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Horseshoes of a Zephyr for example states:

These iron horseshoes come in a set of four. While all four shoes are affixed to the hooves of a horse or similar creature, they allow the creature to move normally while floating 4 inches above the ground. This effect means the creature can cross or stand above nonsolid or unstable surfaces, such as water or lava. The creature leaves no tracks and ignores difficult terrain. In addition, the creature can move at normal speed for up to 12 hours a day without suffering exhaustion from a forced march.

The "similar creature" portion is rather vague. Is the item description saying that the creature needs four hooves, or that it needs to be a quadruped?

I am inclined to think it works with anything that is a quadruped, mainly for the purpose of the paladin spells Find Steed and Find Greater Steed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I’ve corrected the magic item name, “Horseshoes of a Zephyr” is correct. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2021 at 16:21

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It needs to be a quadruped with single toed hooves effectively identical to those of a horse. They're horseshoes, they're literally the size and shape of a horse's hoof, and have to be nailed into the hoof.

Being magical, I assume they can resize to a limited extent to fit any sized hoof, but they definitely won't work with arbitrary mounts from Find Steed/Find Greater Steed; if you try to nail horseshoes to a dire wolf, you're engaging in animal cruelty, and they'd presumably cripple your mount for life.

So basically, look at the mount and see: Does it have a horse-like hoof? For Find Steed, that would logically include just an actual horse or a pony. For Find Greater Steed, that would cover a pegasus and nothing else. Outside those spells, if you decide to ride a donkey, Sancho Panza-style, or a mule, or tame a zebra (I'm told that's impossible), lasso a unicorn (harder than the zebra?), etc., have fun, that should work just fine, they're all equines (or magical equivalents) and the shoe should fit with a little magical aid in resizing (the same aid that allows you to assume that a 100 lb. elf can wear plate armor taken off the corpse of a 250 lb. orc chieftain; in practice, in the real world, two different 200 lb. human knights of the same height still needed individually custom fit plate armor). If you have a centaur buddy, the back half is a horse, so that should work too.

If your character gets a Sleipnir-like mount with horse hooves, but eight legs instead of four, RAW it should work, though a DM who demanded two sets for such an animal may have logic on their side, depending on the effects produced.

This is not to say there couldn't be equivalent magic items for less common mounts (e.g. Doggie Booties of a Zephyr for your mastiff or dire wolf mount), and perhaps a DM could exhibit a very giving sort of discretion and rule that magic "horseshoes" work on basically any 4+ hooved creature, with the magic enabling major reshaping and providing non-real world means of affixing the shoe, so "horseshoes" become "shoes appropriate to any mount" when they come near an otherwise incompatible animal's feet, but without that level of permissiveness, no, you can't put horseshoes on something that doesn't have the feet of a horse.

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    \$\begingroup\$ what about creatures with two hooves, such as Satyrs? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2021 at 7:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PixelMaster "While all four shoes are affixed to the hooves of a horse or similar creature" — you will have to double stack them :) \$\endgroup\$
    – J.E
    Oct 15, 2021 at 8:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SilentAxe: I'm saying working on anything but single-toed ungulate (equine, or magical equivalent) hooves would require DM house rules. Horseshoes are for horse hooves (attaching to a single unbroken semicircle of hoof). Claiming they work on something with more than one toe, or a less thick hoof is like insisting a bat can wear gloves made for humans because they both have "hands", ignoring the massive structural differences between the two. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2021 at 10:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nick012000: "Many magic items will change size to fit their users." As I said, this would be like assuming gloves for humans will fit a bat because we both have hands. If the DM wants to make a call for that extreme a resizing/reshaping, go ahead, but it's inventing abilities. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2021 at 10:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ um excuse me, Don Quixote rode a broken down old plowhorse named Rocinante. Sancho Panza rode a donkey. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2021 at 12:46
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A "similar creature" is one with horse hooves in specific.

The rules on Wearing and Wielding Items (DMG p.140) have this to say:

A magic item meant to be worn must be donned in the intended fashion: boots go on the feet, gloves on the hands, hats and helmets on the head, and rings on the finger. [...] In most cases, a magic item that's meant to be worn can fit a creature regardless of size or build. Many magic garments are made to be easily adjustable, or they magically adjust themselves to the wearer.

However, it goes on to say:

When a nonhumanoid tries to wear an item, use your discretion as to whether the item functions as intended. A ring placed on a tentacle might work, but a yuan-ti with a snakelike tail instead of legs can't wear boots.

So while magic items generally work for any creature with appropriate anatomy, what anatomy is "appropriate" depends on the DM to decide. Some DMs decide that boots work just fine on, say, lizardfolk, kobolds, and aaracokra "because magic", but many will say that these creatures lack the humanlike feet needed to wear shoes as we know them.

That said, the appropriate anatomy for horseshoes is horse hooves. They're shaped very specifically to match a horse's feet, not a deer's or tiger's. The text says "similar creatures" in order to cover the wide array of creatures that have horse hooves, but aren't listed as "horses" per-se, including ponies, pegasi, centaurs, and the back half of a hippogriff. (Hippogriffs, however, can't benefit from most magical horseshoes, since they can't wear the full set.)

These items would almost certainly not be appropriate for an ox, elk, boar, or other split-toed ungulate, and definitely wouldn't work for anything with paws, claws, or other non-hoofy feet. Unicorns are questionable -- while the art in the Monster Manual for 5th edition shows horselike hooves, traditionally, unicorns are often shown as having deerlike legs (and this is how they were depicted in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd edition D&D). Your DM will have to make a call on whether a unicorn is a swordhorse or a speardeer.

That said, you should feel free to work with the DM (or decide, if that's you) to create equivalent magic items for creatures who lack specific anatomy, such as anklets, greaves, or leg-wraps that grant the same benefits as magical boots or horseshoes, but function for creatures that have oddly shaped feet. If an elf-paladin's particular idiom involves riding elks and deer, that shouldn't stop them from accessing certain kinds of magic -- but they may not be able to just loot some horseshoes of the zephyr and use them. They may need to get a custom item made, or go to an elf city where ivy leg wraps of the zephyr might be more common.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I find any answer where a DM needs to know what a split-toed ungulate is to be iffy. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 15, 2021 at 13:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ You don't, you just need to know if it has horse hooves or not. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2021 at 13:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ "This does mean hippogriffs can't benefit from most magical horseshoes, since they can't wear the full set." Unless, as per the speculation on two hooved creatures in the comment thread on my answer, you could just nail two horseshoes in a stack to each of the hippogriff's valid hooves. :-) The commenter is wrong on satyrs (goat hooves aren't horse hooves), but the speculation works for a hippogriff, in theory. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2021 at 17:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like that your answer comes to essentially the same conclusion as mine with additional support from the 5E magic item rules for the plain English real world contention that horseshoes can only be attached to horse (or effectively horse) hooves. I knew there were rules on magic items that don't fit the expected body plan, but I didn't look up the precise wording, because of course you can't nail horseshoes to a hoof with a different shape or inadequately thickness, any more than a gorilla can wear sneakers "because it has feet". +1 \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2021 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ And one-handed greatsword experts, yes. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15, 2021 at 20:28
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Nothing in the descriptions of the two horseshoe-type magic items published to date explicitly requires a creature with hooves identical to those of a horse.

The DMG offers the following on the subject of wearing magic items (p. 140; emphasis mine):

A magic item meant to be worn must be donned in the intended fashion: boots go on the feet [...]

In most cases, a magic item that’s meant to be worn can fit a creature regardless of size or build. Many magic garments are made to be easily adjustable, or they magically adjust themselves to the wearer.

Rare exceptions exist. If the story suggests a good reason for an item to fit only creatures of a certain size or shape, you can rule that it doesn’t adjust. For example, armor made by the drow might fit elves only. Dwarves might make items usable only by dwarf-sized and dwarf-shaped characters.

When a nonhumanoid tries to wear an item, use your discretion as to whether the item functions as intended. A ring placed on a tentacle might work, but a yuan-ti with a snakelike tail instead of legs has no way to wear magic boots.

There are two magic items presented as horseshoes in official D&D 5e publications so far: horseshoes of speed and horseshoes of a zephyr. Both items use the same language in their descriptions:

These iron horseshoes come in a set of four. While all four shoes are affixed to the hooves of a horse or similar creature . . . .

All we can derive from this language is that the creature must have hooves, and that those hooves must be "similar" to a horse's. The word "similar" is otherwise undefined and entirely left to DM discretion. From the very fact that the word "similar" was included, however, we can deduce that the creature's hooves do not need to be identical to a horse's. Some degree of similarity less than identicality is sufficient.

Moreover, because we are talking about an explicitly magical object, there is little benefit to using real-world logic to reason about the horseshoes. Your mileage may vary, of course, but at least at the tables where I have played, the DMG's discussion of size-changing magic items has meant, e.g., that magical plate armor looted from a long-limbed bugbear will reshape itself to fit a tiefling with a tail.

As for the horseshoes, granted, the "hooves of a horse or similar creature" requirement might be one of those "[r]are exceptions" mentioned in the DMG. Even so, there is nothing in their descriptions to suggest they could not be worn, say, upon the hooved toes of a hippopotamus. Nor do their descriptions specify how they must, or even may, be "affixed[.]" It might be with nails, but it would also be rules-correct to let them be glued on, or even tied on. And it is just as reasonable to permit the horseshoes to affix themselves magically without any need for nails or other fixatives. Nothing in their descriptions is to the contrary, and the DMG squarely commits the functioning of magic items worn by nonhumanoids to DM discretion. It is up to the DM to decide, based on the needs of the story, whether there is "good reason for [horseshoes] to fit only creatures of a certain size or shape[.]"

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Any perissodactyloid with four true hooves will do

Horseshoes of a Zephyr states (emphases mine):

These iron horseshoes come in a set of four. While all four shoes are affixed to the hooves of a horse or similar creature, they allow...

Grammatically, there are two ways to parse the 'or'; it could divide the second sentence into either comparing the:

"hooves of
(a horse) or
([a] similar creature)" - that is, affixed to the hooves of a horse OR affixed to the hooves of a similar creature.

or it could divide the

"(hooves of a horse) or
([a] similar creature)" - that is, they can be affixed to the hooves of a horse OR affixed to a similar creature which does not necessarily have hooves.

While both parsings are grammatically possible, in context we can see the second one does not make sense because the hooves of a horse are not themselves a creature; it is a false comparison.

Thus the first parsing is the only one possible in context, and this establishes two things for us:

  1. The creature must have hooves and

  2. It must be something similar to a horse

So, what does similar to a horse mean?

The DMG (p. 140) says in Wearing and Wielding Items (emphases mine):

A magic item meant to be worn must be donned in the intended fashion: boots go on the feet, gloves on the hands, hats and helmets on the head, and rings on the finger. [...] In most cases, a magic item that's meant to be worn can fit a creature regardless of size or build. Many magic garments are made to be easily adjustable, or they magically adjust themselves to the wearer.

This passage makes it clear that being similar to a horse does not mean being like a horse in size or build, since the horseshoes will magically adjust to that. In what way then is a potential candidate similar to a horse? It must have four hooves, as the magic item description implies. And those hooves must be similar to horse hooves, not in size or build, but in...shape.

Putting these together, we see then the the horseshoes are appropriate for:

Things that are like horses in that they have hooves, and also

Have hooves that are like horse hooves, and also

Have [at least] four hooves.

So, we know that these do not work on the fantasy versions of goats, cows, pigs, sheep, and other equivalents to the real world artiodactyls. While these may have hooves, their hooves are not like horse hooves in that they are not U-shaped like a horseshoe, rather they are half-u's ('cloven-hooved'). In particular, the magic item will not work on the found steeds of camels or elk.

Also, we know that they do not work on things that have horse-like hooves, but which have fewer than four of them. While other comments and answers have suggested 'stacking' them, this runs afoul of the DMG injunction that magic items be worn 'in the intended fashion'. Horseshoes are not meant to be worn doubled up.

However, we also know that they will work on things that have hooves like horses. This includes obvious equines like found steed ponies and found greater steed pegasi. But it also includes the fantasy equivalents of real-word perissodactyls, such as tapir, whose hooves have the characteristic horse-like U-shape, even though they have many more than four of them. In particular, the shoes will work on the found greater steed rhinoceros.

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