Some Point to Point ... Shoes or Barefoot?

I thought today I could give some rebuttal to some very common answers we get when we ask a farrier or a veterinarian about whether or not our horses can go barefoot. The following are actual statements that have been made by farriers or veterinarians (grey italics). My rebuttals in reg. font and black. 

--Can or should your horse go barefoot? Honestly assess his conformation. Look at his legs but also observe his hooves. Is he prone to sole abscess and bruises, even with shoes? Do his hoof walls tend to be brittle and crack or break off? If so, going barefoot may leave your horse sore or lame much of the time. Some horses’ feet will toughen up over time, but others will not.

If the hooves tend to be brittle and crack or break off then diet plays a huge factor in this. Too much sugar in the diet will cause shelly, brittle and weak hooves. Cracking and breaking off could be as simple a fix as getting a correct trim. But diet also can play a part in this too -- again, too much sugar. It would be a good thing to learn to 'feed the horse like a horse' ... fresh, raw forage, hay, minerals, salt, grasses.  Think of how the ferals live in the wild. No one goes out with a scoop of processed grains to dole out to each horse. They eat forages.  Oh, and they move -- alot! 

-- Most horses today live fairly artificial lives, with small paddocks and stalls housing them. Healthy hoof growth depends on getting plenty of exercise, and some horses may not get enough exercise to stimulate regular hoof growth. In those cases, wear may exceed growth and those horses need shoes to be comfortable when ridden.

True, dat ... most domestics do live fairly artificial lives. In fact, one could say ALL domestics live artificial lives. However, some more ingrained than others. Most domestics do NOT get enough exercise. Their hooves DO continue to grow, however, and if there is excess growth then that means, simply, the trim cycle needs to be shortened to reflect the horse's 'lifestyle'. That's all. ;) 

--A horse with orthopedic injuries or abnormalities will often benefit greatly from being shod. Corrective shoeing is an art, and a good farrier can help horses with issues ranging from a sole bruise that is helped by a padded shoe or special angle work to pads to make a horse with conformational issues feel more comfortable.

I disagree. Most of my work over the last couple of decades was with pathological hooves. Laminitis, founder, WLD, navicular etc.  I did have a few with orthopedic injuries mixed into the years, too. I was, many times, called as 'last resort' to save the horses from euthanasia. The answer to these situations was to PULL the shoes, trim the hooves up correctly, use boots if needed for thin soles, change the diet and the exercise program and husbandry. It's really not rocket science. Horses, as all animals do, have amazing capabilities to heal themselves "given correct parameters in which to do so".  That's the key -- given the right parameters. Most issues with hooves are the RESULTS of imbalances - either in the foot, itself (mechanical) or in the body (metabolic).  Correct the imbalances through diet, lifestyle, environment, correct hoofcare and the horses will heal themselves quite nicely.

--If ya wanna ride your horse then you're gonna have to shoe him.

Officer Sokoloski with his barefoot police horse, Houston, TX

Hogwash. Pure and simple. Hogwash. Had a vet do a soundness exam on a horse that I had been rehabbing at my place for a year. The horse had been slated to be euthanized a year prior at 7 years old with 'incurable Navicular'.  PULLING the shoes, giving proper hoofcare and carefully managing the balance, the diet and the exercise the horse received rendered a '100% sound' declaration at the end of the year. At that point, the vet said, "Yep, he's perfectly sound now but if you're gonna ride him then you're going to have to put shoes on him."  The owner promptly replied, "No. The whole reason the horse is sound is because we took him OUT of shoes. He'll never wear shoes again!"  And he never did wear shoes again. The owner learned to trim and she and her husband maintained the horse until just before Thanksgiving this year when, at 20 years old, the horse had to be put down due to a nasty colic. The horse remained sound for 13 years following the 'death sentence proclamation". Barefoot. Eventing, Dressage, Trail Riding -- he did it all soundly. 

Those are just a very few examples of what many horses owners hear from their veterinarians and farriers. My strong recommendation is to thoroughly research, do your homeword diligently, talk with barefoot horse owners, find out how they're successful and then GO FOR IT!  Hey, worse comes to worse you can always put the shoes back on again. (But I can almost guarantee you won't!) 


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe 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 hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:   Gwenyth also offers an online home-study of Natural Hoofcare 101 ... please go here: to view information and to register. 



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