Is There An Alternative To Shoeing?
By Gordon Adair

Pinched heels and narrow hooves of a 5-year-old after 3+ years of shoes; deshod the day before photo.

If I asked, "What do you feel is the single most important aspect of horse maintenance?" your reply would most likely be, "shoeing your horse". From the first day we pet a horse, watch a horse program on TV, read a horse related book, take a lesson, or purchase a horse, we are trained that horses require shoes. But do horses really require hard steel nailed into their hooves to survive? Horses have survived in the wild since the earliest known days and are continuing to thrive without shoes. What is man doing differently that requires domestic horses to wear shoes? Unfortunately, the average domestic horse's day consists of standing in a 12' x 12' box stall, having his water and food delivered to him, and minimal exercise. The average domestic horse's exercise program is performed on a soft well-groomed level arena. In contrast, the wild horse is generally required to travel twenty miles every day over various types of terrain from sand to rocks and to move from their water source to different nutritional areas to maintain their health. It appears to me that the wild horse has a much more difficult life than our domestic horse. So again I ask, why do domestic horses require shoes?

Throughout my thirty years of enjoying horses, I have owned and witnessed many lame horses. If these lame, domestic horses endured the same hardships as their cousins the wild horses, how long do you feel they would survive? It certainly looks as if man is doing something wrong that nature is not. Could the shoes be the source of our lameness problems? I have asked hoof specialists this question and the common response was: "Over the years man has bred bad feet into the domestic horse, so they are more prone to lameness and require shoes." This answer leads me to another question, "Could man really have changed the mechanism of the horse's foot in such a short time frame?" With all the research I have done in comparing the domestic and the wild horse, I have found that the working mechanism of the foot is the same. The only difference between the two is that a wild horse's hoof appears to be shaped different from a shod domestic horse. There are a growing number of people who believe that the continued shoeing of horses is causing the domestic horse's hoof to grow differently, which is causing the lameness. With the increasing use and interest in the word "natural" maybe we should begin thinking more about a "natural" hoof.

Why have we been so devoted to shoeing our horses all these years? Shoes always seem to create more problems than they solve. For example, we are continually in fear of our horses: 1) Losing their shoes and taking a large part of their hoof with it. To prevent this from happening we restrict our horses from moving or place bell boots on them. Restricting a horse's movement is very bad for his mental and physical health. 2) Injuring himself with a blow from the steel of a shod hoof. As a precaution we use leg wraps, which interfere with blood circulation and tendon movement. 3) Legs and hooves growing incorrectly. When we never allow our horse's hoof to be natural we forget how our horse was born to stand or move. This causes us to change angles to correct prior corrections to the point of straining our horse's legs. 4) Heels contracting. It is widely admitted by hoof specialists that extended use of shoes will cause heel contraction resulting in heel pain.

Comfortable and relaxed healthy hooves of a 5-year-old never shod.

The only way I can explain why people shoe their horses is from my own past experience: "Because that is what I was told to do and who was I to do otherwise." As I gained experience and began to experiment, I preferred unshod horses coming into training to remain shoeless. My plan was to have the horses shod if they became sore. Other than a slight, temporary soreness when the horses began trail riding, I discovered I never needed to shoe them. Unfortunately this method did not always work outside my training barn. Not all farriers know how or are willing to trim a barefoot horse the correct way. (Keep in mind that there is also a rehabilitation period after removing the shoes of a horse.) Unfortunately I had a rude awakening after my farrier retired; my horses began to fall victim to many leg and hoof problems. It was embarrassing when my training barn was full of horses with hoof problems. I had to do what I should have done years ago, learn more about proper hoof care. I could not just depend on a professional farrier. I needed to learn for myself and what I have been learning is amazing. This prompted me to ask my retired, long-time farrier where he learned his trade: he said, "I just copied the wild horse's hoof." Now everything is starting to make sense. I am happy to say all my training horses have recovered, are happy, and are back in action without shoes! We are continuing to study the effects that shoes have on mental and physical health and training willingness. To help you begin in your research of hoof care we will be posting our own study sources and findings on our web site.

LAST WORDS Allowing your horse to go barefoot is not a new fad or new concept. Whether you are having hoof problems or not, you should consider making things more "natural" for your horse's hooves. You may find that your horse's shoes are the cause of your current problems or future problems. There are many qualified hoof specialists to choose from, but you should not just rely on their expertise - educate yourself on the mechanics of the horse's hoof and what shoes are doing to your horse. You owe it to your beloved horses to learn more about their hooves. Because a horse without sound, healthy hooves cannot function properly in life!

© Gordon Adair

About the author:
Gordon Adair is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor with over twenty-five years of show and pleasure riding experience. Gordon's specialty is instructing owners with their horses through lessons and clinics, using the horse's natural method of communication. The ability to communicate can then be used with the owner's own discipline and personality.

Gordon Adair
8139 NW 121st Ave
Ocala, FL 34482