Safety Shoes and the Toilet

I regularly get asked what is so bad about horseshoes. And why horses are shod, if horseshoes are really so bad.

To answer the first question, the easiest comparison we can make is that of safety shoes. Imagine that, day in, day out, twenty-four hours a day, you were to wear a pair of safety shoes–initially one size too small but after four or five weeks, they are now two sizes too small… Imagine that you had to do everything in those shoes: sleep, walk, run… Imagine that, after six to eight weeks, you could take those shoes off–for ten minutes, before putting on a new pair, again one size too small.

Now, there are sceptics who will say that this is not completely true and that it is different with horses… Yes, indeed, it isn’t completely true because the safety shoe offers some flexibility in the sole that we don’t see in a horseshoe. The safety shoe gives a degree of support over the whole of the underside of the foot, whereas the horseshoe the shifts the point of support to the nail on the outside of the foot–the frog and the sole are excluded from the equation completely. The safety shoe has a rubber sole which will give some shock absorption while the horseshoe doesn’t give until it reaches a temperature of ±600˚C.

The safety shoe is also put on without the application of heat–the majority of horses are hot-shod and the horseshoe is between 600˚C and 800˚C when the fit is checked. The farrier will tell you that this does not hurt the horse–but why does he wear protective gloves and use large tongs to keep the hot shoe at a distance? The farrier is full of contradictions: this apparently doesn’t hurt because the hoof is thick…but the horse cannot go without horseshoes because the hoof is too thin!

Why do we do this then?

Simply because the majority of horses still live in a toilet. In the era of the military horse, in order to be at the ready all of the time, horses were kept in stables–searching for and catching a horse in the field is not conducive to a rapid deployment. But, stabled, they are standing for hours on end in their own excrement–an acidic environment very damaging to the bare hoof. And then some bright spark came up with the idea that a lump of metal under the hoof might help, and so the horseshoe was born. With, as added bonus, the horse no longer felt the ground under its feet and so took no care how or where he walked. Many horses died young through serious injury but for the military, that did not pose a problem; there were always other horses available or they could be appropriated and the dead horse was sent to the canteen to feed the troops.

Meanwhile, the last real war-horses fought their last battles around a century ago and yet we still continue to use horseshoes. The reasons are long forgotten and the military vision of the horse is far behind us–and yet, we still find it necessary to lock our horses up in the toilet and to treat them in a military fashion.

‘But it isn’t as bad as all that…’

What, because the stables are mucked out every day? Just think about it–a horse poos, on average, 10-15 times a day. The number of time is pees is also quite considerable. Mucking out just once a day, even for a horse that spends a couple of hours turned out–and in the winter this is often not allowed–this is simply not enough. And we haven’t even got to the psychological maltreatment that incarceration means.

‘But he’s on horseshoes…’

Have you really not understood a word that has been said? And horseshoes are not the solution for a stabled horse in any case; there will always be muck that gets between the hoof and the horseshoe. Muck that slowly eats away at the hoof wall, muck under the sole, in the grooves at the side of the frog and on the frog itself.

The only place for a horse is outside and the only protection it needs for its feet is the hoof itself. The hoof is to a greater extent self-cleaning, self-regulating–given enough activity–and has been developed over millions of years…unlike the several hundred for the horseshoe.

‘But my horse is a thoroughbred and it is well known that thoroughbreds have poor hoofs…’ Undoubtedly poor breeding management…no? No, the truth is that thoroughbreds, in contrast with ponies, are almost always shod from an early age and so, from an early age, have poor hoofs. Give them the chance and they will improve.

And finally, for those who say their horse really asks to return to the toilet to the stable every evening:

Horses do not ask to go into their stables. Horses are not happier in a stable. That is the human vision of the world (we like a warm, cosy house with a soft bed, therefore so do our pets). ‘But he asks to come in every evening by parading back and forth in the field…’ Study the behaviour of horses (this is called ethology) and you will see that almost all horses start to wander, to parade up and down, to play ‘follow-the-leader’ when evening falls, when the light begins to fail. Even the horses that have never known a stable…



First published on 2 May 2017 on the Dutch sister site