Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: In Sunny, HOT and HUMID S.C.
Everyone will have their own opinion and some reason for it. I base mine on my and my families personal experience (I can only go back as far as my grandfather, but that's over 100 years), the experience of others who have ridden unshod over many thousands of continuous miles, and what scientific studies have shown. People successfully complete the Tevis Cup on unshod horse and that's 100 miles over some rough terrain.
No one my family has ever kept a shod horse and we worked our horses.
In my teens I rode to town (over 30 miles round trip) at least a few times a week. The horses were ridden 5-7 days a week. My mare spent time on the hwy every day that we rode.
In the early 1970's Gordon Naysmith rode from South Africa to eastern Europe on the same unshod horses (that's around 10,000 miles and a lot of it is rough terrain).
I'd say based on my (and my family members) personal experience and what Gordon Naysmiths demonstrated with his ride up Africa that shoes are not really needed. The problem people have is that they don't take the time to get the hoof conditioned first. People get in a hurry to ride on any terrain and so they put something on to protect the unconditioned hoof in order to ride the horse where they want.
I can't speak for what Naysmith did ahead of his ride, but he may well have gotten mounts that had been unshod and had feed already conditioned to the rough terrain. In our case we spend time toughening our horses feet by riding on rough ground more and more.
Yes, it does create wear which works great since it reduces the amount of trimming that is needed. The foot gets a lot tougher and hard. It takes time though. I generally spend 2 years working the feet on hard ground spending more time each month or two riding on hard surfaces until they are conditioned enough.
I've seen no scientific studies showing that being shod is good for the feet.
There are studies that show that driving nails into the hoof degrades the hoof (as if common sense wouldn't tell you that). There are also studies that show that a horse shod long enough suffer effects from the foot not being able to expand from the pressure baring on it with each step and that being shod has a negative impact on blood circulation in the foot.
In fairness, I'm aware of no negative studies on the use of boots. Probably because they don't degrade the hoof with nails and allow the foot to expand and contract as needed when a horse walks, trots, etc....
Obviously I'll say go barefoot. If you can't/won't/don't have time to condition your mount's feet before doing a lengthy ride on rough ground then use boots. But if your time spent on rough ground is limited to short periods, with the rest being on easier terrain then ride unshod. The short periods on rough ground will help toughen the feet some over time. Especially if you can spend a little more time on the rougher ground as the months go by.
And if someone tells you that the color of the hoof makes a difference, as my vet did 40 years ago....it doesn't. My first mare that I rode the hardest (worked cattle, hunted off of, did 100 mile weekends on, etc...) was white with a yellow mane/tail (sort of a reverse palomino) and so were her feet.
They're always going to be bigger and stronger so you better always be smarter. (One of my grandfather's many pearls of wisdom)