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Barefoot Or Shod - Which Is Best?
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Barefoot Or Shod - Which Is Best?

Keeping horses ‘barefoot’ has never been so popular.  So, why is this and what advantage does it have over traditional shoeing?


Keeping your horse without shoes on is obviously cheaper than having him shod every four to six weeks.  You could even learn to maintain your horse’s feet yourself.  Barefoot supporters also claim that the horse’s foot is able to function more naturally without shoes and remains healthier, so you’ll have fewer vet bills too.

Healthy Hooves and Better Movement

When a rigid shoe is placed onto the horse’s foot, it takes away the foot’s ability to flex and act as a natural shock absorber.  This can lead to poor circulation inside the foot leaving it prone to injury and disease.  Shoes raise the horse’s foot so that the shock-absorbing frog is not in contact with the ground.  This leaves the hoof walls to take the strain instead, passing the concussive impact on to the joints.

The weight of a set of shoes affects the flight of the limbs, and consequently alters stride length and action.  Horses rely on feel when moving across the ground because they can’t see where they are putting their feet.  Shoes take away this sensation, making the horse more prone to stumbles and trips.  Barefoot hooves have a certain amount of grip too making them more secure on slippery surfaces like tarmac. 

Steel shoes can cause injury to the wearer, his handlers and his field mates.  Barefoot is clearly the safer option for all concerned.

Farriers’ Argument

Farriers argue that horses are shod to make their feet better able to withstand the increased wear and tear brought about by ridden work.  They maintain that barefoot hooves are more easily broken and prone to cracking especially during spells of very dry weather.  Shoes can be fitted with studs to help a horse balance when working on slippery grass or when jumping.  Horses with poor foot conformation or those recovering from injury can be greatly helped by remedial shoeing.

In Conclusion

It seems that there are arguments both for and against your horse going barefoot.  Horses living in the wild manage perfectly well without shoes, so do domesticated working animals really need them?


Image sourcehorsegroomingsupplies.com

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  1. PonyGirl
    Another interesting article. I think whether or not a horse needs shoes depends on the individual horse's feet, the amount of work he's doing and the surface he's moving over. I currently have all 3 of my horses barefoot. One horse is retired. I kept him shod throughout his working life. The other two horses are working, but are accustomed to being barefoot and are only worked on a manicured track surface. I think the wild horse argument is bogus. Feral horses with bad feet didn't survive very long. They have bred selectively for sturdy feet (in some cases for hundreds of years). Our domestic horses have not had tender feet bred out of them, since humans are capable of helping them with their foot problems. Otherwise, there's definitely pros and cons to both ways of caring for feet.
    1. autumnap
      I agree. I kept one of mine barefoot for many years while he was a baby and only doing very light work in the school and living out in the field. I only had him shod when we started doing road work, although looking back I think I don't know that I really needed to do that. I guess it's like most things - pros and cons as you say. x
  2. Mark Calvo
    Mark Calvo
    I am on the side of no shoes in this argument, though I am far from being an expert. My two boys are barefoot and have been for a long time. I think with a good diet and proper care not having shoes works. If you do some research online you can find information about the Houston Texas police horses that are now shoeless. These horses are used for extended numbers of hours on city streets and they have healthy feet. I think the thing to remember that not having shoes does not mean not having hoof care. This is just my humble opinion. Great article by the way.
    1. PonyGirl
      Mark, I read about the Houston horses and I was surprised they didn't need shoes. When I worked on the track in New Orleans, the backside was almost all pavement and my horses" feet would have certainly worn down to the quick. Their shoes nearly wore through every 4 weeks. I also found that shoes definitely protect their feet on rocky ground since it does raise the sole of their foot up. lessening the pressure of small stones. My older gelding was shod his entire life and he never had one foot problem. Now that he is barefoot, his feet aren't as good as they were, but that could be due to advanced age. (He's 30 now.) I'm happy with my current horses being barefoot, but I think I did the right thing by my old horse and the others I've kept shod. The only opinions I disagree with that say ALL horses should go barefoot no matter what, or say ALL horses need shoes no matter what. Anything in between seems like a reasonable opinion to me.
    2. autumnap
      Many thanks! Everyone's opinion is valid - and not humble at all!
  3. liz48170
    Most depends on the horse and what you and your horse are doing. My horse has hard hoofs but tender soles, is gaited (takes 10 times the steps to go same distance), sensitive, and really likes to have shoes on her hoofs. Some horses have soft hoofs that chip like crazy if you ride trail, thus shoes again. If you ride distance, you most likely will need shoes. Perhaps if you are in an arena only, with a horse that has good hard hoofs, you can go without. I do not think there is a right or wrong answer it really depends on the horse, the horses hoof, and what discipline you will be riding.

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