Information provided by Cavallo Horse & Rider
Written by Carole Herder, President of Cavallo Horse & Rider
Horses were first shod with metal shoes about 1,500 hundred years ago, before we understood the physiology of the hoof. The shoes were intended to elevate the hoof out of the manure- and urine-saturated ground where the horse was tied. The premise was that the elevation would stop the hoof from rotting. The captive horse's hoof was not only weakened by a fetid environment, but also by the lack of movement, which was a radical change for animals meant to be constantly on the go. Limited motion meant limited blood circulation, which translated to significant lack of nutrient supply. Not surprisingly, the rot worked its way between the metal plate and the hoof. Cutting out the middle of the plate was thought to allow the hoof to retain some breathability and air circulation. Hence originated the current shape of the metal horse shoe. Nothing much has changed since.
It wasn't the best solution, but horses were becoming valuable as war vehicles, and stomping on the enemy with a metal shoe was a lot more damaging than a bare hoof.
What's Happening Now
Our Cavallo customer-survey results indicate that most people think metal shoes protect the hoof. The reason they cite for shoeing horses is simply because it has always been done, and the third response is that they don't know why they do it. What we do know is that the experience of lameness is not unfamiliar. As horse owners, we seem destined to endure some level of problem with our horse's hooves. It could be anything from a simple abscess to an intense injury or navicular diagnosis.
5 Hearts and the Hoof Mechanism
You may have heard it said that a horse has five hearts: four on the ground and one in the chest. This refers to the frog's blood-pumping function, circulating blood down through the extremities and back again. The frog spreads the heel apart, drawing the sole flat and inviting the bone structure of the leg to descend into the hoof. This is how shock is absorbed in the hoof capsule. If you can accept that circulation is imperative to the distribution of nutrients throughout the system, and that healthy blood flow aids in prevention and facilitates healing, it follows that limiting blood flow will lead to degeneration. If the frog cannot make ground contact and function as it should, then shock cannot be properly absorbed and blood cannot freely flow. When metal is nailed all around, and the hoof is clamped in its smallest, most contracted position, both proper blood circulation and shock absorption are impeded.
For comparison, take a metal shoe and bang it against a hard surface. You will feel the tremors vibrate up your arm. Try it. In fact, even the nails cause vibration, which will compromise the integrity and break down hoof structure. If you think that metal shoes provide protection, please consider that the outside walls of the hoof are already hard and that it is actually the softer, more vulnerable middle-sole area that needs the protection. We at Cavallo recommend that you use hoof boots to provide 100 percent overall hoof protection.
Carole Herder has been involved in horse health since 1994. She speaks publicly on the benefits of keeping horses barefoot and in their natural state. Her Company Cavallo Horse & Rider Inc. develops, manufactures and distributes horse products in 25 countries worldwide. Carole and her partner Greg Giles designed and patented both the Cavallo Simple and Sport Hoof Boots. They work rigorously to develop quality hoof boots that provide comfort and protection for both horse and rider.