Going the Distance: Shoe fetish

If high-mileage riding is your bag, make sure you’re doing right by your horse’s feet. HN endurance editor Sharalyn Hay gives us a pro/con list of going shod, barefoot and booted.

From Sharalyn:

It’s a big debate… shoes, boots or barefoot?

I personally have three horses who all need different things. Flash has to be shod. He is a very cranky beast when he doesn’t have foot protection in the way of shoes–and to him, boots don’t count (he hates wearing them). Goodwin is fine barefoot for good footing and has no problem with boots for the rockier stuff. Storm can go barefoot through pretty much anything and has feet so tough that you can’t use nippers on them… only the rasp for her.

So, how do you know which is right for you and your horse? Well, you experiment and go with the option that makes your horse the most comfortable and keeps their feet in good health. Because, let’s face it, there is no one answer for every hoof out there. There are pros and cons to each. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons, shall we?

Yes, let’s do…


Pros – Horse shoes are more convenient, makes it easier on the rider, may prevent some bruising, will allow for longer trail hours and will make the hoof temporarily stronger since it is metal, non-bendable and non-flexible.  Shoes normally only have to be replaced every six to eight weeks and will allow the rider to run and trot over rocks and uneven terrain with less chance of stone bruising.  In some rare occasions, the horse shoe can be used to help a cracked hoof or injured hoof to aid in healing and support.  Horse shoes can also be used for gait management or to improve other movements of the horse (and I’m not talking “Big Lick” here… I’m talking more about aiding in break-over to prevent forging).

Cons –  A shoe is made of metal which creates extreme shock and transfers much more stress on the hoof, bones and tendons. A shod hoof receives 10 to 33 times more “impact force” than a hoof this is not shod.  Shoes have to be nailed onto the hoof, in most cases.  These nails puncture the hoof wall, which compromises the structural integrity and strength of that wall. If the nail is only an 1/8th of an inch off it can puncture the sensitive laminae, damage the soft tissue, penetrate the hoof capsule or puncture the digital cushion (also called a “hot nail” or “quicking”).Not to mention that the number one cause of lameness in shod horses is bad or incorrect shoeing.


Pros – Allows the hooves to function normally, without the restriction of shoes, and the horse and rider experience less concussion. Natural hoof trimming improves gaits, makes the horse more sure-footed, improves hoof breakover and reduces hoof interference. Natural hoof trimming can save you money if you do it yourself (however, I recommend that if you decide to go this way that you get hands-on instruction on the subject). Less lameness, thrush and lower limb diseases are seen due to increased circulation. Your horses have stronger, healthier hooves with less pain.

Cons –  Transitioning your horse involves management changes and commitment to the barefoot lifestyle. Going barefoot requires more frequent trimmings, as often as every three weeks in some instances. It can take up to a year, maybe more, for a horse to transition fully from shod to barefoot, and even then not all horses benefit from a natural hoof trim. Costs may be reduced compared to shoeing, but if you choose to learn how to trim you may need to buy new equipment or upgrade existing equipment. If done incorrectly, natural hoof trimming can cause as many problems as shoeing (after all, farriers fit the horse to shoes by trimming the hooves, not adjusting the shoe).

Notice I didn’t really mention boots. In my opinion, boots are an extension of barefoot. When in really rough terrain (or riding miles that the barefoot horse’s foot can’t handle) most will opt for boots to help get them through. And considering how many boots are on the market, that’s a whole other post all it’s own.

So, where does that leave us? Well, the same place we started. Any good owner will take the time to find what works best for their situation and for their horse.

So, get your horse comfortable and get out there and ride. And remember… to finish is to win.



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