Dear Jessica, I haven't been able to get a good answer from anyone else about this, but you probably have one. I hope so! I have a gelding that is just wonderful, and now he is seventeen and a little bit "off" sometimes in his movement. He's not really lame, my vet says that he's just not moving like he used to, but that's normal for a horse of his age. But here is my problem. My vet and farrier both say that the farrier can help my horse with some shoes that have little pads to balance him out in front. But I've always believed that a horse should go barefoot or else with just plain flat shoes, and I don't approve of trying to change a horse's gait by putting shoes and pads on it. But I trust my vet and farrier, too. So I'm confused. I just want to do what's right for my horse, and I don't want to go against my beliefs, so what should I do? Isn't it "giving in to fashion" if I let them put shoes and pads on my horse? I know that you used to compete on barefoot horses, so I know you will know what I'm talking about.
Please help me.
First, I think you need to make a distinction between shoeing to make a horse move in a way that distorts his natural way of going, and shoeing to try to RESTORE a horse's balance and natural way of going. These are two very different matters. I agree with you that it's wrong to shoe and pad in an effort to change a horse's gait; the horse always pays the price for this sort of thing. But your horse is seventeen, and he was sound for years, moving well and normally. Now that he is older and has (no doubt) a few comfort and/or soundness issues -- tight, tense muscles, scar tissue from previous injuries, etc. -- it's up to you to do everything you can to keep him as fit and supple as possible. This may include shoeing those front feet, and possibly even using pads, shims, or wedges to help the horse retrieve the balance and comfort he had when he was younger. If your horse is "off", and the vet and farrier believe that they can help, why not allow them to try? Ask them exactly what they hope to achieve, and how they will go about it. I think you'll be reassured when you find that they simply want to make your gelding as comfortable and sound as possible, so that he (and you) can go on enjoying life.
If you're still dubious, you might begin by asking your vet whether he thinks that some chiropractic work and/or some massage might help the horse, and whether he can recommend someone in your area. If the horse is moving unevenly because of tension in one leg or shoulder or in one part of his back, this may help.
Shoes aren't permanent fixtures. Since your vet and farrier are suggesting shoes and pads on the FRONT feet only, your horse could remain barefoot behind, and thus still be safely turned out with others. Therapeutic shoeing, turnout, light riding, and tack that fits (check the saddle fit -- as horses age, their backs tend to drop) can make an enormous difference to an older, slightly "off" horse. And one more thing: seventeen is not THAT old. Work with your vet and farrier on this, and explore your options, so that, with any luck, you'll be riding this horse for another ten years, with both of you enjoying every minute of the time.
Oh, and I have competed on barefoot horses, yes -- but those horses were on a limited competition schedule, were 100% sound, and had feet like iron. If they had needed some help, I wouldn't have hesitated to have them shod along with the other horses. ;-)
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