My haflingers & my husband's draft cross can do just about anything barefoot. They have never had shoes on in their life - nor boots. We trot and canter down the trail and ride gravel roads all the time. Our pastures are pretty rocky too - so they pretty much trail ride on similar footing as they live on - which is important. You can't take a horse that lives 100% in a cushy rock-free pasture or cushy stall and expect it to be able to handle rocks.
Now my paint on the other hand does get a little ouchy if we ride on a lot of rock, but if he can get a break once in a while on some grass he does just fine too. I don't think he will improve much more because he has also been barefoot his whole life and his feet are smaller vs body size than my haflingers.
Our mares are all barefoot and can go over just about anything without getting sore...they go everywhere the shod horses that I ride with go. Common driveway gravel (the sharp stuff that is 1 1/2 inch) that isn't packed is probably about the harshest stuff I've seen for horses, but they are never sore after even that.
I trim myself, but I've noticed that many trimmers/farriers like to take a lot of sole off the toe, and that can make many horses ouchy/sore.
They will toughen up over time and riding on asphalt roads will also help (and does a nice job of wearing their soles/hooves).
If they have time to adjust to new terrain, then yes their feet will toughen up. My new horse had shoes on when I got him, I pulled them and after a few weeks is is going fine. I do everything barefoot, even getting stock off the hills, which is super rocky. They go fine. The only time I use shoes is if they need them to prevent huge chips, but there aren't many horses like that.
Horses run over all types of terrain in the wild, and don't have problems. As long as you keep him trimmed to prevent chips and cracks, he should be fine.
I have some that are great barefoot but get sore on trails, others that need shoes for ANYTHING (TB...lol), and my Arab that is great barefoot, on trails, cantering on gravel, no issues. I'm taking him camping in the Adirondacks this summer and I'll pack boots just in case but he'll be bare for that too. I use Boa Boots when I need - I LOVE them. They stay on well, the gaiters are great in case they chafe, and they will go through any terrain that I've been on - even in water through deep streams and in ponds and stayed on. I think for the money they are the best boot out there. Keratex also can help as well as my farrier said rubbing corona ointment into the coronay band is also supposed to help the hoof growth but I've never tried it. I have used the Kertatex with good results though.
All 8 of my horses are barefoot and their feet are solid as the rocks that they climb! My horses had a little bit of soreness when I got their shoes pulled. It takes a little bit of time for them to get used to not having shoes but it is much better for them. My horses have no problem on rocks now. I can climb rocks uphill on trails, run them on gravel... whatever you can think of, they do. Their hooves are nice and strong and very healthy! Hope you keep your horse barefoot.
I am entering my 4th summer with no shoes on my horses. My 6 year old gelding and his 5 year old sister have never had shoes. The other gelding and mare both had shoes on for 6-7 months a year for 5-6 years before I pulled them.
My horses can travel ANY trail for one day. But if I try to do too many days in a row, they get ouchie. I ride long hard trails. With as nasty of rocks as anybody. A trail ride for me is easily 20 miles.
There are several factors that make a barefoot horse's feet sore.
Triming. They need to be trimmed frequently. It's like your fingernail. If they get long, you have a tendancy to get dirt packed under the nail, the weight of a horse can really pack dirt into the whiteline groove and it begins to seperate and flare the lamina. This is painful to the horse. If you keept he hooves trimmed short, You will have less problems with this. I usually trim every 2-3 weeks.
The second factor is the thickness and toughness of the sole. Do not trim the sole of a barefoot horse. Let it caulous and thicken.. Also if you can get your horse to spend some time each day on gravel, it will help toughen the sole. My horses stand in a corral that has great dirt in it and no rocks. I've refused to haul gravel in, since I compost my manure and use it in my garden and don't want to have rocks showing up in my excellent garden soil. And hence my horses just don't seem to get to that final stage where they can go day in and day out barefoot. If you will haul in some gravel and have your horses stand on it each day, It'll do wonders for their feet.
So if I go for a Saturday ride, we go barefoot. If we stay for 3-5 days and ride every day, I take some boots or other protection for their feet. I've used some of the SoleGuard by Vettec. It has stayed in my horses feet for 2 weeks, ( the company suggest it will stay 3 weeks if installed correctly) And it has provided excellent protection to my two mares. It's a little pricing and not real easy for a novice to put on the soles by themselves.
I have many friends who also go barefoot. All of the pictures below are barefoot horses. And they do great.
Her hooves will get tougher over time. My horses are bare foot and I can canter them down a gravel road without any problem. But if I don't ride them for a while or don't ride them on tough surfaces for a while their feet get softer and they go ouchy ouchy when you walk on gravel. Just keep riding her on the gravel but not too much so she gets sore feet, jsut enough to get them tougher. She wont blink an eye at the rocks after a while. How long it would take, I can't say. Its different for every horse. Might take a week or it might take a month. It also depends on how often you ride her.
Count me as another one that has no problems barefoot - with two horses at least. :)
One horse has very good feet. The trimmer believes he was raised barefoot although he came to me with shoes. I pulled the shoes about two weeks after getting him. He was ouchy on gravel for about the first two weeks or so. After that he toughened right up.
If he is not ridden for a few weeks and spends most of that time in a stall/paddock (i.e. Not much movement on varied terrain) he seems a little ouchy on gravel. It takes less than a week to get him back in "shape." When ridden regularly, he can take virtually any terrain at any gait. I have loped on gravel without any problem. Granted, I don't have the beautiful rocky terrain shown in a previous post, but we do have some very rocky and gravely areas.
The other side of the coin is my other horse. We tried to take him barefoot. After about a year we gave up. His backs are barefoot, but the fronts just couldn't handle it. Keratex, hoof boots, different transition methods - he was always ouchy on rough terrain and didn't perform his best even in the ring. I still "believe" in barefoot, but after a year I can easily see how much more comfortable and happy this particular horse is in front shoes. No more "tiptoeing" no more abcesses.
To answer your original question - yes, a horse can do just about anything barefoot (just about, because you can always argue that you need sliders for a competitive reining stop, etc.). However, not every horse will be able to do everything barefoot. Some horses will also take right to it - others will need more time to transition. Some will need Keratex and/or boots to help the transition.
It also has to be practical for both owner and horse. The horse may be able to handle it after a several week, several month transition. However, if your thing is competitive trail riding then a transition period may not be practical for you right now since the "season" is starting.
Also remember that mileage plays a role in the decision. If your horse does many miles on pavement or sand for example, the wear on the hoof may exceed the growth. (I once did a 15 mile ride on a hard sandy trail and basically got a free hoof trim out of it). In that case, shoes or boots are necessary. I don't expect many people are in that situation, but it is something to consider.