Can my horse go barefoot?

Many people ask me whether their horse "can go barefoot." Here are some considerations to help you make your own decision.

1) Since horses have succeeded as a species for millions of years without shoes, I believe any shod horse would prefer to go barefoot and feel the ground, if we had a way to ask them.  A horse depends on his feet to escape from predators, and feels insecure if he can't feel the ground. 

 2) If you think about it, "Horses could go barefoot, except for the ambitions of their owner / rider."  There are situations where the horse would be better off barefoot, in the long run, but the rider is on an unforgiving performance schedule that allows no "down time" in case the transition is a difficult one; for example, a teenager campaigning on the show circuit where there is a rider age limit.  When a horse goes lame, the schedule is no longer a consideration and the barefoot method would be the fastest route to complete soundness. 

Hoof boots, plus the "white line strategy" trim, make it possible for most horses to transition with no difficulty. 

There are situations where shoes are used to extend the horse's abilities beyond what nature provides.  An example is stadium jumping, where the horse must have shoes with corks in order to get around sharp turns at high speed.  The corks give the horse traction, but having enough traction for a tight course over stresses the ligaments and joints in the legs; no-one expects these horses to be sound and rideable to the age of 35 -- or even 15.  (The Swiss Horse Boot was designed for competition, and can be fitted with corks.  This allows the hoof itself to remain healthy, though ligament and joint stress would still occur.) 

 3) Some horses work in situations that require hoof protection.  Amish buggy horses are driven 20 miles a day on paved highways -- the abrasive surface wears the feet faster than they can grow.  We can use hoof boots to protect the hoof; this is one situation where you would need boots on all four feet.  A benefit of boots is that they can be used part of the time, such as three days a week, allowing the feet to self-trim on the other days and the boots to last longer.

 4) Some horses are described as having "bad" or "weak" feet that "would not do well barefoot."  But horses get "weak feet" in the first place, from reduced circulation in the shod foot; or, looking to their early life, from the foal not getting enough movement on firm footing. 

With the help of hoof boots during the transition year, these horses are showing us that they grow new, tough hooves just like any other barefoot horse.  If you look at a "weak" hoof several months after pulling the shoes, you'll actually see a line where the new hoof wall at the top is suddenly thicker than the older wall below.

No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.  ~ Winston Churchill