There always seems to be a lot of debate around the barefoot vs shod horse debate. I'm no different, I love to talk about it. So far none of my horses have ever had shoes. There just hasn't been a need for it. I tend to keep my horses pastured so in the wintertime shoeing isn't practical because of the mud. While I do ride often, I don't do it so much or on such hard footing that my horses' feet end up crumbling under the stress. Maybe it's because I've been lucky enough to have horses with healthy feet? I don't know, but I've never really gotten the "horse's HAVE to be shod" argument.
Until I got Jetta, I'd never considered shoeing my horses. Jazz had fantastic hard feet that never cracked or split and she wasn't tender on gravel at all. Grady was a little tender on large gravel pieces, but he was just a trail and pasture horse that didn't need shoes for his riding load and his feet were tough enough that they didn't get bruised or tender on the average rocks we encountered. With Jetta though things were a little different. When I bought her it seemed as if she had been left out in the pasture and forgotten about. Only when the barn got a new manager did she start receiving some basic education in leading and lunging, but at this point she was a 16.2hh baby that didn't want her feet touched so the manager opted out of handling her feet. Once I find it, I'll post a picture of her "before and after" feet.
I've always used a barefoot trimmer. They're somewhat of a rare breed and I started out with one fantastic trimmer who then hurt her back and had to stop trimming. From there I think I went through I think 5 other trimmers trying to find one who 1) actually showed up when they said they would, 2) didn't make my horses lame and 3) didn't beat my horses. I now have an awesome trimmer who does barefoot trimming. For all purposes on here, I'll call her AC.
Well AC has been working on Jetta's feet for two years now and they have almost become a complete new hoof. They started out jagged with severe quarter cracks and major flares. Unfortunately Jetta has the typical TB hoof that is very flat, almost convex in appearance meaning that rocks hurt! AC told me that I might have to shoe Jetta but we'll have to see. I would like to wait it out until her feet are completely reshaped to their correct anatomical form and see if she will develop tougher feet. I may have to use hoof boots, but I'm definitely not against them.
Here's how I see the argument for and against shoes:
- Allow for the horse to work on hard surfaces with no wear
- Can be used to fix or help with hoof or conformational problems
- Studs can be added to give super traction
- Many traditional trimmers force the hoof to conform to their idea of what it should look like
- High heels and long toes are the norm which create undue stress on the horse
- Most metal shoes provide no shock absorption, but instead the opposite and place stress on the joints.
- Horse's can walk more comfortably on gravel
- A misplaced nail or pulled shoe can cause serious problems
- Shoes can often increase performance (such as in reining or eventing)
- Hoof is trimmed differently for each horse allowing the horse to be more comfortable
- Natural trims allow the hoof to wear naturally requiring trimmings to be less frequent
- The frog and sole are not trimmed allowing it to be as nature intended with the sole being tough enough to withstand rocks and the frog functioning as a pump to push blood back up the leg
- Correctly trimmed barefoot hooves can be just as tough as shod hooves
- The bare hoof has natural traction in most situations and can expand and contract without shoes
- Need to find a good trimmer who knows what they're doing
- Usually less expensive than shoes
- Short heels and toes make the horse have a more natural stride and it decreases stress on the hood and body
- Performance horses can go barefoot
- Hoof boots might be necessary but over a horse's lifetime are much cheaper than shoes
- Many people have jumped on the band wagon for the natural hoof care "fad" without considering their horse's well-being or bothering to find a good trimmer and transition correctly to barefoot
So that's what I think about the shod vs barefoot horse debate. I love barefoot but I am not anti-shoes. I don't think that all farriers are "bad" or that all barefoot trimmers are fantastic miracle workers but there are obvious benefits and drawbacks to each side. Overall the most important thing is that the horse is comfortable, sound and the hoof is overall well balanced whether it's trimmed or shod.