While those who strongly believe in shoeing seem to be of the opinion that it is the right and only way, many barefoot advocates believe that although barefoot is better, shoes are sometimes necessary.
Prior to enrolling in the Equine Functional Anatomy course offered by Equine Guelph, I had no idea that one’s decision to shoe their horse or keep it barefoot could be such a contentious issue. It was a fascinating topic to research! Never having given it much thought myself (I’ve never ridden a shod horse nor had I ever questioned why some horses are shod while others are not) I’ve come away with an informed opinion on the topic that boils down to the following.
When deciding whether or not to shoe a horse, a number of factors must be carefully considered, including the genetics and breed of the horse, individual hoof conformation, the climate the horse lives in, and the type of footing on which it works or performs. Ultimately, hoof structure is the determining factor in deciding what is best for a particular horse.
If a horse is in good health, has good conformation, and its hooves are properly cared for, there’s no reason for shoes or other footwear under normal circumstances. However, the case can definitely be made to shoe a horse for therapeutic or work/performance purposes. Each horse must be considered individually. It is unreasonable to think that all horses must be shod, or conversely, that all horses should be barefoot.
Even some of the more outspoken advocates for barefoot horses would still caution that not all horses are able to go barefoot.
Part 2: The Horn of Plenty examines the form and function of the hoof, looking at the hooves of both feral and domestic horses.
Part 3: The Shod Horse takes a look at the therapeutic and performance-related uses of horseshoes as well as the harm caused to the exterior of the hoof by their overuse.
Part 4: Benefits of Being Barefoot advocates for a wider adoption of barefoot hooves and a more natural approach to hoof care when possible, not to be confused with the “feral” or “natural” model, which is also problematic, as discussed in Part 2.