Horses and horse shoes; the two go together like bread and butter, right? Not necessarily! Though shoes have long been the tradition, keeping your horse barefoot might actually be the better option.
Of course, having a barefoot horse is not nearly as simple as just removing the shoes. Though you’ll likely save money in the long run, barefoot hooves still need regular maintenance, and strict attention should be paid to your horse’s diet. Environment and exercise also have a considerable effect on the overall health of the hooves and need to be taken into consideration. But the benefits of keeping your horse barefoot are well worth it. Here’s why:
Increased hoof circulation
Did you know that hooves are an important part of the horse’s circulatory system? It’s true! There are no muscles in the lower leg or hoof to help return blood
back to the heart, but each time the bottom of the hoof comes in contact with the ground (and bears weight), it pushes blood back up the leg. The frog acts as a vital part of this pumping mechanism. In fact, once shoes are removed, the frogs will often become fuller and larger within a matter of months (so long as the hooves are trimmed properly).
According blood flow studies performed by Dr. Robert Bowker, VMD, PhD, the horse’s foot gets at least twice as much circulation when barefoot on yielding terrain, compared to when wearing a metal shoe.
Increased shock absorption
Steel shoes don’t provide much (if anything) in the way of shock absorption, but barefoot hooves are quite capable as acting as natural shock absorbers. When horses are running or jumping (especially on hard ground), shock absorption becomes even more important because those concussive forces travel up the legs and into the body, affecting ligaments, tendons, and even bones.
Have you ever had a shod horse slip on grass or pavement? It’s not uncommon. Properly trimmed barefoot hooves, however, have natural grip on nearly any surface. The back of the foot, with its leathery frog, bars that dig into the ground, and collateral grooves which gather material, can provide far more grip than any specialized shoe ever can.
Big word, important meaning! Proprioception is the awareness of the position and movement of each part of your body. Recent research has shown that the hoof (specifically the back of the foot ) actually functions as a sensory organ, registering impact, temperature, vibration, and pain. Since shoes prevent the back of the foot from making contact with the ground, it makes sense that shod horses would have decreased proprioception, which can lead to stumbling or tripping.
Since barefoot hooves are trimmed and maintained differently than shod hooves, you’ll likely want to find a barefoot specialist to take over your horse’s hoof care. Or, with some education, training, and practice, you can even learn to do it! While trimming is still somewhat physically demanding, it’s not nearly as labor intensive as shoeing horses.