I’ve been lucky enough to own a horse, going on 4 years now, who has rock hard hooves that are as close to perfect for her size and stature as you can get. Because of that and due to some great farriers over the years who’ve taken good care of my mare’s tootsies, she’s been barefoot her entire 11-year life without any issues.
But owning a barefoot horse hasn’t always been easy for me. Constantly hearing things like “Oh you’re jumping? She needs shoes if you’re going to jump!”, “You really shouldn’t have a horse that you’re riding consistently barefoot” and “She’d do X, Y, and Z better if she had some shoes on her feet!” has been frustrating to say the least. Especially when it comes from friends, which it has occasionally in the past. I know they meant well, but to me it was almost like they were questioning my concern and commitment to my horse’s well-being.
I always said (to anyone who would comment about it) that I’ve had a number of farriers looking at her hooves year after year (not “natural trimmers” either, farriers that do many more shoe resets than barefoot trims!) and they’ve always told me she doesn’t need shoes. So why would I pay extra (bless those $30 trims!) and nail holes into her hooves (opening her up for other issues like abscesses) when it was not necessary? She was never lame, always moved out and tracked up well, jumped well, wasn’t sore. How many more reasons did they want from me? Bottom line to me was “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Now, one thing I always promised myself and my horse was that I would keep an open mind…if a farrier EVER suggested that she might need shoes, I would gladly open up my pocket book, slap my $70 down, and get those puppies nailed on! But it hadn’t happened yet…until now.
This summer has been one of the driest and hottest on record for my area… here in northeast Ohio, where it’s somewhat rocky anyway and most horses are shod, except those with the toughest rock-solid feet, there’s a lot of cracking and chipping going on in the world of horsey tootsies. My mare with her usually impenetrable feet was not immune to it either…the dry pastures, coupled with the new barn I have her at with the all-limestone arena footing all started to wear away my girl’s super sneakers. She would go 7 weeks between trims and still have nothing to trim off at the 7-week mark, her hooves had more chips than a bag of Doritos. Luckily she still wasn’t lame, but she had begun to shorten her strides, not track up how she used to, fall on the forehand, and was just generally not moving like the ground-covering girl I used to know.
I talked to the farrier and we decided that in order to avoid any potential foot soreness or lameness in the near future, we should probably be proactive and get some front shoes put on her. I immediately agreed. After all, I’m a woman of my word and I always said that if the situation necessitated it, she would have her ruby slippers!
Now it might just be my imagination, but my mare seems to be back to her normal self again… tracking up and moving out more easily and confidently and sitting back again on her haunches. In my paranoid mind, I thought that perhaps the weight of the shoes would take longer for her to get used to and that she’d start knocking poles in the ring, but I was wrong… we popped over a little 2’0” vertical the first day I rode her after getting the shoes and she jumped it very nicely in fact! Overall, I feel like I did right by my girl and made the appropriate decision for us.
I still fully believe that there are horses out there, no matter the sport, who can do it and do it well barefoot. I think that a lot of riders out there are too quick to slap shoes on their horses without a thought about it, making blanket statements to everyone else like “all horses who jump need shoes”. I can tell you my mare is living proof that is not the case. She and I evented for 3 years and she was barefoot the whole time… never once taking a lame step, never slipping or losing traction. And word from the farrier is that as soon as this drought is over, we could likely pull them and she could happily go back to barefoot anytime with a short adjustment window.
But who knows…maybe we will and maybe we won’t, all I know is that when you listen to your horse, he or she will tell you what to do. Mine told me it was time for a change, that she needed a little extra help right now. In the future, she may tell me she wants to be naked again, who knows. All I know is that her health and well-being are top priority for me, and they always have been.
I realize not everyone will understand the decisions I make, but I’ve known my horse longer than they have, and I know how she feels and why she does what she does. Advice is appreciated, but normally only when solicited.
If everyone listened to their horse the way I listen to mine, and the way several friends of mine listen to theirs, no one would have to question anyone else’s judgment because like our horses, it would always be sound.