There are many different types of horseshoes out there, and for a new horse owner and keeper, it could be difficult to choose between them. Horseshoes are not mandatory for all horses but they can provide plenty of benefits, especially for horses that have conformation issues. They’re also applied to protect the hoof, assuming that the horse works on rough surfaces on a daily basis.
However, while there are around seven different types of horseshoes for you to choose from depending on your horse’s main activities, there’s also the question of material choice. What’s best: metal horseshoes or rubber horseshoes?
As a general rule, most equestrians will go for metal horseshoes for their horse’s hooves, as these represent the most durable and the most dependable choice. However, non-metal horseshoes such as glue-on and rubber alternatives come with their own set of benefits. They offer reduced concussion and vibrations, they protect ground surfaces such as stages and paved streets, they weigh less and they offer more hoof flexibility. Choosing one over the other is not as much a matter of preference as knowing and acknowledging your horse’s needs.
In order to figure all that out, we’ll have to elaborate.
Why are metal horseshoes more popular?
I wrote an article not too long ago that answered a specific question about horseshoes: are they truly necessary, and can horses actually go unshod? The answer is that horses generally can go unshod, as they’ve lived without horseshoes in the wild for thousands of years. However, modern-day horses that work on rough surfaces need shoes as a form of hoof protection, and metal (more specifically steel) is definitely the best material for the job.
Farriers have been applying metal horseshoes since the 6h century BC. They use nails to fix them in place, and the process of applying and replacing them has largely remained the same over the centuries. Horses are heavy, and their hooves are relatively small when compared to their body size. A horse’s weight pushes hard on its hooves as it walks, runs, and performs its daily tasks. If the horse is ridden, there’s even more weight pushing down on the hooves and on the horseshoes.
Metal is a sound choice for horseshoes, but is it the best choice every time? Sometimes, a rubber or polyurethane horseshoe can get the job done, all while providing some extra benefits.
What are the benefits of glue-on/rubber horseshoes?
Not all horses work on hard and on rough surfaces. Some of them are kept purely for pleasure riding, or for light showmanship. In some cases, it makes sense for the horse to have a softer, more forgiving horseshoe.
Think of a horse that needs to come up on stage, for instance. Metal horseshoes would definitely damage the wooden stage, but the surface is also hard enough to damage a horse’s unprotected hoof. You can’t let the horse go unshod, but you don’t want to damage the stage surface either. In this case, a glue-on horseshoe is the best solution.
Some horses need lighter and flexible horseshoes for therapeutic reasons. Others even wear them during races, especially if they can’t wear metal horseshoes for medical reasons. Generally speaking, glue-on horseshoes represent an “in-between” approach. The horse owner will want his horse to be as comfortable as possible while still benefiting from some form of protection.
Are metal horseshoes more durable than rubber ones?
Metal is the strongest and most durable material you’ll find for horseshoes. There are also carbon fiber horseshoes available on the market right now, but those are insanely expensive and rather difficult to come by. Comparing metal to rubber might seem nonsensical. However, keep in mind that metal horseshoes do wear off, and they also need replacing frequently.
Apart from the materials they’re made of, another important difference between these types of horseshoes is the way they’re set on the hoof. Metal horseshoes are nailed in, while rubber ones are usually fixed on the hoof using adhesive. The adhesive is often not as durable as the nails, which is why metal horseshoes tend to last longer. As for wearing, keep in mind that rubber is also used in the automotive industry, and it lasts for ages. A rubber horseshoe can often provide just as many “miles” as a metal one, assuming that the glue holds.
It’s worth mentioning that some rubber horseshoes can also be nailed in. This way, they can last just as much as a metal alternative.
Are there different types of glue-on horseshoes?
Glue-on horseshoes are designed for light work, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not durable. Depending on their design and materials, they’re better suited for different tasks. Some of them are created with flexibility and lightness in mind, while others support the frog of the hoof as well as the hoof wall for a comfortable and smooth ride. Here are the main types of glue-on horseshoes:
- Rubber horseshoes. A fine example is the Easy’s Slipper from Advanced Equine Comfort. These shoes are made out of a flexible, durable urethane rubber with a built-in rocker and adjustable breakover. They help reduce stress on the bones, joints, and ligaments, and they can diminish pain while minimizing the effects of lameness. Other rubber horseshoes such as the Ollov Original have shock-absorbing properties, produce low vibrations, and last just as long as a metal horseshoe.
- Polyurethane horseshoes. These horseshoes mimic a horse’s natural hoof composition. They provide a natural heel expansion under full load, and they greatly reduce concussion and vibration. Another advantage of polyurethane horseshoes is that they can be custom-shaped to match your horse’s hoof perfectly.
Are steel horseshoes better than aluminum horseshoes?
Now that we know what are the main differences between metal and rubber horseshoes, it’s time to compare the two most popular metal horseshoes: steel vs aluminum. We already know that steel is tougher, so why would anyone even go for an aluminum horseshoe in the first place?
It all has to do with lightness: aluminum is considerably lighter when compared to steel, and it doesn’t rust either. Considering that the average weight of a steel shoe is 9 oz or more and the average aluminum horseshoe weighs just 6 oz, it makes sense for a horse owner to consider investing in a set of aluminum horseshoes.
The problem is, while aluminum shoes are lighter than steel ones, they are generally more expensive, and they cannot be reset due to the metal’s lack of flexibility. Aluminum horseshoes are also more brittle than steel ones, and they might be more uncomfortable for the horse because they’re not very good at energy dissipation.
So are steel horseshoes better than aluminum horseshoes? Steel horseshoes are better for draft horses or horses that work frequently on rough ground. Aluminum horseshoes are lighter and will likely improve a horse’s running performance, but they might damage the horse’s hoof in the long run due to their lack of flexibility and poor energy dissipation.
If you really need to shoe your horse, it’s worth doing some research and figuring out what kind of horseshoe you should go for. Here are some of the main takeaways from this article:
- Metal horseshoes are more popular than rubber ones.
- Metal horseshoes are usually set using nails, while rubber horseshoes are glued on.
- Rubber shoes are more flexible, lighter, and offer improved energy dissipation.
- Glue-on horseshoes are made out of rubber or polyurethane.
- Metal horseshoes are made out of steel or aluminum.
- Some rubber shoes can be nailed in.
- Metal shoes are not necessarily more durable than rubber ones.
- The best shoe for your horse complements its lifestyle, the type of work that it does, and its medical history.