Will Removing My Horse’s Shoes For More Than a Few Cycles Help?

People often ask this question, so I thought I would copy a question/comment from one of the case studies which is typical of owners trying to decide whether to go barefoot – temporarily or longer:

shod hoofI have an Appendix gelding (15 y/o) who has terrible feet. They can go from too dry and hard to soft and mushy just within a shoeing period. His walls are very thin, and I had a farrier once tell me it “was like nailing through kitty litter” If we are careful, he can keep his shoes on a full shoeing period, but he often looses a LOT of wall around the nails/holes. I have decided to pull his shoes for a few months and let him wear Cavallo boots to protect his foot while in turn out. Do you think that letting him go barefoot for longer than a few trims (before I move barns) will be beneficial. If he gets lame without shoes, we might have to put them back on. I also heard that there is a difference in concussion absorption in aluminum vs. steel shoes. is this true? We are currently actively training for the 2’9 – 3′ hunters.

Select comment christina
Submitted on 2014/09/29 at 9:04 pm | In reply to Kristen.
Hi Kristen!
So glad to hear you are going to give your horse a chance to improve his feet by removing his shoes, at least for a while. There are several reasons that horses have poor hoof horn quality like yours does, and ironically the main reason for this is the presence of shoes. The other main reasons are stalling and exposure to wet/dry cycles – but these are all mitigated by removing shoes!

The reason shoeing causes poor hoof horn quality is that it reduces blood flow to the hoof (for a variety of reasons) which negatively affects the quality of the wall. As soon as you remove shoes you will see an improvement in the quality of the wall. There will be a ring that grows down the foot where it will be very apparent where the shod growth ends and the barefoot growth begins. It will look different and feel different and have more ‘life’ to it. It is ironic indeed that a horse has to be barefoot in order to grow wall thick enough to be able to hold shoes – LOL! In my own horse’s case (typical TB) his wall thickness went from about 1/16″ thick to more than 1/4″ thick!

The most important part of doing barefoot trimming successfully is getting a ringcompetent trimmer. There are techiques specific to allowing a horse to go barefoot with which regular farriers just aren’t familiar. They trim a foot to fit a shoe onto it, they don’t do anything differnt to account for it being left barefoot. Sorry but it’s true. And then they have to put shoes back on, at 4 times the cost, oh well. So if your horse is ‘lame’ without shoes, get an informed opinion on the trim. (I do such consultations which you can find on the Services page). Often a horse that is ‘lame’ without shoes has too much horn left in the wrong places that hurts to step on. That is not to diminish the need for a transition period which your boots will help with, but after the transition period is over the horse should be capable of working in a groomed ring and jumping with no problem.

The idea that any metal has concussion absorbing properties is nonsense. If you google this phrase, the only hits that come up are related to shoeing. So, it is a myth that is fabricated to justify the use of shoes. It’s true that aluminum weighs less so there may be less concussion, but it certainly does not absorb anything. Concussion is absorbed by the hoof expanding on landing and a shoe does not allow the hoof to expand. So, no concussion is absorbed, rather it travels all the way up the leg to the shoulder and even the lungs. Whereas in a barefoot hoof it is dissipated by the time it reaches the fetlock.

Congratulations on your decision, good luck, and let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.

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  1. I must take issue with the comment about farriers not knowing specific techniques to allow a horse to go barefoot. What are these techniques? Enlighten the public. Trimming and balancing the hoof capsule around the Center of Articulation of the coffin joint? Leaving plenty of sole to protect the coffin Bone? How in the heck can you POSSIBLY know for certain, from a letter, that the cause of the horse’s foot issues are due to shoes and not to, oh, say, breeding, hoof care (not all farriers do equal work), use of the horse, cinditions and terrain? That alone shows your arrogance and misinformation on the art and science of farriery.
    What do you do for deep flexor tendon injuries?
    White Line Disease when 60% of the hoof wall has to be resected, and the bony column needs support while the hoof grows?
    Poor conformation due to breeding?
    Ground that wears hoof faster than it can grow back?
    None of these can be helped without shoes of some sort.
    I would love to see pics of your TB’s wall at 1/16″. I would fire anyone who dubbed that much toe off my horse.i also got a good laugh out of te horse with bare hind feet growing faster than the shod fronts. The fronts cant wear, due to the shoes, and, my observation has been bare feet grow slower than shod, due to ground contact and wear.

    Do you wear shoes?

  2. Oooh good, a farrier! Hi Dan. Since you say you were taught specific techniques for trimming horses barefoot (and not putting shoes back on), why don’t you tell us what you were taught? How many days (hours?) out of your farrier course was spent on how to trim a horse to be barefoot? What are those techniques. It sounds like you’re suggesting balancing the hoof capsule around the C of A of the coffin joint? That has nothing to do with barefoot per se and in fact probably doesn’t even apply. And leaving “more” sole to protect the coffin bone? How much “more”? Anything else?

    The conditions you cite (breeding, conformation, conditions, terrain) are all excuses farriers use to explain bad or incorrect work (bad work I can’t argue with). White line separation is a product of shoeing (permiter loading which pulls the wall away from the laminae). Hooves wearing faster than they can grow are a result of trimming that doesn’t promote circulation. Hooves that are properly trimmed grow faster the more exercise they get and need more trimming, not less. Mechanical Founder is another problem caused by shoeing and bad trimming (high heels) (if it’s not metabolic). All the instances of dealing with this and the other problems as well as the 1/16th inch wall growing to 1/4″ have been multiply documented ad nauseum throughout the blog and elsewhere. Farriers love to call farriery a ‘science’ but the fact is there are no controlled studies to support that moniker. In fact because of the advancement of barefoot into the mainstream, there are more studies showing the benefits of barefoot (despite the fact that they were conducted to try and disprove their benefits, not the reverse).

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