Barefoot? Yes or No?

In all of the equestrian disciplines there is an ongoing discussion about the advisability of shoeing a horse. To shoe or not to shoe?  There are horse owners and trainers on both sides of the discussion. The anti-shoe side says that shoeing is not natural and a horse is better barefoot; the balance of the foot is better, less strain on the tendons and ligaments of the leg, the circulation is improved by the contact with the ground with every step. The pro-shoe side says that for a horse in work the shoe protects the hoof; less risk of damage, breaking and chipping of the hoof wall, stone bruises on the sole causing abscesses, shoes, and also with the addition of pads , can assist in correcting improper balance of the hoof.

Well you get the picture. But who is right?

I think a great deal depends on what you do with your horse. For a police horse that is on hard pavement whenever it is ridden barefoot might be difficult. For a cross country eventer not having the studs to provide a non-slip hoof could be dangerous. Can a trail horse that is constantly traversing rocky ground go barefoot?

Truth be told I can’t answer all these questions.  I can only tell you what I do with my horse. My horse is a 50-50 horse. He has shoes on in front and is barefoot behind.

Why?

He was like this when I bought him and it seemed to be working so I did not change anything and in the three years I have had him as there have been no problems. When my farrier started working on Biasini he told me he had thin soles. The answer?  I stared to put Keratex , a hoof hardener, on the soles of his feet twice a week. That seems to be successful.

Here are some photos of his hooves: the unshod hinds and the shod fronts. His hooves are healthy and in good shape both the shod and the unshod. The photos were taken in the wash stall so his feet are wet.

Now there are many who would say that an upper level dressage horse needs to be shod behind to give the support needed for the advanced movements such as the pirouettes.  Well, Biasini is very good at doing the pirouettes. He is a horse that can lower his hind end and sit well enough to come and take a seat at your dinner table. The pirouettes are not problem for him.  Here is a video clip of my coach Belinda Trussell doing some training work on the pirouettes.  She is asking him to be quicker and he wants to respond by spinning. That is great for a Western Reining horse but a dressage horse is not supposed to spin. You can see her working him through this and you will also see that he has no difficulty with the movement despite the fact he is balancing on his bare feet.

 So I have no clear answer to which is best barefoot or shoes. For each horse it could be a different answer and for my horse it is a bit of both. 

 

37 Comments Add yours

  1. dprastka says:

    This is a very common topic at the barn. I agree with you 100% to do what’s best for each individual horse! A very good read! – Diana

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree with all that you said!
    A horse at my barn needed shoes because he kept going lame and getting bruising on his soles when he was barefoot, but once his shoes were put on it all went away. Whatever works best for your horse you should go with, not necessarily what you think is “natural” or “unnatural”. That is what I am going to keep in mind when I have my horse: “What is best for him/her?”
    At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter because it is the health of your horse that you are talking about and if you truly love horses and working with them, then you will choose the best option for them to keep them comfortable, happy and healthy:D.
    Thanks so much for this, Anne!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you for joining the discussion. I agree with you that each horse is different. When you have your own horse stick to the principles you have stated so well here because putting the horse first is what matters most!

      Like

  3. Alexandra says:

    My horse is 50/50 to and he seems to fine jumping over 1m however I have noticed that shod horses seem to slip more on harder surfaces?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Really, that is interesting. Do you think the metal is too smooth and has less purchase that an unnshod hoof? Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

      Like

      1. Alexandra says:

        I don’t know, but maybe because the shoe is so smooth it doesn’t have any grip so on a smooth surface they just slip, so I wonder what’s worth the money?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. anne leueen says:

        I think that some hooves just need the support. Maybe they should use studs like the eventers do. I thought some jumpers do that and that is why they have the births with the very wide mid section so if their hooves are trucked right up they don’t injure themselves.

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      3. Alexandra says:

        I totally agree with you that some hooves need extra support and having shoes would do that. But I am not sure that jumpers do have studs? I thought it was mainly eventers so they have more grip on slippery wet grass

        Liked by 1 person

      4. anne leueen says:

        I also think it is primarily eventers that use the studs but the jumpers have those wide girths that I thought were designed to help prevent injuries when they tuck their feet up under their sternums when jumping. Since I’m not a jumper though I may be wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Alexandra says:

        I wouldn’t know either but having a wider girth would make sense to prevent injury from studs.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I like this post and I agree that this topic is one that you hear talked about so often. I agree with one of the comments here “the horses for courses” comment. So true! Every one of us humans are different and every one of our horses are different. Some horses have very thin soles others do not.
    With my boys, Freddy has thin soles and I had him shod and his soles are a lot thicker. Freddy needs to be shod though as he has contracted heels and they get a little sore.
    I think it also comes down to the pain threshhold of each horse too. Moo could walk on rocks all day and not complain. If Fred steps on a stick he is lame for a week.
    It’s a trial and error thing. Just like everything else horse related I guess. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I agree. Biasini also has thin soles and the Keratex especially on his bare hinds seems to be siccessfull. Thank you for contributing to this discussion with your experience with two very different horses.

      Like

  5. youngeventhorseblog says:

    I am strictly a “horses for courses” kind of girl.

    I think if you can have a horse that is barefoot, and it is sound and happy and able to perform the work asked of it barefoot then it is a brilliant option (and a lot cheaper).

    But I have also seen horses that need shoes, their feet do not have the best conformation and to put them through the “barefoot process” would have them going through an extremely painful adjustment period which honestly may not work at all.

    Do what works for the horse and leave personal opinion regarding shoes out of it. The horse will be able to tell you what works as they will either be sound and happy or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I agree. As I said in reply earlier there are some horses that just do not have the best feet and need help. I think the horse will tell you and it is best to listen rather than adhere to an ideology that may cost you the horse in the ” no foot-no horse” adage. Thank you for your comment and addition to this discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. We are intrigued at how much detail needs to be put in the care of these wonderful steeds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      The higher the level of training and competition the more maintenance is required. They are high performance athletes and just like humans footwear, supplements, physiotherapy etc etc are all part of it. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If there is not one single farrier resident in the whole country – go for unshod. !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Haha! Thanks for bringing in a good sense of humor for backing up your point of view!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Have you read my free book The very Worst Riding School in the World? It makes for horrifying reading!!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Suze says:

    I was owned by a lovely Morgan several years ago. He was a retired police horse and all four feet were shod. I did go to a lighter shoe on the advice of our farrier as Dee was no longer running around on pavement or cement. He seemed to do well with them. I think it totally depends on where the horse is working as to whether or not he or she needs shoes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I would agree and also it seems that some horses have good solid feet and others do not. Thanks for joining the discussion!

      Like

  9. Judy says:

    My last ferrier was the best. My horse hated shoes. My ferrier said it all depends on the horse and what the horse is being asked to do. As you said, a horse that is on pavement needs extra protection. My horse’s feet would turn soft during the rainy season, so shoes protected his feet a bit. His last year was spent mostly shoeless. He loved it. The ferrier simply kept the hooves trimmed and checked for wear. Whenever someone says that natural is best I respond, “Arsenic and hemlock are natural, but I wouldn’t advise using them.” 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Haha! Yes ! That is a good point and I appreciate your sense of humor!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. (HorseLover4Ever) Elizabeth says:

    Pirouettes looking wonderful!!! Thank you for this informative writing. 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      It is my pleasure. I’m glad you found it interesting. Thanks for your comment!

      Like

  11. sandyjwhite says:

    Once again you have provided interesting information to the non-horse reader.
    I always assumed horses were shod on all four!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      I’m glad to be able to give some information on horses to the non horse people. Thank you for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. aghisla says:

    I don’t have a definite answer either, after reading success stories from both sides. Maybe the key is to notice when the hooves develop issues due to the current choice, and be open to changement in order to bring the horse back to health.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I agree with you 100%. The issue is how is the horse doing? Is he comfortable? Able to work? Are the hooves holding up? It should be about the horse . Thank you for this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Katrin says:

    There are similar debates in dogs. And I’m with you, what is best is what works best for that individual animal. What might be fantastic for one makes the next severely ill. There is no one size fits all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      Exactly! Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m not sure where I stand on this incredibly complex issue either. I do have a bit of a problem with people using the argument that bare foot is natural and therefore better, particularly as it relates to sports/performance horses. Sure many of the things which we ask Dressage horses to do under saddle they will do at liberty in the paddock but not repeatedly the way that we do for a horse in training. If the sport is not ‘natural’ then I am not sure we can care for them in a way that is entirely ‘natural’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I agree and you have covered the very important difference between what the horse will do in the Paddock on a cool morning and what they have to do in the training situation. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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