Horseshoes 101: Why Do Horses Need to Wear Them?

Posted by Crystal Long
Horseshoes 101

Who invented horseshoes, and why are they so important?

Whether it's used as a good luck charm or to keep horses' hooves protected, the horseshoe is an important part of the United States equestrian culture. But what is the history behind the U-shaped metal shoes on horses' feet?

For centuries, pros known as farriers have been involved in horseshoeing and maintaining hoof care for horse owners. And while true origins of who exactly invented the horseshoe are unknown, they are alleged to have originated from the Romans - as traced back to the Roman poet, Catullus, where in the 1st century BC, he talks about a mule losing his shoe.

The Lowdown

The first-ever mode of transportation we discovered is undoubtedly by horseback. Yes, long before any trains or airplanes ever existed, we relied on our trusty steed to get around. But it wasn't until 400 BC when there was evidence of the earliest forms of horseshoes. (Thanks to a pair of bronze horseshoes with nail holes found in an Etruscan tomb in 1897.) The horseshoe was born out of necessity: In parts of Northern Europe where the weather is frigid and wet, horses had trouble getting ahold of the ground with just their bare horse's hooves - and ta-da! The first concept of the cast iron horseshoe is born; the idea of nailing metal shoes to a horse's feet.

Early adaptations of the horseshoe were made from various materials including plants, rawhide, and leather strap gears that were referred to by the Romans as "Hipposandals." (Yes I know, the modern horseshoe doesn't have anything to do with hippos OR sandals!) While in ancient China, horse owners made hoof boots out of woven plants to protect their horses' feet. Horseshoeing became so common that by the late 1800s, classes were available for farriers to learn proper hoof care, horseshoeing, and the right farrier tools and farrier supplies to use. Modern metal shoes today are commonly aluminum steel horseshoes.

Why Do Horses Need Horseshoes?

As early as we discovered the domestication of horses, we realized the need to protect horses' hooves and maintain proper hoof care. Whether your steed is involved with dressage, or other equestrian sports such as cross-country or show-jumping, or in horse racing, it is vital to protect your horse's feet. Shoeing your horse is crucial to maintaining balance in your horse's hooves and farriers will also utilize shoes to correct issues and to complete the horse soundness - either by hot shoeing, where the farrier heats and shapes the shoe to the exact fit, or cold shoeing, where the farrier will simply fit the correct shoe size to the horse's hooves.

Yes, the game of horseshoes also exists -- Players alternate throwing horseshoe sets at an opposite stake, with the object to score three points with a "ringer." Don't worry: the National Horseshoe Pitching Association (NHPA) has you covered with specifics from scoring to "leaners" for up-and-coming horseshoe pitchers.

Do you ride horses? Do you put shoes on your horse? Let us know in the comments!

READ MORE: 20 Most Popular Horse Breeds Around the World

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Horseshoes 101: Why Do Horses Need to Wear Them?