Horseshoes are designed to protect horses hooves the same way shoes protect our feet. Horseshoes were popularized as horses became domesticated as a way to protect the horse's hoofs in inhospitable climates. Many breeds of horses were not bred with hoof strength in mind leading to weaker hoofs in some breeds. However, in normal condition horses do not need horseshoes and can go without, which is referred to as barefooting.
Horse hoofs are similar to human nails, only much thicker. Farriers will usually nail the horseshoe into the thick unfeeling part of the animal's hoof. While the center of the horse's hoof is very sensitive the outside feels no pain. Sometimes the farrier will opt to glue the shoe on instead. Be warned that your horse can lose its shoes, especially when riding in muddy conditions.
Some people think horses should never wear shoes and that if trimmed and maintained correctly, a horse can participate in any discipline and remain sound without them. Many barefoot proponents believe that even serious hoof problems that are traditionally treated with specialized shoeing by a farrier can be solved with natural trims, changing the footing the horse stands on, and changing its diet. Some people even maintain that shoeing is inhumane.
Should You Shoe Your Horse?
For most pleasure horses, shoes probably aren’t necessary, and sensible maintenance, including regular trimming, may be all that is needed. You need to pay attention to the wear of the hoof and the comfort of your horse as you ride over all sorts of footing. If your horse is getting sore feet, you have some several options. Your horse may need protection like hoof boots, that can be worn only when you ride. Or, you may opt for traditional nailed on shoes. There are also glued on shoes, which some view as more humane. The best resource for information about what hoof protection your horse may need is your farrier.
While barefooting is considered the ideal for horses, there are times when shoes are necessary. Horses that pull abnormal amounts of weight require shoes to prevent their hooves from wearing down. Shoes are often used to protect racing horses that have weak hoof or leg muscles. They are also used to give horses extra traction in the snow and ice.
The Dangers of Horseshoeing
Barefoot enthusiasts point to shoeing as the cause of many problems, and, indeed, poor shoeing can do more harm than good. But shoeing also has many benefits. Whether or not barefoot is best is up to you and your horse. Most farriers are very good at their jobs, but mistakes do happen. If the horse's hoof is brittle or damaged the nails used in horseshoeing can damage the hoofs further. Sometimes the nails are inserted incorrectly causing the animal pain and damaging the soft tissue in the hoof. An improperly placed or fitted shoe can cause damage when the animal walks, similar to the issues that arise when humans wear shoes that are too small.