Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Barefoot Versus Shod

by Laura Crum

Apparently these are fighting words. Since I began blogging it has (slowly) dawned on me that horse people seem to take this subject very, uhmm, “seriously”—it appears to belong in the same category as religion and politics when it comes to discussion. Why, I have no idea. For me this topic is not fraught with emotional baggage of any kind, so I’m just going to wade in with my observations—based on forty years of non-stop horsekeeping. Feel free to fire away at me. I like a good argument—oops, I mean discussion.

First off, I was raised (in the horse biz) by a bunch of team ropers, and using horses were (mostly) shod. We used to be pretty proud of those relatively rare individuals who didn’t need shoes, but most horses got shoes as a matter of course if they were to be roped on. Same went for the cowhorse people and cutters I later rode with. No one I knew made much effort to see if a horse could go barefoot and still do his job comfortably. I owned one horse in my youth (an Appy named Nylon who had white feet) that never ever wore shoes. He was a rope horse and was also ridden on plenty of rocky trail rides—no problem. But we considered him the exception that proved the rule.

My first “fancy” horse was Gunner, a well bred QH gelding that I took to the Snaffle Bit Futurity and to various cutting events. Gunner was a tender footed horse and I kept him shod. Eventually I had to keep him in shoes and pads in front or he would get sore in deep ground (such as many of the arenas I rode in). I ran him in shoes and pads for oh, maybe eight years, before I retired him at fifteen years of age, due to various arthritic complaints. He never got thrush and his frogs stayed fine—I kept an eye on that. After he was retired to pasture I left him barefoot, and he did OK. I don’t believe he ever was using horse sound as a barefoot horse—if I led/lead him across hard ground (gravel road…etc) he walks very gingerly. But in the pasture he trots sound. So, I consider this a success story. Shoes and pads kept this tender footed horse sound throughout his competitive life and did not damage his chances for a happy barefoot retirement. Gunner is sound, if a bit rickety, today—at 31, almost 32 years. That’s over fifteen years of happy barefoot retirement.

Next we have Plumber. I bought Plumber as an unbroken three year old. He had never worn shoes and had been turned out in pasture all his life. When I bought him he was lame due to sore feet—his crappy, flarey, brittle little feet were all broken up. I shod him. He got sound. And Plumber was shod non-stop until he was twenty—at which point we retired him. He never wore pads. He ALWAYS wore shoes. And he stayed sound. He remained a tender foot. Freshly shod, he would limp on rocky ground. But he was a working rope horse who never missed a day due to lameness. We retired him at twenty (still sound) because he didn’t want to run any more, and we wanted to honor his choice. He had paid his dues. I pulled his shoes.

Plumber has been retired and barefoot for two years now and is pasture sound, like Gunner. Like Gunner, I don’t think he is using horse sound—he walks very carefully on the gravel driveway. But he trots sound in his corral. Another success story. Shoes kept this little tenderfooted gelding using horse sound for many years, and did not damage his chances for a happy, sound, barefoot retirement.

At this point you are probably thinking I am a big advocate for shoeing, but that is not the case. Between one thing and another (my own instincts and conversations with Mrs Mom being a couple of the things), I have begun to think that many/most horses would be better off without shoes. Four years ago I bought Henry and Sunny for myself and my son to trail ride. Both horses had been shod non-stop by their previous owners. When I asked if these horses could go barefoot, the people shrugged. “Never tried it.”

Since neither I nor my farrier could see any obvious reasons the horses could not go barefoot, I had their shoes pulled. And both horses went perfectly sound and barefoot for three years—including plenty of graveled roads and some rock on the trail. No problem.

If you are wondering why I shod Gunner and Plumber and not Sunny and Henry, the answer is twofold. My views about shoes versus barefoot have evolved over the years to where I actively think horses are better off if they can go barefoot. But, and its an important but, Gunner and Plumber needed shoes to stay sound as using horses. Henry and Sunny didn’t. At this point in my life I would always rather have barefoot horses, if possible— not only do I think its better for their feet, but guess what? It saves a bunch of money. Why in the world not have your horses be barefoot if they can go barefoot comfortably and do their job?

But….why in the world have your horse be limping around, too sore footed to ride (and unhappy to boot), when shoes, or shoes and pads, might make him comfortable and useful. This dedicated approach to “barefooting” reminds me of the folks who let their child die because they don’t believe in western medicine, or some other religious reason. Doesn’t work for me.

This spring Sunny came up lame in the right front and was diagnosed with a tiny chip on the edge of his navicular bone. I gave him a month off and shoes and pads in front (as the vet recommended), and he was sound. I shod him one more time with pads, just to protect his foot while I rode him—he stayed sound for lots of autumn trail rides. Last week I pulled his shoes and he’s barefoot again. So far, he’s still sound…and I hope he’ll stay that way. But if he doesn’t, I’ll put those shoes and pads back on.

I’m not afraid of shoes—Plumber was shod without a break for seventeen years and he’s a happy pasture sound, barefoot twenty two year old pet. I’m not afraid of pads-- Gunner wore shoes and pads non-stop for eight years and he’s a happy, sound, barefoot thirty-one year old pasture pet. If Sunny needs shoes and pads to go sound, he’s gonna get them. But if a horse can go barefoot and stay sound, as Henry is doing, he’s definitely going to stay barefoot. I think being barefoot is a better choice for most/many horses. Its obviously more natural. I, myself, go “barefoot”—in the sense that I wear only sandals and unstructured Ugg boots. When I gave up formal, structured shoes (and riding boots), all the aches and pains in my feet gradually went away. I get it that barefoot/natural feels better. But if I found that for some reason I needed shoes in order not to limp, I would wear shoes.

I absolutely cannot see any reason to be morbidly attached to either shoes or barefoot. Surely we need to do what works for the horse, and for ourselves, and limping around sore footed is no fun for the horse. Not being able to use a riding horse is no fun for the person. Given my own experiences, I am going to make the decision to shoe that sore horse every time, with pads if needed, if there is a chance that this will make the horse sound. I have frequently shod horses who got sore footed for one reason or another and then been able to take the shoes off after six weeks and not put them back on. They aren’t a life sentence. But they can be a life saver.

Anyway, I am deeply puzzled by the scores of folks who think riding horses MUST be shod (this would include most of my team roping friends), and equally puzzled by the barefoot zealots—who I have mostly run across on the internet—who think shoes are EVIL and should never be used. Both positions look equally silly to me.

I do know it is quite possible for a horse’s feet to be seriously screwed up by bad shoeing practices—though this has never happened to me. I’m pretty particular when it comes to this stuff—and no farrier ever shod my horses more than once if I didn’t like the way the shoes looked. I think that some horses with messed up feet due to poor shoeing can be helped by pulling the shoes, good trimming, and turnout. However, on the other side, I have definitely had the experience of a sound, barefoot horse being overzealously trimmed and coming up sore. The horse was miserable, and, of course, we couldn’t use him. Sure, I could have let him hobble around in the corral until he toughened up, but that wasn’t the choice I made. I put shoes on him…and you never saw such a happy horse. He ran and bucked and played, his demeanor proclaiming to all and sundry, “Look, look, my feet don’t hurt any more!” This horse wore front shoes for one six week period (and we were able to use him) and went back to being barefoot (and stayed sound). No harm done. Thank you shoes.

The main thing I have against the advice to leave a sorefooted horse barefoot until he gets sound (with proper trimming included) is that this can take a LONG time, depending on the horse. Sometimes the horse never gets using horse sound as a barefoot horse. Some horses have good feet, some horses don’t. But more than that, life is uncertain, and I think we all know that a lot can change very quickly. The horse can colic and die, the person can get cancer and be unable to ride…stuff happens. I would not choose to leave a horse lame if I wanted to ride him if shoes (or shoes and pads) would make him sound today. I would not shoe a horse if I thought shoes would do him any real harm, but based on the examples I have given, I think you can see that it has not been my experience that shoeing, even prolonged shoeing, will necessarily do any harm.

And yes, it does depend on the farrier. My own horses have had one farrier for the last twenty years, and I do credit him with the fact that I have had so few soundness problems. He’s not a fancy shoer—he’s a gruff old cowboy—but the horses’ feet look natural, and, as you can see from my previous stories, they have mostly stayed sound.

So, in the end, I would definitely prefer my horses to be barefoot, and all my horses are barefoot today. But if they need shoes (or shoes and pads) to keep them using horse sound, they are darn sure going to get them. And I really see no problem with that (based on my own experience), other than the expense.

OK—I am happy to hear other points of view. What’s your position in the great barefoot versus shod debate?


Anonymous said...

Interesting topic that I'm sure will draw lots of debate.

I have three horses (not including retirees) and one is shod in front and the other two are barefoot.

I don't believe that shoes are evil, although even my farrier says that we pay a price when we shoe - there is damage to the foot as a result.

I've also come to believe that shoes can actually cause soundness problems - concussion related since the concussion absorbing structures of the frog and heel can't work as they are designed to - the hoof wall is loaded instead - and also tendon and ligament related. And a horse that has been in shoes for years will have an "incompetent" foot - the structures of the frog and heel won't have been properly exercised and developed - when people take shoes off and their horse is footy this is what is happening - it's not that the horse can't be barefoot, its that the foot has to regrow itself in a way that will allow soundness in response to use. This process takes a long time - as long as a hoof capsule takes to grow out - sometimes 6 to 9 months. And there have to be a variety of surfaces - hard, gravel, soft - for the horse to exercise itself on in order to develop a competent foot. And a horse should never be forced to exercise on a surface that causes pain - the horse has to work up to harder surfaces as the hoof capsule and frog and heel develop.

And many horses have metabolic issues - like insulin resistance - that have to be addressed with dietary changes before the horse can be sound barefoot. Despite what some barefoot trimmers say, exercise and diet make a sound hoof, and trimming is the least important part of the picture, although you need to use an experienced trimmer and there are plenty of bad ones out there.

And if your barefoot trimmer says that it's OK for your horse to be sore after a trim, that's BS. If a barefoot horse is sore after a trim, your trimmer is probably no good - there are some schools of trimming that reliably lead to sore horses and those should be avoided like the plague.

Here's a good site with a lot more useful info about hoof health:

Pie and Drifter are barefoot and are sound over all surfaces. Dawn's in front shoes because I don't have access to enough variety of surfaces - she doesn't go on the trail - for her to develop a competent foot if she were unshod.

Daisy said...

I 100% agree with you. It depends on the horse, the circumstances, the Farrier you have and believe in etc.
Great post!

Laura Crum said...

Kate--It hasn't been my experience that change in diet, or supplements of any sort, made much difference to my horses with tender feet. I'm not saying it can't happen, but neither I nor any of my friends around here got significant results that way. I do believe that being turned out such that they can move freely 24/7 is a huge help in keeping horses sound.

Both Gunner and Plumber have feet that tend towards low heels, as well as flat, shallow soles. Their feet had a tendency to break up and, in Plumber's case, to be very flarey. They are also both sensitive--big babies about pain--not stoic at all. Any little "ouch" was a huge deal. It is my honest belief that I would not have been able to use them (remember they were rope horses and cutting horses--not walk/trot around a ring or trail horses--they had to run and stop and turn at top speed) and keep them sound without shoes.

I'm not claiming to be any kind of expert on this subject, however. These are just my observations from my many years of owning horses.

Thanks, Deanna. Its nice to hear that I'm not the only one that chooses the middle ground.

Leslie said...

I learned about horses and shoes when I worked for a riding stable for 3 years. The horses were shod, front feet only March thru November which were our program months. Shoes were then removed, the horses were barefoot November through March. When the farrier came to shoe the horses for the riding season I was the one who tended the horses so had the advantage of asking all kinds of questions.Since I was new to having my own horses,it was definitely helpful.

My two Spotted Saddle Horses have been barefoot, all their life. They even have the dreaded white hooves! I've had three different farriers tell me the guys have good solid feet.My current farrier, who I've had for the last five years,told me they would be fine on trails but he did say if I were to ride on the concrete road or say lots of limestone for long periods of time, there might be a need for shoes. Well, so far, haven't had to worry about that but for my guys, they're barefoot and happy.

I agree, depends on the circumstance and the horse. I would be open to shoes if mine needed them.

horsegenes said...

Amen Sista! I have never understood the big debate over shoes vs barefoot. If a horse needs them, use them. If they don't, then don't. What is so complicated about that? I do think that horses that are being used... roping, working cattle, etc benefit from having the protection of shoes. When I was younger I would have my horse shod every seven weeks. The steel shoes at seven weeks were almost worn in two at the toe. That would have been a lot of wear and tear on a hoof. Until I started riding again in my 40's I don't think that I ever had a set of shoes "reset". That comes from them being stalled and used in the arena most of the time. :)

Laura Crum said...

Leslie--I have known a good many horses with "good" white feet. I don't actually believe that old notion that white feet are always weaker.

kel--We've had a couple horses that were fine with being roped on barefoot--it just seems to depend on the horse. Also, how hard you are using him.

And Leslie, I would never choose to shoe horses behind that were turned out with other horses--so I totally get the front shoes only at the riding stable deal. I have known of too many horses that were severely injured (not my horses, thank goodness) by being kicked by a horse with hind shoes during turnout.

Mikey said...

Now you did it :) You brought up the big controversial subject.

I think you've said it quite well. I believe all horses, people, dogs, etc are different. Some have to be shod, some not. Depending on what you're doing. As a farrier, I oh so often encouraged horses that could go barefoot to do so. One horse, I swear, I bent 20 nails trying to drive one in on the first shoe. This horse had feet like rock. DID NOT need shoes, but couldn't convince the owner that. I've seen all kinds of feet and owners and some days I think I've seen it all. I want to get a sign that says EVERYONE is DIFFERENT. There is no absolute. We have to get flexible in our thinking, not rigid.

You've hit all the points. I can't think of much to add. Hopefully us horse people are getting better educated about this subject. I know we're all looking for ways to save money, going barefoot is a good way to do it. Those you spoke of who "never tried it", maybe now they will. All my horses go barefoot if they can. If I'm using them and they can't do their job properly w/o shoes, then they get shod. Soon I will be gathering in rough rocky pasture, probably clock 20 miles in one day. Is my horse shod? You betcha. Is my daughter's horse? Nope. He travels that just fine, and is not expected to be chasing anything at high speed. My horse, maybe. All depends on what you're doing, how, and how your horse's feet hold up.
Great post, thanks for stirring the pot :)

Funder said...

I am a barefoot zealot, but I also deeply believe that most people are trying to do the right thing for their horses and I don't push my views on them. If someone asks, I'll give her my (polite) honest opinion of her horse's feet, but other than that I keep my mouth shut. :)

I never heard you mention hoof boots. Some of them are as easy as slapping on skid boots and some of them (Easyboot Gloves, I'm looking at YOU) are quite tricky and require a lot of dedication. IF you can get boots that fit your horse's hooves and are easy to apply, they give all the benefits of shoes with pads and none of the drawbacks - concussion mitigation, hoof protection, you can pull them off daily and clean the hooves. They're more expensive than one set of shoes but they cost much less over the long run.

I've read barefoot mailing lists for years, and Californians really seem to have a problem with diet. The trace minerals in your fodder are screwed up - too high in some things and too low in others - and many horses don't do well (barefoot-wise) on hay and turnout in CA where they thrive on it in other parts of the country. It's definitely trickier to grow a good bare hoof in CA.

Laura Crum said...

Hey, Mikey and Funder--It is great to get your opinions. A horseshoer and a barefoot endurance rider. What could be better?

And yeah, Mikey, I grinned when I selected today's topic. As I said to begin with, its not fraught with a lot of emotional baggage for me. I pretty much see it exactly as you do. But since you are a horseshoer and the wife of a horseshoer, your opinion definitely carries more weight.

Funder--I hoped you would comment. I never saw you as a barefoot "zealot", merely as the owner of a horse with good feet who chooses to run her barefoot. But...yeah, the boots. There's a reason I didn't mention the boots. That's cause I've never used them. Other than packing a couple of EZ Boots along on pack trips for horses that lost a shoe. And this was many years ago--those old hard plastic EZ Boots were no prize. They came off easily and inevitably made horses sore after prolonged use.

I do know there are better boots out there now--and I know you and many others use them. The honest truth is I don't want to fuss that much. The LAST thing I want to do is to put boots on my horse every time I ride him. From reading others blogs, I have received the (possibly incorrect) impression that these boots are a pain in the ass. I hear someone talking about needing a mallet to get them on. I hear others complaining that some boots rubbed sore spots on their horse. I hear yet others complaining cause the boots fell apart or fell off. It really sounds like a total hassle. I admit it. I don't want the extra grief. If I thought metal shoes were really doing my horse harm, of course I wouldn't use them. But as you can see from my post, I don't think that. I think about like Mikey.

And, if your horse DID need shoes and pads to stay sound, wouldn't you put them on?

Laura Crum said...

Oh and Funder--You obviously know much more about this than I do, so I'm not arguing, but the three riding horses in my barn right now have no trouble going barefoot. Sunny's lameness was in my opinion due to injury (the proverbial bad step). In general he has very good feet--big, tough, open--and he is once again sound and barefoot. His X-rays were absolutely clean except for this one little chip. Anyway, overall, I have had plenty of horses that went just fine barefoot, so had no sense that this was difficult to find in California. If the trace minerals in our hay/pasture are screwed up, I thought the main result was we had more stones (enteroliths). I had never heard that we have more problems growing good feet.

Funder said...

Would I ever shoe her? I just don't know. If she wasn't comfortable moving around in the pasture barefoot - maybe. But if she just needed protection for riding, I'd boot, definitely. And if it was a short-term unsoundness - got into the feed barrel, went laminitic - I'd probably boot in the pasture.

Boots can totally be hell. It's an expensive game - kind of like the Great Saddle Fitting Quest so many riders go through - to get boots that are easy enough for the human and don't rub or fall off of the horse. I really love my Renegades but they only work on a certain idealized hoof shape, which Dixie is lucky enough to have. But like you lucked into a great farrier, I lucked into the right boots. :)

I don't write much about my boots because I don't use them all the time and they generally work SO well when I do. "Boots didn't fall off or rub" isn't worth saying! I guess I should though, to counterweight all the "damn boots!" posts.

Funder said...

Re: minerals - I'm talking more about Plumber and Gunner. They demonstrably couldn't grow *really good* feet. It's not something I have personal experience with, but it is something I've noticed over and over on the barefoot lists. People do everything "right" (turnout and trim) and can't get good soles or good walls unless they add some random trace mineral(s), and they're often in CA. I don't have anything more scientific than that!

A lot of it's just genetics/luck too. I've seen so many thousand-mile e-horses with HORRIBLE shoe jobs and HORRIBLE trims with badly fitting boots and they just keep trotting down the trail. Again, they're the silent counterbalance to all the owners struggling so hard to keep their horses sound.

Laura Crum said...

Funder--Those are all really good points. My own feeling is that Gunner and Plumber were genetically programmed to have difficult feet, and that no amount of supplementing (which I did try on Gunner) was going to change that. These horses with low heels and flat, shallow soles are really problematic as barefoot candidates. But that's just my thinking. I am sort of on the genetics/luck page, I guess, because I, too, have sure seen some poorly shod/trimmed horses that just stayed sound.

And that saddle fitting thing. It blows me away. I guess I am just lucky, but I own two old roping saddles that have fit every horse I've ridden in the last twenty years. Sometimes I had to adjust the padding, that was it. No horse got sore backed. I read the ordeals some people go through on this front and I just wince. Nothing like good luck.

And by the way, Funder, I don't mean to bug you or anything, but when are you going to post more about you and Dixie? I miss hearing about your adventures.

Funder said...

Yeah, I got really lucky on the saddle thing too. I wonder if some people don't over-obsess about saddle fit though.

I am slogging back out of the annual fall annoying mild depression. I'm back to commenting which means surely I'll be back to posting soon too. Thanks for the kind words!

Laura Crum said...

Funder--We get the fall/depression thing around here, too, my husband more than me. Between the equinox and the winter solstice is a tough time. My husband calls it "going into the tunnel" as the days get darker and the storms start to come in.

And yeah, I wasn't going to say it, but since you did, I think some people WAY over-obsess on the saddle fit thing. Ditto for the horse is "out" and needs a chiro thing. But again, just my view.

Anonymous said...

I can certainly relate to the fall depression - right now it's dark and raining hard with wind chills in the 30s - yuck!

One thing I meant to say and didn't say very well is that many horses do fine in shoes and it's easy (if you have a good farrier) to keep horses rideable over a variety of surfaces when in shoes - Dawn's always done well in them. That said, some horses, due to conformation, can be harmed by shoes since the stresses on the legs are amplified by hoof wall loading - more concussive stress - and not having a competent frog and heel can put additional stress on the DDFT and suspensory ligaments.

Also, as to diet - horses with insulin resistance are notoriously foot sensitive and do benefit from reduction in sugars and weight control, and sometimes from supplements - we use a chromium/magnesium supplement for our IR horses and it does make a big difference to foot health. Trace minerals can also be an issue, depending on your grazing and forage.

Dawn's staying in front shoes and Pie and Drifter are staying barefoot - they're all sound and happy and that's what matters.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I have heard a lot about insulin resistant horses, but have never experienced this problem myself. Nor have I heard about it among my friends around here. I have known horses to founder (not mine), which I am thinking is another name for a severe version of this condition (laminitus). Maybe our grass is not so strong out here? Or maybe its a breed thing. In the field where I keep my retired pasture pets, someone else once kept two Morgans--who foundered every spring. My QHs get fat, but do not founder or get sore-footed. Later I was told Morgans had a tendency to founder. I guess there are lots of variables.

I guess my bottom line is the same as yours--I want to keep them sound and happy.

One thing I will say--someone I know who uses a shoer that I don't care for--the horses all look long in the toe and low in the heels to me--has had maybe half a dozen rope horses come up lame with the dreaded suspensory tear in the last ten years. I definitely think its related to the shoeing--though the horse owner doesn't think so, so I don't talk about it to him (mentioned it once as a possibility and got shut down immediately). But I do believe poor shoeing can lead to apparently unrelated injuries.

Laura Crum said...

And Kate--Your weather sounds VERY depressing. Its in the 60s here right now and sunny--not meaning to make you jealous or anything. Coastal California does have some good points. (I know, I know, its got plenty of downside, too.)

Dreaming said...

What a great post and good discussion. Yes, with hooves and saddles there are people who go nuts one way or another; same thing when it comes to organic food, vegan diets, home schooling - some people have their passions and will stand up for their beliefs!
As for shoes or barefoot: I've had horses that were shod; all 4, sometimes just the front and those who have been barefoot.
IMHO it all comes down to the farrier. Regardless of whether you use shoes or go without. A good farrier is a good farrier and will do right by your horses. A bad farrier should be shot - well, maybe not that drastic... but maybe someone should trim his toenails way too short! I fully believe that the way your horse goes and the comfort he or she experiences is dependent on the trim. If the angle is wrong or feet are uneven, or a foot is made to toe in or out, or the trim is too short, or if soul is trimmed - I feel those are the variables that dictate, to a large degree, soundness issues. In addition, the frequency of the trim or resetting is really important. The timing of the farrier visits depends on how and where your horse is used. A horse that is ridden a lot, as Kel mentioned, may have tinfoil on his or her toes in a matter of weeks. A barefoot horse running on sandy pasture or worked on sandy roads may naturally wear his hoof and keep it at the appropriate length for a long time. One of my farriers also believes that hooves grow faster in the spring...not sure if I've noticed that, but he's been around a lot longer than me!
I've just begun to use a barefoot specialist. Not because it is my passion, but because my horses haven't had shoes for ages. I figured if they are going to go barefoot, it might be interesting to see how he handles their feet vs how my previous farrier trimmed them. (Doc & Pippin actually 'discussed' the farriers visit on today's blogpost!) The barefoot guy spends a lot of time studying my guys' feet and feeling for muscle tension or sore areas. He discovered that Pippin's stifles were sore.... do you know how terrible I felt that I hadn't noticed? He commented that the soreness resulted from Pippin's heels being a bit too long, putting more pressure on his toes that sent more concussion up his leg. Sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo to me... in some ways... but then again, maybe?!!! Anyway, I have noticed that neither horse has been sore with the new guy, even going over the gravel driveway, where in the past Pippin often had some tenderness following the farrier visit. The other big difference I've noticed is how the frog is handled. The previous farrier would trim the frog, making it look neat and tidy. The new guy wants that frog to have more contact to take up concussion and help pump blood through the body. He only removes dead tissue to keep bacteria from thriving and causing thrush.

Anonymous said...

I've got the same weather as Kate, depressing, and the shorter days just add to it.

I got into barefoot trimming when I had an old TB with forward foot syndrome, flat feet, thin walls. I tried all sorts of shoes and pads on him over the years. His feet wouldn't hold a shoe anymore, so I didn't have much choice.

When I got my current gelding he was 6 months old. He has always had a barefoot trim. He has the best feet I've ever known, I don't think it's hereditary either because his mother has terrible feet.

The problem we have in Michigan is that we have at least 3 big transitions a year, from winter to wet springs, to hot dry summers when the ground gets as hard as cement, now back to wet and muddy before winter again.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Hmmmm, my first horse was shod when we bought him and we continued to shoe him and the other horse we had. Then I sold them and moved to another state where I picked up a two year old Paint horse- all white with just a red head, neck, chest, flank spot and tail. Yep, those white feet! However, I never had him shod because he wasn't in shoes when I purchased him and I just never bothered as I started riding him. After that, on almost every horse I have owned, I have had the shoes pulled off and kept barefoot and they have all done well. I do light riding and I guess a lot of the reason why I never bothered with shoes is due to the extra cost and strict farrier schedule required. My current horses average nine weeks between trims with no adverse effects. I can't remember any of my horses having lameness issues or even terribly chipped or cracked hooves.

If I were doing heavy riding over very rocky ground I might consider shoes, at least for the front feet anyway. I have nothing much against shoes; I just have no use for them either.

Linda said...

I agree with you. All my horses are barefoot right now, but there have been times I had Cowboy's fronts done in order to give him a "casting" to cut down on the arthritic pain. Even my farrier didn't know if that was a great idea or not, but felt it better to be safe than sorry. If they're trimmed well, they can really keep up barefoot on rocky surfaces. Mine don't even need boots. But I leave it all up to my farrier. It's all greek to me...I just want sound horses.

joycemocha said...

I'm pretty much with you. Mocha is barefoot because of a.) cost and b.) she gets thrush really badly under her shoes despite my best efforts. When the hoof wall crumbles despite shoes....sigh. Easier to maintain without shoes.

That said, if I were to spend a lot of time trail riding, she'd get shoes. No question, especially on rocky ground. She'd be too sore otherwise.

(and I've yet to find boots that fit her feet, plus she's emphatically Not Liking Them).

Equine Mum said...

Great blog - why not come over to and post your blog there too for more to follow!

Laura Crum said...

Dreaming and redhorse--I have never used a "barefoot trimmer", mostly because I have been very happy with my current farrier. If/when he quits--he's in his 60's now, I will probably look around for a good barefoot trimmer.

Voyager--I have some pasture horses that only need trims twice a year. They wear their feet down quite nicely. My barefoot riding horses need trimming on different schedules. One needs it every 8 weeks--or sooner, and one goes three months, no problem. So I agree with you that trimming schedule depends on the horse and the use.

Linda and joycemocha--Sounds like we're all on the same page. I think maybe there are more horsemen out there with this "middle-road" mindset than I realized--we're just not the ones making all the noise.

Shanster said...

What an interesting and timely post! I bought my mare and she went in front shoes for a while... then I took them off, used a little iodine to toughen her soles and she went barefoot for several years.

Just this past July I rode where a woman I trained with for a long time watched me ride a test at a show (my current trainer's mom)... she told me there was nothing wrong with my mare's feet, she certainly wasn't "off" or lame but she seemed to move flat and maybe a bit quick and like she was being a wee bit careful. Maybe I should try shoes to see if it would affect her in a positive way?

I decided to try front shoes again just to see and experiment. My farrier was out 2 weeks ago... he concurred that my mare didn't NEED shoes - she has good feet, thick soles, no soreness - but he'd put them on for me to see if there was a difference.

I went to a riding clinic this past Wed with a woman I go to every winter. She's seen my mare go for the past 5 yrs or so... she says she's never seen my mare move like she does now - she is floaty and forward and isn't hesitant or quick or flat. Said she didn't know my mare was capapble of movement like that... she didn't think she had it in her.

So ... guess my mare will have shoes on the front from here on out. I am not emotionally attached to shoes or barefoot.. prefer barefoot for the $$ saving... but sure seems to have made a difference in my mare's way of going and she was never lame or sore or off.... like I said, just sort of 'flat'.

She was always sort of tender footed across rocky areas... but I've trail ridden her and arena ridden her with no lasting or substantial issues.. maybe a stumble here and there while on the trial but nothing noticable or lasting... no lameness - not that I rode across very rocky terrain.

Just very interesting that your post was about this issue and I just happened to "experiment" with this very thing... ??

lytha said...

dangit funder beat me to it! i wanted to say in the past easy boots were not so easy and they've made such improvements i am amazed - i can put them on and off with only my hands and they stay on and don't rub.

some horses are really hard to fit for boots though and that would make me go to traditional shoes (gasp). i have to be honest - if i kept losing boots on a ride, i'd say screw it. (but only after trying several brands.)

kate said she puts dawn in shoes because she doesn't get out on trails enough to get tough, i found that interesting: she must ride a lot to keep the geldings feet conditined. ideally the horse's pasture environment contains the footing they will see on the trail (rocky areas) but not all of us can afford to build a diverse landscape into our pastures (and not all horses are able to benefit from that).

Laura Crum said...

lytha-So far my barefoot trail horses have done fine sans boots--Sunny had what amounts to an injury, and the shoes and pads (two shoeings) seem to have fixed that. He is moving sound and free barefoot again--yay!

Shanster--My friend Wally had a similar experience with his team roping horse, Twister. Twister had gone barefoot for awhile and seemed fine--certainly not noticeably lame--but Wally felt the horse did not want to run and felt rougher than usual. He tried shoes and the problem went away--so we think the horse must have been at least a little sore. Very like Sera.