With only 57 days until the 143rd Kentucky Derby, we’ll soon start to see Churchill Downs’ barns fill up with the world’s greatest Thoroughbreds. As many as 2,000 horses call Churchill Downs home each spring. That’s a lot of horses to care for and caring for their feet is a top priority. In fact, their performance depends on it.
While humans have podiatrists, pedicurists and cobblers, horses have farriers. Farriers are the specialists who care for horses’ feet. They combine the skills of a blacksmith and veterinarian to trim and balance horses’ hooves, craft and maintain horseshoes and place them on the horse.
Nailing metal shoes to horses’ hooves began in the 6th century. Before that, early Asian horsemen protected their horses’ hooves with leather and plant booties while the Romans’ horses wore leather and metal sandals called, "hipposandals". Iron shoes became common in the 13th and 14th centuries. Today, aluminum horseshoes are popular in racing, but plastic, bronze, steel and titanium are also used.
No matter the material, a good horseshoe can make a big difference in a horses’ performance on the track. That’s probably why horseshoes are signs of good luck – there’s a lot riding on them.