Ask a Farrier: Do Horses Really Need Shoes?

Ask a Farrier: Do Horses Really Need Shoes?

Welcome to our monthly feature, “Ask a Farrier,” a Q and A with farrier Karen McMann. Karen has been a full-time farrier for 17 years. She graduated in 2002 from the Canadian School of Horseshoeing, where she studied under Pat Cullen. She serves on the Advisory Board of Equi-Health Canada and Equi-First Aid USA as a Farrier/Hoof Health Support specialist. She lives and works outside of Okotoks, Alberta.

This month’s question is:

Do Horses Really Need Shoes?

It’s been my experience that horses who have never had to wear shoes have much healthier feet. Horses hooves were designed to expand, contract and pump blood with every step. Shoes restrict the hooves from flexing with every step. Don’t we all need to stretch out our fingers and toes sometimes to get the blood flowing? The better the blood circulation, the healthier the hooves, the healthier the horse. No foot, no horse. Right?

That said, sometimes some horses do need shoes, but I can only see three reasons why.

Protection. If your horse’s feet are wearing away more than they’re growing, you might want to think about shoes. That wearing away might be happening because of conformation, the way the horse moves or the environment it’s kept or ridden in. If you can’t fix the underlying cause, the horse might just have to wear shoes.


Traction. This probably applies most to the working horses who are out in the bush right now and their riders, who are not reading this because there’s no wi-fi where they are. Shoes with ice nails or borium can help with traction. Other horses this could apply to would be jumpers with corks or heel calks on racehorses’ shoes.

Therapeutic. I’m a little torn on this one. Laminitis and navicular can be helped with proper trims. Shoes with wedge pads cover up the sole, preventing oxygen from getting to them, weakening the feet. Think of it like a band-aid or a cast on you for 6-8 weeks. When you take it off, your skin is unhealthy and smells bad.

On the other hand, there’s only so much you can do with a trim. A foal born with a crooked leg could benefit from a wedged shoe to help straighten it out while it’s growing. I’ve met some Olympic level jumpers who have no hooves left. They need shoes to attach the silicone the farrier needs to rebuild the hooves. I also have a client with the slightest indent at the coronary band. It made a big crack down her hoof. She’s never lame, but the crack gets worse when she doesn’t have shoes on.

If you’re deciding whether or not to shoe your horse, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the quality of my horse’s feet? Is there a thick hoof wall and concave soles or chipped up and flat soles?
  • What kind of work is my horse doing and how often? Are you conditioning your horse for a barrel racing competition or hopping on bareback with a halter and lead rope to get the mail every few days?
  • What kind of footing is my horse living and working in? Lush green grass or sand, clay and rocky uneven riverbanks?

Your answers should give you a bit of direction but if you’re still on the fence, ask the farrier who works with your horse – they’ll know your horse’s feet and environment best.

If you have a question you’d like to ask a farrier (about horseshoeing, farriery, hoof and horse health, blacksmith tools, working as a farrier, etc.), leave it in the comments below. Every month, we’ll pick one question to answer in our feature.

image: Lily M-C

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