Why do horses wear shoes?

Ernie the Eagle

We have answers to your kids' questions about horse shoes!

Horses wear shoes for a variety of reasons.

Horseshoes were invented and applied more than 2,000 years ago when horses were first domesticated. Riders, farmers and cavalrymen began to realize that the work requirements of their horses were wearing down their feet faster than their feet could grow. This caused gait interference and even lameness, so the horseshoe was invented.

Did you know that a horse grows a complete new foot in the span of one year? Horses need their feet trimmed and their shoes reset on a scheduled basis because their feet are always growing. Also, horse’s feet are elastic, which means that their feet are always expanding and contracting, like lungs when you breathe. This is why a properly fitted shoe is so important.

Wearing shoes provides all of the following to horses and their feet: protection, traction, gait improvement and aide in soundness. Farriers shoe horses to provide one or all of the above, depending on each horse’s needs. For instance, horses that pull Amish buggies need more traction because they are trotting on the asphalt. Without good shoes that have a lot of traction, a horse may slip on the pavement. Also, you can help a horse move with a better stride at the trot with lighter shoes. There are many different ways to shoe a horse to provide protection, traction, gait improvement and to help with soundness. Each horse is different and will require different shoes.

There are two types of shoes: (1) an open-heeled shoe which is rounded over the front of the hoof but does not close in the back and (2) a bar shoe that wraps around the entire hoof, even the back of the foot. The most commonly used material for shoes is steel and a close second is aluminum. Most farriers prefer steel because of the ease of placement and the ease of modifying the shoe to fit the horse’s foot. Aluminum is popular because it is lighter and can help the horse move with a freer, more flowing gait.

There are two ways to shoe a horse: (1) a hot shoe is when the farrier heats the shoe in a cast iron stove and molds the shoe on to the foot and (2) a cold shoeing is when the farrier just applies the shoe without heating it first. Shoes can be applied with nails, or with a new application that includes gluing the shoe on the foot. Nailing shoes on the horse’s feet does not hurt them, unless the nail is placed improperly.

As you can see, shoeing horses is a very important business. Shoeing a horse is not an easy task. Farriers have to be well educated about different ways to shoe and what shoeing techniques provide what outcomes to horses. That is why the farrier is one of the most important people a horse will meet.

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