This seems to be an ongoing debate in the horse world and we often hear that there are no easy answers. We couldn’t disagree more. There is an easy answer.. it’s do whatever is best for your horse.
We operate from the keep it simple standard, because the simplest solution is the easiest one to implement and maintain. Let’s apply this concept to barefoot horses first. A sound barefoot horse is ideal because it is the easiest to implement (needs only to be trimmed and given basic hoof care) and the easiest to maintain (maintenance trim every 5-6 weeks). Many horses are perfectly sound barefoot and work hard, in fact, we trim quite a few barefoot school horses that teach multiple lessons a day and even take students to horse shows. There are barefoot dressage and event horses on our books as well as trail horses and young horses in training. Barefoot is often the preferred correction mode when dealing with hoof pathologies as it allows for more frequent trims which can restore a hoof to balance as quickly as possible. Contracted heels are a good example of a problem often best addressed barefoot.
Next would be plain front shoes on a balanced trim. This is a simple setup that is one step up from barefoot, and would be applied when horse has, for example, thin soles and we want to see if he responds positively to having shoes on. Having said that, thin soles are not fixed by shoeing and a plan to address growing a thicker sole would have to be in place. We might also add back shoes for traction under less than ideal riding conditions.
After this any shoeing package is therapeutic and it becomes very important to understand why we are shoeing the horse in order to do it correctly and successfully. We are always going to strive to keep any shoeing package as simple as possible as stated above. It is the mechanics of the trim and shoe placement that provide the majority of support for healing.
If your horse requires a therapeutic shoeing package we will be working towards simplifying that as your horse heals and becomes sound. For example, there are many specialty shoes out there, such as Natural Balance, that were designed to be used as a corrective for one or two cycles. After that you return to a simpler shoe.
It is important to note that a horse that is not sound without shoes is not a truly sound horse. Ideally we only apply shoes to a horse when he cannot do his job without them.. but we do a tremendous amount of corrective or therapeutic shoeing and feel it’s important to point out that this should be a temporary measure, while the hoof is changing and healing. Some horses will only be sound in a therapeutic set-up and if that’s the case, it’s important to understand why so that the situation can be monitored for further deterioration and/or maintenance. See our section on Managing Shod Horses for more information.