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To shoe, or not to shoe

- Posted by in Pet Care
To shoe, or not to shoe

A few years ago, the argument for not shoeing a horse would probably have had a smaller backing than it does today. But with our current knowledge and understanding of horse anatomy – in particular, the hoof – an increasing number of people are choosing the barefoot approach when it comes to how they keep their horses.

But which is better – shoes or no shoes? Like many discussions on horse care, people tend to have quite an emotional response, even though there is often no right or wrong answer. Every horse is an individual and will have different needs when it comes to their feet.

Arguments for barefoot approach

Those in favour of leaving their horses unshod may do so for one (or all) of the following reasons:

  • Their horse has been chronically lame while shod.
  • A horse is more prone to injuring themselves and others with shoes on. Unshod, the hoof naturally expands, acting as an effective shock absorber and helping to increase circulation in the leg and foot.
  • Leaving shoes on long-term can lead to weakened and misshapen hooves, and even lameness.
  • Unshod horses have better traction in difficult ground conditions.
  • Regular shoeing is too expensive.

[Hoof boots are a good option for barefoot horses that are occasionally ridden over hard ground as they support the feet and can be removed after exercise].

Arguments for shoes

There are many reasons why shoeing is often necessary and beneficial.

  • Workload – horses that are ridden hard on abrasive and uneven surfaces will wear down their hooves much quicker than they grow if they’re not wearing shoes.
  • Shoeing can prevent foot soreness and stone bruising.
  • Shoeing can enhance performance and improve traction.
  • Therapeutic shoeing can help support a number of conditions, including navicular disease, laminitis, injuries, foot-related lameness, thin-walled hooves, arthritis, conformation flaws, under-run heels, bruising and hoof cracks.

Ultimately, there are many grey areas when it comes to the barefoot versus shoeing debate, and all factors need to be considered before deciding either way. It is always best to speak to your farrier or vet if you are concerned about the health of your horse’s feet, who will assess the individual situation before recommending a barefoot/shoes approach.

Remember that transitioning from one to the other will take time and that it’s easier for a barefoot horse to go to shoes, than for a shod horse to go barefoot. That said, even horses with weakened feet can adapt to life without shoes over time. There are many products and supplements you can buy to harden the feet and make the transition much easier.

It is important to weigh up all the pros and cons before taking a particular path and also consider the horse’s diet, the conditions in which they are kept and ridden, and the abilities of the owner.

Never take putting holes into the hoof wall lightly, but equally, don’t refuse shoes if they are the best answer for your horse’s health and welfare.

If you have any comments on this discussion, please share it with our other readers by commenting below.

Written by: Hannah Dyball


3rd Aug 2018
Customer Since: July 2018
From: monmouthshire, United Kingdom

For 30 years l had a wonderful farrier and most of our ponies required shoeing because of the surfaces they were ridden on but until the introduction of factory shoes their shoes were hand made and fitted at the forge. Our ponies never lost shoes ,never suffered contraction of the foot and always had health well developed frogs .With the introduction of factory shoes and a change of farrier as my original farrier retired we had a constant problem with ponies treading their shoes off as new farriers used factory shoes that were a few millimetres too long . The next farrier used the same size shoes but in order to prevent pony treading off shoes brought the heels of the shoe tight into the bulbs of the frog . He then cut away large chunks of frog at the bulb region when really all that was needed was a small reduction of the length of the shoe. One of our ponies then suffered serious contraction of the heels , the frogs in all his feet almost dissappeared and foot rot invaded deeply into the frog . We live in the middle of nowhere so are limited to select an alternative farrier so hoof boots were the only option . We have been using these to ride and drive for about 9 years , the ponies feet are strong and well but l would prefer to have them shod if l was still competing as l found there was more traction with the shod foot and the hoof boots can be very slippery on wet grass or leaves on the road .

5th Aug 2018
Customer Since: December 2013
From: Shropshire, United Kingdom

It has to be an informed decision which best suits the horse

7th Aug 2018
Customer Since: March 2017
From: Northumberland, United Kingdom

I have always had my ponies shod until my latest acquisition. Sam came with shoes on his front feet, but my farrier suggested trying him without shoes. He's a heavy cob with very sound hooves and he throws his feet about so this seemed reasonable and we haven't looked back since. There wasn't really a noticeable transition period after they were taken off, but he only had very light work at first. His feet are dressed every six weeks or so and this balances the uneven wear. He moves very well when he trots and there is far less risk to my other ponies when he's messing around in the field. It's much cheaper, too. Obviously Sam is blessed with good hooves and I took all the advice I could, including talking to his previous owner and the person who broke him in, all of which made the decision much easier.

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