Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: In Sunny, HOT and HUMID S.C.
Unshod is healthier for a variety of reasons, but you need to keep some things in mind. Especially if your horse has been shod for a long time.
Unfortunately it's not always just as simple electing to the shoes off and have your horse go unshod. This will likely be long, but yet still oversimplified (and it's not "simple")
If your horse has been shod for a long time then it could be uncomfortable and possibly painful when they return to being unshod (all horses start out unshod). e.g. The hoof can suddenly expand when their weight comes down on it, they will start to get better blood flow in the feet. etc.... This can be a rough time for a horse. I've dealt with a couple of cases and I know of one case that took about a year, which was rough with people telling the owner that they were ruining the horse and it was going to be lame if they didn't get shoes back on him. (he didn't go lame and emained unshod). I know of another case were the owner was certain that her horse was going to be lame (and didn't like the idea of how long it could be before she doing the amount and type of riding she wanted while the horse recovered) so she put shoes back on.
If it hasn't been shod long or much then there might not be much of a transition.
The other big thing, which is why many horses get shod to begin with is that you have to look at the demands you want to make on the horse's feet and how soon. If you are going to go out and start riding on hard surfaces (pavement, rocking terrain, etc....) without having the time to properly prepare the horse's feet you'll need to provide some protection. If you want to stay with being unshod then you'll might try boots.
If you have the time and are willing to take on the effort required you can work on toughening and hardening the feet more, but it takes TIME spent subjecting the feet to those hard surfaces in small "daily doses" at first to get them conditioned. It's not something that's going to happen quickly with a newly unshod horse. Their feet will be a long way from ready for hard riding on hard surfaces.
But if you have the drive to do it and the time to spend on it the end result is great. From a distance rider's perspective it's well worth the time spent (month after month after month, etc.....until they're ready). Never having to worry about a shoe is nice. Just keep in mind that depending on what condition you want the horse it could take a LONG time. I've kept all my horses unshod since the early 70's and have never regretted it.
If you go that route you need to be prepared for people telling horrible stories about the damage you'll be doing. My first horse (that was "mine" and not just one "ours") was a 7 months old white QH. I started out taking her for walks on the lead down parts of the highway and did it more as time when buy. Over three years later when I was riding her she could ride on any surface with not problems. However, I had to deal with constantly being told how with her white feet (which is another myth) and my riding on pavement I had to get her shod or I'd make her lame. Thankfully I had a wonderful support system in my grandfather and some relatives of his generation that also kept their horses unshod. In all these years of having unshod horses and riding them anywhere the foot problems I've mostly dealt with have come from horse I bought that had been shod.
But I would not support the idea of taking a shod horse, removing it's shoes and then subjecting it to surfaces harder than it's ready for. That's why many people shoe their horses. If you want to place the demands on the horses feet without getting them ready first, you need to protect them or you can do damage that will keep your horse out of action even longer.