Some horses go barefoot year round, even competing at upper levels successfully. Instead of trying to decide if your horse can go barefoot or not, start by determining why he needs to wear two or four shoes in the first place:
• Do his hooves chip/crack easily’
• Do you compete at levels or in footing that requires additional traction or protection’
• Does he need sole protection in the form of a full pad, which requires a shoe to hold it in place’
• Does he require therapeutic work that can’t be accomplished by trimming alone’ Such as:
• Under-run heels
• Chronic tender soles
• Severe laminitis
• Deep abscess/bruise
• Quarter cracks/severe chipping.
If shoeing isn’t an absolute necessity, dig a little deeper to decide if it’s just an easy solution rather than working toward healthier hooves.
Nutrition: Hooves that tend to crack or chip easily can be a symptom of nutritional deficiencies. Biotin, essential fatty acids, manganese and zinc are all prime nutrients required for healthy feet and skin. You may also want to check the lysine, copper, iodine, vitamin C and vitamin A intakes. It’s unlikely that any topical product is going to help much with cracking hooves if you don’t first address the nutritional deficiencies.
Traction: Traction is necessary for work at speed, jumping and in events that require fast movements and turns, and some horses need added gripping devices, like studs. And, if he’s working over rough terrain, such as rocky trails, he may need be added hoof protection from shoes.
Your horse doesn’t have to wear shoes just because he’s showing or being ridden daily. Most hard-working school horses go barefoot.
Bruising: Horses with thin soles, prone to bruises/abscesses, flat feet or tender feet require shoeing, usually in order to help the hoof hold a protective or therapeutic pad in place. We would opt, however, during a time when the horse’s work level is decreased, to ensure the horse is receiving optimal nutrition and apply a sole-toughening topical, such as Venice turpentine, to those tender feet and possibly eliminate the need for the pad, if not the shoe itself.
Most hooves tend to be healthier if your horse gets a rest from shoes. Most people at least let their horses go barefoot for a few months, which gives the hooves a chance to grow out without the confinement of a shoe. If you’re told you “can’t” do that, find out why and investigate alternatives.
None of these suggestions are a call to use your farrier less frequently. Successful barefoot horses are trimmed every six to eight weeks — or more frequently, if necessary. You may also find that a hoof boot you can safely ride in, like the EasyCare EasyBoot (www.easycareinc.com, 800-447-8836), offers good temporary protection for times when he needs a little sole help.