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Things Everyone Should Know About Horseshoes

by Wendy Sumner

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It goes without saying that pretty much every horse person has heard the saying “no hoof, no horse” at least once in their lifetime. Horseshoes serve a very important purpose, but how much do you know about them aside from the fact that your horse wears them? The need to put shoes on a horse or keep them barefoot is debated widely throughout the community.  In this article, we will cover some things everyone should know about horseshoes.


What are horseshoes made up of?

Plants: In Ancient Asia, horseshoes were made up of plants that worked for both protection and medicinal purposes. 

Rawhide and leather: The Romans used rawhide and leather straps called “hipposandals.” 

Metal: Metal horseshoes were first nailed on to horse’s hooves in Northern Europe around the sixth or seventh centuries.  The metal used was cast iron, bronze alloys, steel, and aluminum. This article from American Equus has more information on the history of the horseshoe. Today, the most common metal used is steel and aluminum. More recently, plastic shoes have come onto the market. 

Why put horseshoes on a horse?

The expression “no feet, no horse” can be very accurate. The debate on whether shoeing a horse is necessary for good feet is as old as the horseshoe itself. However, there are three main reasons to put shoes on a horse. 

  1. Protection: Some horses have soft, weak hooves that can be prone to break or bruise easily. Wearing a set of shoes can keep the hoof from wearing off too fast and unevenly. Having a set of shoes can also eliminate cracks in the hoof that can lead to serious lameness issues. 
  2. Traction: Horses that pull heavy loads or participate in certain sporting events like jumping or barrel racing need to have good traction. Think of it as the tread on a truck tire. If the tire is bald, there isn’t any traction. Certain types of horseshoes are designed to provide this traction. 
  3. Correction: A horse’s foot needs to have the proper form and structure to remain healthy. Often the term “balanced hoof” is used to describe a hoof that is capable of supporting the horse while functioning correctly. But what if the hoof is not balanced? Then a preventative hoof care program can be set up with your farrier and veterinarian to prevent any lameness issues, preferably before they happen. Here is an excellent article by Scott Morrison, DVM on shoeing to manage conformation faults in the sport horse.   


Different Kinds of Horseshoes

Human shoes come in all kinds and sizes. Horseshoes also come in different kinds and sizes. A working draft horse will require a larger shoe that is built for traction. A barrel horse will need a shoe made for traction but in a smaller size.

Here are a few of the most common horseshoes. There are a lot more options available than we cover here.

Fuller Front

The most common horseshoe is the Fuller Front. This shoe has a central crease, which fills up with soil and aids in the horse having better traction. 

Straight Bar

A Straight Bar horseshoe has a bar along the heel. The bar protects the heel and bulbs of the foot from bruising. This is a typical shoe used for horses with laminitis. 


Slider horseshoes can look like a typical shoe, or they can be a plate. This is a standard shoe used to assist the horse in performing the long sliding stops in a Reining pattern.


Rim horseshoes are similar to the Fuller front. But, the crease is deeper and expends all the way around the entire shoe. This gives the traction needed by jumping, eventing, dressage, or horses working on poor surfaces. 

Glue-on horseshoes

Glue-on horseshoes are relatively new on the market. Most farriers are unfamiliar with how to use them. They are designed to reduce concussion for a smoother ride on horses with poor conformation. Horses that have weak hoof walls and are frequently losing shoes can benefit from glue-on horseshoes. The downside is that they are generally more expensive, and the adhesive is not as durable as nails are. 

horseshoes and hoof care

Nailing on a horseshoe

A horse’s hooves are made up of a protein called keratin. Our fingernails are made of the same substance. The hoof walls surround and protect the inner parts of the hoof. Just like it doesn’t hurt to clip our fingernails, it doesn’t hurt to trim a horse’s hooves. With that being said, if the nail is not inserted correctly, it can cause the horse pain and even bleed. 

How to choose a farrier

Different disciplines may require different types of horseshoes. Be sure to hire a farrier that is familiar with your discipline needs. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Are they certified? Where did they get their education? How many years of experience do they have? Can they put your horse on a regular schedule? 

The cheapest farrier is not always the best idea. Be sure to ask for referrals. A horse’s hoof grows at approximately ¼ to ½ inch a month. A lousy trim or shoeing job can have a significant effect on the soundness and balance of the hoof. It can take months or even a year for the hoof to grow out so the horse can be worked again.    

Final Thoughts

Some horse owners prefer to keep their horses barefoot while others prefer to have horseshoes put on. The things to know about horseshoes are that they can be used for multiple reasons and disciplines. Also, they come in different types and sizes to accommodate different types and sizes of horses. If you decide to put shoes on your horse, be sure to ask the farrier a lot of questions!

Want to learn some helpful tips you should be doing in between farrier visits? Read about them here on iHeartHorses.com. 

6 Essential Things To Know About Horseshoes

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