Does Your Horse Need Shoeing or Not?

To a new horse owner, maintaining your horse's hooves may seem like a fussy way to spend your time, but it's an important part of keeping your horse healthy. Domestic horses don't travel widely; they spend a lot of time in stalls or paddocks where the ground is sort.

Their hooves, which were adaptable in the wild where travel was constant and varied, get too long and uneven under domestic conditions. Hooves, like our toenails, have to be kept trimmed back or their growth makes them frail and uneven, causing large pieces to break off. If your horse's hooves break, split or grow unevenly, they can cause your horse to become lame. When people wear shoes that don't fit properly, their balance and spinal health are compromised: proper hoof care for horses is as important as wearing properly fitting shoes is for humans.

Aside from environmental factors, breeding affects the way your horse's hooves work. While many horse owners focus on conformation around the head or even the colors and markings of the coat, too few people pay attention to the way horse's hooves are shaped, how strong they are and how they affect the overall health of the animal. Whereas wild horses with poor hooves would have been taken out by natural selection, bred horses can pass along the genetics that create weak or badly shaped hooves.

If you start with a foal, start him off right by getting an opinion on his hoof conformation from your veterinarian and a farrier. Working horses need to be shod to protect their hooves; since hooves need trimming about every six weeks, finding a good farrier is vital to keeping your horse in good shape. You'll want to consult with an expert about when your horse should start wearing shoes and the type of shoes that will work best for the kind of activities your horse will take part in. Since proper traction is a factor in hoof and leg health, there are shoes made especially for equestrian sports like jumping, dressage or reining. Talk to your farrier about the way you plan to work with your horse, so he gets the right shoes for the job.

Hooves grow about a quarter inch each month, and need trimming to stay even and to prevent breakage. The farrier removes the shoes, trims the hooves and replaces the shoes. Shoes won't keep your horse's hooves from growing; if they aren't trimmed often enough or if they shoes stay on too long, your horse will go lame. Sometimes the shoes can be reused; your farrier will decide.

Shod hooves do pick up more debris than unshod ones, and the packed rocks, mud or even ice can cause your horse pain and injury. The added pressure makes walking uncomfortable and can create a bacterial infection in the sole of the foot. Pick out your horse's feet each day to remove foreign matter and prevent infection.

Should my horse go barefoot?
If your horse has tough, smooth hooves that aren't inclined to get too long in the toe or deform in other ways, and if your activities don't require special shoes for support, you horse may be able to get along fine barefoot. The hooves will still need trimming every six weeks: many horse owners learn to do this work themselves. The drawbacks to shoes include more difficulty in keeping the hooves picked clean, the fact that shoes sometimes catch on steps or rails and can cause injury, and that getting kicked with a hoof is a wee bit less dangerous than being kicked by a hoof shod in metal. Much depends on the conformation of your horse's feet and legs as well as the way you intend to work with your horse. Talk to your vet and speak with a farrier before deciding if your horse can go without shoes.

We've removed the horse from his wild environment, where his hooves basically took care of themselves. Now we must make sure he gets regular hoof care to keep him comfortable and sound.

Aritcle: horses and horse information