Foot problems are one of the most common causes of lameness in horses. However,footcare is often overlooked by owners. Neglected feet can develop many conditions which, if left untreated, can result in severe lameness with loss of use of your horse. Maintaining your horses feet in good condition is of primary importance. Ensuring your horse is seen by your farrier on a regular basis will make up part of your foot care routine. Your farrier will be the best person to decide which horseshoes are best for your horse.
The earliest form of horseshoes were seen in ancient Asia, where the horses hooves were wrapped in leather, or other materials, for both therapeutic uses and protection from wear and tear. Metal plates that were strapped on to the bottom of the hoof, also known as the hipposandal, were then seen in Roman times, but the nailed-on shoe that we are used to today didnt appear until the 5th century AD.
Cast bronze horseshoes became common place in Europe around the 10th century, and it wasn’t until the 13th and 14th centuries that iron horseshoes became the norm and were widely manufactured for use; hot-shoeing became in vogue during the 16th century. During this period the craft of blacksmithing became one of the main crafts of medieval and modern times. Then, just a couple of hundred years later in 1835, the first machine to manufacture horseshoes was invented.
Horseshoes come in all sorts of sizes to accommodate the huge range of sizes of horse, from a small pony to an 18hh Shire horse!
The shape of the horseshoe also varies depending on a number of factors, including size of horse, type of work, surface worked on, foot problems, etc. There are so many different types that it would be impossible to list them all, so here are some of the most common types you might see:
This shoe is a general purpose shoe, the most commonly used shoe for riding horses. It is very versatile and can fit most horses. They also have good grip and wear for roadwork.
This shoe is suited to horses that need more heel support which means they can be used for horses with foot/limb problems. However, they are heavier and offer less grip than a concave shoe, and because they are wider than the foot they can be pulled off by deep going or over-reaching.
Plained stamp shoes
This shoe has maximum wear and is generally used for shoeing heavy horses and driving horses. However, they dont give much grip and can be slippy, particularly on the road.
Natural balance shoes
The natural balance shoe is designed to help increase natural break-over which reduces pull and stress on the deep flexor tendon, surrounding ligaments and structures.
These shoes are remedial shoes which are used for treatment of many foot and hoof conditions that cause lameness. The eggbar shoe provides heel support, whereas the heartbar shoe provides both frog and heel support.
Glue-on plastic shoes
These, unlike metal shoes, can expand and contract with the horses foot, enabling the hoof to function more naturally. Glue-ons enable the shoeing of sensitive feet and horses that cant tolerate the hammering during traditional shoeing. In remedial situations, the benefits of glue-ons have revolutionised treatment and success rates, especially in cases of laminitis.
Your farrier will be able to advise you on the most appropriate shoes for your horse. There are many factors that influence the choice of shoes used; namely how big your horse is, what condition the feet are in, what type of work your horse does, what surfaces you ride on, and any pre-existing foot conditions your horse may have.
If your horses feet are in good health and you generally ride for pleasure or compete occasionally, your horse will probably be suited to concave shoes which are the most commonly used shoes for riding horses.
However, if your horses feet are in poor condition or your horse has a pre-existing foot condition, your farrier will use a type of shoe suited to the particular condition your horse has.
Studs are used to provide additional traction on slippery surfaces or very hard ground. If your horse needs studs your farrier will either tap or drill holes into both heels and sometimes the toes of your horses shoes so that metal studs can be inserted into them when needed.
As with any tool though, studs can do more damage than good if they are used incorrectly. There are different types of studs for different ground conditions and disciplines, so you will need to make sure you are using the correct studs for each situation your farrier will be able to advise you.
Don’t confuse studs with road nails; road nails are normal nails used for shoeing that have a tungsten tip embedded into the head. Tungsten (also called carbide) is a very strong metal which prevent slipping when riding on the road, they can also slightly extend the wear of the shoes.
There is no reason to say your horse cannot live without shoes. Many horses live their lives without shoes all year round, and others only need shoes on at certain times of the year, however going barefoot successfully is a lot more than just taking the shoes off your horse.
Going barefoot involves you, the horses owner, taking overall responsibility for your horses hoofcare. The main elements of this are diet, environment and exercise, and although a barefoot professional (whether trimmer or farrier) will give you all the help and advice you need, you will have the day-to-day responsibility for maintaining or improving your horses hoof health.
Barefoot is a challenging way of keeping your horse, and is neither a cheap option nor a quick fix for hoof problems. Depending on the circumstances in which your horse lives, and his current hoof health, it may increase your workload.
Hoof boots are generally made out of polyurethane, and are another new innovation designed as an alternative to horseshoes. They allow the horse to remain without shoes for the majority of the time and are used when ridden out on the roads or over rough terrain, to prevent damage to the hoof wall and sole.
There are various types of hoof boots available, depending on the type of activity or terrain your horse will being tackling, and although the initial outlay for a complete set of hoof boots is quite expensive, they are designed to last a very long time. Some owners have reported getting over 1000 miles out of a boot1.
The latest designs available come in all sorts of different colours too, so you can colour co-ordinate2!
In general, the cost of the horseshoes themselves is not great, what you pay for when your horse is shod is your farriers skill and expertise, and his time. Prices range from area to area and farrier to farrier, but as with anything, you pay for what you get, so dont be tempted to use a farrier just because hes the cheapest in your area. As with anything, get recommendations from other horse owners and friends, ring around, speak to the farriers, and finally make an informed decision about which farrier is best for your horse.
If your horse is lucky enough to have feet that are in good condition, is able to wear standard concave shoes, and is generally simple to shoe, you will find that a full set of shoes should, on average, cost you between £55 and £75.
If your horses feet are in poor condition and need a specially prepared set of shoes, you might have to spend over £100 for a full set of shoes.
Glue-on plastic shoes are the most expensive, and can cost up to £250 for a full set – this is because the method used to apply a set of these is specialised, and your farrier will have had extra training to learn how to apply them. As well as this, you will also be paying for the other items need to apply the shoes, such as the glue. It also takes a lot longer to apply a set of glue-on shoes, so you will also be paying extra for your farriers time.
Therapeutic shoeing is used to treat lower limb conditions, including tendon or ligament injuries, hyperextension/hyperflexion in young horses, navicular disease and laminitis, amongst others. However, therapeutic shoeing isnt usually the sole treatment for these conditions; it is usually combined with other forms of treatment, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, controlled exercise, surgery, etc.
If your horse is diagnosed with any of these conditions, both your vet and your farrier will work together to determine the best method of shoeing for your horse, dependent on the type of injury or disease involved. Your farrier will probably want to examine x-rays of your horses feet to better understand the position of the bones within the foot so he can assess which type of therapeutic shoeing method will work best for your horse.
There are countless different therapeutic methods of shoeing possible for all sorts of lower limb problems in horses, too many to mention here, so if you have any specific concerns about your horses feet or how your horse is shod you should speak to your vet or farrier.