Why Shoeing is a Bad Idea...
by C. Scott Kroeger

Ever been in one of those discussions with people who still think that shoeing is necessary for their horse? Can't remember all the reasons why it is not a good idea as far as the horse is concerned?

Here are 16 quick points to bring up about the damage they can do...

  1. Horseshoes Prevent The Hoof Wall from Wearing - Normal movement of an unshod horse wears down the lateral walls, toes and heels naturally. This is not possible if the hoof is shod...and the hoof grows while the shoe is still on, contracting the foot and creating unnatural angles in the foot.
  2. Vibrations from Horseshoes Destroy Hoof Wall & Damages Living Tissue - Studies by Luca Bein show that vibrations at 800 Hz on living tissue destroys the capillaries at the ends of blood vessels. The vibrations of horseshoes are similar and destroy the solar corium.
  3. Horseshoes Impair Shock Absorption & Movement Of the Sole - A horse loses between 70-80% of natural shock absorption with shoes on. This means that the bones and joints take a tremendous pounding...and this is why so many shod horses are finished before their time. A shod horse walking has around 3 times the impact of an unshod horse trotting.
  4. Horseshoes Impair Hoof Mechanism & the Circulatory Pump in the Foot - The feet of every equine are miniature blood pumps aiding the heart's circulation through the establishment of Hoof Mechanism. Hoof Mechanism is the cyclical process of a weight bearing foot descending (on a hoof that is properly trimmed enough to leave concavity in the solar region of the foot), so that the sole flattens out as the hoof walls expand. This allows the coffin bone to descend and the solar corium to fill with blood. The blood is then expressed upwards when the foot is not weight bearing. Horseshoes inhibit--even prevent this process from occurring naturally in the foot. The result is poor horn growth, no feeling and cold feet. Inset shows horse wearing one shoe.
  5. Horseshoes Pinch The Corium & Living Tissues In The Hoof - Shod horses can no longer break over naturally. The result is inflammation to the coronary corium. Sort of like you trying to walk around in ski boots all day long.
  6. Horseshoes Produce Unnatural Strains on Ligaments & Joints - This affects the lateral cartilages on break over as well as other ligaments and tendon attached to joints when shod horses attempt to turn sharply on soft ground only to have the shoes dig into the ground. The horse trips and stumbles because it can no longer feel the ground.
  7. Horseshoes Cause Bruising of the Navicular Area ("heel pain") & Contraction - With growing hoof wall constrained by horseshoes...the only direction things can go is up. High solar vaults begin to pinch the solar corium against the coffin bone. The bars get forced upward against the deep flexor tendon and navicular bone, bruising the coronary corium.
  8. Thrush - Restriction of blood circulation from shoeing causes insufficient growth of the frog. Natural desiccation of the frog from bacteria and microbes occur at a greater a rate than the impaired growth.
  9. Unnatural Weight & Centrifugal Forces - Put some dumbells in your hands and start boxing. You will notice how difficult and even less accurate your punches are. This is how it is for horses who are shod with metal shoes. 800 gram shoes are enough to throw things out of synch and tear ligaments, cartilage and tendons, let alone account for the damage a kick can have on other horses or humans (and I should know).
  10. Nails Destroy the Hoof Wall - They vibrate. They let in bacteria, microbes & ammonia. They damage the corium. They dry out the hoof wall. They weaken the hoof wall. Hello!
  11. Nails Conduct Cold Into the Interior of the Hoof - Metal conducts heat/cold. On really cold days, nails conduct cold into the core of the hoof, lowering its temperature. The Natural Hoof insulates against the cold.
  12. Increased Risk of (Greater) Injury & Damage - Anybody who owns shod horses knows the damage a single kick can cause other animals and humans. Additionally, the damage done to trails and pasture by shod horses in wetter weather is clearly uncontested.
  13. Shoeing Contracts & Deforms the Hoof - Given enough time, a shod horse will develop combinations of several kinds of contractions ranging from contractions of the sole, heels, bulbs, coronet, and bars. These will deform the foot and sooner or later cause pain in the hoof.
  14. Horseshoes Prevent Proper Development of a Young Horse's Foot - A horse does not stop growing its feet till around age 5. If you shoe a horse before then, you will inhibit the normal growth of the coffin bone and the palmar processes.
  15. "Orthopaedic" or "Corrective" Shoeing Doesn't Solve Anything - The idea behind this is to make changes in the foot. But any change from bad to good is going to require metabolic changes in the foot (heat from circulation and the healing processes). Corrective shoeing inhibits healing by limiting or preventing altogether any circulation.
  16. Incorrect Shoeing - Due to a lack of enforced standards in the farrier industry, there are many poor examples of shoeing due to ignorance, neglect, and poor training. This only serves to exacerbate the problems shoeing already cause.

2002, 2003, 2004 by The Naked Hoof Pty. Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information and products contained within these webpages and articles are intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher

Last edited: 14 June, 2004

Reference: Concepts and illustrations from A Lifetime of Soundness by Dr. Hiltrud Strasser, pages 97-120

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Learn more, Recommended reading:
Tevis 2012 - Great Finish For Booted Horses, A Solid First Attempt For Barefoot includes pictures and story of the barefoot horses accomplishment.

Tevis 2013 - 10 Things You Should Know About Easyboots at Tevis 2013

City of Houston Police Horses Go Barefoot, part 1 - 2005

All 40 Horses working 8-10 hours every day on the asphault, concrete, and marble of downtown Houston. All barefoot, all thriving, healthier than ever, with vet bills cut in half. Which pretty much shoots holes in the theory that all horses cannot go barefoot. - 2010