Posted in  Barefoot Approach Explained  on  15 December, 2017 by  Debs Crosoer

The question as to whether a horse can go barefoot is a common one. Often asked by farriers or horse owners. Sometimes it feels more like a test, than a question they really want the answer to. It’s not asking about a specific horse, but more generally about all horses. It’s a bit of a jumble of ethics and practicality, idealism and realism.

I’m not anti-shoes. I refuse to be anti-shoes, if for no other reason than it would limit my ability to help horses and the people who care for them. But really, shoes are a tool, being anti-tools would be weird, and while I’ve often been accused (unjustly!!) of being weird… I’m not weird for that reason.

Horses are born barefoot. That’s how they come as standard. They all come ‘factory fitted’ with these hoof things on the bottom and for millions of years these odd hoof things have served them well. They’ve been shod for a relatively short period of time.

Shoes are the optional extra. They’re the add on. Underneath those shoes… *whispers* the horse is barefoot!!!

It’s not a case of can they go barefoot. They are barefoot. Why do we even call them barefoot? All barefoot horses are just horses. That’s how they’re made. Shod horses, are horses + shoes.

It’s the horse owner who can’t go barefoot. I don’t want that to be read with any sore of blame, shame or judgement. It’s simply an observation. The shoe is necessary because the foot is not capable of doing what the owner wants it to do without it.

In 12 years I’ve found 2 horses that couldn’t go barefoot. 1 was due to damage done by brutal trimming leaving extensive damage the other was logistical (for want of a better description – it was temporary and the best of a bad bunch of options).

On both occasions I had to work quite hard to convince everyone shoes were the best option, and yes, I may be willing to accept the ‘weird’ title for those conversations, it certainly felt weird at the time!

Are We Asking The Right Question?

But when we ask if a horse can go barefoot… Maybe we need to phrase the question differently. ‘Is the damage to this hoof irreparable?’ ‘Is an external metal support structure the best way to solve this problem’ Even a simple ‘Why does this horse need shoes?’ would be good.

It’s not just that we’re asking the wrong questions, often we’re looking at the wrong problem. Are we trying to find a way for a horse with a collapsed hoof to perform beyond it’s physical capabilities, or are we trying to find a way to heal the collapsed hoof?

The answer to the first question is shoes. The answer to the second question is rest and rehabilitation.

Shoes are freakin awesome at making a hoof perform beyond its natural capabilities. But is that ok? If a horse had blown tendons, we wouldn’t slap a metal brace on it and continue riding it. But for a collapsed hoof we do that all the time.

The horse seems to be able to cope like this, but is that actually ok to do? The shoe doesn’t replace the lack of soft tissue, so there’s all sorts of damage being done to the horse, because a bit of external metal is simply no substitute for half the internal structures in the foot being too weak.

Shoes are a tool. Sometimes a useful one. I have a friend with a knee injury, and I’ve had to advise her to get a metal knee brace. (She had a non-metal one). The metal brace is a tool. She needs it for protection right now. (you know who you are and stop forgetting to put it on!!!)

But no-one is having a ‘can humans walk without a knee brace’ conversation. And quite frankly. If she was able to rest the thing, then the brace wouldn’t be needed but… Family, horses, life…the brace helps her perform beyond her capabilities.

What About Genetically Weak Hooves?

What if a horse’s hooves just aren’t genetically up to the job? Well… glossing over that I think that excuse is dramatically over used…

A Shetland is genetically unsuited to cross country (unless part of a daring escape from a field – there’s a reason they were put on an island you know!!). No-one would use a Shetland for 3-day eventing… right? That would be insane. We can clearly identify the problems with this.

Yet we seem fine declaring a horse’s hooves genetically incapable of performing a certain task then demanding that horse go ahead and perform that task. Repeatedly.

Transfer that thinking to any other field and it’s seems facetious to say it. Applying that thinking to hooves and it’s labelled unrealistic and overly dramatic.

Like… We don’t drive cars with no air in the tyres, yet we do ride horses with collapsed heels. If the ground clearance of said car was too bad, we wouldn’t jack it up and keep going. Yet we put wedge pads on the hoof and keep on keeping on…

Is it ok for us to demand this of our horses? Are we being honest enough with ourselves to even realise this is what we’re doing?

Can A Hoof Be Too Damaged?

I don’t think I’ve ever met a horse owner who doesn’t love their horse. Who doesn’t sacrifice for them, worry about them, and do whatever they can to provide a good life for them. Shod or barefoot, we all do that. We have horses because we love them.

Yet I have often spoken with owners who proudly tell me their horse could never go barefoot. There’s a variety of reasons, but they all boil down to the horse being in pain without shoes.

Their horse NEEDS shoes because it is in pain without them.

Seeing as shoes have no pain relieving properties as such, then the horse is probably in pain with them. But in the same way that a plaster cast can help you walk on a broken leg, a shoe can help a horse walk on a sore foot.

There are people who need wheel chairs to get about, or prosthetic limbs, zimmer frames, walking sticks, support dogs etc. But never once have I heard anyone ask if people can go without these things.

Yes, there are cases where the hoof is just too damaged to go without shoes, but are the shoes being used to provide comfort, or to continue to make a horse perform beyond it’s capability?  The hoof is part of the horse. It’s a really important part of the horse. If you’re making the hoof perform beyond it’s capability, then you’re making the horse perform beyond it’s capability.

Too Much Wear?

About now there’ll be an outraged cry about needing shoes to protect from wear. It’s an interesting dilemma. There’s 3 main causes of that problem

1. The foot is slipping too much on landing.

A shoe, being metal, has less traction than a hoof, so it’s not unusual for a shoe to receive far more wear than a bare hoof would, so don’t assume that wearing through shoes would equate to wearing through the hoof that fast.

A horse with a gait abnormality causes more wear on their hooves. This one can be a problem, though I tend to prefer to address the gait issue. If that can’t be done, it might be worth considering if the horse is in too much work for the problem they have.

Also worth a mention, is the added concussion of a shoe can exacerbate the gait issue, in which case a barefoot, or booted horse may in fact have a straighter movement, and thus less wear.

I remain unconvinced that shoes are the solution to wear problems caused by gait issues.

2. The horn is too soft

If the horn is too soft, there’s a problem with the nutrition getting to the foot. Needing shoes for this reason makes no sense at all. Essentially, you’re shoeing a mineral imbalance or gut function problem. A healthy horse will produce healthy horn. This is a health problem

3. The growth is too slow

This is pretty much the same as the horn being too soft. Diet, gut function, circulation. The solutions are found there, not in the application of metal to the underside of the horse. Growth is the production of healthy tissue (soft tissue, horn etc). If you’re not producing healthy tissue, then there’s a health problem.

A less common cause of too much wear is simply that you ride such an incredible number of miles on a hard, abrasive surface on your horse.  While I do admit that shoes can be helpful in this situation, I can’t help but be concerned about the level of concussion that those shoes then put through the horse’s body.

I’ll concede, shoes might be necessary to keep up with wear, but I counter, that in those instances, too much damage is being done to muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, bones, nerves… you know… the horse (and on occasion the rider – I’ve met people using special saddle pads to reduce concussion as their body can’t handle it?!?!?!?).

Boots are an effective solution here, and can even be used intermittently as some wear is good. It works for top level endurance riders… 

Also worth a mention is bare hooves grow faster than shod ones.

Why Do They Need Shoes?

We need to remember that horses come barefoot as standard. If they’re not able to function without shoes, then why is that? It’s only because humans have caused so much damage, or are currently not providing a suitable environment.

This is why I feel like the ‘can all horses go barefoot?’ question is some sort of test. It’s a fairly loaded and emotive question. It’s a question which is sometimes asking for advice, for help, for a solution for a problem they see as unfixable.

Sometimes, however, it’s looking to start a fight. It’s asking me if I think they’re wrong. Which I don’t. I try not to get caught up in right and wrong. I’m more interested in brutal honesty about where we are now, clarity about where we want to get to, and an effective, manageable plan as to how we’re going to get there.

It comes down to the questions we ask ourselves. When you’re asking, ‘can a horse go barefoot?’, you’re assuming a shod horse is normal. It’s not. It’s common, but it’s not normal. Barefoot horses are normal. Barefoot horses are just horses with no added extras.

With all that said, I’m going to sound a little contradictory in that I don’t think all horses should be barefoot right now. That’s the difference between the answer to the question ‘Can all horses go barefoot?’ and ‘Should all horses be barefoot right now?’

If you think about it. As barefoot horse owner, walk into a large feed store (no need to drive there, this can be a metal exercise to save on fuel) and look around. How much of that store is filled with feeds and supplements you wouldn’t feed to your horse. How much of that store is filled with the kind of feed you know will produce a horse with good sound feet.

Now imagine all that feed you wouldn’t use disappears. Is there enough ‘good’ feed left? Repeat this exercise for livery yards, grazing, professional advice?

Until we improve the way horses are kept, they do in fact need shoes. It would be great if we could be genuinely honest with ourselves as to why shoes are needed though.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, you don’t have to agree with me, but please, this is an emotive topic so play nice, if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it. (And if you are comfortable being mean to someone’s face, you may find I don’t allow my blog to be a forum for you to do that).

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About the author

Debs is a practicing Equine Podiatrist with over 15 years experience, author, and educator.

She’s here to show you how to simplify your horse’s management painlessly so you feel in control and have a straightforward system that works for you.

When she’s not working you can find her playing with her own horses, watching geeky sci-fi or baking epic cakes.

  • My mare is 19 and has never had shoes. She’s an Eventer/Dressage L3 Andalusian mare. Strong beautiful hooves… all the farriers tell me this. I’ll never put shoes on a horse… I do have Scoot Boots which I used because of a crack and the crack was caused from innutritious hay. Added some farrier’s formula and moved her to a barn that allowed me to purchase good hay, and that crack disappear never to return again. Initially, I got to your blog searching for answers as to whether Friesian horses can go barefoot. I am so silly…. of course they can! That’s standard!!

  • All animals are born with out shoes including humans just because your born shoeless does this fact mean you should remain shoeless no of course not . We as horses wear shoes for a specific reason, as humans we wear, as some horse owners do with there horses for fad an fashion also

  • I love this article but my question is “why are horses shod in the first place?”
    It’s strange to me that they are “shod as standard” when they start work. If they had never been shod then we wouldn’t need to have this discussion nor the polarised opinions that go with it. It’s a problem we’ve created and continue to create

  • Thank you Debs for this, I do love your style of writing and your approach to emotive topics such as this.

  • If your horse can’t do it barefoot, perhaps they should not be doing whatever ‘it’ is at all. Perhaps there would be a whole lot less horses with leg and back injuries if their were more riders who did not ask more of thier horses than their hooves could handle.

  • Absolutely fabulous article! Debs – we sing from the same hymn book! I concur with everything you have said and I get the same arguments and push backs which I have now chosen to ignore rather than put their own question back to them which would be ‘why do you put shoes? To which their is no more science backing up their answer which is always simply ‘for support’ Then they become angry and defensive and say that you don’t respect the horse, rather than give scientific evidence of why it’s bad for in my case, an Arabian to go barefoot when he lives and trains on sand! His hooves are trimmed very basically every 4 weeks and I use a good hoof suppliment.

    • It’s a strange thing, often we don’t need scientific proof to make up our mind about something, though we do often need scientific proof to change our mind about it. It can be frustrating, but it’s fairly common human behaviour.

  • Thank you for this straightforward and down to the point article! I wholeheartedly agree that horses are born without shoes and get around very well without them. Mine have been unshod for decades, the only problems occurred when I had to use a farrier to trim my horses when they were agisted away from home: every single time the toes were left way too long… Like so many things in the horse related industry, arguments and ideas are often based on economics and profits – in many instances NOT to profit the horse!

  • Thank you for sprouting so much utter truth. You really do get to the point. My horses want to thank you for their lifestyle which you and Lindsay Setchell have designed for them and thanks also for all the tips you give out with such generosity.

  • Fantastic article wholeheartedly agree with you this message needs shouting from the roof tops and educating at pony club and new owners stages

  • Mom not really very helpful. You didn’t talk about flat footed horses. Or offer a solution or explain WHAT the right environment is?

  • A good balanced article. I have one comment though. “No-one would use a Shetland for 3-day eventing… right? That would be insane.” I personally know several Shetlands that are used for Combined Driving (which is based on ridden eventing) and they do it all without metal shoes. Including the miles and miles of conditioning on hard ground. Mind you, these are modern American Shetlands, not Thelwell Shetlands. They have beautiful, incredible feet.

    • Sure Shetties are fit for purpose for other sports such as combined driving, but I still consider a Shettie unfit for ridden eventing. It would be very entertaining to see how the little tikes got round the badminton course, as I have no doubt they’d find a way, but I’m fairly sure their methods would see them eliminated – mores the pity 🙂

      Shetlands (the ones originating from Shetland) have great feet – just as long as their environment has been appropriate.

      • As long as the pony can go between the flags… Also I suppose, not injure the rider… Then the obstacle is completed… Qualifying might be an issue, due to speed though

        • I’m assuming they wouldn’t necessarily take their rider with them, they’d go under at least 1 obstacle (at least in my imagination). Maybe we need a shettie day at badminton and see how things go 😀

  • I’m riding a lesson horse that has contracted heels all around, worse on his left fore, and white line disease in his left fore(outside cracks around nails). Frogs are all very tight in the heel. Nice gaits now but always rest with left fore forward. I’ve spoken to the trainer and the farrier. Trainer says the owner doesn’t pay the farrier promptly, and might give the horse to the right person. (I’m a firm believer in no such thing as a free horse. ) Farrier blames the owner. I’ve never seen or talked to the owner. Horse is a grade paint gelding in his mid teens with a good mind and conformation. Horse is currently wearing aluminum nail on, not nailed in the heel. Farrier comes every six weeks. Shoes wear on the toe of every foot. I think his toes are long, but I’m no expert. Farrier wants to come every four weeks and glue on. I’m riding with the trainer in the arena. If I lease this horse or otherwise acquire, I will want to ride him in the mountains, not just on rocky trails, but there will be some time on granite. Love the horse, but I only have a couple of acres and would have to board. It would be ludicrous to maintain a horse I can’t ride.

  • Hi Debs,

    Great article! Assuming all horses can and should be barefoot is not a helpful approach. As someone whose horse has always been barefoot, but has never truly been sound, I’m having a face the prospect of having heartbars as a temporary measure to address issues we’ve been unable to get on top of so far. Just as you’d described, I’m looking on this as a tool to help fix a problem and not a permanent measure. I’m sure it won’t make me popular in barefoot circles, but frankly I cannot in all conscience continue to watch my boy struggling. If this ‘tool’ can help him over this hurdle, so be it.

  • A really interesting and well thought out and well written article! Hurrah for such calm reasoning about a subject that can be so emotive. Thank you!

    • Yes, they can definitely go barefoot, though the problems in their hooves and body will need to be addressed. It’s not a simple as taking shoes off and magically everything is better. Taking the shoes off does allow you to see the true lameness, and then you can work on breaking down the problems and giving the horse what they need to heal.

      In my experience there’s always more than 1 lameness with navicular problems, so a multi pronged attack is usually necessary. Bodywork, diet, rest and corrective exercise, and boots and pads to aid comfort while the healing happens.

      • I have an Ex race horse currently barefoot but I want to event. I’m in Ireland where wet grass accross country and in the show jumping phase is the em. I know studs are great in this situation am I being dare to my horse? If I risk skidding and falling?

        • If you have good bars and soles you should have good traction. It can depend on a number of things though. Gait abnormalities can also lead to slipping as the bits of the hoof supposed to provide the traction may not be placed down first.

          Studs can cause so many problems to the soft tissues in the body as well.

          You really just have to judge the situation you have and decide what’s best. That’s all any of us can do.

  • Excellent questions and information. Horses everywhere wish you could educate their owners and relieve their aching everything!

  • For the last 25 years seed producing corporations have been bio-engineering seeds for corn, sugar beets, seeds, alfalfa, and grasses among thousands of other crops. GMO grasses are now growing in Kentucky, the Kentucky Blue Grass that used to be the living end for grazing. Now, the “fooled around with” stuff is being grazed — all over the country — and horses are getting sick because of it. It effects the intestines and thus how much nutrition the horse is absorbing to grow new hooves, and be active and healthy. Dr. Don Huber, PhD, is an expert on GMOs and animals, as well as human results of the GMO “experiment”. Are you recommending organic feeds as he does? I hope so.

  • Thank you so much for this article. Yes behave recently bought a horse for my daughter-I used to have horses myself many years ago- and have become very aware of the barefoot issue. I am keen to convert the horse to barefoot, but worry that the farriers in my area won’t know enough about it. I know for sure that I will meet a lot of resistance from my daughter’s trainer and most other people around me. I live in Spain and it seems to me that it’s only ponies that are barefoot here. Am my horse actually better off with being shod, if I cannot find a knowledgeable farrier?

    • I know how tough that can be! There are some trimmers in Spain, their names totally escape me right now which isn’t much help. I know some are listed on if you look under the international trimmers section. There will definitely be more trimmers than listed there, so email the ones who are listed and ask for recommendations. Facebook may help find you someone too.

      Oddly some of the best farriers I’ve met have been Spanish, though I suspect that is because the ones I’ve met gave up their weekend to come and talk to me… a girl! who doesn’t speak Spanish! about barefoot!!! They have to be pretty dedicated to put up with all that 😀 😀

      Evo Boots might be a good company to contact too. They will have contacts of trimmers and pro barefoot types. They’re a Spanish company.

  • All horses can go barefoot, but all owners cant. Agreed 100%! It’s more to do with the will and/or ability of the owner to provide the right diet, environment and workout plan, and very little to do with the horse itself or it’s current health issues.
    Ex: In my case, my horses will always need boots for trails because I cannot provide the conditioning they need to trot and canter 20-30km sharp lava lock trails barefoot. I can only afford to keep them in pasture and only have free time on sundays. so, neither do they live on the right surface nor do I train them gradually over similar surface.
    The diet and trim being the only details I can address, as a result, they have very tight white lines, decent enough frogs and huge firm digital cushion. The hoof itself is perfect… for the surfacte they make the most miles over, aka, pasture.
    That said, I do not compete, because if I did, one of my horses would need shoes on his fronts as none of the boot models on the market will stay on if I allow him to extend the trot or canter at will. I cannot afford to turn back for a lost boot or keep dismounting to uncork a twisted one while racing. I would never, however, use metal shoes. There are no medals or ribbons worth the damage they cause. Have my eyes on Easyshoe flex or light for such cases 😉
    This is transversal truth except when the horn generating tissue is gone, ex:. part of the pedal missing. In those cases the horse will never be able to grow normal hoof horn in certain areas, and as such, will always be limited in the footing he can work safely on barefoot.

  • Very good article. My TB had his shoes removed as he kept losing them and it was driving me mad missing clinics, shows, etc. Massive learning curve followed and he has been barefoot for 18 months and I am unlikely to ever put shoes on a horse again. Educating people to think about having no shoes is very hard and it’s good to read this article that can provide such good information

    • I’m glad the article helped. I was aiming for something people could share when they can’t quite put into words what they want to say when having that ‘why are you barefoot’ debate.

    • Hi Michelle, I know this is a few months ago, but I just came across this and thought I’d ask what your learning curve looked like? I have a horse that I bought and had de-shoed about 4 months ago and feel that I’m currently on a steep learning curve myself, but I’m not sure which direction to go, as I get widely different advice from different people.. I guess I’d just like to hear how someone else’s “journey” into barefoot went!

  • My name is Paul Young and I am a farrier in East Yorkshire and have just achieved my BSc (Hons) in farriery science. I try to get as many barefoot as possible but it is a continual struggle to persuade them and the rest are not prepared to do all the work necessary. In a vast number of cases, nutrition is at fault and I am applying therapeutic shoes as a sticking plaster. I wish to learn more about nutrition so I can pass on the knowledge to the owners to relieve the horses suffering. The quality of the feet is in a lot of cases appaling and have to work up to and frequently exceed critical limits. This is due to rider weight ratio, poor nutrition, excessive radial forces peaking way above the limits of the already damaged and poor quality hoof. This feeds to a holistic imbalance and pathologies, it is a daily battle to which thankfully I have had my eye’s opened to through education

    • I recently asked on Facebook the question, “Are heavier people riding small horses causing the horses to be asked to do more than what they can reasonably be expected to do?” I was assured that Arabian horses are very strong and can carry 1/3 their body weight all day long. Are you are seeing that body to weight ratio as reasonable or probably not reasonable?

      • I think anyone justifying the weight a horse is carrying has probably put too much weight on it 🙂 I don’t like formulas for this as there’s more factors to be taken into account and when someone needs a formula, they probably don’t understand enough to know when not to apply said formula.

        I don’t see rider weight as a problem often, but I rarely see horses being over used. I know it happens a lot, but I think the people guilty of that don’t invite me into their lives!! 🙂

        I do find myself having conversations about flexibility, and rider health, and I will tell clients they need to get their own body sorted out before they ride. They so focused on making sure the saddle is right, that the horse has had bodywork, the feet are healthy, the diet is perfect etc that they can forget to take care of themselves too!

    • Learning about nutrition is a life long journey. It can be a bit of an uphill battle when the vast amount of feeds on the market simply aren’t suitable for equine consumption.

      I probably have it a bit easier for you, as when people contact me they already want to be barefoot and are prepared and keen to put in the effort.

      You’re welcome to contact me directly (use the contact form or facebook or something. OI get way too much spam if I put my email address on here) if I can help I will.

    • Paul

      I’m a 200 pound male riding a 15.2 grade paint in his mid teens. I believe I could own him, but for his hooves. I’m interested in your thoughts on nutrition. Can you recommend some reading? Scientific, peer reviewed stuff? Most of my reading sounds like adds for patent medicine. Thanks. Rob

  • Love this article! 2 years ago my Perch/Morgan cross foundered on left front after taking a hit and all weight on it, from an infection on right front that did not come out…antibiotic injections, etc….was really horrible. He did rotate slightly and left him very thin-soled. He is not comfortable w/o boots…have used Soft Rides therapeutic boots with thick gel pads. Now am trying Easy Care glove glue-ons. He has an excellent low starch, low sugar diet, vitamin/mineral needs met, very limited pasture, exercise, etc. My question is will he ever be able to be barefoot again…he had fabulously strong feet prior to this and is there anything else I can do to help him. I don’t think he could take the pounding required for shoes nor do I want to go that route. Have a fabulous trimmer I’m working with but always love hearing other opinions. Thanks!

    • Perfect question for Dr. Don Huber, PhD. He recommends reading all labels on packages to make sure that your horse is getting NO GMOs which are liberally sprayed with Roundup. The GMOs plus Roundup will attack the beneficial digestive flora in the intestines of your horse, and he will heal completely if you just withhold all pesticides, fungicides, and feed ONLY organic. Two Thoroughbreds that I had treated this way by educating their veterinarians, returned to the racetrack and won Grade 1 races. Both were scheduled to be destroyed due to colic, founder and laminitis, before I convinced their owners to “Just Try It! What Can You Lose?” Well it turned out fantastic, both horses are well, the colt is now a stallion and making babies, and the filly is now a mare in foal to a top stallion. How good is that? So, your horse could return to his former “fabulously strong feet” if you spend just a little more on all organic feed (including alfalfa which is now GMO in a lot of places). It will save on vet bills which would even out in the end and your horse would be healthy!

    • Hey Martha, sorry it’s taken a while for me to get to replying.

      As you have the diet, trimming, boots and pads sorted, I would have some bodywork done. If the leg was being overloaded enough to cause strain in the foot, it’s likely there’s strain in the shoulder and thoracic sling (even now). I’m often amazed just how much improvement you can see from releasing off the tension higher up in the body.

  • I have two barefoot horses, a Welsh Cob and a Spanish horse, both according to my farrier have excellent hooves. He is not a barefoot trimmer but an orthopaedic endurance farrier but trims for my horses to go barefoot. The Welsh Cob has never had shoes but soon after I had her she could not cope with my gravel tracks and she soon went lame so she has to wear Cavallo boots on the front. Same for my Spanish horse who has been barefoot for 6 years. We have done endurance with the boots on. I would love to dump the boots and go completely barefoot. Where am I going wrong?

  • WOW thank you SO much for writing this article! Your approach to this topic is extremely thoughtful, and you articulated a lot of points I had wondered about but not quite worked out. I was wondering how much environment plays into hoof health and hoof growth? For example, horses that are in climates that go from very wet to dry or frozen ground quickly? A lot of the justification people use for shoeing where I live is that the climate creates rapid changes in the hooves that result in lameness, so shoeing is “necessary”

    • Well, rapid climate changes are stressful to the body. This can cause health problems. Lameness is a health problem. If shoeing is necessary to cover up a lameness, then lets just call it that.

      Saying ‘I shoe my horse because the weather here is so extreme’ is comfortable for us. It’s placing the responsibility for your horse’s health on to the weather.

      Saying ‘I shoe my horse because he’s lame’ that’s not so comfortable for us. We have to be honest about what we’re doing and why. It could well be that shoeing is the best option with the resources available, so I’m not re-framing things here to try to make anyone feel guilty or shamed. But without getting real clarity about the problem, it can be very difficult to find a solution.

      I’ve found with the right nutrition the weather doesn’t affect soundness so much. If we’re taking a direct route from weather to shoeing then we’re not looking for other solutions. If we’re saying lameness is a health problem, the shoeing isn’t the obvious solution. Addressing the health problem is.

      There is also the possibility that the horses aren’t suited to the environment. (I’ve never been there but I’m going to guess no-one in the north pole has a Chihuahua to pull a sled) Riding/working is a high level activity. Us making it common doesn’t negate that it’s a strain on a horse’s body. Maybe, sometimes we’re asking too much, or we’re just not giving enough support to enable that level of work.

  • Barefoot…Thoroughbred…endurance. If barefoot Thoroughbreds (yes, those that raced and probably had shoes slapped on at one year) can do endurance, most any horse can go the distance without shoes. The key is the trim and applying boots when necessary.

    Some farriers recommend shoes because they make more money or because they love forge work. Vets oftentimes agree with farriers , sadly, because they don’t want to alienate them in the community.

    Think for yourself and make your own sound decision about your horses’ feet!

  • This has to be the best article I have ever read on the subject… I do hope I can remember just a few of your well presented points next time someone asks me “the” question…. naw may be better to direct them directly to this.

  • Great read.. I wouldn’t dream of wearing metal trainers.
    I have 3 horses free of metal with only one, a T. B., who wears boots occasionally… Happy horses..

  • We’ve just got a new horse and have immediately taken his back shoes off (he’d lost one already and hooves are good). But the one front has a crack that means it has to be shod. Looks like an old injury that has caused a weakness or faultline that means the crack starts at the same point We’ll see how it goes but may have to keep them on the front.

    • hmmm… I always found cracks much easier to manage without shoes? barefoot you always have the option of trimming the wall out of weight bearing so there is no pressure on the crack. only then can you evaluate if the new growth comes down without one or if it’s a coronary band injury.
      (PS: such “agressive” trimming of walls implies some sort of sole and frog padding/hardening treatment in the begginning if the horse will be going around over sharp rocks)

  • Great article and I’m seriously considering having the shoes taken off my new ISH mare. I think for me the fear factor is not knowing enough about the right nutrition for my horse yet. And fearing that I will “open the can of worms” (quite literally) without wanting to sound ignorant (far from it) but just worrying that I am breaking something open before it can become better and then not knowing whether it will be right for her in the end. But I think having an expert advise me will be best. Thanks again for the article – I have been thinking about it for a while even before I got my horse.

    • Expert support is really worth it’s weight in gold in the beginning. Sometimes it might only be a simple change that’s needed, but without making that change it can be like pushing mud uphill. Good luck with it 🙂

    • There is a barefoot FB site which is very helpful. You could just buy all your feed from a barefoot specialist fodder supplier. I swear by Thunderbrook and my horses love every morsel of it.

  • You didn’t really address boots. My TB is natural/barefoot and he wears Cavallos when I ride. I always felt natural is better than not when at all possible. Pasture board instead of stall kept. Barefoot is less expensive and less damaging to the hoof. People get manicures and some get gells or acrylics. W those on the nail, they are extra strong, but once the gels or acrylics are taken off the underlying nails are damaged and weak. Shoes leave nail holes that lead to cracks and chips. Weakening. I love my boots. They last for a long time. Because they only get worn when in use. I’m not a pro rider or ferrier. I’m just a trail rider who wants my horse to stay healthy and happy. So I hope I’m not offending anyone who swears by shoes. That’s you n your horse. My boy n I will take it easy and go without. 🙂

  • Boots are such a great alternative to shoes. And just like the way we can get relief when we kick our shoes off at the end of a long work day. So too can the horses. There is no relief from a metal shoe nailed on. I wish more people who think their horses cant go without shoes could be convinced that boots are just as good.

    • Boots can really help to rehab feet, or protect horse’s feet if they need it. I’m not sure I’m 100% on board with using boots to replace shoes though. I’d always rather heal the feet first.

      • This is the dilemma we face as most of the horses we wish to have barefoot , have not had the beneficial husbandry to get the best out of them and they cannot be kept moving with the “herd” so to Spk. Therefore unless we make boots a desirable product of hoof care we are holding back progress.

      • This is what I am trying to do with my new warmblood mare, but her very wide flat feet do not seem to fit inside any boots I can find. Her cavellos stay on ok but tend to rotate. I only use them for road work until I get to the moor, but as I am an OAP, it’s not easy getting back on board. Hoping that in time her feet will become rounder and fit inside my beloved Scoot boots. However, today we rode barefoot the half mile of lanes to the moor. She was fine until she stood on some gravel, romped twice around some springy moorland then strode out on the way home. I have had her three months so feel we are on the right track.

  • I love your weirdness, it causes the sort of out of the box thinking articles that make people sit up and listen, or run and hide under their rock screaming “the world is flat, the world is flat”. My favourite bit, the rephrasing of the question “can all horses” be barefoot to “should all horses be barefoot now”.

  • A well balanced article. My ponies are barefoot & in full work with correct diet, trimming & foot care. I don’t preach barefoot to other owners but I have noticed over the last few years that I am getting people defending why they have their horses shod rather than criticising me for not shoeing mine which is what I used to get. It’s a subtle shift in attitude but shows that the barefoot message is starting to get through at some level. I believe that there will in due course be a gradual shift towards fewer horses being shod & the feed industry will gradually adapt to the market forces.

  • An excellent article. Our two RMH geldings have been barefoot for the past 15 years. We will forever be grateful to the farrier we met who suggested it to us. Our “boys” are 18 and 19 now. They have always been fed a premium balanced diet in addition to being out on pasture 10-12 hours a day. Their hooves are hard and healthy. We live in the Blue Ridge foothills where some of the trails can be rocky so they wear boots on the trail. We wouldn’t consider putting shoes on them unless there was a serious health reason, which we cannot imagine!

  • Love this!!! My large hunter/jumper mare has been unshod for a couple yrs now and I find it to work well for her. Definitely not the norm in my segment of the industry… And I have found myself really thinking about what I was taught since a young age about horse care and why they wear shoes. Very interesting when you do finally take a step back and spend the time to educate youself. I am very confident my horse is better off for it!

    • Yes, it’s fascinating how your perspective can change when you step away and look back. For me, ages ago I read something about using different terminology (more accurate/blunt) the suggestion was to use the word ‘cell’ instead of ‘stable’. I didn’t stable my horses at the time, but the theory is a sound one. For me recently I’ve been using ‘external metal support structure’ instead of ‘shoe’ (only in trusted company as it sounds a little crazy and pretentious, but it’s amazing how differently you look at things just by using the description rather than the common name)

  • …. as I was saying before I RUDELY interrupted myself by hitting the ENTER key … BRILLIANT article – and everything there is DITTO ME! Thank you!

  • Loved reading this. I know so many people who just don’t want to hear that shoes aren’t necessary and not even prepared to learn something new. This article is preaching to the converted though and I wish more horse owners/riders would read and educate themselves. You’re never too old to try something new.

  • Thank you for your very informative article. Have a great Christmas and Happy New Year. I look forward to more of your articles. Betty

  • This is a great article. Really says a lot of realistic facts. I think metal and horses is just a bad combination in any regards. If a horse needs more support because of where they are in the moment why not boot or use some of the amazing new alternative shoeing products? In this day and age it seems there are a lot of options and none of them have to be metal. When you have a horse with only what nature intended them to have…on their hooves…it forces you to stay intune with what a horse needs to live a full and healthy life. They give us so much why not give that right back to them? ✌️❤️

  • Love it, hit the nail on the head!
    I am not anti shoes but I love barefoot – to be honest when I started there was no thing as a barefoot horse, I was just the wiedo without shoes. I simply looked at the feet my new young horse had and said it would be a shame to put shoes on those. In 14 years I have not regretted that decision. She has been everywhere and anywhere with strong sound feet. I have learned a lot about diet, nutrition and management through the other horses who have come to me and needed more support to keep their hooves healthy but a healthy hoof is the first priority and I agree entirely a shoe should not substitute for that. In two cases have I felt shoes were the right way forward for horses because they needed more work to build muscle to use the foot correctly, in both cases when the body is fit and strong I believe the feet could function without the shoes. It is not one case fits all but that each individual horse and situation needs to be assessed around the limitations of the circumstances.
    Thanks for making me think and smile.

  • Fabulous article that gives fuel to my argument against metal shoes. I know people who pull their horses shoes in the Winter but slap them back on in the Spring because they are going to be riding. If the got through the whole winter barefoot, why would you do that?? They think it’s a question of wear. There are very few independent thinkers out there.

    • That was always the way shoeing used to be done. Shoes were never meant to be on all year round. We’re slowly getting there. People are questioning things more. Keep asking those questions 🙂

  • Great article, Deb – very thought provoking – and agree with your conclusion that the world isn’t yet ready to support an entire barefoot horse population. I would say that, at the moment, it is struggling to keep up with the number of owners wishing to keep their horses without shoes. There aren’t enough specialist trimmers, too few livery yards that cater for their needs and a shortage of suitable feeds. It’s changing, thank goodness. Once there is enough demand from owners, it will have to!

  • I agree with your comments and I loathe how standard it is to think it is ok to put nails and steel on an animals foot just because it suits us to do so.
    Anthropomorphic behaviour is rampant with horses; shoes, rugs, stables, bags of food etc. All for our pleasure.
    I speak to quite a few trimmers who say ‘I’m not against shoes’. Well I think it’s time we were all against shoes. This is not what horses need.
    What they need is owners who are educated to understand their basic requirements – freedom to roam for food, hay, living in a herd environment, natural shelter. Not a lot too ask for and far cheaper on the pocket than stables, bedding, shoes, bagged food, blankets. The list is almost endless.
    At one time it was normal to smoke cigarettes but education changed all that and for as long as barefoot advocates say they are not against shoes, the door is open for arguement.
    No one would argue that cigarettes don’t harm you, therefore why would you say nailing a shoe onto living cells is not equally harmfull.

  • I agree with everything you have said. The one thing you didn’t mention, though, is that a lot of people try to stay barefoot to save money on shoes. I found that I struggled to keep my horse barefoot due to poor trimming. I have now found a fabulous barefoot trimmer who does a completely different trim to a farrier, spends a lot longer trimming and, therefore, costs more. It is the most worthwhile money I ever spend on my horse!

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