Results from a recent poll conducted by The Horse magazine indicate over two-thirds of 1,190 surveyed owners leave their horses barefoot during the winter months. This includes 17% of owners that pull their horses’ shoes in the winter, along with 56% of the owners who claimed they keep their horses barefoot all year long.

The results from the horse owner poll indicate that:

  • 11% said their farrier applies extra traction to the shoes for snowy or icy conditions.
  • 17% indicate their horses stay shod during the winter.
  • 17% of the owners pull their horses’ shoes during the winter.
  • 56% of the owners indicated their horses are left barefoot year-around.

In my mind, one of the flaws in the owner poll in regard to winter footcare is that there were likely a larger number of responses from barefoot advocates that overpowered the data. However, the horse owner results did give me a chance to compare this data with what farriers indicate is going on in their areas of the country.

Analyzing the data from our latest Farrier Business Practices survey on both a national and regional basis and for full-time vs. part-time farriers, there were significant differences between the two polls. A major difference is that farriers estimated only 26% of the horses are left barefoot year-round while the horse owner survey placed the barefoot number at 56% of the equine population.

In the American Farriers Journal poll, farriers were asked to estimate the number of horses that fell into four categories. (They were asked to not estimate just the horses they work with, but all horses in their particular area of the country.)

The results from full-time farriers indicated:

  • 36% of horses are trimmed and shod year-round, which is 14% higher than the data gathered in the horse owner survey.
  • 28% of horses were trimmed and shod during most of the year, but left barefoot during the winter months.
  • 26% of horses in the area were only trimmed and left without shoes.
  • 10% of horses in the area were not trimmed.

Full-Time Vs. Part-Time Differences

Among part-time farriers, the big difference was in the percentage of horses trimmed and shod year-round. This dropped to 29% compared to 36% for full-time shoers. Among part-timers, there was a 3% increase in the number of horses left barefoot throughout the winter months and also in the number of horses that only received trims during the year.

Regional Differences, Too

As you might expect from evaluating the farrier data on a regional basis, the weather plays a key role in winter footcare. Some 38% of the horses were trimmed and shod all yearlong in the warmer Southeast, Southwest and Far West regions where snow and ice are not concerns and where owners can ride every month of the year.

However, there were two exceptions to the “no snow, no ice rule.” Some 39% of the owners in the Northeast area trim and shoe their horses all 12 months of the year. In the West region, where horses are used extensively for ranch work, 40% of the owners kept their horses trimmed and shod during the winter months.

Yet the drawback to the data gathered in both surveys, especially the one among horse owners where barefoot advocates seemed to dominate the participants, is that the national information is too broad to draw any significant conclusions in regard to winter hoof-care activities. While the data is much more accurate on a regional basis as was the case with the farrier survey, the conclusions are still pretty broad.