Do Horseshoes Hurt Horses?

Even though it might seem like it would hurt for a horseshoe to be attached to the hoof, you might be surprised to know that if done correctly, it does not hurt the horse at all.

Do Horseshoes Hurt Horses

When it comes to the hooves, they are similar to our own fingernails because they are both made out of keratin. Whilst the nails are attached to our fingers, they do not feel any pain if broken or pierced. 

When the procedure of attaching a horseshoe to a hoof by a nail is done perfectly, such as the nail not going in too far, then the horse should feel no pain, but because there are still times when a horseshoe can hurt a horse, let us look at them in more detail.

Why Are Horseshoes Used?

The main reason horseshoes are used is because it helps to stop the stress and general wear that happens to the hoof. Rough surfaces can also be a problem, so horseshoes help to avoid the hooves from degrading.

Another reason is because it can help with traction to improve the grip a horse has on the ground. This is especially true with certain breeds who have a high step, or race horses who need the extra stability to make them run smoother and faster.

Also, sometimes a horseshoe is custom-made when a horse has muscular or bone issues that need correcting. 

Does A Horse Need Horseshoes To Stay Healthy?

Whilst horseshoes are not necessary for a horse’s health, it makes sense to wear them. The horseshoes themselves will protect the horse’s hooves, especially if they are walking across hard surfaces like concrete and stone. 

Also, because they will be walking ‘barefoot’ across these rougher surfaces, it will begin to wear down the hoof unevenly, which will put extra stress on their joints and affect their gait. 

Even though it will not directly affect the horse’s health, you will have to look at their general lifestyle and see whether having horseshoes will benefit their health in other areas. 

What Can Cause Pain With A Horseshoe?

Even though hooves are made up of keratin, just like our own fingernails and hair, it does not mean they can never experience pain. When we pull at the hair on our head or hurt the fingernail at the nail bed – it hurts. 

The hooves themselves have no pain receptors, but if the shoe is mounted incorrectly, it can cause damage to other areas of the hoof which can result in feeling hurt.

For example, it can rub across the soft tissue surrounding the frog and the sole. This will cause your horse to stop walking properly and appear lame.

To avoid this situation, always get a professional to do the job. Here are other reasons a horseshoe might hurt:

Using An Inexperienced Farrier

If you find that you are having to ask an inexperienced farrier, perhaps somebody new to the job, to carry out the work of fitting a horseshoe, they could potentially apply the nails too deep. 

This means that the nails are further in than they should be, therefore reaching the horse’s pain receptors in the sensitive laminae (the bit underneath the hooves) causing it to hurt. 

When this happens, it is usually referred to as ‘hot nail’ and the horse will let you know if it has happened due to the area being extremely sensitive to pain and general touch.

Do Horseshoes Hurt Horses

Bruising From Not Wearing Horseshoes

If a horse does not wear horseshoes and walks over hard and rough ground, then they may have bruising to the soles of their hooves.

This is especially a problem if you ride the horse and they are not wearing horseshoes – just think about the stoney uneven ground that they may have walked on. Ouch, right?

Mounting horseshoes once bruising has occurred is a painful experience for a horse. The farrier will need to clean out the hoof and then attach the horseshoe which will be very unpleasant. 

To avoid this issue, it is best to keep a regular schedule with an experienced farrier who can mount horseshoes when you need them to. 

Wrongly Fitted Horseshoe

A horseshoe needs to fit the size of the hoof, as well as be shaped properly. If not, the ill-fitting horseshoe can cause potential pain to the horse’s hoof.

Think of it like you are wearing shoes that scrunch up the toes because they are too small. Whilst you maybe can wear them for a minute or two, after a while your toes will start to hurt and pain may occur.

Horseshoes that do not fit correctly can also cause the hoof to become cracked. If this happens, it will need to be treated as soon as possible to avoid the horse being in pain and a longer healing time.

Can You Opt Not To Use Horseshoes?

Whilst you might be tempted to ditch horseshoes altogether, it is not recommended. There are pros and cons to each, but due to wanting to protect the horse’s hooves, it is always better to wear them.

If you are going to protect your own feet, then it makes sense to wear some kind of footwear, especially if you are walking over hard surfaces.

It is the same with a horse, they need added protection so their hooves do not wear down, and rough areas can damage the softness of their soles. 

A major reason to wear horseshoes is to avoid the hooves from cracking, as this will need immediate attention.

If you do plan on not letting your horse wear horseshoes, then you need to make sure that they do not walk over hard surfaces, especially if you are riding the horse, and that you check their hooves regularly.

Do Horseshoes Hurt Horses

The Different Types Of Horseshoe

Even though you might think there is only one type of horseshoe, there are actually quite a few. Here are just a handful of them:

Straight Bar

This type of horseshoe includes a straight lined bar on the heel area. It has this feature to protect the hoof from any potential bruising, and it is usually worn by horses who suffer with laminitis. 

Fullered Front

This is the one you will likely know best, and it is also the most common type of horseshoe used. It is best for recreational horses because the crease of the hoof fills with lots of soil and adds to the grip. 

Sliding Plates Or Sliders

Most likely used on a reined horse, they include a rocker toe and are wider than the average shoe. This is because the wider size allows for bigger slides. 

Egg Bar

These are similar to the straight bar horseshoes, except they go further behind the heel to protect that area of the hoof. If a horse has navicular syndrome, or sheared heels, they are likely to wear this type of horseshoe. 


This type of horseshoe is suitable for horses that need to run fast and then stop, such as if they are involved in a sport like polo. The groove (or rim) is placed on the outside edge of the horseshoe.

Final Words

Even though it does look painful to mount a horseshoe, if fitted correctly, it is not. This is because hooves are made of keratin, the exact same thing our fingernails and hair are made out of.

Whilst the horse may not feel anything when it comes to their hooves, if something reaches the fleshy area under the hoof – that is when the pain receptors become alert.

Just like when our hair is pulled or the nail bed is attacked in some way, the area that holds the keratin in place will feel the pain. 

The reason a horseshoe may hurt is because of a bad fit or general bruising, not because of the horseshoe itself.

Catherine McDowl
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