With all the talk about the benefits of going barefoot, keep in mind that it's not for every horse. Discuss individual needs with your farrier - and perhaps your veterinarian - before you dispense with the horse shoes. As long as there aren't any special therapeutic reasons for keeping your horse shod, allowing your horse to go shoeless for a time might be a good option because it:
- Allows the hoof to expand and contract more naturally
- Improves circulation due to greater surface contact
- Strengthens and revitalizes hoof walls as nail holes grow out and are trimmed away
- Allows soles to harden and the frog to function more effectively to cushion impact
- Provides the foot with greater traction, especially on hard or slippery surface.
- Makes hooves less likely to hold onto snow and ice in severe weather
- Saves you money If you are going to have your horse's shoes pulled, be sure there has been enough time since he was last shod for adequate hoof growth to have occurred. Your farrier will need to leave the hoof walls longer than he would if he were simply resetting the shoes. That extra bit of foot will help keep the horse more comfortable by elevating his soles from the ground surface. Your farrier will also not want to pare out the sole or tidy up the frog excessively either, as that extra layer will help protect sensitive feet from bruising. Your farrier also will round the edges of the hoof walls to prevent cracking or splitting.
Although hooves grow more slowly in cold weather, you may need to have your farrier out a bit more often to maintain your horse's bare feet, perhaps every 4 weeks or so. While the feet may not need to be trimmed, per se, they may need to be filed to keep the edges smooth so they don't break.
You'll need to be considerate of those naked feet, especially at first because they may be tender. Be selective about the surfaces over which you lead or ride your horse. Then when the weather warms up and your riding schedule expands, you can reconsider the practicality of shoeing. PH