Why Do Horses Need Horseshoes?

Do horses need shoes?

There can’t be a definite “Yes” or “No” answer since all horses are different and people shod their horses for various reasons.

If you’re conflicted on whether to shoe your horses or not, I’ve got you covered.

In this post, I discuss the purpose of horseshoes, what may happen if they don’t wear shoes and some alternatives to horseshoes.

READ MORE: Do Horseshoes Hurt Horses?

What Are Horseshoes?

man's hand holding horseshoes: do horses need shoes for trail riding?

Horseshoes are U-Shaped metallic devices used to shield horse hooves from wearing out.

They are designed to fit the hoof’s ground side (also known as the palmar surface). And are often fitted using nails or glue.

A hoof is like a human’s fingernail- made from a protein known as keratin, and it lacks nerves. As a result, a nail can go through it, and the horse won’t feel a thing.

Horseshoes are often made from steel, though some modern types may be made of synthetic materials.

What Are Horseshoes Used For?

Horseshoes have been in use since horses were first domesticated. Let’s look at why horse owners may need to shoe their horses.

Protect The Hooves from Extra Weight

In the wild, horses don’t have to worry about pulling carts or carrying a rider for several hours.

But domesticated horses are subjected to this kind of work, which applies extra pressure to hooves, quickening their wear rate.

Horseshoes come between the hooves and the ground, protecting them from damage.

Horses Living Conditions

Wild horses are known for walking for several hours in rough terrain. You may not know that these conditions allowed them to trim and harden the hooves naturally while ensuring healthy hoof growth.

But domesticated horses may not walk that much, and when they do, it’s often on softer ground or even wet ground.

The soft ground, in turn, softens the hooves and makes the hooves grow faster than the ground can trim them naturally.

Another reason why domesticated horses may need horseshoes is because of exposure to ammonia in the urine.

Ammonia is known to break down the keratin, making the hooves softer and increasing the wear rate. Ammonia is also associated with respiratory issues in horses.

Using appropriate bedding can help protect your horses from ammonia, but it helps to have extra protection with the horseshoes.

For A Better Grip

While horses seem to have the most sound walking styles, it doesn’t stop them from tripping. This may be due to unfavorable terrain, or the horse is inexperienced and hasn’t mastered the gait yet.

According to Rachel Cohen, horseshoes were first used by the Romans since the Northern European ground was softer and horses struggled to gain traction on the roads.

Also, horses participating in events such as show-jumping, horseback trail riding, or any other form of eventing with different surface types, horseshoes can be used to improve friction, provide additional traction, and minimize tripping.

For A More Pronounce Gait

Various horse breeds have different gaits (walking styles), which are even exhibited in horse shows. While a horseshoe can’t help instill the gait, it helps make it look more attractive.

Correcting A Defect

If a horse suffers from arthritis, lameness, damaged hooves, unbalanced feet, or other defects, it may affect its gaits.

Horseshoes can be used to correct these gaits in a process known as corrective shoeing. This process is typical for horses participating in equestrian sports, where a horse needs to have a perfect gait to compete.

Check this well-explained video:

Why Do Horses Need Shoes?

men putting shoes to the horse hooves but do horses need shoes for trail riding?

As I mentioned earlier, there’s no definite “Yes” or “No” answer to this question. Whether a horse needs shoes or not depends on a lot of factors, which include;

  • Work – If you’re planning to heavily train the horse for racing, to work as carriage horses, or any other track events on harder ground, they’ll need shoes to handle the surfaces you’re training them on.
  • Rate of wear – Some horses can handle rough surfaces better than others. Some factors that can affect the rate of wear include the horse’s breed. Some breeds have softer hooves than others. Another factor is weight. A heavy horse will wear out the hooves faster than a lighter one.
  • Genetics – If the horse’s lineage has a history of poor conformation, imbalances, or laminitis, then you may need to consider shoeing the horse. It’s important to note these issues at an early age to correct them (more on this later) effectively.

The most important thing to do is to make sure your horse gets the necessary hoof care they need.

Also, no matter how careful you may be, some horses may still experience imbalances, lameness issues, or other illnesses.

Therefore, adhere to regular horse care practices such as trimming and regular visits to the farrier to ensure a horse’s hoof health and overall health.

A good vet or farrier should be able to discern any issues with the horse and find the most appropriate method for hoof protection.

At What Age Should You Shoe a Horse?

baby horses playing

It’s best to start early (when the foal is at least 4 weeks old), especially when diagnosing any deformities.

This is because it’s easier to adjust the hoof capsule of a younger horse than it is for an older horse.

Whether you’re shoeing or not, you should start by trimming the horse’s hooves at this age and every 4 to 6 weeks.

This will help reduce the strain on their feet and help determine any balance issues or deformities from an early age.

What Happens if Horses Don’t Wear Shoes?

Again, this depends on several factors. If your horse has no defects, will not participate in any rigorous sports or work, and is receiving occasional trimming, nothing will happen.

On the other hand, not shoeing could lead to poor gaits, imbalances, wear and splitting of the hooves. If you don’t want to shoe your horses, below are some alternatives for your athletic horses.

Horse Protective boots –

These protective boots for horses work like people’s shoes where you only put them on your horse for temporary protection when riding on rough terrain and remove them after riding. Hoof boots are also cheaper than horseshoes.

Clip-on –

These are the perfect barefoot horse boots. As the name suggests, they clip onto the hoof without nails, boots, or sophisticated mechanisms like in the horse boots.

They are often made of plastic and help absorb most of the strain when riding in rough terrain and provide additional protection without compromising the horse’s comfort.


Do Horse Shoes Hurt the Horse?

man brushing his horse's shoes but do horses need shoes?

Yes, if installed wrongly. Horseshoes aren’t supposed to hurt since they are installed on the outer thicker hoof walls that protect the internal structures. However, the nails could reach the hooves’ soft tissue, causing pain and discomfort.

Why Do Wild Horses Not Need Shoes?

wild horses

Because they don’t carry any extra weight, participate in fast and rigorous sports, and their hooves have adapted to their environment. On the other hand, domestic horses are exposed to conditions that cause weaker hooves that easily wear out.

Can Horses Be Ridden Without Shoes?

Yes, but it’s not a good idea. The extra weight of the rider and the unfavorable terrain could damage the hooves, leading to lameness in unshod horses. If you want to ride them barefoot, make sure the horse has lived in such terrain for a long time to allow the hooves to harden naturally.

What Is the Average Cost to Shoe a Horse?

The cost of shoeing a horse ranges between $60 and $300 depending on where you are and the skill level of the farrier. Farriers also charge anywhere between $25 and $80 for trimming.


Shoeing a horse and riding barefoot are both okay, depending on the activities your horse is involved in. What matters most is taking care of their feet by taking each horse to a qualified farrier or vet regularly, and observing any medical conditions, discomfort, or imbalances they may be experiencing.


“Functional Anatomy of the Horse Foot.” 2021. Missouri.edu. 2021. https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/g2740.

“Horse Shoes History.” 2012. Archive.org. 2012. https://web.archive.org/web/20120306031347/http:/www.equisearch.com/horses_care/health/hoof_care/eqhorsesho610/.

“Popular Mechanics.” 2011. Google Books. 2011. https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=lNsDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA552&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false.

man hammering horseshoes
Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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