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Do Horseshoes Hurt Horses? (Answered)

In addition to being an outdoor party game, horseshoes are exactly what the name suggests; shoes for horses. Horseshoes are thick pieces of metal, often steel, in a U shape that are attached to the underside of a horse’s hoof. They are meant to protect the hoof from wear and tare, but do horseshoes hurt horses?

At first glance, horseshoes look uncomfortable, so it’s not unreasonable to think that they would bother horses. In this article we will answer this question and learn more about the function and use of horseshoes.

Do horseshoes hurt horses?

The short answer is no. There are actually no nerve endings in the part of the hoof where the shoes are attached to. But of course there are exceptions to this. Horseshoes are actually put on by a professional, called a farrier. However, if they are put on incorrectly then they can hurt horses.

Generally speaking though, the horse should not be able to feel the shoe and therefore they shouldn’t cause any harm to them.

Do horses need shoes?

Three are other types of animals with hooves that don’t where shoes. Not all horses need shoes. Horses that are not heavily worked or ridden do not tend to need to have shoes. While horseshoes can protect their hooves, some horses do not wear down their hooves enough to need them. Some owners will also put shoes on for only part of the year.

caring for horse hoof

Why do horses need shoes?

Horseshoes actually help protect the horse’s hoof. Horses, especially working horses, go through a lot of wear and tear on their feet. This wear and tear can cause the tough, protective keratin on their hoof to become worn down, exposing the sensitive center part of the hoof.

Certain horse shoes can also help to create traction for horses and have anti-skid properties. This is especially important for people that keep and ride horses in places where it snows or gets cold enough for frost and ice.

Is it cruel to put horseshoes on horses?

Not at all! Horseshoes have protective properties to the horse, and if done correctly, the horse is unlikely to feel them at all. Horseshoes should be put on and removed by a professional, which is sure to prevent any possible pain caused to the horse.

Does it hurt to take a horseshoe off?

Just like putting horseshoes on, taking them off should be painless. This is because there are no nerve endings in the part of the hoof where the shoe is attached to. They may feel some pressure during the process, but ultimately it should be pain-free.

How do horseshoes work?

Horseshoes are attached to the horse hoof using either glue or nails. Horseshoes should be applied by a professional farrier that will first pick and clean the hoof before placing the metal shoe and the bottom of the hoof. They will then take six to eight nails and drive them into the outer hoof wall.

Assuming this is done correctly, the horse will feel no pain. However, they will feel the impact of the tools being used to nail the shoe to the hoof.

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The hoof will continue to grow overtime, meaning that their shoes will need to be changed or adjusted as they grow.

horseshoe on hoof | depositphotos

How often do horseshoes need to be replaced?

Horses should have their shoes changed fairly regularly. Experts recommend shoes to be changed every four to eight weeks.

Even while wearing their shoes, horse’s hooves continue to grow, similar to the way our fingernails grow even if we are wearing nail polish. If their shoes are not removed, the hooves may begin to grow around the shoes which can cause them to come loose and for the hooves to become misshapen.

Horses that are heavier on their feet or are exposed to more wear should have their shoes changed more often. However, this call should ultimately be made by a farrier.

What are horse hooves made of?

Horse hooves are made out of keratin. Keratin is a tough protein that makes up hair and nails, and horse hooves are comparable to very thick, tough fingernails. This is why they do not feel pain when they are getting their shoes put on or taken off.

There is tissue and therefore there are nerve endings in the middle of the hoof, so this is why it is important to have a professional put on the shoe so as to not damage this tissue.


While the thought of attaching thick pieces of metal to the foot of an animal seems cruel and painful, horseshoes are actually not painful or cruel. In fact, horseshoes can be vital to care for and protect the hooves of working or otherwise very active horses. They also help to create traction and prevent horses from slipping, similar to the tread on our own shoes!

That being said, applying and removing horseshoes should always be done by a professional. If done incorrectly, horseshoes can harm and damage the hoof and foot. Luckily, this is a very old practice, with plenty of professionals and experts to get the job done!