Back to Basics: Barefoot Horses


It seems like everyone has a different opinion as to whether or not horses should be shod. I would say that the majority of horse owners, especially those that show or ride often, tend to put shoes on their horses (at least front shoes). If we’re being completely honest, no one on this subject is 100% right or wrong—I believe that whether or not you shoe your horse should be situationally dependent.

My horse has been barefoot for almost the whole time I’ve had him, which is eight years now. He used to have solid, tough feet, the kind that could ride on any surface and it would be just fine. Nowadays, especially since his Cushing’s diagnosis, I have tried to keep front shoes on him at least through the winter. Mostly I made this decision because horses are much more likely to develop laminitis when they have Cushing’s disease and I want to keep him active and comfortable for as long as possible. Mind you, this is only preventative as he hasn’t showed any signs of laminitis thus far, but it is a situation I’m trying to avoid altogether.

There is one big reason why people choose to keep their horses barefoot: money. Putting shoes on your horse is naturally more expensive than just getting a trim, so if your horse doesn’t need shoes for any particular reason—whether that be athletic, medical, or conformational—then there’s really no need for the extra expense. If, for example, you do have a horse with laminitis, or you’re a reiner, or a jumper, then your horse will probably need shoes. This is another one of those things that you should always discuss with your farrier and vet. Horses’ hooves are delicate and complex, so it’s important to trust your farrier to do the best that they can do. There are a lot of great farriers out there, and they’re worth their weights in gold.

I am of the opinion that horses should be left unshod as much as possible—again, dependent upon the circumstances. Many years ago, I was taught that horseshoe nails weaken the hoof walls and cause more cracks, and although this may not be completely accurate (farriers, weigh in below!), I still stick to this philosophy because going barefoot is more natural for the horse.

One piece of advice that I will leave you with is that when considering purchasing a horse, talk to the horse’s farrier about their plan and cost so that you’re able to factor that into your budget. Horses need their feet done about every 6-8 weeks, so be prepared for that if you’re purchasing a horse that needs shoes or you’re simply considering putting shoes on your horse. Remember this, too: no hoof, no horse!

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