“Farriers reconstruct a lot of racehorse feet to get them through another race, using pads, lacing, screws, bar shoes, etc., and I’ve done this, too,” says Pat Burton, the Burleson, Texas, farrier. “But experience has shown me that the most effective way to treat cracks is to regenerate the foot. It takes time and patience.”
Racetrack farriers become specialists in patching cracks to enable a horse to race. That’s part of the farrier’s job, but sometimes Burton thinks horse owners and trainers should take a longer view.
“You have an investment in a racehorse and shouldn’t risk this by running him before his shock absorbing system is healthy again,” he says. “But people want to get that horse into one more race, and may compromise his long-term ability.”
He finds that some horses come along nicely without shoes. If their feet become strong enough, he’ll leave them barefoot.
“I think we’ll see more research on this,” he says. “The more we understand the function of the foot and how nature designed it to accommodate a lot of things, the more we realize man has screwed it up by mismanagement of housing, nutrition, exercise, etc."
He says most of the horses he sees with quarter cracks were shod when the crack developed.
“I can only remember one barefoot horse that developed a quarter crack,” he says. “In many cases horses do fine without shoes. I shoe horses, but on horses I can rehabilitate and have their foot structure come back to normal without shoes, I find they stay sounder if they’re barefoot.”
Burton says there are only a few horses that can’t go without shoes — usually due to environment, work or other factors the horse is subjected to. But he cautions that it also takes management and effort to keep conditions ideal for the barefoot horse.