Yea, I'm a barefoot advocate. My girls are both barefoot and have no issues going anywhere. If possible, I believe that is best option for most horses.
However in some instances that isn't the best option. I still believe that there are better options than traditional shoes though. There are several new kinds of shoes out that allow for more expansion and limit concussion compared traditional shoes that have no give.
My mare used to do all arena riding. She went 8 weeks between barefoot trimming. As I've started getting her out on the trails near me, the rocky trails (although not quite at Allison's level of rockiness) increased how much hoof was worn away by simply walking around with me on her back. Last time, she went 13 weeks - and the farrier said there really wasn't anything to trim, just a bit of clean-up.
My mare Mia is SLOWLY becoming a trail horse. She isn't close to being one yet, but she is slowly building confidence & distance. I suspect the next time the farrier comes, I will need to consider shoes in front.
"Horses in stony areas will tend to develop smaller hooves, giving them the ability to negotiate difficult ground."
Not that I've seen. Her feet aren't getting smaller, just wearing away faster...
Luckily, I have a Standardbred, so her genes allow for awesome feet.
I live up in PA, so we're always on rocks.
She's been barefoot her whole life
Never even needed a trim until I decided to have her done(:
I also prefer barefoot when possible. I do believe that for a lot of horses, it is a healthier choice. For example, I used to do hunter/jumper shows with Beau, and he would stumble and trip no matter what type of shoe he had. I decided to have his shoes pulled and go barefoot with him; he didn't even have a 'transition' period. He was 100% sound, with riding and everything, from day 1. (Although I did give him a short break where the most I did with him was walking to be safe).
We now live in Erie, PA (NW corner) and I do primarily trail riding with him and he is still going strong. I've had several farriers remark on how strong/thick/tough his hooves are and how great of shape they are in.
However. I also have no problem whatsoever in realizing that it is not by any means a method for every horse. Some horses do need shoes. Some horses that go great barefoot, might also need shod if their workload/terrain is being changed/increased/what have you.
So while I am a barefoot advocate when practical, it is by no means something that every horse will be okay with or stay sound with.
There are some really awesome barefoot trimmers out there, but for every good one, there are also a LOT who have no clue what they are doing and will inevitably compromise the hoof.
At the same time, the same goes for 'traditional' farriers. There are some really great ones out there who have studied long and hard on how to properly shoe and take care of the hoof, as well as farriers who will just slap a shoe on and call it a day, with no regard to the integrity of the hoof.
I like to look at this on a case-by-case basis and go with whatever the horse seems most comfortable with.
"In order to be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself."
Sorry, there are no absolutes in the horse world. Those that believe that there are have ceased to objectively assess all available information.
I love barefoot, don't get me wrong. Have had horses that do well with it, have had some that didn't. Have had horses that were fine barefoot in certain situations but needed shoes in other situations. I do what is best for the horse in question, without expecting my horse to conform to my predisposed beliefs.
I firmly believe that more than the barefoot/shod debate, the deciding factor in sound horses is the knowledge and competence of your hoof care provider, the horse keeping practices of the owner, and the health and living environment of your horse.
A good barefoot trimmer is going to do MUCH better than your run-of-the-mill backyard farrier who learned from his neighbour's cousin how to hammer metal to horse hooves.
And while I am an advocate of barefoot myself, I won't hesitate to admit that a well-trained farrier is going to do more to keep your horse sound than a hack-job from a "Barefoot Trimmer" who read a couple of books and has jumped into the business with little to no experience or knowledge.
And trimming/shoeing is just one factor of many in hoof health.
Well, the OPs assumption that going unshod is something new is not true. My grandfather didn't shoe his horses and that was as far back as the late 1800's. My guess would be that his father didn't either. My family has never had a horse shod. I've bought horses that were shod, but had them removed and even spent a year getting feet straightened out before. Although it doesn't often take that long. Conditioning is what usually takes the longest.
The only difference I've noticed in recent times is that I no long have to deal with the crap of people telling me that my white footed horses need to have shoes because their hoof isn't hard enough, or that I have to shoe my horses because their hoof won't hold up to riding on pavement. It took a lot of years of riding 20-30 miles with a lot, and at times most, of it on pavement before they finally realized that hoof color has nothing to do with hardness and that a well conditioned hoof be used on pavement everyday. And it only took about 20 years and multiple horses to get the nay sayers to accept it...which was about 20 years ago. So it's not really something new. The largest horse societies of history rode unshod horses. It's a bit like saying the natural horse training is something new. It's not. These are all a bit like someone reinventing the wheel and saying it's new.
I am a big fan of barefoot. There is one farrier at my barn who does barefoot trims as well as any type of shoeing so when he told me my OTTB who overreaches and pulls shoes off, would just be better off without the shoes, I went with it. I am very careful with his feet though, I never let them grow to long, I have mastered a mustang roll just to clean out the chips and we ride with Cavallo simple boots whenever we go on a trail longer then 10 minutes. When I first pulled the shoes he was a little off for a couple days but ever since then we have had no problems. He is one of the most steady-footed horses I have ever met, we compare him to the mules at my barn when it comes to ability to walk (or jump as the case may be) over anything.
IF though, for any reason he became more uncomfortable or the ground became to difficult for his feet, I would put shoes on in a second. I only have him barefoot because he can work happily that way (and because it feels nice every month to pay 60 vs 150!) We have plenty of horses at my barn who could never go barefoot, they would just be to much of a wimp. I am really lucky that I got him at such a young age and was able to reverse whatever damage had been done when he was shod on the track.