Does My Horse Need Shoes?
A few years ago, I asked my friend “Why do we shoe horses?”
The answer seemed simple at the time: we shoe our horses to protect their feet. In this post, I will share with you the advantages as well as disadvantages of horse shoeing that I have discovered through research, interviewing farriers, and trimming my horses.
The Wild Horse
Wild mustangs travel over 20 miles a day and are barefoot. Yet, their feet are hard as rock. How is it that their feet do not get destroyed by the harsh terrain? Wild horses actually get their strong feet because of how much they use them. Everyday, their sole, frog, and hoof wall gets packed down into strong, callous material.
What About My Horse?
If the wild horse does best with no shoes, why do we shoe our domestic horses? Mercedes, a horse that came to us for training just a month ago, arrived barefoot. Her original owner had nice lush pasture with very soft ground. All of a sudden, Mercedes became a little lame. On the trail, she avoided the hard packed ground by walking on the softer edges of the path. Her feet were weak from being unused and the sudden change in footing, from soft ground to hard rocky ground, made her foot-sore. Shortly after, we put front shoes on Mercedes and she became sound again.
To determine whether to shoe or not shoe your horse, think about how strong your horse’s feet are and how much they are ridden on tough terrain. I have found that horses I ride barefoot on a regular basis, almost everyday, will get stronger and stronger feet. On the other hand, a horse who is not ridden as often or is mostly used to soft ground, such as arena sand, will have weaker feet. If a horse with weak feet occasionally goes out on rocky trails, their feet will likely get damaged. For those horses, such as Mercedes, shoeing might be a good option.
A good way to think about this is by taking a look at your own feet. If you are like me, you wear shoes almost everyday. I walked barefoot on my gravel driveway this morning to take out the trash and it hurt… If I walked barefoot everyday, however, my skin would callous and become stronger (Ask any rock climber, the same thing happens to their hands).
In a nutshell, being barefoot makes horses’ feet stronger while shoes actually weaken the hoof. However, not all horses are suited to remain barefoot. Think about the effects of the terrain on your horse’s feet, as well as the frequency of your rides. Although your horse’s feet will not get very strong, shoeing them can help protect the hoof from damage if the terrain and type of riding is too much for your horse to handle.