Once left up to materials such as leather and iron, horseshoe craftsmanship has made great advancements in the ability to protect hooves from wear and tear. No matter the occasion -- from form to function -- there are a variety of shoes to suit.
Although it sounds relaxing to us, going barefoot is risky for horses. Not only do shoes protect the feet of horses, they also can compensate for debilitating conditions such as club feet or malformed hooves. Only your horse's farrier can judge whether or not he can be shoeless.
Nailing Down a Style
With hundreds of shoe designs sporting different looks and benefits, you might feel a little overwhelmed by shoeing options. Don't worry; consider what sort of activities you and your horse will be doing. Horseshoes differ according to requirements for weight, support, traction and your horse's "breakover," or walking style.
- Events: Designed with both cross country and show jumping events in mind, "eventer" shoes focus on traction and support. They are wider than other types of horseshoes to assist jumping and landing, have powerful traction to prevent slipping and keep breakover quick and seamless. Perhaps most importantly, these shoes -- often made from aluminum -- are lighter in weight, enabling your horse to move quickly and for long amounts of time without causing fatigue.
- Dressage: Trained to perform a series of intricate maneuvers in a way that looks effortless, dressage horses need both open range of movement as well as balance and support. Shoes designed for dressage are often lightweight and sport a special groove along the shoe that provides traction.
- Sport: Barrel racing and polo depend upon lightning-fast reflexes, quick breakover and the ability to grip dirt. These types of shoes are light aluminum in front and heavy in the rear with steel. They focus mainly on tight traction, either by a raised inner rim lining the shoe or through heels that dig in and hang on. With these shoe elements polo ponies and rodeo racers alike are better able to turn on a dime.
Trail riding: Classic and focused on protection, horseshoes worn by trail riders use rims to prevent slipping on a range of surfaces including asphalt, gravel, grass and dirt. Once made of steel, lighter materials such as aluminum or even plastic are used to prevent vibrations and shocks from affecting the hoof in the long term.
There is no one right or perfect shoe for your horse: The best method is to talk to your veterinarian and farrier to decide what will give your horse the protection and care he needs.
Metal horseshoes are crafted from steel or aluminum. Steel provides protection to the hoof with a sturdy and firm shoe, but is also heavier for the horse. And while aluminum is lighter and more comfortable, an aluminum shoe will have to be replaced more often than steel. Steel shoes do put more emphasis on a horse's knees, but aluminum doesn't help as well as steel for balance and stability.
Shoe technology changes as new materials and knowledge of horse physiology present themselves. One such example is plastic; originally shunned for being too slippery, plastic shoes gained interest as their lightweight and flexible structure became more texturally sound. Plastic shoes are also lauded for therapeutic use, protecting hooves from external threats while allowing conditions such as founder heal. And with advances such as plastic shoes integrated with iron mesh and 3-D printing of synthetic hoof horn material, the options for shoeing horses can only broaden.