To Shoe or Not to Shoe Your Horse - Benefits of Shod and Barefoot Horses - By: Jared Wright

In the past few decades, a greater and greater number of horse owners have decided to move away from the more traditional idea of shoeing a horse to the "natural" form of barefoot horses. They remind others that wild horses survive just fine without horseshoes and that horseshoes really only began to be used when horses in Europe were moved north into different climates.

On the other side of the field are those who only have their horses shod. They think that it is very cruel to make a horse go through rough terrains barefooted, especially during trail riding. Horseshoes can protect a horse's hooves from foreign objects such as rocks from cutting and injuring them.

Let's take a brief look at the benefits of each shod and barefoot horses.

Shod Horses

- Domestic horses are mainly kept indoors on softer ground for long period of time, therefore are unlikely to develop a strong hoof on their own.

- Horses who work primarily in wet areas with soft soils and few rocks are less likely to wear their hooves down properly in a natural way.

- When a horse with a soft hoof is moved onto harder and less forgiving ground, this could cause damage to the hoof and result in lameness.

- Horses not given a proper diet that mimics a wild diet in that it includes all the nutrients a wild horse would naturally encounter are likely to develop hoof problems that could cause pain and lameness without the protection of a horseshoe.

- Over breeding of horses without due concern for hoof quality has created a reliance on shoes in certain breeds of horses.

Barefoot Horses

- Advocates of the "natural" or "barefoot" horse argue that a horse will naturally wear its hooves down.

- A barefoot hoof in the correct terrain will likely develop a strong hoof wall that will stand up to abuse.

- With the right diet, the chances of debilitating foot conditions go down.

- Some horse owners claimed that they have horses who used to have serious problems with their hooves. However, once they are left barefooted, their hooves begin to form strongly.

Regardless of your choice, barefoot or shod, you should probably find a high quality farrier to help you with your horse's hooves. Unless your horse's lifestyle mimics that of a wild horse living in the west, that is to say running across hard packed ground for eighteen hours a day, your horse's hooves will likely need to be trimmed.

A shod horse will need to have its hooves trimmed in a way that accommodates the shoe. These horses usually have hooves that are trimmed with more of a pointed toe such that a horse's weight strikes the tow first before rolling back.

Many barefoot farriers will trim your horse's hooves in a way that benefits the horse as it lives in its specific environment, the diet and lifestyle of the horse, and its age among other factors. Some farriers will give your horse a "mustang trim" that most closely resembles the wear seen on wild mustangs in the American West.

While the thinking behind this seems logical, it is worth noting that this style of hoof most benefits the wild mustangs on which it is found naturally and your horse likely does not live the same style of life that a wild mustang lives.

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