Barefoot When Possible, Shoes When Necessary
Updated: Mar 5, 2018
Throughout my childhood and young adult years, all our horses were kept shod. We had a family farrier, and he came and put on shoes. There was never a second thought. Horses needed shoes. We drove our horses hitched to carriages down our rural paved streets, so to keep them from slipping, borium studs were put on all four shoes.
However, there was this one horse....
I kept Miss Veda Louise, a little paint mare, at my cousin's boarding facility, so I could take advantage of a riding arena and state forest trails. She made sure she told me and my farrier in no uncertain terms how she felt about shoes being nailed on her feet. It made for a dangerous situation that my farrier rightly did not want to continue, and he left, giving me strict advice about how she needed to be trained to accept the procedure.
After explaining this new frustration to a fellow boarder, I learned that there was a barefoot trimmer that came to the barn regularly, and that leaving a horse barefoot, as they are in nature, was an option that I ought to pursue. I made an appointment, and then was educated in the value of a barefoot hoof, which can be a very healthy hoof, as the wild mustang foot model indicates. The hoof anatomy can then function as it was meant to naturally.
I then kept my horses barefoot for several years. However, they all exhibited some sensitivity when walking on rocky terrain, and hoof boots were always necessary to keep them walking out comfortably. But this was not a problem. And it was still the most economical choice. I could get a couple years out of one pair of boots. There were no lost shoes to deal with, and I never lost a boot, as they were fitted properly.
There are many different brands of hoof boots on the market today, and they all have good features and provide excellent protection, and can even have traction added.
It was my last trimmer that suggested I should pursue trimming and hoof care for myself. He spent months encouraging me and teaching me to do my own maintenance between trims to ensure my boots continued to fit nicely. And I spent months on the computer, comparing the different courses and instructors available. I found a lot of brief clinics, online instruction, and apprenticeship requirements that were not feasible if I wanted to keep my marriage and family relationships intact. And I wanted to be able to provide my future clients with excellent service that comes from the most thorough education possible.
Finally, I found the Mission Farrier School website. It caught my interest and I read every page in one sitting. Not only was there a complete education on barefoot trimming, but the principles of farrier work and shoes that provide balance to the hoof and limb made so much sense. And once I saw what the rain forest environment of western Washington does to a hoof, the more I agreed that shoes were necessary in certain circumstances. It it very difficult in that environment to maintain a sound horse while the hoof stays so soft and moist and toe bars and heals keep getting stretched forward and throw everything off balance. The soft soles are also prone to bruising and soreness.
I've since learned that there are three vital factors necessary to maintain a sound, working horse barefoot: diet, environment, and exercise; while I will also add that it is very important to keep up with a short trim cycle of 5 to 6 weeks. Only then will the competent trimmer be able to successfully address distortions and balance.
While it's fairly simple for a horse owner to address the diet, it is impossible for some to change their horse's environment. If your horse is kept on your own property, and you have the resources and space to create a hoof stimulating environment, that is great. Not everyone has that capability. Additionally, not every horse owner can give their horse daily exercise to stimulate growth and build strength. All is not lost if, at the minimum, the horse has dry places to stand on during the day and night, and can be fitted with boots for work if they show sensitivity.
However, if the horse's job is more rigorous, the job and the footing he/she needs to work on is harsh or requires traction for safety, shoes are an excellent choice. Also for certain lameness issues, or conformation issues, shoes can be applied with some built in mechanics to provide protection, support, and ease of movement. I have learned to apply shoeing packages to help with recovery from founder, side bone, ring bone, and navicular problems. I have seen horses go from completely unsound to moving freely and happily after the first shoeing. I have found that my own horse that I use for competitive carriage driving is much happier, and safer, in shoes with traction and pads to absorb concussion.
The moral of the story is that there doesn't have to be an all or nothing, good versus evil approach to barefoot versus shoes. It is entirely reasonable to agree with the virtues of BOTH sides and evaluate what approach is best for each horse. I treat each horse as an individual, taking into account all the factors of the situation: environment, employment, nutrition, exercise, conformation and health. I want everything to add up with the goal in sight - a happy and healthy horse!