Do Horses Need Shoes? Why You Might (or Might Not) Shoe Your Horse, Explained

Eva Hagan - Author

Oct. 16 2023, Published 2:32 p.m. ET

A close up photo of a horses hoof being lifted by a groomer with a view of the underside of the hoof.
Source: iStock

The Gist:

  • Horses wear shoes to protect their hooves from wearing down.
  • Domestic horses often need shoes because they wear down their hooves more quickly than wild horses.
  • Unlike horses, cows, donkeys, and other hoofed animals usually do not wear shoes, even while domesticated.
Article continues below advertisement

Have you ever wondered why horses need shoes but not other hoofed animals like cows or goats?

Horseshoes were made to protect the hoof of a horse, which are akin to the human toenail and can wear down over time depending on the horse's lifestyle and the terrain it occupies. There are even specific professionals, called farriers, who are equine hoof care specialists. But not all horses need horseshoes.

So, why do some horses need horseshoes and others don't?

A photo of a brown horse wearing a bridle while turning their head to the side in front of a blurry fall forest background.
Source: iStock
Article continues below advertisement

Why do horses need shoes?

According to PetMD, the use of horseshoes can be traced back to when horses were first domesticated. The horseshoe was made to protect the hoof of the domesticated working horse. A horse's hoof can grow weaker and wear down over time, especially if the horse is doing a lot of walking or carrying heavy weights. The hoof capsule can tear or crack under a lot of pressure, so the horseshoe is often employed to provide extra support for the hoof wall.

Despite the wide use of horseshoes, the practice has some drawbacks. Horseshoes can weaken the natural hoof and impair the horse's balance. In addition, there is the risk of human error when attaching the shoe, and if done incorrectly, it could damage the horses' hoof, per PetMD.

Article continues below advertisement
Two horses graze in a field on a farm with yellow fall leaves in the background.
Source: iStock

What kinds of horses need shoes?

Not all horses indeed need shoes. However, some types of horses benefit from wearing shoes over others.

According to Horse and Country TV, horses competing in equestrian sports and working horses wear horseshoes. Racing and jumping can put a lot of pressure on the hoof, much more than the horse would experience in the wild, and horseshoes can add durability and protection. Horseshoes can also provide extra stability and traction, which can be helpful for horses working in icy and wet weather conditions.

Article continues below advertisement

Wild horses do not need horseshoes. They often do not walk as much as domestic horses, and they usually travel over rough grassy terrain that wears their hooves out at a much slower rate than working horses, per Horse and Country TV.

Photo of a horse's hoof resting on a farrier's thigh while the farrier uses a tool to remove the metal horseshoe.
Source: iStock
Article continues below advertisement

Why do horses need shoes and not cows?

Despite being another large-hoofed animal, cows do not need shoes as horses do. There's a simple answer: cows don't do as much. Most cows, even domestic ones, just graze in fields for most of their lives, and their hooves do not undergo nearly as much stress as a horse's hooves, per Mental Floss.

Donkeys are also able to get by without shoes. Despite sometimes being used for domestic work, donkey hooves are known to be tougher than those of horses. Scientists predict this may be because they evolved from the African Wild Ass, which lived in rough desert mountains. According to BBC Science Focus, some people may still decide to put shoes on their domestic donkeys to prevent any possible hoof breakage.

More from Green Matters

Latest Kindness to Animals News and Updates

    Opt-out of personalized ads

    © Copyright 2024 Green Matters. Green Matters is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.