Friday, September 05, 2008

To Shoe or Not To Shoe, That is the Question...

I had a reader question recently about Shoeing. And I thought it was a quite interesting topic.

Hi Deanna,

Thank you for a wonderful site. I read your posts and learn a lot from it.
My mare and me thank you for this
I have a question or an interesting topic to discuss.
I ride a 4 y.o. qh
who has shoes for a year. I ride about 3-4 times a week for one hour in a manege and about 1-2 times a week as trail riding on various grounds, but most of the time hard ground with stones.

I've read about bare foot and it sounds reasonable and healthy.

When asking my farrier he recommended to have her with shoes, but I didn't expect him to say something else (he is a farrier after all...).

I don't have the tools to evaluate the hoof myself. I asked some of my friends who are more expirienced than I am. The one with the "traditional" point of view said it will hurt the mare if I take the shoes off. The "barefoot lovers" say I'll harm her if I'll keep her on shoes...

I am confused... Any suggestions?



Hi Zahi!

You're welcome, and I'm so glad you enjoy the site. Your training program sounds terrific with the addition of trail riding for the horse.

To shoe or not to shoe, that is the question I am sure that is in many riders minds.
What a great topic for discussion. It was a question I was looking for answers to myself. A few weeks ago, my farrier and I had the same conversation and he gave me some great advice.

Jim said "It depends on the horse." I asked, "how? ". He then went through some different scenarios for me and it all made sense. He went on to explain how some horses wear out one shoe and not the others, or the shoe wore on one side and not the other, and he would have to do corrective shoeing. Those horses would have trouble going barefoot because the wouldn't have the support or hoof angles they needed. Then there are other horses who are barefoot and have no trouble at all.

I could then understand what he meant by looking at all the different horse's hooves. Some are barefoot, but their hooves seem to crumble. If a hoof supplement worked, and the horse no longer had trouble, then there would be no need for shoes. However, if it didn't and then we tried shoes and the hooves stayed in better shape, then shoes really help that horse.

Some horse's depending on their job need shoes. For example, if you are riding reining horses, then your horse will need sliding plates on the back hooves.

Another thing to think about is when and if you transition from shoes to barefoot is to take to the different surfaces slowly. Don't pull off the shoes that have been on the horse for years and head straight out on a trail ride. I would build up to rocky uneven surfaces.

In the wild the horse's don't wear shoes and they walk, trot, and even gallop over all different terrain. On the other hand, wild horses also travel up to 20 miles per day, and the diet that they eat is more natural and organic than a stabled horse's diet. Wild horse's don't eat processed food which is not a natural diet. So the hooves of wild horse's are somewhat different than our coddled creatures hooves.

My answer to your question would be, take a look at your horse's shoes. How are they worn? If they wear normally you can try it! You can always put the shoes back on the horse if barefoot doesn't work. I'm glad to have shoes for the horse's that need them, and I'm glad that some horses can easily go barefoot. Especially when I get the bill for a trim, it's a fraction of the price of shoeing.

I would also suggest that you ask your farrier the question "Why?" When he says that he recommends keeping the shoes. He may have a good reason that relates directly to your mare or he may not. You will never know for sure unless you ask.

OK readers, what are your opinions? Pros and cons of shoes and barefoot?
Something I haven't tried but has been around for years are easyboots. Has anyone tried them? What do you think of them?

Thanks again for the question Zahi and I hope I helped.



Theresa said...

I have a friend that just uses the EasyBoots or Boas on the horses she uses in her carriage business. That's all she used this year, and they have worked wonderfully, especially since both horses tended to throw shoes constantly while out to pasture.

My horse is 7 and has never needed shoes. His walls are really thick, and though they may not be cosmetically perfect between trims, he has never been lame. His pasture is clay and is flat, so his feet are less concave, which makes him ouchy on gravel. I don't ride often enough to build up to being less sensitive.

Since there are no farriers around me that will come out to just trim one horse, I do all his trimming. If you learn the foot's markers, it's not difficult to do besides wrestling with the horrendously heavy tools. I have found that by putting a good pasture roll, his feet won't chip or split, and that is a much better result than any farrier that's ever trimmed him. I also leave the sole and frog alone unless there's a piece hanging off that could get caught and torn off.

This is what has worked for me and my horse, but I don't think it would for a horse with less than optimal feet, that is rode more or expected to travel on varied surfaces like you mentioned.

Zahi said...

Thank you Deanna for the prompt and detailed reply.
I am sure that shoeing-off involves other actions besides taking the shoes off. It should include gradual introducing of the horse to different landscapes as it is unriden first and being ridden only later.
It should also include special trimming (as bare hoof trimming differs significantly than usual trim.
One should also supply the horse with sufficient yard to go around in and the company of "equal-others" to promote movement.
I guess that in a combined program, most of the horses can go barefoot - and I guess it takes time and effort from the owner.
I guess you can understand I'm on my way to shoeing-off...
As for my farrier, I've asked him and his answer was - "I just think she will do better on shoes."
I guess I'll try, and see what happens...
(The only thing on debate is when to do that... before winter? after giving birth? ect...)
Again, thanks for the answer.

Deanna said...

Thanks for the response Theresa! I think that is amazing that you can trim your own horse. Not me, I can barely pull a shoe. Where did you learn to do it yourself? I only trimmed goats hooves, but I used hoof nippers lol.

Your welcome Zahi, and it sounds like you are really well prepared to try taking off the shoes. I agree it takes effort on part of the owner, I'm sure your mare will do well.

As for when is best to take the shoes off, I will ask my farrier his opinion, he's due out the first week in October. We've been friends outside of a professional relationship for years so I'm sure he will give me an honest answer.


Theresa said...

I refer to Pete Ramey a lot. There are quite a few informational sites out there and I read quite a few of them to get a good understanding of the mechanics of the hoof and how it functions. I found that Ramey is the most scientific and reasoned in how and the why's of how he works on the horse's hooves.

There is a lot to weed through and to pick out only the good takes quite a bit of effort. For this reason, I stay away from die-hard "natural" techniques and claims. Each horse will adapt to its environment if allowed, mainly 100% turnout when not being ridden.

I've seen horses with horrible looking feet that were bad enough to make you wonder how the horse walked at all get a good trim with completely different angles and never missed a step going right into riding after the farrier was done. An old cowboy farrier once told me that the only reason a horse would need shoes is if he was ridden so hard that he wears his feet off. Nowadays, I don't think there's a horse out there that is ridden that much, except maybe working ranch horses. One summer, I rode my horse for at least 6 hours every day, then took her team penning two and three evenings a week. Her night turnout was very rocky and so were the trails we rode. She needed shoes on the front feet for that summer, and I left the back feet bare. That's the only time I've ever seen the need. She had good, strong walls. When I pulled the shoes, we went right out on a trail ride after, and she never missed a step.

One thing I learned - and it's difficult for me to watch because I like to see perfect looking feet - is that if you let the hoof grow out, it will tell you how your trims are. If you take too much heel, the heels will grow faster to compensate. Same with toes. If you follow the natural trim, they say to take down the quarters, and the quarters will grow really fast because they are a crucial part of the mechanism that pumps the blood back up the leg. Just bevel the edges of the wall, nothing more, and certainly don't put in a "mustang roll" like that. When you trim per the markers, per each foot on the horse, not by this or that angle, you are giving the horse what is anatomically correct for that horse. Once you do that for about a year, the hoof will be strong and doing the job it was designed to do.

This is all just my opinion, based on what I've learned along the way.

Allison said...

I think the question of to shoe or not to shoe depends on alot of things: like the horses feet, where the horse is being ridden, the amount of time riding, what kind of discipline, and how the weather affects the area. If rains cause the area to be more rocky one week and then almost sand-like the next week would also be something to consider. It's a good question to consider though and it's something every horse owner should consider.

Deanna said...

I agree, I don't think there is a horse out there who would "ride his feet off". Theresa, you have so many interesting things to say. Too bad we don't live closer, I'd love to have coffee. Well, I drink hot chocolate not coffee but you know what I mean!

Allison, There are so many factors! I have been giving this so much thought since Zahi posed the question. I have been reading about hoof casting which is an interesting concept in transitioning to barefoot.

I am so farrier, so I will definitely be educating myself further on this subject.

Jason said...

From my experience riding I can tell you it's almost always best to shoe your horse. However, it is a question that still gets a lot of attention & people really should make the decision based on their own horse.

Saddles For Sale said...

Your kidding right? Never barehoof it. If only for the reason that you are unaturally added weight.

Deanna said...

Since this post has been written, I've gone barefoot on several horses. I've have much more success with those horses than I have had with shoes.

There are so many issues that I saw caused from shoes, and none of the issues hold true for my barefoot horses. Some of the horses are still shod because it's necessary, but I feel it's a case by case situation. I've worked with hundreds of horses, and this is my conclusion based on my experience.