It’s All About the Shoes


I’ve been asked many times, “Why do we shoe horses?  Horses in the wild don’t need shoes…”  Good question, great issue to discuss!   Why DO we put shoes on our horses and ponies?  

There is archeological evidence of hoof protection being used by the Romans.  By the height of the Middle Ages in Europe, metal horseshoes with nails were quite commonplace.  Horseshoeing developed as horses were asked to work in uneven, wet, muddy, hard or frozen ground.  Working horses are exposed to conditions that can cause cracking and breaking.    Poor hoof health will contribute to lameness and other more serious health issues.  Shoeing protects from bruising, supports weaker hoof walls, and helps prevent cracked hooves.  Well-cared-for hooves with the correct hoof angle help the horse carry more weight and be more comfortable.

Farrier nailing in a shoe

Most working horses will have shoes.  As you might expect, by the 21stcentury, horseshoeing has become quite sophisticated, with many different choices and options.  Modern horseshoes are usually made of steel, aluminum or composite materials.

A traditional horseshoe will be in the general U-shape, nailed into the hoof and have clips.  But there are many variations.  Here are a few:

Bar shoes:  A bar shoe is horseshoe that is enclosed across the heel, providing extra support where the horse most needs it.   

Eggbar Horseshoe

Eggbar shoes: egg shaped, it supports the whole leg by changing the distribution of weight over hoof.  It can support a horse who has sensitive heels.

Heart bar shoes:  heart shaped, the bar covers a portion of the frog, providing support to a horse that has foundered, who needs the extra support and encouragement of better blood circulation.

Shoes with full pads:  Used for horses whose hooves are particularly sensitive to stones and bruising.

Degree pads:  Used for setting the foot at the correct angle to keep the horse comfortable.

Heartbar horseshoe

Shoes with rim pads: Lifts the foot higher, providing for good air circulation while providing additional support.

Rolled toes up front: Done so that a horse’s foot can break over more easily.  Often done when a horse is low in the heel and grows a long toe.

Squared toes in back:  Done to prevent overreaching and grabbing the front heels.

Front shoes only:  Horses carry more weight on the front end and are more apt to need support in the front.  Their back feet may be healthy enough to exist without shoes.

Back shoes only:  It is rare, but usually happens when a horse has generally healthy feet but the back legs need support by correcting the angle foot.

Boriums/studs:  these are horseshoe variations that  provide extra traction, either for icy, muddy or other slick surfaces.

There is also opinion that horses and ponies should always be shoeless.   The greatest argument may be because horses were designed to live that way!  True benefits may be that going shoeless provides more flex in the hoof walls and better stimulus of the frog, contributing to better blood circulation.  Being shoeless can also keep the horses are in natural balance.  In theory if a horse is on rough enough footing, the natural wearing down may be better…but necessarily for all.  Enough inherent foot issues exist in horses to carefully analyze the best solution for each horse or pony.

What do you do with your old horseshoes?!

Many people hang a horseshoe for good luck.  Ends up:  it collects all the good luck.  Ends down:  it spreads good luck to those around it.  What do you believe?

Thank you to our staff at Windrush for contributing valuable information to this blog!