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Endurance horses and shoes

From: Christina

Hi Jessica,

I have a question and it's a rather simple but answered one that me and my fellow endurance riders have been debating about some time and we have not found a single answer to this that has resolved our debate!

I do endurance riding and have spanish and kiger mustangs. I never shoe my horses, if I get one that has shoes the first thing I do is take them off. And I have to say all of my horses, 2 of which are quarter horses, have EXCELLENT feet! The farriers love them! They are nice and hard and very durable. However, in the endurance realm there is the repeating theory that you have to shoe your horses for really long distance trail riding because it is too much impact on there feet. I have never had any problems but if I am being "cruel" do you have any suggestions on a good shoe for endurance horses- many endurance riding books, endorse synthetic shoes or egg bar shoes.

Or is this all conjecture and bare foot for long distance is ok? We do use Boa boots also if we feel the terrain is deserving of extra protection. I just hate to shoe when their feet look great! How would it affect them if we only shod their feet for the actual competitive event and then immediately took them off? Any advice would be great! There just isn't any good explanation out there on this issue for the LONG distance horse and you always give such thorough advice- We would really appreciate the help!

Thanks so much for your time and all your help!


Hi Christina! I've always believed that barefoot ought to be the default state for a horse, and that shoes should be used only appropriately - that is, when they are actually needed. Every good farrier and vet I know agrees that horses ought not to be shod just so that they can wear shoes, and that similarly horses ought not to be kept barefoot only because the owner believes that "barefoot is best." Barefoot is best until the horse needs additional traction, protection, or treatment. At that point, the horse's owner should work with the vet and farrier to determine what will best meet this individual horse's needs - and that may mean shoes, or some sort of boots.

As long as a horse is comfortable and moving easily over the terrain his rider asks him to traverse, I'd say that shoes are unncessary. If the horse is working so hard and over so much distance that his hooves begin to wear down at a rate faster than their rate of growth, he'll eventually wear off so much hoof that he will become sore, and at that point, he'll need something to protect his feet. Whether that "something" is a set of shoes, a pair of shoes, a set of boots, or a pair of boots, will depend on the good judgement of the horse's rider, vet, and farrier.

Much depends on the genetics and the hoof quality that a horse was blessed with in the first place - a a horse can't grow a better hoof than it is genetically programmed to grow. That said, though, I've seen many horses with hooves that have been greatly improved through good nutrition, turnout, exercise, and regular, appropriate hoofcare, which would indicate to me that the improvements in the horses' environments, nutrition, etc. allowed their hoof quality to approach the level that it COULD have been all along, had circumstances been different.

I'm not an endurance rider myself, but I've worked with endurance riders and their horses, and I admire them tremendously - both the horses and their riders tend to have a great deal of positive energy, the horses are lovely forward movers, and the riders are constantly and actively concerned with their horses' welfare.

I wish I could give you a long, detailed explanation of how and whether to keep endurance horses barefoot, booted, or shod, but I can't. I just don't know enough about it. But I CAN direct you to someone who IS an expert with years of experience. Since you're an endurance rider, I'm sure you must be familiar with the name of Darolyn Butler-Dial. She has had great success with MANY barefoot endurance horses over many, many miles. I believe that she keeps her horses outdoors, does frequent barefoot trims, and fully understands the importance of the rider, vet, and farrier all working as a team to keep the horses healthy and performing well. I'll bet that if you type her name into any search engine, you'll be able to find contact information for her.

It seems to me that Butler-Dial would be the ideal person for you to ask about this, as she has a great deal of experience with barefoot AND booted horses on 100-miles rides. Meanwhile, I can't speak for her, of course, but I can tell you that my own preference for other activities (I don't do 100-mile rides!) would be, on principle, barefoot as a default state, good management and frequent trims to keep the horses' hooves balanced, and the properly-sized and fitted boots of your choice for those times when the horse needs more than its own four hooves.


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