Humans often pride themselves on being the most intelligent creatures on the planet. We have evolved from living outdoors to building massive luxury homes for ourselves. We have progressed from thinking the sun revolved around the earth to unlocking the secrets of our human genome. In other words, we’re pretty smart. And one of the coolest things we have created are shoes! Okay, maybe not the very coolest, but they are important. So important in fact that we decided shoes were important for more than just the human race.
All the way back in 400BC, humans recognized the importance of shoes for horses and other working animals. In Asia, people would wrap horses hooves with rawhide or leather. The ancient Romans created metal boots that would strap to the hoof, protecting it from wear. It wasn’t until 500 or 600AD though that the modern metal horseshoe (nailed into the hoof) was invented. Don’t worry though, the outer layer of the horses hoof where the shoe is nailed is not sensitive and won’t be damaged by the nails.
It all started with the domestication of horses. When we change the environment, terrain, or work load of a horse it changes the conditions of a hoof. Imagine always going barefoot in a warm dry climate. Now imagine moving to Alaska and still trying to go barefoot. You’re probably not going to have a very good time of it. The same thing happened to horses. The added weight of a rider or a cart added greater strain on the hoof, wearing it down quickly over time. Colder and wetter environments can breakdown the keratin wall of the hoof, causing decay. Horseshoes were the best solution.
Modern horseshoes can be made of anything from steel and aluminum to specialized shoes of rubber, plastic, or titanium. The shoe is specially shaped to each individual hoof for each individual horse and can help with protection, traction, and even gait correction for horses with bone or muscle deformities in the leg. Racehorses (like the ones competing in the Kentucky Derby this Saturday) often wear aluminum horseshoes because they are lightweight. Some racing shoes are actually glued onto the hoof rather than nailed to promote a healthier gait and hoof wall growth. With a growing multitude of styles, materials, and brands available, it’s just as important to match the shoe to the horse and activity, as it is to match a running shoe to your own foot and movement. So before you place your bets this Saturday, read up a bit on what shoes each horse is wearing. A good set of shoes can mean the difference between first and second place.