As anyone who has been around an equestrian knows, put ten horse lovers in a room and you’ll get 11 different opinions.
We’re a passionate bunch with strong views on EVERYTHING. Literally. And once we get into a group that has arranged itself around an equine-related belief, it can be very hard to go against the grain.
Like many equestrian factions, barefoot enthusiasts are a dedicated group that believe their way is the right way. As with most things equine, there’s more than one right answer.
I’m not here to trash barefoot hoof care or barefoot horses. The fact is, most horses don’t need shoes. If they’re hanging out and not doing much, this is usually the case. Farriers and trimmers can do amazing things with angles to help all sorts of problems a horse might have. Most of the horses my husband sees in our farrier company on any given week just get a trim. It’s all they need, and it’s all he recommends unless the horse or the owner gives him a reason to put on a shoe.
However, we occasionally come across enthusiastic “barefooters” that are devastated when their vet (or farrier) tells them the answer to their horse’s problems is a horseshoe of some sort.
- They feel it’s not natural (it’s not).
- They feel it’s painful (it’s not).
- They feel they’ve failed as a horse owner (they haven’t).
It is true that wild horses, in nature, do not wear shoes. That is an indisputable fact. Wild horses also get eaten by coyotes and die from diseases and injuries modern veterinary medicine can easily treat. Sometimes you take the good with the bad. They wore their feet down wandering the plains all day, which is tough to replicate on most farms unless you have a lot of land. They also ate a pretty different diet than most of our domesticated horses.
When MIGHT a horse need shoes:
- He needs his angles changed quickly or more than his natural growth can accommodate—like in the case of laminitis or navicular disease.
- He does a sport that requires extra traction, such as galloping on wet grass or work on slippery concrete. Yes, there are eventers that jump barefoot; not every horse can do that.
- He does a sport that requires less traction, such as reining.
- His feet bruise easily and “toughening them up” hasn’t worked. Some horses are just delicate little flowers.
- He has a gait abnormality that needs to be corrected. If he’s interfering with his other leg(s), it could be a serious injury waiting to happen.
- He has a tendon or ligament injury that needs support from below.
- His hooves chip, break, and crack easily. This could be a nutrition issue, but some horses are just not born with the best quality hooves.
- It is customary in his event to wear shoes. This may not be the best reason, but when in Rome…
The bottom line is, you’re not a bad horse owner if you keep your horse barefoot. You’re not a bad horse owner if your horse wears shoes. You’re only a bad horse owner if you don’t have a color-coordinated outfit for your horse to wear for every weather possibility (kidding!).
Just enjoy your horse, do what’s best for him, and stop worrying so much!
About the Author
Nancy Rich-Gutierrez is an IT professional and manages her husband’s farrier company. When she’s not busy with her full-time job or running the office for her farrier, she’s chasing their two-year-old and riding her Arabian horses. Check out the HG Horseshoeing blog at hghorseshoeing.com.