To Shoe or Not to Shoe, that is the question.
There is a lot of information available encouraging horse owners to have their horse go barefoot, without shoes. It’s touted as more “natural” and better for your horse. First off, I am not against horses going barefoot. If your horse does not need shoes, then why spend the money on them. But I do not think that going barefoot is a one size fits all, the best idea for all horses. Here are just a few of the scenarios I have personally experienced where horses truly needed or did not need shoes.
The Not So Sound Lesson Horses
I had a few fabulous lesson horses that I purchased knowing that they were not 100% sound, but they were manageable with corrective shoeing. Some may think me foolish. But I saw older, well trained, great natured, inexpensive horses that needed a good home. The horses would benefit from great care, light exercise, and lots of love. It was worth it to me to spend a little extra money on special shoeing to keep them sound. This allowed otherwise “useless” horses to live a good life.
I hate to pigeonhole a breed as a whole as I have seen differences in foot quality in all breeds, but you may have heard that thoroughbreds have a reputation for not having the best feet. They can be thin walled, shelley, and have under slung or low heels. Proper shoeing and trimming can make all the difference for these horses that may eventually end up crippled due to their poor feet.
I once had a young, active, thoroughbred that was boarded out in a sandy pasture with other horses. There was also a sand arena, and hard sandy trails. Within 3-4 weeks he would wear his shoes out. Yes out! Wore the nail heads off and the shoes to paper thin. This became an expensive problem, needing new shoes every 3 weeks. So we tried a super heavy duty shoe and that I only got an additional week of use out of. You see, he was a not a stand under the tree all day kind of horse. No, he ran around and chased the other horses and played all day. That hard ground with sandy soil just wore his shoes to nothing. Now imagine that horse wore no shoes. He would have worn his feet down to a painful nothing.
Imagine my surprise when we moved to another location and my new farrier asked me if I wanted to save a buck by resetting the same shoes after he trimmed him. “What??? You can do that? There is enough shoe left?” Well you see the new location had soft loamy soil everywhere. The trails, the arena, the turnouts, it made a huge difference!
The Carriage Horse
I once worked with some carriage horses that during the winter pulled sleds through the snow. In the summer, the owner would put them in dressage training. They would arrive at the training facility with their heavy road shoes and caulks still on. These shoes had a purpose as they were designed to give these working horses the traction needed to keep them safe while working on the road and in the snow. This just one example of how shoes can be necessary for a horse to do a job safely and perform their best.
I had a student who had a BLM Mustang, a stocky little thing with a thick neck. Cute yes, stubborn yes, but he had great feet! No shoes required. His feet were well shaped, tough, and for his living and riding circumstances he just did not need shoes.
You see there is no one method that fits all. Consult with your vet and farrier to determine what is best for your horse. Sometimes it takes trial and error. Sometimes their needs change with the seasons, type of riding you are doing and where you are doing it. Their needs may also change with age or maybe your horse only needs shoes in front but not in back, but that’s another story.