If you’re a horse owner, you’re likely pretty close with your farrier. When it comes to horse hooves, farriers know everything there is to know, from trimming hooves to fitting horseshoes and more. A farrier’s experience and knowledge are invaluable, and though a great farrier will take the time to explain their methods and give advice, we know it can be tricky to keep all that information straight. In this guide, we’ll look at the different types of horseshoes, what they’re commonly used for, and the benefits that they provide to your horse so you can be in-the-know during your next farrier visit.
What is a horseshoe?
A horseshoe is a U-shaped metal plate specifically designed to be nailed to the hooves of horses and other working animals, such as mules and donkeys. Horseshoes are primarily used to protect the hooves of these animals and provide additional traction, particularly when used on hard or rough surfaces, like roads, pavements, or rocky terrain.
The practice of shoeing horses dates back to ancient times, and it remains a common practice in modern equestrian and working horse industries. The horseshoe is typically made of steel or aluminum, though historically, other materials like iron were used. The horseshoe’s shape conforms to the natural curve of a horse’s hoof and is designed to provide stability and protection, reducing the risk of wear, cracks, or injuries to the hooves.
Shoeing horses is usually performed by a professional farrier, who is skilled in fitting and applying horseshoes properly. The process involves cleaning and shaping the hoof, fitting the appropriate horseshoe, and then nailing it into the hoof wall.
Do all horses need horseshoes?
Not all horses need shoes. Horses that spend most of their time in soft, natural terrains, like grassy pastures, may not need horseshoes as their hooves tend to wear naturally. Wild horses, for example, don’t wear horseshoes at all because their hooves are sturdy and adapt to their environment. However, horses that engage in activities like riding, racing, pulling heavy loads, or traversing harder surfaces usually benefit from the added protection and support provided by horseshoes.
Whether a horse requires horseshoes or not depends on several factors, including the horse’s hoof health, conformation, and the type of work or activity they engage in. Let’s look at some types of horses that would benefit from wearing horseshoes.
Riding and performance horses
Horses used for riding, jumping, racing, or other performance disciplines often wear horseshoes to provide additional support and protection to their hooves during strenuous activities.
Horses used for pulling carts, plowing fields, or carrying heavy loads may require horseshoes to protect their hooves from the strain of these tasks and provide traction on hard surfaces.
Horses with hoof issues
Some horses may have hoof problems or conformational issues that make them more susceptible to injuries or excessive wear. Conditions like founder (laminitis), thrush, and white line disease all affect the integrity of the horse’s hoof, making it difficult to walk normally. In such cases, a farrier may recommend using horseshoes to help manage these conditions.
Horses with therapeutic needs
Just like people, horses sometimes need orthopedic shoes. Conditions like navicular, ring bone, side bone, and even osteoarthritis can all affect your horse’s hooves and joints. Many of these conditions are painful and can worsen over time. In certain therapeutic cases, specialized shoes or orthotics may be used to support and correct specific hoof conditions.
8 types of horseshoes
There are tons of different horseshoe options, each with its own set of benefits and uses. Here are some common horseshoe types.
1. Keg horseshoes
These are the most common type of U-shaped horseshoes, typically made of steel. A Keg horseshoe’s simple U shape includes a center groove for the nails to be hammered into. Keg horseshoes are basic but durable and provide good support for horses engaged in a wide variety of activities.
2. Straight bar horseshoes
Bar shoes are fully enclosed compared to the U shape of classic horseshoes. Straight-bar shoes have a flat bar on the heel of the hoof that encloses the horseshoe. These horseshoes offer additional support and stability for hoof walls and are often used for horses with certain hoof issues or injuries.
3. Eggbar horseshoes
Eggbar shoes have a rounder shape that resembles an egg and have a curve instead of a straight bar against the heel. These horseshoes provide support to the back of the hoof and are commonly used to relieve pressure on the heels or support weak heels in horses.
4. Heart bar horseshoes
As the name suggests, heart bar horseshoes are heart-shaped and are primarily used in therapeutic situations or when a hoof injury has occurred. The extra section provides frog support for horses with laminitis and may also be supplemented with padding for added relief.
5. Racing plates
Racing plates are lightweight horseshoes typically made from aluminum. they help reduce weight while still providing some level of protection and traction for the horse. As the name suggests, racing plates are used for racehorses.
7. Studded or traction horseshoes
Also referred to as heel or toe caulks, these horseshoes have added studs or traction devices for better grip on slippery surfaces, such as ice or muddy terrain. Farriers typically add studs to the two back points of the horse’s heel and sometimes the toe for added grip.
8. Glue-on horseshoes
Instead of traditional nailing, these horseshoes are glued directly to the hooves, offering an alternative for horses with certain hoof issues or when traditional nailing is not possible. Glue-on shoes are typically made of plastic or other material to allow the shoe to expand and contract naturally with the hoof.
Horseshoes are traditionally made out of metal, with steel being the most commonly used material. However, equestrians can easily find horseshoes made from many different materials.
Historically, iron was commonly used for horseshoes, and some farriers still use it today. While not as popular as steel due to its weight and density, iron shoes can still be found occasionally (or even used as decoration around the barn).
Steel is by far the most common material used for horseshoes due to its weight and durability. Steel horseshoes are perfect for a wide variety of activities, including equestrian sports, trail riding, and injury treatment.
Aluminum horseshoes are much lighter than steel horseshoes, making them suitable for horses that need less weight on their hooves, such as racehorses or horses that require quick movements
Rubber horseshoes help protect horses’ joints and alleviate pressure for horses that frequently work on hard surfaces. Rubber horseshoes can either be glued or nailed in, depending on the construction of the shoe.
These horseshoes are made of synthetic materials like polyurethane or plastic. They are lightweight, flexible, and can be an alternative for horses with allergies to metal.
Composite horseshoes are gaining popularity in some spheres for their versatility. Composite shoes are typically made from plastic or rubber and feature a metal core for durability. These shoes provide the best of both worlds, with flexibility and comfort from synthetic materials and the durability of metal.
How farriers select horseshoes
The right horseshoes for your horse are essential for their comfort, performance, and overall hoof health. Your farrier will take the following into consideration when choosing the right horseshoes for your horse.
1. Hoof condition
For horses with hoof diseases or conditions, you should always work closely with both your farrier and your veterinarian when shoeing your horse. If your horse has any existing hoof issues or abnormalities, the farrier will suggest specialized shoes or corrective measures to address those concerns. In these cases, the shoes your farrier suggests will help provide relief to your horse and help correct (if possible) any hoof issues present.
Learn more: An Introductory Guide to Lameness in Horses
2. Activity level
Different horseshoes are designed for various activities. For instance, racehorses may benefit from lightweight aluminum shoes, while working horses might require more durable steel shoes. The farrier will take your horse’s workload and the surfaces they’ll be traversing into consideration when fitting horseshoes.
3. Terrain and environment
The type of terrain your horse frequents matters. Horses working on hard surfaces or rocky terrain might require shoes with better traction, while those in soft pastures might not need shoes at all. Let your farrier know what type of conditions your horse will be working in so they can shoe your horse accordingly.
4. Hoof sensitivity and allergies
Some horses may have sensitivity to certain metals. In such cases, non-metallic shoes made of synthetic materials like polyurethane or plastic might be suitable. Be sure to communicate any allergy or sensitivity issues with your farrier.
5. Hoof conformation
The horse’s overall conformation can influence the choice of horseshoes. For example, horses with certain hoof angles or structural issues may benefit from specific shoe designs. Your farrier should evaluate your horse’s specific hoof confirmation and choose a horseshoe that fits accordingly.
What to consider when your horse gets new shoes
While you should always defer to your farrier when shoeing your horse, there are certain things you can ask or request during an appointment.
If you have a preference for horseshoe material, communicate that with your farrier. For example, most competition horses benefit from lighter-weight aluminum horseshoes, so if your horse participates in any events or competitions you can request aluminum shoes instead of steel or iron.
If your horse is a working horse and you think he could benefit from studs or caulk, ask your farrier to drill the holes necessary for these accessories. Additionally, you can request toe or quarter clips if you want a more secure shoe on your horse.
Horseshoe pads help absorb the impact from jumping. This helps protect hooves and joints from excessive strain over long periods of time. If your horse frequently participates in hunter-jumper events, ask your farrier about adding horseshoe pads.
Best practices for horse shoe maintenance
Though you should defer to your farrier when it comes to the best horseshoes for your horse, here are a few things to keep in mind in regard to shoeing your horse.
- Stay on top of hoof maintenance. Regardless of the type of shoes, ensure regular trimming and maintenance of the hooves. Proper hoof care is crucial for overall hoof health and the success of shoeing.
- Monitor your horse’s behavior with new horseshoes.If you’re trying a new type of horseshoe, monitor how your horse reacts to them during and after use. Look for signs of discomfort or improved performance, and don’t be afraid to adjust if something isn’t working.
- Avoid DIY shoeing. Applying horseshoes requires specialized skills and knowledge. Avoid attempting to shoe your horse yourself if you are not a trained professional. Improperly fitted shoes can lead to serious injuries.
- Check in regularly with your farrier. Hooves grow continuously, and horses’ needs can change over time. Regularly schedule appointments with your farrier to assess your horse’s hoof health and the ongoing suitability of the chosen horseshoes.
- Remember that environmental heat factors can cause your horse’s shoes to wear faster. If you notice that your horse’s shoes don’t last as long in hot weather, don’t blame your farrier. This is typical in the heat, so it’s important to keep an eye on the state of your horse’s shoes in the summer months.
Once your horse is fitted with some new shoes, grab some wraps or bell boots from The Farm House to give your horse extra protection, comfort, and support!
Outfitting your horse with the right horseshoes is just one of the ways to care for your horse well. Learn more about how to keep a happy and healthy horse–
- What to Feed Your Horse
- The Ultimate Guide to Deworming Your Horse
- How to Choose the Best Horse Fly Spray
- How to Care for Your Horse’s Teeth
Your horse isn’t the only one who needs supportive and comfortable shoes for riding! Shop our large selection of quality English riding boots from top brands, or choose from The Farm House Tack team’s hand-picked list of the best riding boots.
You might also like: