, have susceptibility for weaker and unbalanced hooves. Here is how:

  • In more humid regions, damp pastures and mushier soils soften the feet and make them susceptible to splitting
  • In stalls where there is constant exposure to urine, the ammonia in it weakens the keratin structure of the hooves
  • Horses that pull heavier weight or run faster need protection for their feet and postural alignment

Are horseshoes painful to horses?

Horse hooves are made of the same material as the human finger nail which is keratin. The horse doesn’t feel any pain during the shoeing or the resetting process. Horses do not feel pain when walking around in the shoes.

However, the animal can feel pain in these situations:

  • When an inexperienced farrier drives the nails too deep
  • When you ride hard immediately after shoeing

What are the dangers of horseshoes?

Brittle Feet

If the horseshoes are left on for long, they become loose and might pull off big chunks of material from the hoof structure in this process. This makes the hoofs weak and susceptible to cracking. Brittle hooves are painful and can lead to lameness.

Bad shoe

These are shoes with inferior designs. They fail to provide the right protection and cushioning for your animals’ feet. Some shoe designs interfere with the natural structure of the horse’ hoof, making it prone to splitting. Other designs produce excess vibrations that harm the tissues around the hoof. Some shoe types may also interfere with the traction and grip of the hoof on slippery surfaces.

Improper fitting of shoes

Shoes that are too large or too small spell trouble for the horse. If a shoe doesn’t fit well, it could lead to cracking and deformation of the hoof. If that is not addressed quickly, the issues could accelerate to soft tissue damage or permanent postural deformity in the feet.

Inexperienced or inept farrier

If an inexperienced farrier drives the nails deeper than is necessary, that could cause many hoof problems for your animal. For starters, it will be a painful experience for your animal, and they might sustain damage to the living tissues of the hoof. This form of horseshoe fitting also weakens the feet making them excessively brittle.

Advantages of shoeing a horse

  • Hoof protection and strengthening
  • Performance improvement
  • Medical protection against laminitis and other hoof conditions
  • Shock absorption for horses that carry heavy loads
  • Traction on slippery terrain

Disadvantages of shoeing a horse

  • Brittle feet and damage from nails and nail holes
  • Cracking hoofs and loss of balance
  • The risk of injuries when working with inexperienced carriers

The Bottom Line

There are strong arguments for shoeing a horse. There are also good reasons for leaving him barefoot. You are now a knowledgeable horse owner, and you can make an informed decision.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome Symptoms – What Now?

Equine Metabolic Syndrome Symptoms


The answer is SPRING!  You let your horse out on that lush green grass.  

Horses love lush green grass but alas along with that grass comes trouble in the form of equine metabolic syndrome symptoms. Watching your horse walk into the barn all stiffened up or not moving at all is heartbreaking.  I realize “Founder” can be caused by overweight or getting into too much feed but Spring green grass can be a major cause. But you say horses are made to eat grass and they love it. Yes, BUT………..

What Is Laminitis?

What happens is a condition very similar to Type II Diabetes. EMS leaves tissues less sensitive to insulin, which in turn causes the pancreas to produce more of this vital hormone. One dangerous disease that often results from EMS is Laminitis.

It’s the the high sugar content in the grass that signals the body to produce more insulin. The best and only way to avoid this is not putting your horse out on grass at all when it is growing fast. 

Some say not at all until grass matures up. If there is a dry spell and then it starts raining again and the grass starts growing fast treat this the same as that first spring grass.

When a horse starts to show signs of Laminitis until this point in time there has not been any positive way to stop the progression. In the simplest terms, Laminitis is the inflammation of the laminae within the horse’s hoof. Each hoof includes 550 to 600 primary laminae, each with 150 to 200 secondary laminae.

These tissues offer shock absorption during locomotion, holding the coffin bone in place and supporting the horse’s entire body weight against gravity during movement. When the laminae become inflamed, they fail to support the coffin bone.

The horse’s continued weight-bearing and movement can cause the coffin bone to rotate within the hoof or to sink toward the ground. The former occurs when laminae near the toe fail; the latter happens when the laminae throughout the hoof break down, a case commonly referred to as a “sinker.” Both can result in the coffin bone protruding through the sole.


Treating Laminitis

Regardless of whether the coffin bone remains in the hoof capsule or penetrates the sole, laminitis causes a painful, debilitating, and potentially deadly failure of basic hoof function. It is an absolute nightmare for both horse and owner.

Many years ago a man by the name of Bernie Chapman made the heart bar shoe very popular although I was taught to make and use one 20 years before that.  A heart bar shoe places pressure on the frog area with a V shaped metal piece about the size of the frog.

There are remedies that have been used like putting the horse’s feet into cold water or removing blood with a syringe out of the vein and injecting into the muscle. The goal was to get blood flow down to the horse’s feet. Results are not conclusive however.

Leather is added between the metal piece and frog.   When the shoe is nailed on it will put pressure on the coffin bone via the frog to help stabilize the coffin bone.

The Adjustable Heartbar Shoe

The problem I had with the heart bar shoe is getting enough pressure on the coffin bone to make it just right for the comfort of the horse because too much pressure would make the pain worse. Too little pressure wouldn’t do any good.

I made an adjustable heart bar shoe that had the heart bar hinged and then welded a bar across the shoe a third of the way down from the point of the heart bar. Once leather was added to the heart bar and the shoe was set in place the set screw I put in the welded bar could be adjusted to put pressure on the heart bar.

I adjusted the V shape piece heart bar by tightening the set screw and putting just enough pressure on the frog to relieve the coffin bone which is trying to come through the bottom of the sole.

I could tell by the way the horse would hold his leg when I held it up that when I would turn the set screw putting more pressure on the coffin bone via the frog the horse would pull his leg as the pain increased.  When I backed off on the set screw until the leg relaxed then I knew it was just right.

As the hoof grew pressure could be kept constant by adjusting the set screw. By keeping the pressure on the coffin bone it allows the hoof to grow properly instead of curling up. With just the heart bar shoe this could not be done.

In later years I seldom used the heart bar.  I would cut and rasp the front of the hoof as far back as possible without drawing blood and then put a regular shoe on backwards.  This would let the hoof break over much easier taking pressure off the coffin bone. I would always use leather Treadpads whenever possible to protect the bottom of the foot since the sole was very thin and extremely tender.

Treating Horse With Laminitis

I received a call from a farmer whose daughter’s horse had foundered. The coffin bone on this horse was through the soul on all four feet and fluid was coming out the bottom of the hoofs. The veterinarian had been there and wrapped all 4 feet but the horse could not stand and was in extreme pain.

My first thought was “NO WAY”. I did however manage while the horse was laying down to get 1 foot trimmed and a pad and shoe put on backwards. Not an easy job for me or comfortable for the horse.

The next day the farmer called and said the horse was up and standing on the shoed foot. I went back then and got the other front shoe on. I decided not to do anything with the hind feet at the time. The next day I went back and the horse was standing on both feet and moving a little.

We discussed keeping the horse only on dirt and fenced in with no grass anywhere in site. The road back was a long one. The first 6 months were hard on the horse with the retrimming and shoes but gradually he started getting better. After a year the daughter wanted to try riding him a little and by a year and a half they were flying down the trail.

I saw the veterinarian one day and he said he wanted to euthanize that horse the day he saw him.  Was so good to see both horse and girl happy and running around again. It’s amazing how one horse with Laminitis that bad could return to health when others you don’t think are that bad can’t seem to get better.

New Treatments Options

Infrared and vibration therapy are relatively new to the Equine industry.  There are indications they can help with a number of equine problem including Laminitis.

Vibration Therapy

EQUIVIBE states it is the first equine therapy plate in the United States that aids in the performance, rehabilitation and the prevention of injuries.   “EquiVibe Therapy works well for both young horses and horses in need of rehab. The vibration is proven to increase bone density and circulation while at the same time reducing muscle soreness and inflammation.

For young horses, the EquiVibe helps with bone density by stimulating the periosteum to lay down more bone. The vibration therapy also promotes faster hoof growth which can be helpful in the management of chronic Laminitis, under-run heels, or thin soles.”

Infrared Therapy

Infrared is another form of therapy that may hold some promise for helping with Laminitis. Photonic Health is a site that describes how infrared treatments can prove beneficial in the treatment of Laminitis

The Choice Is Yours

Over the years I have had success in treating other horses with Laminitis using both methods I described above. The best hope for horses with chronic Laminitis is to make them comfortable by keeping the length of the toe as short as possible and rasped off. This debilitating problem and the number two killer of horses that we have struggled with for years continues to baffle us as we look for ways to cope and cure.

Horse Thrush Treatment – Super Cheap – Super Effective

How To Cure Thrush In Horses

GRRRRRR! there it is again!  Looks like thrush!  Why? My stalls are clean, paddocks clean. How can it keep happening? Thrush and horse thrush treatment can be a pain, but I’ll show you way to ease your angst.

It’s not always dirt and wet that can cause thrush. It can be dry hooves but who knows it may be the way the frog is shaped that will hold moisture or bacteria.

First thing to do is to get the hoof trimmed properly and make sure the frog is trimmed. This could be a problem depending on how bad the frog is. If the frog is to the point where it is bleeding it can be very sore so trimming can only be done a little at a time as the healing takes place. Having the frog in a well trimmed state is very important as this will alleviate most of the thrush problems.

Horse Thrush Treatment

As a Farrier I’ve seen about every remedy. Some work, some didn’t.  Some caused more problems than you already have.  I do remember a procedure with Iodine crystals and turpentine that would make smoke come off the hoof.  It did help but not always handy to have around.  Then there is bleach. It will help but presents its own problems. Get any on the hairline and you will get burns and some very hard hoof. I never used it…too risky. 

Iodine will work but again if you use it too often it can make the hoof very hard. I did use it for painting the bottom of the sole to toughen them up if hooves got too wet for an extended period of time. There are over the counter products that may work like Thrush XX and Thrush Buster.  Might or might not work.

The Cheap Fix

So now you’ll get the remedy THAT WORKS from an ole retired Farrier (I hate saying ole Farrier).

SALTPETER! (potassium nitrate). I learned this many many many years ago from a Farrier I apprenticed with. It works, it is not hard to use, is not expensive and most times you will only have to apply it once to stop the thrush.

Clean and trim as much as possible from the hoof and frog area. Pour a layer of the Saltpeter (white crystals) onto the frog and down into the crevices.

Then with a blunt tool (I used a blunt screwdriver most of the time)start packing it in all the area where the thrush is.

At first the horse will be sensitive but the more you pack the area it will numb up and I recommend you pack it in really good. The Saltpeter can run anywhere and will not hurt the horse or hoof. Saltpeter can be purchased at many drug stores or you can order it online for a cost of only about $20. A small bottle will last for a long time.

There you have it.

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