Join Date: May 2007
Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
I had to answer barefoot on the poll because that is the most true. All four of our horses are barefoot from about September through May. At that point, my stallion gets shoes on all four feet (no need before that with soft snow and soggy ground, but during the summer we cover some rough ground), my 9 year old gelding stays barefoot, our 20 year old stays barefoot and never needs trims because he wears his feet naturally, and our mare stays barefoot unless we are planning on using her for competitive trail (which covers a lot of rough terrain at a pretty good pace).
I really think that shoes or no shoes depends on the horse, the discipline, and the mindset of the humans involved.
For a horse that does mainly showing and training in arenas, I see no need for shoes. For the occasional trail ride, a pair of boots can be slipped on.
For a horse that does a lot of trail riding, endurance riding, or any other activity that takes it over rough terrain, it MAY need shoes, depending on its feet. My gelding has always been fine on any terrain barefoot (except for last year when we had some weather issues creating tender/soft feet on hard ground).
If the horses feet are trimmed to stay barefoot, and the horse is given a chance to let his feet harden, I think most horses would do fine barefoot. Also, if a horse if given enough turnout on good rough ground, or is ridden enough, they wear their feet down naturally eliminating the need for trims. I don't know how many times last summer that we had our farrier out and at least 2 of our horses did not need anything done. It was awesome!
I think as humans we have gotten in this mindset that horses need shoes because it has been done for a REALLY long time (being one of the oldest professions). A while ago though, horses were THE mode of transportation, and expected to go over ANY terrain at whatever pace needed. Shoes were a necessity. Today, we ride in arenas, on nice soft pretty trails, carefully pick our horses paths, and cover very little rough terrain at a fast pace (how many of us have be told absolutely do not trot, canter, or run down gravelly roads on our horses.
Bare-feet are lighter than shod feet, they have more traction (landing jumps, turning barrels, etc.), they are cheaper than shod feet, and the horse is better able to feel vibrations in the earth the way they were naturally intended to.
I always keep my horses barefoot if I can. But, I also put shoes on when I know the horse will need it (for a competitive trail ride). I also put shoes on as soon as the horse being barefoot interferes with the quality of training - my stallion gets really gimpy outside of any arena by late May, and since we have to ride to a nearby arena over gravel road or ride in our field (which we have not brought arena ground in for yet), I get shoes on to be able to keep working.