Shoeing Wild Horses

Q: I've just adopted a wild horse and have heard that they often don't need shoes. She is in a quarter-acre dry lot connected to a 10-acre irrigated pasture for turn-out. Do we need to shoe her?


A: This is an excellent question; there has been a lot of debate lately about when a domestic horse needs to be shod. Wild horses and burros usually have very strong feet with excellent hoof walls and good shape. This is partly due to natural selection and perhaps a bit to genetics.

Mostly, the hoof shape we've come to know as natural, or associated with wild horses, is a result of environment and exercise. Most wild horses live in very dry, rocky, desert-like areas, and they often travel 10-20 miles a day just to get feed and water. This probably has a positive effect on hoof structure and shape during the first few years of development and has a tremendous impact on the strength and shape of the hooves of adult horses and burros.

After you remove a horse from the wild, the feet will change over time. Some characteristics might stay the same for life, but certainly hoof shape (toe length, toe angle, etc.) and the characteristics of the frog will change if the horse is kept in a stall, pen, or even a large pasture. It is hard to encourage 10 to 20 miles of travel a day on hard ground even if your horse lives in a pasture with hundreds of acres.

Depending on how long the mare has been off the range, when she was last trimmed by BLM, and the terrain and amount of turnout you have, she will most likely need to be trimmed within several weeks after adoption. That's why it is important to start gentling her as soon as possible and include picking up and handling all four feet early so the farrier can safely help you keep her feet in good shape. If you keep up with trimming and give her a good amount of turnout on the driest, hardest pasture you can find, your mare will most likely keep her excellent quality feet for life. Whether she'll need to be shod will depend on how you plan to use her--the footing, terrain, climate, etc. She might be a little less likely to need shoes than a domestic horse, but that varies with the individual just like it does for any domestic horse.

Your best bet is to work with your local farrier and veterinarian who have seen the horse to help make that decision.

Remember you can contact the BLM ( if you need help finding a farrier or veterinarian who has agreed to work with clients who have adopted wild horses and burros in your area.

About the Author

Albert Kane, DVM, PhD, MPVM, et al.

Albert Kane, DVM, MPVM, PhD, is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Biomedical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University

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