Do Horseshoes Hurt Horses – Let’s Find Out

Last Updated on March 10, 2022

Do horseshoes hurt horses? A common question to the century-old human practice of using shoes to protect the hooves of their working horses. Horses need to wear shoes for many reasons. To an inexperienced eye, this practice looks painful, even barbaric, but it’s really not that bad.

History Of Horseshoes

The history of horseshoes predates many important human inventions. The first evidence of horseshoes dates as far back as 400 BC. Unlike today’s metal shoes, early horseshoes consisted of natural materials.

These materials included leather, rawhide, and plants. Leather shoes are known as hipposandals. While the first shoes provided protection for the horse’s hooves, they also comforted injuries. It is clear, even early on, that people realized that equestrian activities led to hoof damage.

History Of Horseshoes

When this train of thought reached Northern Europe’s wet climate in the 6th century, we found that horses needed sturdy shoes to help them grip the ground during work. This is when we first see the practice of nailing on horseshoes.

In the 19th-century, horseshoe production modernized with the ability to mass-produce them. In the early 20th century, horse riding as a sport started to increase in popularity. This further increased the need for shoeing horses.

Purpose Of Using Horseshoes

The main goal of putting shoes on a horse is to protect its hooves. Horses that do not work and spend their time retired or as pasture pets usually do not need horseshoes, unless for specific hoof conditions. However, horses used for work or riding will need the protection shoes to provide.

To understand why we use horseshoes, you first need to understand a little about the makeup of the hoof. The hoof is very similar to human fingernails, with both made from keratin. One difference is the part of the hoof sole called the frog. 

The frog is soft and tender, putting it at risk of injury. As a horse moves, the hoof naturally wears away. Shoes help reduce this wear, which can lead to thin soles and bruising. Shoes also help prevent hoof breakage.

Wild horses travel great distances over a variety of terrain. This action naturally wears the hoof and develops thick, sturdy soles. However, a domesticated horse that lives in managed pastures, moves less, and primarily works on flat ground, do not wear their feet naturally. The terrain and limited movement make the hoof more fragile, and the need for shoes comes in.

Some horses suffer from conditions that create pain in the hoof or tendons of the leg. These horses often need special horseshoes designed to provide support and relief on joints and specific tendons. 

Does Shoeing A Horse Hurt It

If you are not familiar with horses and hoof anatomy, the act of hammering nails into a horse’s foot looks like it causes pain. In one way, this is correct, but only if it is not done by a farrier trained in the job. 

Putting shoes on a horse so it doesn’t hurt requires the skills a qualified farrier learns. It is not something any horseman can do. If you pick up a horse’s foot, you can see a line around the edge of the hoof. 

Nails are hammered into this line in a specific way. The hoof has no nerves in this area, and it does not cause any pain. If a nail penetrates another part of the hoof, such as the sole or frog, it can cause severe pain and even lead to infection.

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Is Barefoot Better For The Horse

A growing trend of leaving the horse barefoot is causing a lot of debate in the equestrian world. On one extreme, some people feel that a horse should never wear horseshoes. They believe that shoes actually cause long-term damage and weaken the hoof.

Long-term use of shoes prevents the hoof from developing a strong thick sole. Shoes can also interfere with the natural action of the hoof and allowing the ideal amount of slip when the foot touches the ground. Since shoes lift the hoof higher from the ground, it can actually increase slippage beyond the ideal amount.

A good farrier will find the best balance for the individual horse when applying horseshoes. Some competitive riders find that their horses stay sounder when they are barefoot. However, some horses just don’t do well barefoot.

These horses might have a hoof condition or have sensitive feet. Shoes help prevent soreness. Horses doing high levels of jumping will usually need the extra support that shoes offer. Shoes also add the extra piece of mind when competition horses compete on different surfaces away from home.

Is Barefoot Better For The Horse

Conclusion About Are Horseshoes Painful?

So do horseshoes hurt horses? The simple answer is no. If done correctly, a shoe causes no pain. Not all horses need shoes, but it is important to avoid the extreme mentality of never using them.

Work with your farrier to find the best trimming or shoeing solution for your horse. The most important thing to aim for is a healthy hoof. As the saying goes, ‘no hoof, no horse’.

Is it cruel to put horseshoes on horses?

Horseshoeing is often seen as cruel practice, but in reality horses don’t feel any pain while either attaching or removing the horseshoe from the hoof as long as this is done correctly. The horseshoe is a relatively thin piece of metal which is attached to the hoof by nails. It protects the hoof and also makes sure that the horse has the necessary balance in his hoof.
So, what is it that makes horseshoes so important? A horseshoe is an integral part of a horse’s foot and helps to protect the hoof from injury when ridden or trotted on hard surfaces such as concrete and asphalt. It also provides a stable base for the hoof to rest on. Without a properly fitted shoe, the hoof can be damaged and even result in lameness.

Do horses feel pain in their hooves?

No, a horse doesn’t feel any pain while attaching the horseshoe as there are no nerve endings in the outer part of a horse’s hoof. The outer part of the horse’s hoof is very similar to human nails. As you know we also don’t feel pain when clipping our nails.
The sole of a horse’s hoof has several layers and is covered with a tough keratin called hoof horn. It is a natural protective covering that protects the sensitive soft tissue inside of the hoof. The horseshoe is attached to this hard outer layer. But because the hooves are still growing, even with the horseshoe attached, a farrier have to trim hooves every time before replacing a horseshoe. 
However, a horse can feel pain is softer layers of the hoof that have nerve endings. This is why you must check the hooves regularly and remove any foreign objects that may be lodged in between the wall of the hoof and the sole. 

Why do wild horses not need shoes?

The main reason that wild horses don’t need shoes is because they move a lot, run long distances and wear their hooves down this way. Wild horses also live in open areas, where the ground is hard, which means that they have to walk on rocky surfaces. This will further wear down their hooves. They also don’t have to walk on roads or concrete surfaces like domestic horses and therefore have no need for horseshoes.

How much is it to shoe a horse?

A normal price that the typical full-time U.S. farrier charges to trim hooves and nail horseshoes on all four legs is around $130. Part-time farriers charge a bit less for the same amount of work, about $95 on average. 

How long do horseshoes last?

Horseshoes come in various sizes and shapes, and they typically attach to the hoof of a horse with nails that are hammered into the horseshoe and into the hoof wall. These nails hold the horseshoe in place but as the hoof grows, the nails get loose, and the effectiveness of the horseshoe is lost. This happens in average every six weeks. Once the nails become loose, the horseshoes need to be removed, the hoof has to be trimmed, and a new shoe reattached. The exact time between these removal and replacement depends on the type of shoe and the age of the horse.