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Shod vs unshod?

From: Simone & Michael Hanks

Dear Jessica

Is it OK to keep your horses shod all year round, or is it better to give them a break from shoes at some time during the year? I live on the east coast of Australia where the weather is great all the time and we ride summer, winter, whenever can and the horses don't get much of a spell. We mainly go trail -riding and as the terrain where we ride can get a bit rough, my two horses are kept shod all the time. I dress the horses hooves daily to keep them in good condition as well as give a vitamin/mineral supplement with their feed. Should we keep having fun regardless, or for the sake of the horses hooves, should we slow down and take the shoes off every now and again?


PS Thanks for the horse-sense pages - they are an invaluable source of information and you do a fantastic job!

Hi Simone -- thanks for the kind words about horse-sense!

There are two people who will be better able to give you good advice about the specifics of your horses, their feet, and their situation: your farrier and your veterinarian.

There are excellent health reasons to take horses' shoes off for a few months out of the year. For one thing, it gives the horses' hooves a chance to expand. Shoes restrict hoof expansion, and perpetually-shod hooves often tend to become more narrow over time, with narrower heels. Farriers will tell you that horses that wear shoes year-round often need smaller and smaller shoes as the years go by.

Removing the shoes and letting the horse move around as nature intended for a few months will allow the heels to spread and the hooves to expand. If your horse's hooves are not precisely the best quality, you may also welcome (or your farrier may welcome!) the fact that time off will also give nail-holes a chance to grow out.

In many climates, there's an obvious time to do this -- but since you poor unfortunate people live in an ideal climate and can ride out on trails year-round.... I'm going to have to include the east coast when I come out to do clinics, I can tell! But I digress...

My advice is that you talk with your farrier and your veterinarian about this. They know your horses, the shoeing situation, and the climate and terrain -- they'll be able to tell you whether your horses' feet are contracting and need "time off" without shoes. They'll also be able to tell you if your horses are just fine, and their feet are wonderful, and you can carry on trail-riding without another thought.

You seem to be taking wonderful care of your horses, and you're certainly thinking of everything, and it's entirely possible that your horses have good feet, good hooves, and a good farrier, and don't need to have anything changed at all. Since this too is a possibility, why not ask the experts?

And then, if you have a moment, let me know what they tell you! ;-)


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