Some people feel so strongly about allowing horses to go without horseshoes that they consider shoeing a form of abuse; others won’t let their horses take three steps without iron armor on their soles. The most sensible perspective on hoof care lies somewhere between the two extremes.
Should Your Horse Go Barefoot?
If your horse has healthy feet with no major problems like navicular disease or white line disease, and if you are not competing heavily, there’s no reason not to ask your farrier about trying a few cycles barefoot. However, some horses need help toughening their feet for barefoot living.
If they’ve rarely been exposed to the ground without the protection of a metal shoe, hooves may be tender and soft, wearing down and bruising easily. For these horses, Easyboots or other similar shoe replacements may be helpful during the adjustment period. Painting the soles with iodine can also harden them, but use iodine only with the guidance of your veterinarian and farrier. It’s powerful stuff, and the kind strong enough to have a tangible benefit is often available by prescription only due to its use in the manufacture of certain illegal drugs.
When Is It Time for Shoes?
Some horses do well barefoot for a long time but need shoes later on, when their workload increases or other conditions change. My own horse was sound and happy without shoes for about two years after I bought him. But when he began to work harder during our rides, he wore down his hooves so quickly there was never anything to trim when the farrier came. Finally, I asked my farrier to put shoes on my horse to stop his hooves from being worn away so rapidly that it was difficult to correct any flaws in their growth without overtrimming.
Some horses show that it’s time for them to be shod by simply hitting a wall in their training. A friend of mine had a mare who was a beautiful mover, but took short strides at the trot when she’d worked hard for a while. She was not lame, but simply seemed to be refusing to extend. Shoes solved the problem by supporting her hooves and keeping her in better balance.
On the Other Hand…
Some horses do best without shoes for life. My former farrier told me about a jumper he had shod for years. The horse was lame off and on until his owners pulled his shoes for the winter to allow his hooves to spread and to prevent him from slipping on the snow and ice in his paddock as often. Suddenly, the horse was sound, and when he was carefully trimmed as a barefoot horse every six weeks, he stayed sound!
Every horse is an individual. If you want to give your horse a chance to go barefoot, there’s no harm in asking your vet and farrier about trying it; just be prepared for anything, from a miraculously sound, better-moving horse to a horse suddenly lame with soles covered in stone bruises!