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Should I shoe my horse?

From: Mary

Hi Jessica, I read you all the time so I know i'll get the right answer.I am a older adult beginner and I am confused about horse shoes.

My horses will be used for trail riding so do I put shoes on them? If so, do I shoe the front or the back or all four? One horse is a kentucky mountain and the other is Thoroughbred. Could you suggest what kind of shoes?

Thank you,

Mary Finch


Hi Mary! Congratulations on starting riding. Horse shoes are a very individual matter, whether you use them and what sort of shoes you use will depend on your horses, the quality and type of their hooves, the sort of terrain you ride over, and the amount and type of riding you do.

If your horses have good-quality hooves and your farrier can keep them trimmed and balanced, you may not need to use any shoes at all, especially if you are riding for only an hour or two a day, on grass and dirt. If your horses have soft or shelly hooves that tend to crack and break easily, and if you ride them each for several hours a day over hard road and rocky terrain, they may need shoes. If you ride so hard and for so long, so often, that the horses' hooves wear down faster than they grow out, you will eventually need to put shoes on your horses.

If you have horses with good feet and are doing light trail-riding, as many people do, you may be able to get by for many, many years with no shoes most of the time, and the occasional use of front shoes if the season has been particularly dry and the ground is much harder than usual and puts more wear on the horses' hooves.

If you already have a good farrier, talk to him. If you don't have one, ask your veterinarian to recommend one, and then call, make an appointment for your horses, and have a talk about their feet and the kind of riding you'll be doing. Good farriers have more work than they can handle, and a good farrier won't ever suggest shoes for a horse that doesn't actually need them. If a good farrier does suggest putting shoes on a barefoot horse, he'll have a good reason and he'll be willing to explain it to you.

Generally speaking, the longer your horses can go barefoot, the better. Barefoot horses tend to have better circulation in their feet, and they don't suffer from the contracted heels that afflict so many horses that are shod year-round. Barefoot horses also have good natural traction on all sorts of footing. There are other advantages, too. Horses, especially those new to an area or those carrying beginner riders, can occasionally stumble on trails and strike into their own legs, or tread on their own front heels, and a horse that does this barefoot will cause less damage than a shod horse. Similarly, a horse that is barefoot or shod only in front can be turned out with others, whereas most horse owners and barn managers will avoid turning out a horse with others if that horse is shod all around. Horses in turnout can crowd one another and scuffle, especially at mealtimes or if the turnout area is small, and the potential for serious damage is infinitely greater when shoes are involved.

As for what sort of shoe your horses would need if they needed shoes - that will be something for your farrier to determine. You'll have plenty of time to discuss the matter, because summer is coming. Even if your horses have been on a typical winter farrier schedule with eight-week intervals between trims, hooves grow more quickly in summer, and you will need to have the farrier come out every five or six weeks to trim your horses' feet. He'll be able to observe their quality and your horses' movement, and the two of you can decide whether, when, and how to shoe your horses.

Sometimes shoes are necessary for a horse's health, comfort and security. If you can keep your horses barefoot, sound, happy, and comfortable, that's wonderful, but don't hesitate to have them shod if and when the time comes that they need shoes. What matters is to give your horses what they need. If you have them shod when they don't need shoes, just because someone said "horses need horseshoes", that's silly. If you keep them barefoot when they would be better off with shoes, just because someone else said "barefoot is natural and natural is better", that's silly too. Every horse is different and every situation is different. Sometimes people in your situation are offered advice that doesn't help, because it applies to other horses in other situations - for example, if a horse lives in a stall and works in arenas with soft footing, that horse's shoeing needs will be very different from those of a horse that lives outdoors and is ridden daily, at speed, over hard, rocky ground. The advice that would be perfect for the first horse might be terrible for the second horse, and vice versa. Context matters! Your own farrier can help you find the right answer to your horses' unique needs and situation.

Have fun on the trails. ;-)

Jessica

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