It is a common belief that a horseshoe brings luck. People hang single horseshoes on doorways to usher in good fortune. Some even go to the extent of trying to procure used horseshoes from blacksmiths. How many of us have taken a worn and used horseshoe in our hands and wondered how it must feel to be in a horse’s shoes, literally? Has anyone ever wondered why horses need these shoes in the first place? Or why wild horses do not need them? Let us endeavor to know some more about this innocent-looking piece of metal and what it means for horses.
What is a horseshoe?
A horseshoe is a U-shaped piece of metal fixed to the bottom of horses’ hooves. These are meant to provide a degree of protection to the hooves of domestic horses. Blacksmiths who specialize in making horseshoes are called farriers. They are experts in the area of horse footwear so to say. Not only do they fashion these shoes but also help put them on. In fact, they are the equivalent of wheel balancing mechanics for cars. The blacksmiths balance and trim the horses’ hooves in order to keep them in good shape. It is essential to find a good farrier if one is a horse owner. This is because horseshoes and good fit are extremely vital for the overall health of horses.
Materials used to make horseshoes
Usually, horseshoes are made of metals like steel and aluminum. In some cases, these days, horse-shoes can also be found in plastic and rubber. Steel is the choice of metal mainly because of its long life. This is a characteristic that is especially needed in horses that are into competitive sports. They have to be in top shape to perform at their best level. A farrier can best judge what kind of material would be ideal for a particular horse. This depends on the purpose for which the horse will be used. These shoes are nailed onto the insensitive wall of the hoof by the farrier.
Why horses need shoes?
Horses have been domesticated and used for different purposes over centuries by humans. From carrying loads, human or otherwise, to jumping in sports, to pulling carriages and much else, domestic horses work a lot.
Horse hooves are of the same material as human nails. They are made of keratin. And they keep growing. After a point of growth, they are just insensitive hard nails. However, here comes the crucial part. Domestic horses work on all sorts of unnatural surfaces. They walk on concrete, for example. They also encounter a lot of hard surfaces in the course of their duties.
On top of this, they carry loads of different kinds. Be it humans or objects or carriages with humans, their hooves take a lot of beating. This is why good shoes are extremely vital for domestic horses. In fact, not only good quality shoes but also good fitting shoes are a must.
As seen earlier, horse-shoes are nailed onto the insensitive part of their hooves. However, if not nailed in with care by expert farriers, these nails can cause more discomfort. Imagine something hard and prickly being pierced into the sensitive part of your nail. And human nails are so designed, we do not need to put our body weight on them.
For a horse, not only are the underside of their hooves carrying their body weight, they are carrying other loads or performing along with walking on them. And it is the underside where the shoes are nailed in. This means that the job of putting on a horse-shoe has to be done by an expert only. Anyone who loves their horse will take call care of this aspect of horse-shoes.
What about wild horses?
All this while the discussion has been focused on why horses need shoes. It is only logical to ask the same question for wild horses. Because for any number of domestic horses worldwide, there is a large number of wild horses still. So, what happens to their hooves? Do they not need attention? Or shoes?
The answer to both of the questions above is NO. Wild horses also have the same material for their hooves as domestic horses. These are equivalent to human nails and harden and grow. Since wild horses provide for themselves, they roam and run over huge stretches of land. The surface may be sand, forests, or plains, wherever they are native of.
Wild horses also are part of a large ecosystem where they have to interact with other creatures. There is always a scenario of chasing and being chased. All of this takes care of their hooves in a manner where manual trimming is not needed. Natural wear and tear in the course of their movements take care of this.
Horseshoes – are they essential?
There are different schools of thought regarding the need for shoes for domestic horses. Many horse owners believe that horseshoes are metallic and essentially a foreign body being nailed onto the hooves. This process not only needs the expertise of the highest order but also regular maintenance.
And their thought process is that since regular maintenance is anyway needed with shoes, why not ditch the concept altogether. This section of people strongly believes in manually trimming horses’ hooves and regularly cleaning out dirt and foreign bodies from hooves. Checking for cracks or other irregularities in the hooves on a regular basis and addressing those is enough for keeping horse hooves healthy.
Of course, it goes without saying that shoes are essential for certain categories of jobs. If the horse in question is not being utilized for very rough jobs that necessitate shoes, such horses can be spared. There is also a school of thought that believes that shoes can be taken off for extended periods of time. These are times when the horse in question is being rested from hard duties. Taking off their metal shoes along with the nails will provide much-needed relief to the animal.
Maintenance routine for horseshoes
Every domestic horse at some point or other would need shoes. These shoes become an extension of horses’ hooves and need a lot of maintenance. Only a well-cared-for horse with good quality shoes will be able to discharge its duties best. Any problem with shoes will put the horse in discomfort and make its disposition different. It then becomes extremely difficult for the owner to get the best out of their horse.
Some steps to maintain horses’ shoes are listed below:
- Consult your trusted farrier for this purpose.
- Hooves continue to grow, shoes or not. This means shoes need to be taken off regularly, hooves trimmed and shoe re-set or re-shoed.
- Regular checking of hooves and looking out for the horses’ gaits will give a clear indication of how good the shoes are.
- Usually, six weeks is the time interval for re-shoeing. However, some horses might grow their hooves faster than others. What is needed is regular checking. Remember that their hooves are just like human nails, each of us has a different rate of growth.
- With constant use, the shoes too show signs of wear and tear. If the shoes become thin before the standard inspection time, it is a good idea to replace them.
All said and done, it is evident that there is really one golden rule for appropriate maintenance of horseshoes – regular checking. Any action needed can be taken based on the results of the checking.
Regular hoof care
Let it be made clear that for best hoof health for the love of horses, regular care is needed. This is irrespective of whether the horse is having shoes or goes barefoot. Horses remain on their feet, rather hooves, almost their whole lives. In fact, there is a belief that a horse lies down only once in a lifetime. Although that might not be factual, it is true that these animals stand almost all the time. They even sleep while standing.
This means a whole lot of pressure and constant weight-bearing on their hooves. While wild horses have naturally evolved to have their hoof care done by nature, this is not true for domestic horses.
There are specialized diet requirements for domestic horses that provide adequate nutrition to their whole bodies, especially their hooves. This makes sure hooves remain in good health. Any horse keeper needs to tie up with a farrier for regular hoof jobs for their horses.
The job of a farrier is also based on a lot of trusts. Horses are extremely intelligent animals who are loyal and trust their owners wholeheartedly. This relationship needs to be nurtured with the farrier as well. A good and competent farrier will make a world of difference to horse hooves and health.
Taking literal liberty, we can say ‘to shoe a hoof or not, that is the question’. This choice depends upon the owner and what kind of job he has in mind for his horse. In general, domestic horses would do well with well-maintained well-fitting shoes.