Barefoot Versus Shod?

It depends...

The choice of having horses go barefoot vs. shod was a topic that was discussed in December during the annual meeting of the American Association of Equine Practitioners in San Antonio, Texas. It generated very informative dialog and many important questions.

I must say from the onset that I favor horses being maintained without shoes when possible. On the other hand, I also feel that horses can be shod in a physiologic manner so that only minimal damage to the hoof capsule will occur. The decision on which to choose depends on multiple factors.

The factors that may lead to a choice of shoeing a horse vs. allowing it to go barefoot include:

  1. The use of shoes for protection when wear of the hoof exceeds growth.
  2. The need for traction, especially in the performance horse for athletic activities.
  3. Therapeutic reasons in order to treat lameness, diseases of the hoof or to address limb conformation.

Any one or a combination of these reasons may dictate the necessity for shoes. Whether or not it is feasible for a horse to go without shoes will further depend on the owners’ expectations, the owners’ commitment to the project and the hoof care the horse receives, especially during the transition period. Much of the horse industry is involved in competitive athletic disciplines and the question arises “can this horse compete and perform at a given standard without shoes?”

Foot Wear Vs. Growth

The first point to consider is an evaluation of growth vs. wear. The…

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Stephen O’Grady

Dr. Steve O’Grady is a veterinarian and a farrier. He operates Virginia Therapeutic Farriery in Keswick, Va., which is a referral practice devoted to equine podiatry and therapeutic farriery You can read informative papers by him at He is a member of the International Equine Veterinarians Hall Of Fame and the American Farriers Journal Editorial Advisory Board.

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