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To Be or Not To Be...Barefoot?

4482 Views 17 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  Smilie
To Be or Not To Be Barefoot
I must be bored and looking for a fight because this article is one of those that will ruffle some feathers and possibly garner a death threat or two. Be advised that the advice and tips to follow are marginal as I have no formal training in the world of the Hoof Capsule. Come to think of it, neither do most hoof care professionals… Not to be snarky. I firmly believe in the Apprenticeship Method! That being said, “No Foot, No Horse” is a saying that has literally affected my ability to feed me and my family for most of my adult life. Hoof care is to be taken seriously and there are definitely some hard truths that are affecting your horse whether you are aware of or believe in them or not. I will strive to make clear where I transition from fact to opinion.
Both sides (because there can only be two sides, right?) have their valid points, and points of view so don’t take this blog as a hit piece. I have friends and acquaintances that I do respect on both sides here. None of the hoof care pros that I know wake up each morning with sadistic intent. Alternately, just because you do something for a living does not mean that you are any good at it. Hand picking the worst farrier or barefooter that you can find and using them as the standard by which to judge all similar styles or views does not fly. A single point does not form a pattern. This blog is only intended to share what is reality as my experiences, research, and common sense have shown. If you want to continue to feed your unicorn turmeric paste made with apple cider vinegar, cinnamon and coconut oil, mixed under the third full moon of August, while coating his magical hooves with glitter, stop reading now.
Let’s just get the big nasty out of the way. Shall we? Some horses need shoes to stay sound or perform their job safely and/or at the level required. Period! There are horses (certainly the majority) that can go without shoes and satisfactorily perform all of the tasks that their respective owners require. And there’s not a thing wrong with that. There are also horses that absolutely cannot/should not be unshod. Possession of a horse that requires shoes does not make one evil, stupid, or lacking in empathy or compassion. Anyone giving advice to the contrary would immediately become very suspect to me. Hard Truth Number One is out of the bag. (I type as I reflexively flinch…)
There! I said it! That’s right! Some horses need shoes. Deal with it! Archaic iron nailed to and through a perfectly good, or maybe not so good, hoof wall by a troglodyte with a hammer. It happens! Sometimes, it needs to. Putting the word “natural” in front of the latest and greatest trend does not change this or any other fact. Arsenic, listeria, and being eaten alive by hyenas are all 100% natural too…
Whew! I was dreading that! I feel better now. The death threats are on the way but I shall endeavor to persevere! There are people to avoid in this world. A hallmark of some of these people is a total lack of understanding of the word inanimate. When you hear someone espouse that “(insert inanimate object here) is/are Evil and should never be used!” understand that you are not talking with someone who is rational and can participate in a reasonable discussion. I am assuming if you’ve made it this far, you are reasonable. I too am reasonable, so, let’s discuss.
We live in a world of buzzwords, trends, Big Oil, Monsanto, and Big Pharma conspiring against us (someone really needs to invent or designate a font for sarcasm), and internet wannabe experts without a high school diploma telling us that doctors and dozens of peer reviewed studies are wrong. Anyway, while there is more information at our fingertips than ever before in the history of mankind, it is also harder to disseminate good intel from bad intel. Adding to the complication, those who most certainly do NOT fully understand what they are talking about or have an agenda and are willing to hand pick or misrepresent data tend to be the loudest about it. Placing your ego or some zealous ideology above the welfare of the animal is nothing but poor husbandry. The foot should dictate to us what the horse needs. We should not dictate to the foot to fit an agenda. Thus, for example, a 1400lb. halter horse with 000 feet is not cute or petite, it is a train wreck waiting to happen, shod or not. Hard truth number two is off of my chest! Whew!
So, what types of horses, factors, or situations would probably be just fine going barefoot vs. those which will likely need or only excel with shoes? I’m so glad you asked!
Conformation is possibly the largest factor. Horses with decent conformation are much less prone to trouble and are much more likely to get away with going barefoot. If you have a horse with three differing angular deviations or rotations between his knee and his hoof, he’s probably going to need some help to stay sound and perform comfortably. If you have a horse that has coffin bone (P3) rotation due to founder, or moderate to severe navicular syndrome, bone spavin, or a myriad of other pathologies, there simply are far more options for keeping those horses sound and comfortable with proper shoeing than without. If you have a horse with decent conformation and none of the factors I’ve yet to name occurring, then old Red will probably go barefoot just fine. See how reasonably that worked out?
The work load that the horse is being asked to perform is another major factor. The hoof is subject to some pretty terrific stresses in terms of lbs/in2. These stresses cause or contribute to problems like flaring/chipping, hoof capsule asymmetry, excessive wearing, quarter cracks, etc. Horses involved in disciplines that really are pushing their physical limits like higher level cutting, reining, jumping, racing, etc. are compounding these stresses far beyond pasture pets and weekend trail horses. I can tell you from experience that cutting horses that are talented and really figure out how to stop will commonly start getting sore hind feet. Shoeing the hinds easily fixes the problem, while leaving those horses barefoot would not.
The environment that the hoof is dealing with is another major factor in whether or not he’ll be able to go without shoes. I lived in a rent house in college that was owned by a local farrier. There was a group that was going cross country in wagons pulled by mules. They traveled all day, every day down paved roads. The man who brought the mules to be reshod said that they wore out a set of shoes every week. Just imagine what the abrasive surface that wore away 3/8” of steel in a week would do to hooves made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails? Hooves need more protection in certain environments. I’ve heard of guys who cowboy or pack in the mountains and have a few horses that can go barefoot. There was an article shared on Facebook of a horse that finished a 100 mile endurance race barefoot just a few days ago. These horses are the exceptions. Most horses simply could not handle the same conditions and stay sound.
Finally, connected to the environment and work load, performance horses often need help with traction. There are lots of things that can be done to adjust traction with a shoe that we simply cannot replicate or approach with bare feet or hoof boots. Reining horses require wide shoes with lots of float on their hind feet. These shoes are called sliders and they are what allow a reining horse to slide for 30 feet. Without those shoes those horses would not come close to being able to replicate that well known slide. We can also affect a horse that might spread out too wide in the stop by narrowing the inside or medial branch of the shoe. How are you going to do that barefoot or with a boot? Likewise, if you were on a high powered Cross Country Horse and cruising around a slightly wet course jumping fences of 4’+, you and your horse would both be on the ground in short order without the ability of concave hunter shoes, studs, heel caulks, wedges, etc. to help bite into that turf and allow those horses to push their limits without slipping. Heavy draft horses pulling farming equipment in the field can have toe bars, and varying traction apparatuses built into their shoes to help them pull more effectively. Not everyone needs these types of shoes to aid their horse, but for those who do, there isn’t really any other good option.
The whole “barefoot” movement, which I am NOT saying lacks any reason for being or validity was ignited by a study done on high desert wild horses a couple of decades ago. The study measured pressure points, breakover, and a host of other things to determine what Mother Nature intended. Remember though, that arsenic, listeria, and being eaten alive by hyenas all fit squarely under Mother Nature’s tent too. Listeria even caused the Great Blue Bell Ice Cream Shortage of 2016…
I looked for 45 minutes and was unable to find that study and another that I wanted to link to this blog, however it is infamous, while the Australian one is far less widely publicized. We must always remember, however, that studies like this are fairly one dimensional by design. They are looking for certain things. They do not take into consideration all outlying factors and the results are open to interpretation. The scientific method looks for specifics. It takes many more studies and a much broader base of data before sound statistical principles can be extrapolated. One point, does not a pattern make. I promise you that the DVMs at the university responsible for that study (Colorado State SVM?) are in no way against horses wearing shoes…
For instance, that study was done on high desert mustangs. The horses that the data came from only involved a specific, mother-nature derived line of genetics. In nature, horses with poor conformation or bad feet did not survive to reproduce, thus the horses that did survive were ideally suited to that environment. Those who were not ideally suited were unavailable for study… In the domestic horse world, horses with terrible feet that happen to excel anyway most certainly do reproduce, as do inferior backyard horses owned by disreputable breeders. Genetics most certainly do play a role in the quality or lack thereof of a horse’s hooves. Some horses could be shod, unshod, untrimmed, whatever and will still have decent serviceable feet. Others will live their lives on the edge of lameness regardless of excellent care and knowledgeable hoof care professionals.
Secondly, my horses exist in a field of alluvial soils in South Louisiana, where we get 60-65 inches of rain per year. Their environment is about as non high desert as you can get. This drastically changes the hoof itself, as well as what challenges the environment has for that hoof. While our soft topsoil is not nearly as abrasive as the desert and mountain environments, it causes hooves to become much softer, and thus much more readily plagued by abscesses, thrush, white line disease, and a host of other issues. This brings us to the second study that I searched in vain for.
The second study came from Australia, I believe, where a Veterinarian sought to further study the environmental factors on the hoof capsule. They took a group of horses native to the desert terrain and put them in a much swampier area, and took horses native to the swampy areas and moved them to the desert. After initial capture, tests were run and data was collected. The horses were then moved to their new respective environments and observed with a second data collection intended after a specified period of time. The horses had to be recaptured within a few weeks because they feared they would all die. The horses with softer hooves could not leave the muddier water sources to feed in the hard dry desert. Their hooves, while suited to a certain environment, failed so stunningly in a different environment that the horses had to be rescued. In one sense, no useful data was recovered because the second data collection did not occur. In another sense, an awful lot of meaningful information came from this study. Not to say that those hooves would not have adapted eventually, they would have, assuming the horses would have been able to forage enough to survive.
I use this study merely to illustrate that the hoof is dynamic. It does not exist in only one state, metaphysically or geographically, therefore, there is not only one answer as to how to address it. A farrier or barefooter that thinks that every horse needs a square toe, or jacked up heels, or whatever, is a prime example of someone who does not actually understand what or why they are doing what they are doing.
One of the other considerations that none of these studies take into account is the nutrition that those animals are receiving. Barefooters, to their credit, tend to be more vocal about nutrition and its importance to hoof wall quality than farriers. Do we know that those mustangs were in the best/worst year of forage in the last 5 year period? If they happened to be in an incredible year of available nutrition, this would certainly have had a very positive effect on the hoof quality and condition seen in the study and vice versa. This is also one of those areas that your hoof care professional has no control. It is unfair to blame any equine podiatrist who is having to do the best they can with the substandard hoof they have to work with because you believe that 8% sweet feed for $7/bag is just fine. Garbage in = garbage out.
Lastly, wild horses do not carry a load. They walk almost exclusively. They can rest and recover at will. You’ll never witness a herd of wild horses trotting repetitively over ground polls or cantering circles for 45 minutes, and they don’t do anything with 20% of their body weight strapped to their backs. Data collected from “wild” horses will simply never be directly applicable to domesticated stock intended for work.
While the barefooters have their hoof boots, and hoof boots have their place, they are far more limited than shoes. As long as your horse is comfortable within the terrain and workloads that you are requiring with hoof boots or barefoot, then rock on. I can tell you that I personally tried hoof boots on my main guy, Curly. As soon as we moved past the warm ups and I started really asking him for harder moves, he’d fling the boots off. They simply did not work for me beyond casual riding. Your mileage may vary.
So, where do I stand on the Great Barefoot Debate? Be classic! The classics never go out of style. A well balanced and regularly maintained hoof is a necessity. With or without a shoe, this fact is a constant. What constitutes a balanced hoof could be the sole subject of a Ken Buns PBS miniseries, and I’ve used up enough of your time. For me, greener horses go barefoot. I only start shoeing a horse when I have a reason why they need to be shod. Once I feel a horse needs to be shod, he gets shod and stays shod for as long as that reason is valid. This shouldn’t be complicated. Just don’t let someone use your horse to prove a point or sell you on the latest buzzword to feed their pocket or ego. If it’s been working well, leave it be. If it isn’t working well, then look for the least drastic reasonable solution.
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The farrier I'm using now is the one I've always liked best, although it used to be very tough to schedule him (he's worked that part of his business out, now, happily!) He says the horse will show you if he needs a shoe or not, because so much depends on where he lives, his conformation, how he is used, etc.

My horses live on a dry lot. I keep some river rock in the corral, and the soil is kind of rocky. It is a dry, hard surface, but not very abrasive, and all the horses we've owned to date can go without shoes...provided they are not ridden fast on the trails.

I live on an alluvial fan, the erosion-created foothills of a mountain. No level terrain, lots of rock - and sharp rock. About 10-14 inches of rain a year, mostly in Late July and August. The trails are made by motorcycles and ATVs, which pound the soil harder than pavement and leave rock sticking out. You can have 150 yards of excellent running trail, then 50 yards that would destroy their feet. My daughter used to run Trooper without regard for those rocks, until he had to go on 2-3 weeks rest for hoof cracks. Now she understands, and protects him from his willingness to destroy his feet for her pleasure!

Where we ride (and live):







Bandit arrived here badly shod. There is no other way to describe it. We pulled his front shoes in Jun 2015. His feet were far too tender to ride on the trails, so we did a lot of pavement riding. By August, the wear made it clear that he was using his left front leg twisted at 30-40 degrees - which also explained why his trot included a back braced like an I-beam. How he was used for racing like that, I do not understand!

But over time, and possibly via the help of a good farrier (who refused to put shoes on his front feet again, saying Bandit NEEDED time barefoot to see what was really going on), his front feet went from 4.5 inches across to a little over 5" wide. It took until December 2015, but he finally started using his front leg the way it was meant to be used. And yes, I'm worried that he will eventually go lame from having been raced distances with a crooked leg!

Once he stopped using his leg twisted, his chest started getting broader. He will NEVER be a broad chested horse. He's 14.3 or 15 hands, and the vet estimated his weight at 790. A very slender build! The farrier remains convinced he needs to stay barefoot, but says how he trims the foot still depends on how Bandit settles on using it. Barefoot has been great for Bandit!

But if I wanted to try endurance racing with him, I'd need to A) trailer him somewhere else for practice, since the trails here can destroy shod feet as well as bare ones, and B) he'd need shoes. For riding 6-7 hours/week, he's fine. If he was a ranch horse getting 12 hours/day? Shoes. Distance running? Shoes! The problems Bandit had in shoes was caused by incorrect shoeing, not by shoes being bad in and of themselves.

Trooper has the worst feet of our three horses, but the farrier says a lot of his clients would LOVE to have a horse with feet like Trooper.

If we lived 10 miles north of here, we'd be out in the flats. It has a very different soil type - softer, finer, without all the rock. Still southern Arizona, still Sonoran Desert, but a totally different soil and riding environment!

Hoofboots - FWIW, several tack stores have told me very few horses around here can keep a hoof boot on. Two stores told me they stopped carrying them because they had nothing but unhappy customers. They said the terrain around here was just too good at twisting them off. I haven't tried them because at my minimal riding, and with doing it mostly at a walk, my horses do fine as is. My wife and I are experimenting with going off the trails and picking our way across the desert, which is hard enough work at a walk.
 

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Daniel, as usual I'm in total agreement with you. Mine stay barefoot for the most part because they are fine with their familiar terrain but if I'm hauling them to trail ride somewhere that rocky trails are the norm they get iron shoes put on. I bought hoof boots once to carry in my saddle bag in case of a lost shoe and while those things are a bear to get on they seem to come off quite easily when you don't want them to. While I'm sure they've made progress with the hoof boots since they first came out, between my own experience and what I've seen others deal with when using hoof boots, I just never became a fan of them.
 

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Hoofboots - FWIW, several tack stores have told me very few horses around here can keep a hoof boot on. Two stores told me they stopped carrying them because they had nothing but unhappy customers. They said the terrain around here was just too good at twisting them off. I haven't tried them because at my minimal riding, and with doing it mostly at a walk, my horses do fine as is. My wife and I are experimenting with going off the trails and picking our way across the desert, which is hard enough work at a walk.
Just wanted to mention (since I ride in the Sonoran Desert as well, rocky Superstition Mtns area) that I have had good luck with the Easyboot Trails. I was shocked because I figured the only thing that would hold up is Renegades! Regardless, they have not come off in mud, up and down hills, and doing fast trotting and cantering when the terrain allows. I do quite a bit of trotting as well. My horse seems to be wearing through the toe of the boot pretty quickly. Other than that, I've been impressed!

My thought on OP's subject is the same as most others: whatever works for the rider and horse. However, I have my doubts about saying that no boot could ever provide the traction or special add-ons needed that a shoe does. It may be the truth now, but I like to believe in the innovation of the human mind. Who's to say that such a boot doesn't come along later?

I am not against shoes though. :wink:
 

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An interesting read, and I agree with many points and disagree with some.

First, I completely agree that some horses need shoes. As you mention, sliders for reining, and some other specialized applications. I also agree that every horse needs a good, balanced trim.

It also bothers me when people are so "all or nothing" and won't see there are always exceptions to an ideal. I have a friend with a poor horse that could really use shoes. This horse is mildly lame every single day and spends more time laying down than most horses. Thankfully, she is always on soft ground. But she has genetically poor hooves, a frog that is 1 inch wide at the base, and also foundered badly and rotated the coffin bones when younger. The owner is into naturalness and will not shoe.

I've tried to at least advocate trimming that leaves a peripheral protection around the thin soles, but it bothers the owner very much since this means the walls are a little longer and the hoof angles don't look right to her. Of course she is trimming her horse herself, "can't afford" x-rays and is still trying to rehab the horse after six years or so by diet and trimming. I tell her over and over the horse will never have a healthy hoof.

That being said, I have found a couple of myths that are prevalent. One is that horses can't do hard work barefoot. Horses can't do hard work on hard footing barefoot. They can, however, do tons of hard work on turf, sand, dirt, or in a groomed arena. My horses currently do not need shoes or boots, and neither does the Thoroughbred with "OK" hooves we ride with.

A myth on the barefoot side is that horses just need to get their hooves toughened up and then you can ride them on gravel, the so called "gravel crunching" hooves. Perhaps a horse with genetically perfect hooves such as a mustang that had been turned out on rough territory for the first five years could go for a few miles on gravel without issue. But animals in the wild do not travel for miles down man made surfaces or rocky areas. They cross over them, or walk over them. They don't gallop along them for ten miles.

While I don't believe horses can self-trim in a wet environment, I also don't believe a wet and muddy environment alone necessarily means a horse needs shoes. We've kept horses barefoot for years here and we get 85 inches of rain a year. The biggest issue with wet areas is hoof hygiene. I've never found the walls to be affected (I've seen WLD in as many dry environments), but frogs can get thrush, the deep central sulcus can get infected and the heels contract. Mud management is important, keeping the horses in areas that drain and not letting horses stand in urine or manure. With those covered, a horse can have mainly wet feet for months and not have ill effects.

Before turning to hoof boots, I had a horse that even with the best trimming and a great farrier continued to interfere and cut herself with shoes. I worried about leg wraps overheating her tendons with the hard work we were doing. I tried Easyboots and lost many to deep mud and galloping. I could not keep them on the back hooves at all. But now I believe if you find a boot that fits your horse's hoof shape and also a design that works for your horse, they can be as good or better than shoes.

Until recently, my riding was done on man-made roads and trails.
For my horses, Renegades stay on all four and we gallop and our trails are muddy, steep, rocky, etc. Some people say some of the newer Easyboot styles fit their horses the same way. It took a little trial and error to find the right size and style of boot for my horses, but once I did it was quite satisfying. For rugged trails, boots can have superior traction to shoes and less risk of starting a fire. We found shoes to slip more on turf than our boots, although I would use studs in either if I were eventing. I would have a horse lose a shoe at least as often as I would lose a Renegade, but I sympathize with those whose boots don't fit because when my horses wore Easyboot Epics we lost one every couple rides.

When we did endurance rides, we found that the lock rock on some roads would go up inside the shoes and bruise the horses' soles. It's rather expensive to pad shoes, so we ended up finding boots more practical on that type of road as well. I could put a Renegade boot on my horse in ten seconds. The Easyboots were more annoying to put on. Boots are also more practical to use with mini horses than shoes.

I am pro excellent trimming, a good diet for hooves, and shoes for horses with specific needs. I am pro barefoot which promotes more frequent trimming and boots for those that don't need shoes. I feel more horses have shoes than really need them (some well balanced, sedentary horses that live on sand where I live have shoes on...really?) and more horses are left barefoot that are frequently in pain. I don't see any reason for a horse that lives in soft footing and has good hooves to have shoes put on for showing in western or english pleasure in a soft arena.
 

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I don't belong to either camp, shoeing only or barefoot only. I have done both as per the needs of my horses. I hope most people would put the needs of the horse ahead of personal preference.
Right now my horse is barefoot, has never been shod but she doesn't work hard on roads or rocky ground. The horse I had before, working on the same ground had thin soles and for the same type of work needed front shoes.

I would prefer to have my horses barefoot but if that is not possible or right for a certain horse I will shoe as needed and for as short a time as I can get by with ( leaving shoes off for the winter)
 

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I let the horse tell me if he needs shoes, not some theory. For the most part, our horses have been fine barefoot over the years, even the working ranch horse who earned their keep working our cattle, my HOF/jumper Arabian who also did some endurance in the Rockies (every farrier complained about his hard feet!), and now our TWH's even though we often ride on challenging trails for over 8 hours. The only horse we've had here that consistently needed shoes was DD's show mare the first year since her hooves were shelly---good nutrition, great farrier care, and pasture turnout 24/7 when she wasn't at a show fixed that so the next year, unless doing reining, the mare was barefoot. Good nutrition, proper trimming based on the hoof's underlying bone structure, and the horse's environment can make a huge difference whether a horse needs shoes.
 

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As we don't ride in the winter months here my horses go into the spring and summer barefoot. The weather conditions and how much work they do - arena, roads and trails - plus the individual horse dictates whether or not they'll stay like that through to the next winter when they go back to being barefoot again.
Any rider worth their salt can tell if their horse is starting to feel sore and not moving as willingly or as well as it should and shoes (or boots if you like them) will fix that
In the UK when we were doing a minimum of 2 hours on the roads every day to keep horses hunting fit we'd wear a set of shoes down in 4 weeks
 

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Oh my gosh, some words of reason! Yes, yes and yes!
I knew, getting my two current horses that they could be bare because I knew that was what I wanted and I included that in my "shopping list". Asking a horse who has obvious need for shoe to go barefoot, and not listening to the horse when they let you know it ain't gonna work, is one of my pet peeves.


If you want a barefoot horse, get a horse with exceptional feet, and put in the required work and maintenance. No different than if you want a jumper, get a horse that is built for it and do the work to get them there soundly.
 

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I think Dr Robert Bowker's statement sums up the best stance, concerning shoes or no shoes;
"barefoot if possible, but shoes if needed'
I also am in neither camp, having at one time considered it looked 'professional', to have a young show horse shod, whether he needed to be or not, to going the barefoot route, when bad farriery caused eventual lameness in a favorite gelding
Barefoot does also not mean you ride barefoot everywhere, but use hoof protection in the form of hoofboots, if needed
After trail riding, donating quite a few different hoof boots to rivers and bogs, finding that muddy conditions made any climbing treacherous in hoof boots, having them turn in some tough climbs, having my horse almost go down, I have gone back to shoing,when we get serious about trail riding
Yes, enough research has proven that horse hoof mechanism and health is optimal barefoot, it is also true that short shoing periods, with a correct trim first rendered, has no negative impact
Thus, in winter my horses are all barefoot. If I ride on the icy roads, I use front hoof boots with studs. If I haul to indoor arenas, or ride in snowy fields, they are fine barefoot
I keep my trail riding horses hod, once we ride in the mountains. In early spring, I will use hoof boots, if needed.
In late fall mountain rides, I use shoes with borium smears
Dr Stephan O, grady, who is both a farrier and a vet that specialises in equine podiatry, stated that barefoot if possible is best, then gave several reasons for shoing
Therapeutic shoing
traction
when wear exceeds growth, and when ahorse is asked to work on ground he is not adapted for
Of course, special shoing, like sliders for areiner

He also sites bad shoing, NOT shoing, as being the major cause of lameness in horses
Shoes lock in any pathology in the trim

I have also seen horse gimping along, on rocks, as by God, that owner was going to ride the horse barefoot!
So, no, it is not all black and white, with just two sides, but rather awareness of hoof health and then using the right combo of what you do with your horses.
Barefoot also goes beyond just using no shoes. It is an entire life style that promotes optimum hoof health and development.
It si no secret any longer that horses need movement in order to grow healthy functional feet. That if you start to shoe two year olds, before that hoof is completely developed, then stall that horse, you are setting him up for future hoof pathology,where he 'needs shoes', even to walk on ground he lives on
Yes, genetics play a small part, far as good feet, but a far greater impact is lifestyle and diet.
The back part of the foot, needs movement to develop (digital cushion , collateral ligaments)
When Dr Bowker dissected feet, between 'good footed horses, and ones with lameness issues, he found the 'bad footed horses' to have a maturation arrest, far as those features, with them being locked into the foal stage of development
A horse that 'needs' shoes to move sound on ground he lives on, is not a truly sound horse, and you better see why that is so, before that pathology reaches the pointw here shoes no longer can compensate. Navicular syndrome is a prime example
Thus, education is key, where you realize as to what creates optimal hoof health, chose shoing correctly, if you horse needs it for the job he is asked to do, and also are able to recognize a good shoing job from a poor one
Even the best shoing, is going to have a negative impact, if that owner leaves those shoes on as long as possible, versus having regular re-sets done
 

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"barefoot if possible, but shoes if needed'
Sounds like that kind of should be the whole debate.....if your horse can go barefoot, GREAT, fantastic for everyone.

If your horse needs shoes, either shoe or boot it, whatever works best.

Why is it any more complicated than that?
 

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Just wanted to mention (since I ride in the Sonoran Desert as well, rocky Superstition Mtns area) that I have had good luck with the Easyboot Trails. I was shocked because I figured the only thing that would hold up is Renegades! Regardless, they have not come off in mud, up and down hills, and doing fast trotting and cantering when the terrain allows. I do quite a bit of trotting as well. My horse seems to be wearing through the toe of the boot pretty quickly. Other than that, I've been impressed!

My thought on OP's subject is the same as most others: whatever works for the rider and horse. However, I have my doubts about saying that no boot could ever provide the traction or special add-ons needed that a shoe does. It may be the truth now, but I like to believe in the innovation of the human mind. Who's to say that such a boot doesn't come along later?

I am not against shoes though. :wink:
Yes, hoof boots have come a long way, but far as the \perfect hoofboot, seems for now, those that do serious distance ridding, with hoofboots, have gone on the the glue on versions, for obvious reasons
If hoof boots work for you, that is ideal, as the horse can stay barefoot the rest of the time, one can always keep their feet in the 'ideal parameters, doing touch ups, versus the hoof getting out of balance, the longer the shoing cycle
I can climb some pretty good hills with hoofboots, but I use ones that are studded. When footing gets tricky, as going through deep tangled roots, along major drop offs, I do not feel my horse is as sure footed on boots, then shod, so do shoe for that time period, although I often ride in early spring, in the foothills,using boots, afterall, I have a huge selection!
I have tried cavellos, easyboot epics, easyboot trail, Old mac , renegades and none have stayed on as well as shoes, where it really counts
I have a pair of epics, that are studded, and if I use boots on the mountains, will only use them
Maybe our mud is different, but as soon as mud gets packed on the bottom, you might as well have skates on. In fact, i wound up taking them off on one ride, as it was just getting too dangerous riding in muddy slick conditions
Even when my horses are shod, I carry a hoofboot, in case I lose a shoe some 20 or thirty miles in, on rocky ground. Been there and done that one also, not fun for the horse!
 

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Agree with this, from Trottin;

I am pro excellent trimming, a good diet for hooves, and shoes for horses with specific needs. I am pro barefoot which promotes more frequent trimming and boots for those that don't need shoes. I feel more horses have shoes than really need them (some well balanced, sedentary horses that live on sand where I live have shoes on...really?) and more horses are left barefoot that are frequently in pain. I don't see any reason for a horse that lives in soft footing and has good hooves to have shoes put on for showing in western or english pleasure in a soft arena.

I was kinda weird, showing Charlie barefoot, at a breed show. In fact, one trainer asked me how I would get from the barn tot he arena, as those grounds are very rocky
Far as the renegades, they come with the flaw of many hoofboots, having that velcro closure, holding that main cable.
The barefoot specialist that I know, who also trail rides alot, whose wife endurance rides, and who also sold and fitted hoof boots, modified them, by replacing that Velcro closure with abuckle
Works, but I do not find hoof boots to have better traction then shoes,unless studded, by along shot!
 

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Works, but I do not find hoof boots to have better traction then shoes,unless studded, by along shot!
It probably depends a lot on the terrain. We need protection around here mainly on graveled logging roads. When it gets dry, metal shoes seem to want to skate over the dusty soil and slip on the gravel, similar to how a car can tend to slide out on gravel. Perhaps because of a larger surface area, boots don't slip as much over dry dust.

I've found shoes and boots to slip about equally on wet grass. On asphalt and pavement I find that boots have much better traction, especially if it's wet.
 

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@Smilie

Our mud out here is nothing like the mud in some places after snow melt. I was just happy that the boots didn't come off when we went through a muddy patch for a couple strides, was going at extended trot and then slowed to walk halfway through mud, deep enough for the boot to sink about 3/4 of the way.

The terrain type that I ride in vs. yours are complete polar opposites, so I don't expect a boot that holds up well in my terrain to do quite as good in yours, or vice versa.
@gottatrot

I have had a thought before that if you were trotting on pavement, as the Amish do, wouldn't a rubber boot help absorb the impact better than a metal shoe clanging on a stone road? Seems to me that the metal would make the impact more severe, whereas a rubber bottom shoe or boot or such thing would lessen it. Just thinking of my own experience running in a few different types of shoes. The more flexible gym shoes with higher amounts of rubber tended to be comfortable.

However, it is just a thought and not one I am going to test as I only walk my horses on pavement :)
 
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It probably depends a lot on the terrain. We need protection around here mainly on graveled logging roads. When it gets dry, metal shoes seem to want to skate over the dusty soil and slip on the gravel, similar to how a car can tend to slide out on gravel. Perhaps because of a larger surface area, boots don't slip as much over dry dust.

I've found shoes and boots to slip about equally on wet grass. On asphalt and pavement I find that boots have much better traction, especially if it's wet.
Also depends on how they are shod. Yes, shoes can be tricky on pavement, but since I no longer ride in parades, not an issue.
Boots can have good traction on dry rocky ground, but on clay, wet mud, they are downright dangerous. We often have wet conditions, and I went with my son, with my horse wearing hoof boots, while his has shod, on a very steep woody trail, with lots of hairpin turns, drop offs, and wet conditions
That ride, more then any other, convinced me to go back to shoing, as my horse slid and lost traction a lot on that steep and wet climb, to the point I did not feel safe
so, if boots work for where you ride, great, as it allows you to keep your horse barefoot in between rides, but they do not work where i ride at times
Once the ground freezes, and we go on late mountain rides, at times climbing above the tree line, it would be suicide to attempt doing so in hoof boots esp, if they are not studded
There is also the fact, when it is 10 below C or more, I for one, do not wish to work with stiff frozen boots, putting them on and off
It is lucky that we have the choice available now, to use boots or to shoe
I would be the last person to not realize just automatically slapping shoes on horses, is not in the best interest of that horse, tradition aside
Afterall, both Jamie Jackson and Pete Ramey were both traditional farriers first, that became dogmatic about not shoing, having seen so many results of bad shoing. They went the barefoot route, not because they became too lazy to shoe, but because they became very aware of what creates a sound foot and great hoof mechanism.
There is a compromise, if you shoe, far as hoof function, and any one that shoes a horse, has to realize this. Navicualr is pretty much man made
At the same time, if one shoes a horse short term, uses a good farrier, starts with a horse that has a healthy foot and correct trim to begin with, any negative impact will be minimal, and the horse will be able to perform the job you ask him to do
 

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Good point Smilie, about using shoes short term. Many people out here shoe year round because aside from the heat (which you can deal with if you ride very early morning), we have riding weather year round. There is no snow to deal with, which from what I understand is the main reason why many horses have winters off. Having that time off allows the owner to pull shoes because why shoe a horse that isn't being used? Whereas here, there is no off season so no reason to pull shoes. I wonder how much having that off season from shoes affects the horse's hoof health and using/riding life. Probably quite a bit, I would bet.

I wonder if the cost increase would be extremely significant if one chose to use glue ons instead of nail ons for everyday use. I have seen them before and they look expensive, and I am not sure how long they stay on the hoof either. I imagine these would come with their own set of problems, and thinking on it I am not sure if there would be any benefit to the hoof over regular shoes aside from the lack of nails, which aren't a huge problem (IMO) anyway.
 
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I have glue ons presently on Smilie, for re habilitation, along with pour in sole support

They stay on very well, IF the prep is done correctly< but I am sure my farrier will agree, that nailing shoes on is much simpler
Some show horses here are also kept shod year round, as they are hauled south to show, or kept in a training situation
I ride during the winter, weather permitting, but obviously don't haul to mountains! My horsed do fine, ridden barefoot in snow or in arenas. If I ride down icy roads, I use hoof boots with studs
 
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