The (Mostly) Barefoot Horse
All of the horses at Never Forgotten Ranch are barefoot. Yup, all of them. From the drafts to the mustangs to the occasional Morgan or Thoroughbred, they all live happily without metal shoes. And here is why.....
Going barefoot provides the horse with better use of his or her entire foot, as nature intended.
In a bare hoof, the hoof wall, sole, frog, and bars are all engaged and in use, serving their intended purpose. However, when a metal shoe is nailed to the perimeter of the hoof, the hoof wall bears nearly all of the horse's weight and impact when making contact with the ground. Metal shoes also put the horse at risk of damage to the solar corium, which is the layer of blood, nerves, and connective tissue lying just under the sole, surrounding the coffin bone, as they restrict the release of pressure. Alternatively, when a hoof is bare or booted, pressure is placed on the sole when the hoof is on the ground, but released when the hoof is raised, creating a much healthier situation that can prevent serious soundness issues.
Barefoot hooves provide better shock absorption and energy dissipation.
As described above, when the entire hoof is being used, the hoof is better able to do its job by absorbing shock and dissipating energy, two factors which are greatly inhibited by metal shoes. This naturally leads to increased performance, energy, and improved health of the joints and bone structures.
Vertical flexion of the hoof capsule.
The rear portion of the hoof naturally twists or flexes vertically, helping the horse to better handle quick or sudden maneuvers or to negotiate uneven terrain. This flexion also reduces pressure on the joints and collateral ligaments. A metal shoe, however, will restrict such flexion, and on hard terrain such impact can cause damage to not only the hoof wall, but to the soft tissues within.
Additionally, the flexion of the hoof creates a sort of plunger effect, pulling large amounts of blood into the hoof capsule every time the hoof hits the ground, and pushing it back up the leg when the hoof leaves the ground. Like a heart, pumping with every step. This flow of blood helps to keep the hoof healthy and growing properly, yet with metal shoes this flexing and pumping is ceased and circulation suffers. Just take a look at the thermograph image below, showing the blood circulation in the legs and hooves of a horse wearing one nailed-on metal shoe, on the front right, with the other three hooves being barefoot. For us, it is clear how we want our horses' feet and legs to feel!
I'm sure by now you're all thinking, "but after all this about the benefits of foregoing shoes, doesn't the title to this page say just 'mostly' barefoot?" It sure does. And that is because some horses may need a little extra cushion and support under certain circumstances, such as riding in rocky terrain or if the horse is suffering from a hoof injury or condition. And this is where hoof boots come into play! Hoof boots provide significant support and protection while still offering a comfortable level of flexion. Hoof boots are also removable, allowing the horse to remain barefoot whenever possible.
The old saying, "No hoof, no horse," definitely carries some weight, and anything we can do to improve the health of the hoof will indeed improve the health and longevity of the horse as a whole. And that is why the equine residents of Never Forgotten Ranch all remain (mostly) barefoot.
Sources: "Barefoot or Shod," by Jennifer Von Geldern, published by Horse & Rider, and "Why Barefoot?" by Joe & Kathleen Camp