When it comes to debates amongst members of the horse fraternity the discussion on whether to shoe your horse or go barefoot is one of the most contentious.

There are passionate advocates on both sides, so how do you navigate your way through the copious amounts of information available to you and arrive at a decision?

For me there is only one factor you really need to consider – What is best for YOUR HORSE

All horses are individuals, some are capable of being rock crunching barefoot neddies and others can’t possibly move the moment a shoe comes loose!! So how to you decide?

  • Firstly listen to your horse – you know your horse better than anyone
  • Educate yourself with good sound knowledge from sources you trust. The internet is a wonderful resource when used wisely
  • Find the right professional support – going barefoot does not mean you must have a barefoot trimmer rather than a farrier. Whoever you select they should be able to explain what they are doing, why they are doing it and be happy to discuss your horse’s needs with you.
  • What is your current and planned workload of your horse – if you can only ride once a week and want to go for a three hour hack when you do then barefoot may not be the best option
  • What’s the condition of your horses’ feet at the moment and is any corrective or remedial shoeing taking place?
  • Does your horse have any conformational or medical issues which could affect the decision?
  • Consider that you may need to change the diet of your horse or supplement their diet and how your horse would cope with that.
  • Living conditions have a significant impact on the health of your horses’ feet. If your horse has limited turnout or your grazing is a muddy boggy field, you need to take these into consideration.
  • Time – it can take months to transition a horse from shod to barefoot successfully, can you commit to that?
  • Expense – going barefoot can be expensive. You may need more frequent trims as your horse as your horse is transitioning, a change of diet, hoof boots etc

In a recent study* by vet Richard Stephenson, he found unshod horses were twice as likely to have foot abscesses than shod horses. He concluded that shoes provided protection for the weakest part of the sole – the white line thus helping to prevent penetration of the white line by foreign material – something to consider!

Whatever decision you make must fundamentally be in the best interest of your horse. Do not persevere with something in the hope it will work if it is causing suffering to your horse.

*Presenting signs of foot abscessation – A practice based survey of 150 cases by Richard Stephenson BVMS CertVR CertEP MRCVS from Pool House Equine Clinic, Crown Inn Farm, Fradley WS13 8RD