Do Horseshoes Hurt a Horse?

It can be difficult to know whether or not you should put horseshoes on your horse. One question a lot of people ask is, do horseshoes hurt a horse? The answer is no, horseshoes do not hurt.

Horseshoes come in different sizes and are custom-made to fit each horse by a farrier. The inside of a horse’s hoof has bone, nerves, tendons, and vascular tissue. The outer area of the hoof, called the hoof wall, consists of keratin and continuously grows.

The hoof wall does not have any feeling, similar to the long, clear part of a human’s nails. When a farrier comes to trim the horse’s hooves, he is trimming the part of the hoof that has no feeling, just like when you clip your nails.

Horseshoe nails go into this area of the hoof, so the horse does not feel any pain from the nails going into their hoof wall. There are a lot of factors that can help determine whether or not your horse needs to wear horseshoes.

Horseshoes provide many benefits and can be an important piece of equipment to help your horse stay comfortable. 

Are Horseshoes Good for Horses?

Some horses need horseshoes and others don’t. Deciding whether or not horseshoes will hurt or are good for your horse depends on each individual horse’s situation.

The type and frequency of a horse’s workload, the quality of a horse’s natural hoof, and whether or not they have other medical conditions are key factors to deciding if a horse will need to wear shoes.

A horse exercised hard in a sand arena every day needs more protection for its hooves. Compared to a horse walked around once a week in a grass field.

If you are not sure if your horse needs horseshoes and not hurt, you can consult with your farrier, a veterinarian, or your trainer. 

What Would Happen if a Horse Didn’t Wear Shoes?

Most horses not ridden do not need horseshoes. If you have a young or retired horse or a horse that simply does not have to work, they don’t have the added stress on their hooves.

Unless your horse has an underlying lameness issue, he will probably be comfortable being barefoot in his paddock. Many horses don’t need shoes to do their jobs either. A healthy horse with good quality hooves, and not exercised, their hooves may be able to handle the stress of their job without breaking down. 

If your horse has poor-quality hooves that hurt and needs the help and structure that horseshoes provide, you will find that their hooves quickly break down without shoes. Thin-soled horses will get bruises without shoes and will be unable to walk on hard or rocky surfaces.

Horses in high-impact sports will develop deep cracks in their hooves from the hard work. Horses that need the correction that specialty shoes provide will be lame and unable to perform their jobs or simply live comfortably without their shoes.

If your horse has lived in horseshoes for several months or longer and suddenly finds himself barefoot, without the protection of shoes he may experience tenderness for the first several weeks. If there are no major reasons why the horse needs to wear shoes, he should eventually be able to transition to being barefoot comfortably. 

Pros and Cons of Horseshoes


Protect the Hoof

The main advantage of shoeing your horse is that the shoe provides protection to your horse’s feet. A riding horse when ridden, the impact and contact with the ground wear away at the horse’s hoof.

Horseshoes provide a buffer between the ground and the hoof. Horses that spend a lot of time doing certain activities need the protection of the horseshoe to keep the structure of the hoof in good condition.

Horses that are frequently trail-ridden will wear their hooves down faster than they can grow without the protection of shoes. High impact riding such as jumping causes the horse’s feet to flex and flare out on impact, and shoes help minimize the amount of flexing that the hoof has to do. 

Provide Traction

Horseshoes can help provide traction for horses that cover varied terrain or are used for sport. Horses that are ridden cross country may have studs added to their shoes, similar to cleats, that help keep the horse from slipping on wet surfaces.

Many racehorses wear “toe grabs” on their front shoes that help the horse dig into the dirt and run faster. Horses that are ridden in rocky areas will also benefit from the added traction that standard shoes provide. 

Correct Lameness

Horseshoes cannot fix every type of lameness that horses experience, but they can help in a lot of situations. Horses that have a mild history of certain conditions such as laminitis or navicular disease may be able to be ridden again with corrective shoeing.


High Cost

Horseshoes can be expensive. The cost to simply trim a horse varies by location and each farrier. Typically, a basic hoof trim will cost between $30-$50 per trim. If your horse wears basic shoes just on the front feet, the cost is usually around $90-$125.

Horses that are lame because they have thin soles can also benefit from horseshoes, oftentimes in conjunction with a pad placed between the hoof and the shoe. Shoes can also be wedged to create a heel in the back that can help alleviate stress on certain tendons or fix a horse that has naturally poor conformation. 

To shoe all four feet you can expect to pay about $120-$180. Specialty shoes can cost significantly more. 

Weakens the Hoof Wall

Putting horseshoes on your horse can weaken their hoof wall. If your horse has a naturally thin hoof wall this can cause the structure of the wall to crack. As the shoes are taken off and put back on each time the farrier comes out.

The old nail holes become weak points towards the bottom of the hoof. There are several topical products that can be used to help keep the hoof wall strong. Many horse owners also feed flaxseed to help keep the quality of the hoof in good condition. 

Horseshoes Can Fall Off 

Horseshoes can come off unexpectedly in several ways. Some horses have a long stride, causing them to overreach with their back legs. If their back hooves step on the front shoes, they can easily be pulled off.

A horse’s shoes may also be pulled off in mud or wet conditions. Adding clips to your horse’s shoes and having them wear bell boots can help prevent the shoes from being pulled off on accident. 

How to Properly Maintain Horseshoes

If your horse wears horseshoes, there are a few things you can do to help maintain them. You should check the shoes every day for loose nails. You can do this by walking the horse on concrete.

If a shoe is loose, you will hear a distinctive “clink” in the clip-clop sound of the horse’s walking rhythm. You can also check the shoe by manually pulling on it. You should not be able to jiggle the shoe away from the horse’s hoof at all. 

Having the proper tools available to deal with shoe problems is important so that you don’t panic in the event of an emergency. If you find that one of your horse’s nails is slightly loose you can clamp the nail with a pair of nail clinchers.

So, if the shoe is very loose it will need to be removed and reattached. If you are confident removing it yourself without causing any damage to the hoof, you can do so with a rasp and a pair of hoof nippers.

If you do not know how to properly remove the shoe you can use duct tape to secure the shoe to the horse’s hoof until your farrier can come and fix the problem. 

Horseshoes are not frequently reused. If your farrier comes often and your horse has been idle, the shoes may not have sustained much wear and can be reused for one cycle. Do not worry if it looks like your horse is scuffing up his shoes – that is what they are there for! 

How Often Should a Horse See the Farrier?

Farriers are specially trained individuals who either go to school or apprentice to learn their trade. You should never attempt to shoe a horse without proper training – you could cause life-threatening injuries to your horse.

A farrier should come to see your horse every 6-8 weeks. Just like people’s nails, some horse’s hooves grow faster than others. Horse hooves tend to grow faster in warm, moist climates. Horses that are in heavy work may also need to see the farrier more often.

Horses used for sport, or that have corrective shoeing may need to be seen more often than every six weeks.

Horseshoes should not be left on for longer than 8 weeks. If the shoes are left on for too long the hoof will grow over the shoe which can cause lameness problems.

Why Reshoe Them?

Eventually, the shoes will come off on their own. There is a good chance that the shoe will come off asymmetrically. This can cause the horse to seriously injure himself on the exposed nails. Horses that have gone too long between farrier appointments are also likely to begin tripping.

Find a farrier in your area that is knowledgeable. Ask to get on a regular schedule with them so you don’t accidentally go too long between visits. 


Sooner or later, all horses need horseshoes, but they can be a valuable tool for many. They provide protection to your horse’s feet, give your horse better traction, and can help keep a horse comfortable if they are suffering from certain conditions.

Hence, all horses need to be seen by a farrier every 6-8 weeks to have their hooves trimmed and their shoes redone. Horseshoes do not hurt your horse when set by a knowledgeable farrier. If you don’t know whether or not your horse needs shoes, your farrier, veterinarian, and trainer can all help you make that decision.