Mythbuster Monday: Should Horses Have Shoes on if They’re in Work

On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Should horses have shoes if they’re in work?

It’s Myth Buster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: : Should horses have shoes on if they’re in work. Does it make a solid hoof soft? Does it give better traction? Read further to find out!

Myth:  If your horse in in constant work, they should be shod.

Myth or Fact: Myth


Horse hooves are similar to finger nails in that they are constantly growing. A horse’s hooves bear all its weight. They expand and contract and absorb shock.

A horse shoe is a man-made plate designed to protect the horse’s hooves. Shoes are made out of steel, aluminum, rubber, plastic or copper.


In Pete Butler’s article, When Does A Horse Need Shoes, he gives five reasons horses should be shod:

  1. Protection. A horse is more likely to need shoes when riding in rocky terrain, while a horse who does mostly ring riding shoes may not be necessary.
  2. Traction. Horses who work in the winter may need special shoes to keep them from slipping.
  3. Distribution. Horses that are severely toed in or toed out may need shoes to stay comfortable.
  4. Gait Improvement. A horse with poor conformation may overreach. Shoeing the horse may aid in improving this issue.
  5. Medical issues. Shoes can help assuage the symptoms of medical issues such as laminitis, navicular and club foot.


According to Esco Buff, PhD, APF-I, CF, horses who remain barefoot will build up a thickened sole to protect the hoof whereas horses with shoes are less likely to have this happen. While there are horses who need shoes to correct conformation and prevent lameness, many individuals shoe all their horses just because they’re being ridden. Buff states he would like to see more equestrians doing what’s best for each individual horse.

Buff goes on to discuss the horse sliding. While many state that they put shoes on their horses to decrease slipping while running and turning at high speeds, shoes can have the opposite effect. Shoes lift the sole higher and can cause the foot to slide undesirably. Whereas a natural sole provides traction when packed with dirt.

When deciding if your horse needs shoes for performance, Buff states you should consider them for traction and not shock absorption. The example he uses for horses who need shoes to perform are those who are working in snowy, icy conditions that need snowball pads or studded shoes.


FEI dressage rider Shannon Peters states that in her experience her horses have been sounder, healthier and suffered fewer injuries over time by being barefoot and she only places shoes on her horses temporarily if they’re hacking out on rocky trails.


Four-star New Zealand eventer Joe Meyer states that his horses with strong, healthy feet don’t get shoes. He states that he has not noticed a decrease in performance in the horses that go barefoot versus his horses that need shoes. When Meyer goes to an event where the ground may be hard or stony, that’s when he considers placing shoes on his horses that are otherwise barefoot.


In the article, Do Horses Need Shoes, they state that with regular maintenance and adequate nutrition — without any pre-existing issues — horses should be able to participate in just about any kind of work and remain sound barefoot.


In the article, Horse Shoes Will Be Obsolete, farrier Marc Ferrador states that he realized young horses lost health in their hooves with continued shoeing. He states that it changes the horses balance while they’re growing which may do more harm than benefit.

Ferrador also states that horses in hard work with shoes are more prone to cracks from nail perforations, stressed soles and stunting the back of the hoof, but horses who perform the same labor barefoot are found to have structures that remain healthy.


After diving into the research, it appears that shoeing a horse is an individualized decision. While some horses do need shoes for health issues, conformation or working in rocky or icy situations, horses do not necessarily need to be shod just because they are in work.

Do you have an equine myth you’d like us to tackle? If so, send it our way! Email your suggestions to [email protected]. Put Mythbuster Monday in your subject line.