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The Pros and Cons of Barefoot versus Shod

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farrier shoeing a horse

Farrier shoeing a horse.

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Pros

Frequently Cited Benefits of Leaving Horses Barefoot

  • Reduced shock on leg structures from the vibrations of metal shoes on hard surfaces.
  • Reduced hoof care costs.
  • Owners may be able to trim their horses themselves.
  • Horses may have greater grip, agility and balance when barefoot.
  • Hooves may grow in a more natural shape, unrestricted by metal shoes.
  • Unshod horses do less damage to ground surfaces, themselves and other horses.
  • Hooves can expand and contract more normally, increasing blood flow and improving overall hoof health.

Frequently Cited Benefits of Shoeing Horses

  • Increased grip in high intensity sports like racing, reining, roping or jumping or on paved surfaces.
  • Any possible damage from shock can be minimized with the use of pads between shoe and hoof.
  • Immediate relief for horses with tender soles.
  • Immediate protection from rough surfaces.
  • Support for weak or injured hooves such as those with navicular or cracks.
  • Protects hooves from cracking
  • Shoeing can enhance a horse's gaits and correct gait anomalies.
  • Shoeing can help support reconstructive work on very badly damaged hooves.
In many places farriers must undergo training and an apprenticeship before setting up their own practice. This is not true of all 'natural' or 'barefoot' practitioners.

Cons

Problems With Natural Trimming Methods

  • Natural trims sound simple, encouraging inexperienced horse owners to try trimming themselves to the determent of their horses.
  • Radical trims can leave horses lame, sometimes permanently.
  • It can take a long time to transition horses, and some don't transition well.
  • Poor trims can leave horses lame, sometimes permanently.
  • At least one method warns its practice may the cause death of the horse.
  • There is no regulations for practitioners and no governing body to assess competence.
  • Many advocates have limited practical experience with enough horses to make a truly knowledgeable judgement on the best hoof care.

Problems With Shoeing

  • Poor shoeing can lead to lameness and permanent damage to hooves and legs.
  • Expensive.
  • Requires trained practitioner.
  • Needs scheduled care.
  • Lost shoes mean horse may be un-rideable until the shoe is replaced.
  • Risk of more serious pasture injuries to self or other horses.
  • Risk of injuries to hooves or legs due to loose shoes.
  • Horse can be mildly injured during the shoeing process, causing immediate lameness or mental stress during each farrier visit.

Where It Stands

While there are those who will argue vehemently for either side, many horse owners agree that any decisions about hoof care should be made based on the needs and uses of an individual horse. Most farriers would agree that most horses used for light riding do not need shoes, and many are shod unnecessarily.

There are those who have had great success with barefoot trims. The same could be said about those who keep their horses shod. It's important to remember that there are good and bad farriers, and good and bad natural trimmers and that health of a horse's hooves may not be determined entirely by one or another method, but by the quality of the care it is receiving.

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