To Shoe or Not to Shoe

ArticleHow to - Tack and EquipmentFriday 20 January 2012

There are many different opinions on the importance of shoes on a horse.  Some farriers and trainers insist that without a shoe, your horse will never remain sound.  Others insist that the natural hoof is by far the best solution.

There are many reasons to shoe or not shoe a horse.  Before making any decision, you will need to consider what your goals are for your horse, and your horse’s individual hoof health.

Let’s start with your riding goals.  If you are primarily a pleasure rider, you may find that barefoot is a better solution.  Horses who mostly ride on trails do not wear down their hooves unnaturally.  Likewise, if most of your riding is on the flat and non-competitive, shoes are an unnecessary expense.

Some disciplines of riding make shoes a necessity.  Jumpers often need shoes to give them added traction.  Reiners need shoes to protect the feet, and make it easier to perform slides and other movements.  Park horses have specially trimmed feet and need shoes to maintain them so that they can step in the classic park style.

Another reason for adding shoes is the surfaces upon which you ride.  If you ride on rough ground or on roads a lot, shoes will prevent excessive wear to your horse’s feet.  Many show facilities have irregular footing, and shoes can prevent damage to the hooves from the dry, packed surfaces at some show grounds.

Sometimes horses have hoof problems that make shoes necessary.  If a horse has foundered, shoes can be used to offer support to the hoof and prevent bruising of the rotated coffin bone.  Others have weak hoof walls that tend to chip and crack without the protection of a shoe.

If a horse has crooked legs and needs correction, a shoe is necessary to maintain the corrected angles.  Without shoes, the foot would naturally wear so that the leg would maintain its current way of going.  Corrective shoeing can improve conformational problems in young horses, making them more likely to remain sound in the long run.

Of course, if there is no good reason to have shoes on your horse, it is in your horse’s best interest to remain barefoot.  A bare foot not only is much less expensive to maintain, it also is the healthier solution to the horse.

A bare foot absorbs impact far better than a shod foot.  The flexible hoof wall and sole will flex and spread to absorb the hoof’s impact as it travels across the ground.  Bare feet are less prone to thrush as the hoof is better able to breathe and to shed any packed dirt or bedding.

If your horse is young, or otherwise not in active work, there is generally no reason to add shoes.  Unless there are medical reasons, an inactive horse should be perfectly happy barefoot.

Whether you choose to shoe your horse, or leave it barefoot, all horsemen agree that regular trimming and maintenance is the key to keeping your horse’s feet healthy.  Make sure that you horse sees a farrier every 6-8 weeks for optimum hoof health.

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