The Barefoot Question

Whether this will work for your horse or not depends on the details

growing number of horses today are staying barefoot. Some are ridden with hoof boots, but many are ridden barefoot and can withstand the stresses we used to think could only be handled with shoes.

Not all horses can go barefoot, however. To know whether your horse is a good candidate, you need to consider several factors. These include weather and climate (moist conditions make feet softer while a dry climate makes them harder), footing issues (whether the horse lives on soft footing or a rocky pasture), use of the horse and its individual foot strength.

Barefoot Lifestyle

To keep equine feet “natural” (healthy and strong while barefoot), environment and lifestyle must also be kept more natural. The barefoot life won’t work for a horse that lives in a stall or small pen, soft grassy pasture or wet conditions. This is especially true if you then ride your horse on gravel roads or rocky terrain. The horse will quickly become tender-footed or go lame from stone bruising.

To be ridden without shoes, the horse’s feet must toughen up by living in the same terrain you ride in. If it’s in a dry climate in a big rocky pasture, it’ll tend to have hard, strong feet. If it’s in a soft, wet pasture or a wet climate, its hooves will be soft and wear away quickly if ridden on rocky ground.

Feral horses gathered from public lands in the arid West can handle average riding stresses without shoes. But if you…

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Heather Smith Thomas

Heather Smith Thomas is a freelance writer based in Salmon, Idaho. She has been writing books and articles for nearly 50 years.

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