Shoeing Horses

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PANG! PANG! PANG! The blacksmith’s hammer sends sparks flying as he pounds a metal horseshoe against his anvil. With an ease that can only be achieved after years of repetition, he turns the shoe and continues pounding, his skilled hands forming the shoe to his exact liking. Once shaped to perfection, the blacksmith sets his metal masterpiece against the horse’s hoof and drives a nail through each of the eight holes in the final shoe, fastening it to the hoof. Now finished with one horse, he moves to the next; however, this owner has special instructions regarding the equine’s hooves.

The blacksmith sets to work, scraping out debris and trimming away overgrown hoof matter. He then rasps the rough edges smooth and turns the horse back to his owner; the trimming job is complete. Imagine the sound one hears as each owner leads his horse away; one “clangs” while the other “clops”. The “clanging” is a result of what many call “Traditional” hoof-care, or rather, shoeing; whereas, “Natural” hoof-care, also known as the “barefoot method”, produces that “clopping”. The debate over which of these methods is more effective may be solved with ease. Although many profess that “Natural” hoof-care is preferable, one cannot deny the numerous advantages offered by “Traditional” hoof-care. That being said, “Traditional” hoof-care is superior as it provides quality protection for hooves, improves grip and mobility, and both prevents and fixes hoof issues.

For thousands of years, horse owners have experimented with their varied options regarding hoof care. The remnants of many ancient cultures and societies around the world convey their own methods of hoof protection. In Asia, natives fashioned sandals out of rawhide and plant fibers, while the Romans and the Irish shaped iron shoes. Dating as far back as the 1st Century AD, there have been records of many styles of horseshoes. In the end, everything boils down to a single purpose, which is to protect the hoof in order to further the serviceability and comfort of the horse. The Humane Society of Utah relays a simple fact: “Hooves are somewhat similar to human fingernails and need to be trimmed or their growth can make them weak, uneven and allow them to splay, split, crack, chip or break off in large pieces” (“Equine,” 2017, n.p.). Some horses’ hooves are more prone to breakage than others, which is why many horse owners take matters one step further and shoe their horses. Shoeing provides insurance for a hoof in several ways.

The first – and pre-discussed – purpose is to prevent the hoof from chipping, cracking, and breaking; which is very important. But aside from that, shoeing protects a critical part of a horse’s hoof: the frog. If one views the underside of a horse’s hoof, which is displayed in Fig. 1, they may observe a sort of triangular outline stretching from the base of the heel to just past mid-hoof (“Horse Hoof,” 2018, n.p.). That would be the frog, which is considered the “second heart” of a horse. The frog contains certain nerves and blood vessels that determine feeling in the hoof. As a horse moves, the impact of the frog hitting the ground actually pumps blood, much like the heart does, to the rest of the horse. That being said, the frog is a very sensitive body part and is susceptible to serious damage if not protected.

One may dispute that “Natural” methods, which entail leaving a horse barefoot, will harden the hoof, presenting a sufficient defense of the frog. Be that as it may, many horses, as a result of domestic evolution’s toll on the hoof, are still at risk of damage — regardless of the seemingly impenetrable nature of their feet. Despite any claim to the contrary, shoeing provides a sort of shield for the hoof that allows it to function fully without having to worry about injury.

Ever since horses were first domesticated, humans have given them a plethora of jobs, exposing them to many new grounds and surfaces that impact their hooves in certain ways. Take, for instance, asphalt and cement, and compare them to the naturally sheer texture of a horse’s hoof. That hoof, without protection, has the potential to slip on such surfaces, which could injure the horse — even fatally. As stated by an article in the Veterinary World (2010), “Horse shoe prevent slipping of feet. Proper horseshoeing kept the horse working in comfort” (Karle et al., n.p.).

Some terrain is difficult for horses to walk over; shoes allow them to move better over such ground. Some argue that wild horses, which don’t wear shoes, have had to get around for thousands of years without the aid of man. As a result, their hooves have hardened to where they don’t really need them. The “Natural” method of hoof-care is similar to that. This may be true; however, even in the wild, and with the advantages of evolution, horses are still forced to move slower over certain ground. Shoes allow better mobility over rocky ground that cannot be achieved the “Natural” way.

As previously mentioned, equine hooves are vulnerable to breakage and further injury. In an article, containing valuable information on the subject, the author professes, “Arguably, one of the most important aspects of maintaining horses’ health is the care and protection of the hoof. Many medical problems throughout the equine body will manifest with signs in the hoof” (Zieger, J.R., 2017, n.p.). Many horses, due to their genetics, are born with structural issues; fortunately, shoeing helps to both prevent and fix those problems. “Splayed feet” is a condition where a horse’s hooves are turned outward. This causes a degree of discomfort and potential nerve issues. Farriers (those who shoe horses) trim the hoof in such a way as to shift pressure to other areas and seals the job with a shoe. That shoe provides support for the horse while adjusting its stance as it improves.

Likewise, “sloped heels”, which is where a horse walks with all its weight on the heels of its hooves, can be fixed with certain shoeing techniques. The farrier simply trims more hoof matter off the toe of the hoof and then “raises” it with a horseshoe. The shoe prevents the hoof from resting the majority of pressure on the heels. Claiming that hoof problems can be fixed without the use of a shoe may be considered true to some extent; however, in many cases, the shoe is the final piece of the puzzle. There is only so much a hoof can be fixed without added support. Admittedly, there are pads that may be glued on — and they do help. But undeniably, the most efficient method comes from “Traditional” shoeing.

Those who apply “Natural” hoof-care methods argue that their way provides a relatively free environment where horses are not burdened by the extra weight of four horseshoes. Wild horses have survived for thousands of years without the aid of shoeing, and therefore, it (shoeing) is not necessary. Rick Gore Horsemanship allows for perspective, “A barefoot horse is capable of performing all the tasks that could be expected of a horse, without requiring any kind of protection of the hoof…” (“Think Like a Horse,” n.d., n.p.).

Barefoot horses have harder hooves, which can provide them with many health benefits. Some “Traditional” horse owners do not provide the proper care for their horses’ feet. This often results in a hoof that has grown over the shoe, causing more problems than shoeing fixes. Clearly, not the best method. This argument, however, can go both ways. Many “Natural” horse owners may also neglect their horses’ feet. This too causes overgrowth. Their horses might even have a genetic issue that prevents them from functioning properly. This all could be fixed by simply applying “Traditional” means.

“Traditional” and “Natural” methods will always conflict. Each has their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Shoeing horses provides support, protection, and grip; and allows horses to perform in comfort. On the other hand, leaving a horse barefoot hardens the hoof and is more natural. Although shoeing may not be the correct option for every horse, it does have many proven benefits that cannot — and should not — be ignored.


Cite this paper

Shoeing Horses. (2021, Aug 13). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/shoeing-horses/

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