To shoe or not to shoe

Last week Cassie lost a shoe out in the field. The farrier came yesterday and put a new set of shoes on her. That sounds so simple, but to me it wasn’t. I don’t like shoes and I never have. When I was a child I used to go to a riding school where none of the horses and ponies wore shoes. The owner of the place was also a farrier and she had strong opinions about shoes. To her, shoes were the quickest way to destroy a horse’s feet, joints and natural balance. The horses and ponies spent most of their lives outside, standing almost knee deep in muck in the winter, when the rain had turned the fields into swamp, and they all had perfect feet.

When I got Minnie, she was on shoes and although her hind feet looked fine, her front feet were in bad condition. None of her feet had a frog worth mentioning. I started reading up on making the transition to barefoot. I don’t think it’s as simple as just taking the shoes off, I can imagine hard and rough surfaces must be quite sore for them. I don’t particularly enjoy walking barefoot on a pebbly beach after wearing shoes and socks all winter, it’s agony! I’m sure it must be the same for horses. Minnie pulled a tendon before I felt I had enough knowledge to make the transition to barefoot, but I wondered if the shoes had been a contributory factor to her injury. Minnie has been barefoot since the start of this year and her feet have improved a lot, but she still seems a bit footy on rough, stony surfaces.

Cassie also came with shoes on. In the spring, she lost both front shoes in the field and I was tempted to make the transition to barefoot then. Unfortunately, a large chunk of hoof came away between the nail holes. I didn’t want her to go lame, so she got shoes.

Yesterday was her third set since I got her and hopefully, it will be her last. Cassie absolutely hates the whole shoeing process and she has gotten worse with each set. Yesterday she got very upset and I felt awful. I could see the farrier was losing his patience, so I felt I had to tell him not to hit her (before he actually did, so he was not impressed). I was trying to keep Cassie calm, talking to her and stroking her and keeping my own breathing slow and regular, but is was not easy. I felt guilty, because I could hardly tell her it was for her own good. It felt like I had betrayed her trust in me and I took her for a long graze in our lawn afterwards. She loves the grass there, because it is new and very lush. I let her graze as long as she wanted, even though it was pouring and I got soaked to the skin. 

 I can think of countless reasons for barefoot, and I can think of only one for shoes: road work. Riding here inevitably means a lot of roads and I wonder about how much wear and tear this will cause. I have a very good book on barefoot: Feet First: Barefoot Performance and Hoof Rehabilitation. It gives a lot of good advice on preparing for going barefoot, including dietary advice to promote healthy hoof growth. Since I read the book I have cut out starch and sugars from Cassie and Minnie’s diet. What I also like about this book is that it is written by two women in England, where conditions would be similar to here. Lots of rain. My land is mostly clay, and it gets very muddy. We had torrential rain for the past two days and this is what my gate area looked like:

This is the kind of ground Cassie and Minnie will be standing in for most of the winter. A barefoot trim based on a mustang roll would not be suitable here. Next month, I am going to an introductory course on barefoot trimming. Hopefully, Cassie’s shoes can come off then for good.

The rain had stopped when I woke up this morning and it was beautiful. Cassie came up as soon as she saw me. She is very forgiving.

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7 thoughts on “To shoe or not to shoe

  1. Good for you for telling the farrier not to hit her! Better be safe than sorry.

    The Houston mounted patrol go barefoot now. I imagine they do a lot of road work. Although I suppose your feet get softened up in the pasture in the winter, and then break easily on the road. We used to have a mare who’d break all the wall off and end up standing only on water line/white/line/sole. She seemed to do fine. She was never lame anyway.

    • Yes, I read about the Houston mounted patrol and they must do a lot of mileage. I saw a video on Youtube where they had filmed horses trotting on a road. First you saw a horse with shoes. The video showed the feet in slow motion and you could see the jarring in the foot and joints. It was painful to look at. Then they showed a barefoot horse. There was no concussion and you could actually see the hoof flexing when it hit the ground.
      I might need some form of hoof oil that will protect against water in winter. I wonder about the wild horses in the Camargue in France, they live year round in a swamp. I’d love to see what their feet look like.

  2. Pingback: Barefoot | Two horses

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