Do Horses Need Horseshoes? Pros and Cons of Barefoot vs Shod

Horseshoes are often used for rough terrain and sports (1)

It is also advisable to treat underlying medical problems during the transitioning period. Not taking proper care of these problems will make going barefoot difficult.

  1. Get your stable ready

It is important to get your stable ready for your barefooted horses. The reason is most stables may have slippery floors, and natural, or barefoot, hooves may not have firm grips. It is better to have floors that are soft and easy to grip.   

Another thing is to make sure the stables are dry and clear of mud. Wet and muddy stables are not good for barefoot horses and may lead to laminitis. However, you can avoid this with a natural trim to keep your horse’s hoof healthier. 

Furthermore, you need to remove any sharp object that can get stuck in the hoof of your horse. This will also help reduce the chances of tetanus or infections.

Is Shoeing a Horse Or Going Barefoot Best?

Asides from all the potential damages that horseshoes can cause, wearing shoes for a long time can cause deformity of the hoof and other ailments. This is one of the leading points of argument for pro-barefooters. Going barefoot is natural, and some people believe it helps with hoof health. Let’s take a look at both situations, and then you can decide if you want to shoe or go barefoot afterward.

Situation Where Horseshoes Are Encouraged

Protection against ice and wet weather 

Horseshoes serve a protective function and can be essential for horses living in adverse conditions. For instance, for horses living in cold climates where there is greater snowfall, shoes can serve as traction for slippery and wet floors.

In stabled horses, there is a risk of ammonia build-up from urine-soaked hay. Wearing shoes can help keep the horse’s hoof elevated and off the ground. This protects the hoof from infections.

Another instance where horseshoes come in handy is when your horse works on tarmac and concrete ground. This will cause abrasive wear on the hoof, and shoes will help your horse cope. While walking your horse on varying terrains is important for transitioning to barefooting, it is not advisable to do this if your horse has a weak hoof.

It is, however, believed that horses with natural hooves have overall good hoof health and hoof quality. Plus, there is no need to worry about damage from nailing the shoes in or removing the shoes.

High-Performance Horses

High-performance horses like dressage horses and event horses may require added support and traction to keep up with footing quality. In this case, the shoes may be worn on all four hooves or just on the forelimbs.

However, you can consider temporary shoes and glue-on shoeing if you are considering going barefoot. 

Horses With a Medical Condition That Benefits From Shoeing

Some horses will absolutely not benefit from going barefoot. Horses with an underlying medical condition or conformational defect may need the extra support that shoes give.

Horses with arthritis or laminitis can also wear custom-fitted shoes to help maintain their balance and as therapy. If your horse has a disease that can harm the hoof capsule, it will most likely require a shoe.

Structural imbalances are another reason why some horses need to wear horseshoes. With structural imbalance, horses have abnormal gait or stance. For show or event horses, this is a huge problem. 

We cannot overlook the need for corrective shoeing in horses. Corrective shoeing has been shown to help with locomotion problems in horses. This is another essence of horseshoes.

Horses with Hoof-Breed Problems

Some horse breeds have weaker hoof walls and soles, making them prone to abnormal gait and conformational problems. When the horse is bred in stables or a confined area, there may be a need for shoes. 

Old Age: Senescence

Without a doubt, old age comes with weaker limbs in horses. In this case, there may be an increased risk of cracks and worn hooves. And unless you are diligent with keeping up with good hoof health, it is better to keep them shoed, albeit temporary.

The hooves of young foals have increased plasticity and can cope with being naturally trimmed. Plus, since they are not used to wearing shoes, you can breed them for being barefoot and wearing temporary shoes.

Seven Benefits of Going Barefoot

Advocates of barefoot horseshoes look to the anatomy of the horse’s hoof and that the horseshoes can cut off circulation. In some cases, going barefoot may help horses to correct other conditions because the entire hoof gets more even blood flow without a shoe.  

A natural hoof can often have better health (1)

1. Improved Circulation

It may not be easy transitioning to barefoot, especially if your horse has been shod all his life. In the long run, the benefits are numerous for the right horse. Equestrians have said that going barefoot ultimately helps with blood flow and proper circulation to the hooves. 

A horse that has transitioned to barefoot has greater blood flow to the entire hoof. This helps with optimal health. Without the interference of shoes, every part of the hoof – the frog, sole, and wall – can function optimally.

2. Less Pressure to the Hooves 

Without a horseshoe, the entire horse hoof bears the weight of the horse and rider. This means that the weight isn’t narrowed down to the hoof wall. Instead, the entire hoof, the sole, frog, and bar can help absorb the hoof’s impact. This has been shown to improve the overall health of the hoof in many instances. 

3. Better Absorption of Shocks 

Because the entire hoof can absorb the impact of the hoof to hard terrain, it has better shock absorption. Natural hooves can dissipate the energy from the impact into the entire hoof a lot better than shod horses. This reduces the chances of injury to the hoof. 

4. Lower Cost 

Without a doubt, going barefoot is the cheaper option. The cost of trim is lower than the cost of new horseshoes and a Ferrier. 

5. Greater Flexibility 

Horses without shoes can wear boots when needed. Boots can be fitted for various situations and still provide the benefits of going barefoot but with added traction for the terrain. Boots last longer than shoes and provide greater and more even pressure on the hoof. Studies have shown that the hoof can flex and move in nature, but horseshoes restrict that ability.

6. More Natural 

Barefooting also allows your horse to become one with nature. So, if you love the idea of letting animals have a semblance of their instincts, then supporting a natural hoof trim is for you.

7. Improved Health

Horses that suffer from chipping hoof walls, lameness, and other ailments have sometimes recovered from going barefoot fully. The move away from horseshoes has demonstrated that many horses do better and have better hoof health and overall health when they transition to a barefooted hoof and trim.   

Conclusion

Because opinions are so strong on the horseshoe versus barefoot sides, you must consider your horse’s overall health. If you decide to transition from one to the other, make it slowly and allow a long transition. Before changing the shoeing choices for your horse, make sure you talk to your veterinarian and farrier or a farrier familiar with the natural trimming to find out what’s best for your horse. Monitor any changes carefully to ensure the best health of your horse. 

Barefooted references: https://www.equisearch.com/articles/barefoot_112507

Rachael B

I didn't grow up on a farm, but I started homesteading as soon as I could! I love writing about all animals and learning as much as I can!

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