Why Do Only Some Horses Wear Shoes?

Posted by Stacey Venzel

Wild horses don't need horse shoes, so why do some stable horses need them? And why don't all farm horses need shoes?

Hoof health determines whether or not a horse needs shoes. Diet and terrain play a role in the reason for horse shoes in domestic horses but not wild ones. On a farm, horses do not have to forage for food and they will never go hungry.

Due to domestication, horses' hooves grow faster, often requiring trimming by a farrier every six to eight weeks. In fact, horses can be overfed, leading to laminitis or founder.

horse race

The landscape also determines hoof health. Hard ground can cause concussive damage to the hooves, increasing the risk of navicular disease and other potential lameness issues. Mud can also weaken horse hooves, and this weakening is cause for horse shoes. Shoes can be imperative for hoof protection.

Sometimes, shoes are worn on all four feet while other times, a horse only dons shoes on its front feet. The purpose of the horse shoe is often to protect the hoof wall. Racing or jumping horses can develop cracks in their hooves, but a shoe helps strengthen the landing and offers added traction and additional protection, especially if the horse is traveling over long distances.

Rubber can be placed between the hoof and the shoe for extra cushioning as well, common in carriage horses trotting along pavement. A lighter shoe or different types of metal shoes can be chosen as well.

carriage horses

Prevention of ammonia infection from urine-soaked hay is also a reason shoes are used today, and the main reason they were historically implemented in horse care. If a horse spends most of its day inside the stable and the hay is only cleaned out once a day, a lot of ammonia builds up on the substrate within the enclosure. A horse shoe lifts the hoof off the ground, giving a protective barrier so that the hoof does not come in contact with the wetter areas.

Show breeds are sometimes fitted with shoes to change their gait, as with Tennessee Walkers. Farriers might also recommend shoes if a horse's gait is putting stress on its body.


Debate exists between horse owners about whether domesticated horses are better off "barefoot or shod." Generally, horses on rough or hard terrain, such as those that jump, race, or pull loads, use shoes. Horses that are mostly just pets hanging around on the farm might be less likely to wear a shoe, but other variables would have to be examined to decide if the horse is better off with a shoe.

Whether your horses wear shoes or are barefoot is a decision made between the owner, farrier, and veterinarian. Shoes might be in the best interest of the horse, but the equine might be okay without them on all four hooves or on any of them at all. It's all about how horse shoes help horses!

Does your horse have shoes? What do you think about horseshoeing? Tell us in the Facebook comments below. 

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Why Do Only Some Horses Wear Shoes?