Why Do Horses Need Shoes But Not Cows? Everything You Need To Know

Why Do Horses Need Shoes But Cows Don’t

In ancient times, both cows and horses served as forms of transportation for several years. This prompted the need for proper hoof care to ensure the overall health and comfort of these domesticated animals.

But, have you ever wondered why do horses need shoes but cows don’t?

Well, that’s one of the questions we’ll be looking at in this guide. In addition, I’ll be answering other common queries like what horseshoes are, as well as what they are used for.

That said, let’s get started!

What Are Horseshoes? Do Horses Need Shoes?

What are horseshoes

Horseshoes are man-made, U-shaped plates that are designed to enhance and protect a horse’s hooves. These shoes have been used for years to allow horses to perform various types of work.

A horse that doesn’t have shoes is described as barefoot or ‘unshod’, while the one with shoes is known as a ‘shod’ horse. In most cases, horseshoes are made from metals such as aluminum or steel.

However, you can also come across shoes that are crafted from other materials like copper, plastic, or rubber. These materials maintain their shape since they’re sturdy, but the exact horseshoe style of a certain animal mainly depends on its breed.

It’s also worth mentioning that some horse breeds require different shoe styles on the hind legs than they have on their front legs. The hind legs are often fitted with horseshoes referred to as a ‘caulk’. This type of horseshoe contains extra steel material to avoid excess wear & tear damage.

The horseshoes are usually attached to the ground side (palmar) of the horse’s hooves using nails. More importantly, this is done by a skilled farrier to avoid hurting the animal’s hooves.

Alternatively, the shoe can be glued onto the animal’s hooves, especially when temporary protection is required.

Other uses of using horseshoes are hanging them in walls to organize somethings for home decor and kids using horseshoe for flipping to enjoy classic toss games in their backyards or outdoors.

The Role of HorseShoes

Horses mainly wear shoes to protect and strengthen their feet and hooves, preventing them from wearing down too fast. If not trimmers, the horses’ hooves grow continually much like our toenails and fingernails.

Role of HorseShoes

Wild horses wear down their hooves slowly as they move from one area to another over hard terrain. On the contrary, the hooves of domesticated horses that pull a carriage to carry a rider wear down faster compared to wild horses because of the added stress and extra weight.

In this case, horseshoes add strength and durability to the hooves, ensuring that they don’t wear out too fast. Moreover, the horseshoes offer extra protection from injury on rock or hard ground.

At the same time, they prevent the hooves from being weakened by muddy or damp ground, especially in wet climates. Shoes also provide extra protection and cushioning to horses that take part in high-impact events such as cross country, jumping, or racing.

Horseshoes also play other important roles apart from protecting the hooves. For instance, they can be used to;

Improve Balance

For horses that have balance issues, an expert farrier can fit it with corrective shoeing to correct the problem. The shoe will provide extra support to the hoof capsule when necessary, helping the horse walk accordingly.

Add Traction

Horseshoeing gives the animal added grip and stability in poor weather conditions such as muddy or wet weather and difficult terrains. Also, the animal can be fitted with specialized shoes to offer added stability when walking in icy conditions.

Provide Medical Solutions

Medical; conditions like ringbone, laminitis, and arthritis tend to compromise the strength of the horse’s foot and hoof. Fortunately, horseshoeing can provide extra support, helping the animal return to work safely and move comfortably.

Lastly, horseshoeing is a great way to enhance the horse’s performance in certain types of work. For instance, an animal pulling a carriage on a tarmacked surface requires a more heavy-duty shoe compared to a show pony in a soft arena.

Therefore, a farrier has to create a shoe that suits the horse breed as well as the type of work it performs.

Benefits & Drawbacks of Horse Shoeing

Horseshoeing has been attributed to having some benefits and drawbacks for the animal. In this section, I’ll take you through some of its main cons and pros!

Benefits Of Shoeing A Horse

Benefits Of Shoeing A Horse

Slows Down The Rate of Hooves’ Wear

As mentioned earlier, horseshoeing prevents the animal’s hooves from wearing out too fast. This can be particularly beneficial for horses that perform weight-bearing tasks like carriage pulling.

Improved Performance

Some equestrians have claimed that horseshoeing plays an important role in improving the horse’s performance. This is particularly true in horses that take part in high-impact sporting events like cross country and high-level jumping.

Shod horses usually perform better in these events compared to barefoot horses.


One of the key benefits of horseshoeing is that it adds strength and durability to the horse’s hooves. This helps to protect the hooves and minimize the likelihood of injury when undertaking intensive work or riding on hard surfaces.

Provides Additional Support to Animals With Medical Issues

Horseshoeing provides additional support to animals suffering from health conditions like laminitis, ringbone, and arthritis.

Corrects Balance Issues

Finally, corrective horseshoeing is a great way to solve balance issues as well as other challenges with the animal’s stride and gait. Moreover, shoeing can help to prevent cracks and chips in the animal’s hooves.

Cons of Shoeing A Horse

drawback Of Shoeing A Horse


Horseshoeing is a bit pricey compared to just trimming the hooves.

May Increase The Risk of Injury

Some shoes can harm the sensitive inner part of the animal’s hooves, especially if they’re fitted by an inexperienced farrier. Even worse, the shoe can damage the hoof’s wall or cause a tendon sprain if it’s lost during work.

Why Don’t Cows Have Shoes?

Why Don’t Cows Have Shoes

In essence, animal shoes are intended to protect hooves under rough use. However, cows don’t carry as much load as domesticated horses or move across a wide variety of terrain.

For instance, we don’t race cows, make them carry people in carriages, or even use them for ranch work. In short, the main reason cows don’t have shoes is that they don’t perform challenging tasks.

Interestingly, back when oxen were used as draft animals for farm work, they were usually shod. However, unlike horses, they wore 2 separate ‘shoes’ on each foot since they’ve cloven hooves (even-footed).

Despite being able to walk around barefoot, the cow’s hooves still require proper maintenance, including trimming them regularly. This can be done twice a year, but that will depend on the cow breed.


So, now hopefully you understood why horses need shoes but not cows. Shoes are important for domesticated horses, especially those that perform a series of tasks that animals don’t naturally do.

This includes tasks like pulling heavyweights, galloping on asphalt, carrying a ride, and staging in the stables for hours. These activities cause stress as well as greater wear on their hooves.

Cows, on the other hand, don’t drag people or heavy loads like horses. Therefore, they can live comfortably even without cow shoes.

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