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Horseshoes: A Necessary Accessory
To learn just what’s going on with your horse’s feet, check out Groupon’s exploration of horseshoes.
The idea of nailing a metal shoe onto a horse’s hoof might sound cruel, but don’t worry—the process is as painless as humans clipping their nails. Horses’ hooves, like our nails and hair, are made of keratin, so the animals don’t feel a thing. In fact, without horseshoes, horses have a much higher chance of foot injury. In their naked state, hooves are simply not tough enough for a domesticated lifestyle that includes farm work, racing, or navigating rough terrain, besides being turned away from most barns with a dress code.
Some of the earliest horseshoes resembled booties and were woven from hides and plants by Asian horsemen. In ancient Rome, horses wore metal-soled “hipposandals” that fastened over their hooves with leather straps. Even the C-shaped horseshoes that we know today have evolved over the centuries, changing from bronze to iron, scalloped to smooth-edged, and handmade to mass-produced. They’re different depending on the job. Racehorses sport lightweight aluminum shoes, whereas polo ponies wear hardier versions made of steel. And some horses don’t wear shoes at all, especially those that spend their lives grazing in pastures and watching Westerns on TV.
Shoeing a horse requires the skilled hand of a farrier, an expert in hoof care. The farrier first trims each hoof, as if giving the horse a pedicure. Then, he or she shapes the shoe in one of two ways. Hot shoes are heated in a forge and then molded to the shape of the hoof, while cold shoes are bent and hammered to fit. The shoes are then nailed into the outer hoof and any sharp edges are filed down. Over the course of their lives, horses spend quite a lot of time in the farrier’s care: the shoes typically need to be refitted every four–six weeks as the hooves keep growing.