Horseshoes differ in terms of:
Choosing the correct horseshoe for a given horse, at a given time, means selecting among these factors. Following is a more detailed discussion of how to determine what type of horseshoe is best for your horse.
Steel versus Other Materials
Steel is the most common material for horseshoes, giving it a number of advantages over other materials:
As a result, steel is the standard for horse shoes, with other materials being used only when their is a specific requirement.
Aluminum shoes are mainly used for racing horses and long distance endurance horses, due to the advantage provided by its light weight. It is also sometimes used in western show competitions, as it allows a better 'sliding stop'. However, it has less strength and wear resistance than steel.
Plastic shoes have the advantage that they can be glued on, avoiding the need to nail. This can be important if the hoof walls are too short (e.g. due to excessive hear or trimming), badly damaged or inflamed (e.g. due to laminitis). In such cases a shoe may still be required (e.g. to raise the hoof wall so that the horse is not walking on its inner sole) but nails are inappropriate, so gluing on a plastic shoe meets the requirements until the hoof can regrow and repair. However, due to the limited strength and wear resistance of plastic, they are not widely used outside of these special circumstances.
Rubber is much more shock absorbent than metal, which is of benefit if a horse has to travel long distances over hard surfaces or is sensitive to impacts. Absorption of shock can significantly reduce the risk of lameness, navicular, impact related laminitis, and hoof wall damages. A hard rubber shoe can last until the regular re-shoeing time (typically 6-8 weeks), under moderate use. It can also be nailed on, like a standard steel shoe.
One can also buy shoes that combine materials, such as a steel top layer and a bottom rubber layer, so that one gets the advantages of both materials. In this example, one has the strength and support of metal, combined with the shock absorption of rubber.
Other materials are used relatively rarely. Titanium horseshoes provide high strength, combined with low weight (about half that of steel), but are expensive and many owners find that aluminum is a lest costly solution for low weight applications. In the past, brass shoes and brass nails were used in coal mines, to prevent sparks which could ignite coal gases.
The most common accessory for horseshoes are studs, which are used to provide the horseshoe (and consequently the horse) with better grip. In soft ground (e.g. muddy earth), the improved grip provided by studs allows the horse to travel faster and with less effort. In the case of slippery hard surfaces (e.g. smooth concrete), studs can reduce the risk of the horse falling and associated injury (to horse and/or rider).
Studs come in various sizes and shapes, the selection of which depends largely on how the horse is used and on the type of ground. Expert and experienced advice should be obtained before using studs, as inappropriate use can result in injuries.
Studs can be fitted to a shoe in a number of ways, including:
Thickness and Width
A light shoe means less weight on the hoof, allowing a horse to run faster and with less effort. A lighter shoe also has less material and consequently tends to be less expensive, with the exception of super-light shoes which may be charged higher due to being a specialty item. Consequently, one tends to choose the minimum required weight, which means the minimum size in terms of thickness and width.
The minimum required thickness and width will depend on the horse and how it is used:
An experienced farrier can choose a shoe of the appropriate strength and weight, depending on the horse and how it is used. When it is time to re-shoe the horse, he can also examine the old shoes for wear, to determine if a lighter or heavier shoe is appropriate.
If the way in which you use the horse is about to change dramatically, one should discuss with the farrier if a change to shoe is required. For example, if one normally travels over soft surfaces but over the subsequent weeks intend to do a lot of work on hard and uneven surfaces, a different shoe may be required. When changing shoe weight significantly, the horse will need a few days to get used to running with the new shoe weight before it is at optimum performance.
In the case of race horses and long distance horses, light weight shoes may be used even if they wear out before the normal shoeing frequency (about 6-8 weeks). In this case, the horse will be shod more frequently (despite the extra cost and inconvenience), in order to allow the horse to run faster or further or with less effort.
Aside from the above considerations, other factors to consider are:
Flat, Concave, Grove
The bottom of the shoe can be flat, or concave, or have a grove (known as 'fullered'). A flat shoe has greater wear resistance and strength, while the other two types provide a better grip.
For related articles, click on Horseshoe Information, or on any of the following: