Shoes on Horses

Well, did that catch your attention? Who shoes horses anymore anyway?

Here we are on a HOOF BOOT site and I'm gonna talk about SHOES on Horses! 

Why DO people put shoes on horses?

What's the point?

Horses weren't BORN with shoes on their hooves!

Can all horses be barefoot?

Personally, I'm a strong believer that ALL horses can be barefoot and live life comfortably as horses. That being said, not all of the horses' HUMANS can keep a barefooted horse.

Contrary to many beliefs, caring for the barefoot horse can be harder and more detailed than caring for a shod horse. Careful consideration of diet, exercise, terrain, general husbandry, movement all come into play when caring for a barefooted horse. The discipline one rides MIGHT be the deciding factor in whether or not the horse needs shoes.

Do you need shoes for a particular discipline?

Well, let's think of the logging horse. In order to pull huge felled trees, the horse has to have some incredible traction on the hooves. So studded shoes would help with that. 

What about Reining Horses? "Sliders" can be put on the hooves for greater slide distances.

What about Carriage Horses? Horses that pull carriages and humans on hot tar for 8 hours a day?

And then we have the Race Horses. Lightweight shoes are put on race horses at very young ages to help increase traction and speed.

Do you see the correlation here?  All these examples point to what the HUMAN desires for his or her horse to do. In some cases to win money or prizes. Does that have anything to do with the horse's HOOF HEALTH?

Are you shoeing for your discipline or your horse?

No, not really.

I've ridden barefooted cutters, reiners, jumpers, barrel racers and pole benders, trail riders and show horses. I've ridden harsh, New England trails on power lines with R.O.C.K.S.!  I've ridden in snow and on ice. And I've ridden English pleasure and dressage horses. I've ridden on grass and I've ridden in specially footed arenas and indoor riding facilities. I've ridden in SW Florida Sugar Sand .. for miles and miles and miles. And in bogs and swamps and mud ... well, you get the idea by now.

Guess what?  The hooves of these horses were strong and supple and healthy! The hooves didn't fall off. Nor did they even fall apart! Even though they wore NO shoes! I won some competitions; I lost some and mostly I placed in between somewhere. It wasn't because my horses were shod (because they weren't!) ... it was because they were good horses with healthy hooves. Their diet, husbandry, exercise, discipline, etc. were carefully tended. They were basically allowed to be horses ... 24/7 turnout with shelter ad lib, diet was a variety of forage, natural minerals and salt provided ad lib, and fresh clean water. Yes, GRASS grazing. Unadulterated, un-treated, un-fertilized or herbicided grass .. a variety of old and new grasses and weeds and flowers and shrubs.

Allowed to be horses.

Photo courtesy American Farriers Journal


 Now, what about pathological hooves that might NEED some extra support?

Again, personally, and I've specialized in rehabilitating and healing pathological hooves for 20 years+ ... I've yet to see a horse that needed shoes. In fact, I would pull the shoes for successful rehabilitation. Even for fractured coffin bones.

Now that might cause some feathers to ruffle. But, that's OK.

How do shoes affect your horses’ hooves?

Shoes RESTRICT the natural expansion and contraction of the hooves during movement. This restriction affects the natural circulation of the hoof thus, affects the amount of nutrition and oxygen the hooves are getting. Shoes also add to the concussive vibration that goes through the hooves, up the legs and right to the shoulders and backs of the horses. One of the most important factors is that most times, the shoes (well, actually the TRIM for the application of the shoes) does not allow for a heel-first landing. The caudal/palmer region of the hooves, the back 2/3rd of the hoof, is where ALL the shock absorbing tissues reside. The frog and the digital cushion are in the back of the hoof, each made up of 50% fluid! (Think of Dr. Schol's Gel Pads!) The digital cushion, a  healthy digital cushion, is made up of shock-absorbing fibrocartilaginous tissue that can take a big beating and then go right back to its strength and resiliency for the next step. The supportive tissue, the ligaments and tendons and cartilages mostly reside in the rear of the hooves and the legs. There is NO MUSCLE in the horse's leg from the knee to the ground. If the hoof lands toe first then all the concussive force placed upon the landing hoof runs up the BONE of the leg; not up the soft tissues in the back of the pastern and fetlock. The front of the equine hoof is just not created to withstand the force of the landing weight.

Do shoes inhibit the natural movement of the hoof?

Shoes inhibit the natural movement and protective systems of the hoof. They inhibit the proprioception of the hooves that allows for steady and safe stepping. They are also extremely slippery on tarred roads or wet grass or in snow and on ice. Bare hooves naturally suction themselves to wet and precarious ground due to the natural expansion and contraction. (And, actually, horses are smart enough to stay off the ice and will find traction spots provided by the ground IF they have full proprioception of the hooves!)

So while there are few equine loggers and carriage horses that may NEED the additional traction for their work, the others can certainly be successful without shoes.

It is truly all about what's in one's heart and how you use it. For me and my horses and my clients' horses?  We choose to use BOOTS when needed for rehabilitation or healing. We choose to take on the extra care that is needed for HEALTHY barefooted horses.

We choose what's best for the horse.

This is truly a situation of, "It's not about the horse." ... Shoes are for the humans.

 Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the world-renowned author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" and "Natural Hoof Anthology" as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoof care for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in NE Connecticut and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:


Gwenyth is available for freelance assignments, contract work and consulting.




Hi Kristen … please feel free to contact me via email or PM on Facebook.

Gwenyth Santagate September 03, 2019

I am interested in reading and or talking to Gwenyth about hoof wall separation and what is needed in this horses diet to heal his hooves naturally

Kristen Pohl September 03, 2019

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