The question asked of hoof-care professionals in last week’s American Farriers Journal e-newsletter dealt with the factors that need to be considered by owners before considering a transformation between barefoot and shod. More than a dozen readers have provided thought-provoking ideas that filled nearly four electronic pages. Click here to view these comments.

A Word Of Warning...

While I’m about to write a few more paragraphs about barefoot vs. shod in this column, the above paragraph is the extent of the serious thinking I’ll be covering with this topic. That’s because the remainder of this column (and the above headline) takes a not-so-serious look at the barefoot vs. shod issue among human runners.

It started a few weeks ago when an article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) caught my eye. The story dealt with health-club members who were irritated by barefoot runners with sweaty and smelly feet sharing their treadmills.

While the WSJ article was informational and entertaining, it made me realize the barefoot vs. shoe controversy apparently extends beyond the equine world.

The article pointed out that proponents of barefoot running encourages landing on the midfoot or forefoot instead of the heel, which they believe lowers the chance of getting hurt. Yet barefoot runners say they’re facing an uphill battle when it comes to taking their hobby indoors during the winter months since most fitness chains ban shoeless exercise.

Even with the practice being controversial, medical experts cited by WSJ reporter Anjali Athavely maintain the benefit of a midfoot or forefoot strike can still be achieved while wearing shoes. While an orthopedic surgeon pointed out that you can’t argue with folks who are going barefoot, feel good and are staying healthy, he says it’s definitely not for everyone — just like with horses. And he maintains that quickly transitioning from sneakers to running shoeless can lead to stress fractures.

Most health clubs don’t allow members to run barefoot on a treadmill, go barefoot while working out on other machines or tackling floor exercises due to health, odor, safety and liability reasons. As one health cub manager points out, someone who drops a 45-pound weight on a shoeless foot is going to see the toe explode!

Shoeless runners also risk getting athlete’s foot, plantar wars, small foot abrasions that make it easier for infections to spread, numbed toes or blisters caused by a treadmill buildup of heat and friction.

A few folks in the barefoot running camp have gone so far as to call it a civil-rights issue. They cite a lack of research indicating that wearing shoes is healthier than going barefoot.

Maybe one answer for shoeless runners in the winter would be to wear boots, something most probably haven’t considered. Boots could provide winter weather protection, and also reduce the complaints about sweaty, smelly feet at the gym.

And Another Thing...

I’ve seen numerous barefoot horses in my years of covering the equine hoof-care industry. Yet I’ve yet to see a working farrier without shoes on his or her own feet.