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TO SHOE OR NOT TO SHOE

The horse we have today arose in about 7000 BC, and domesticated about 4000 BC. The horses were bred and ridden without shoes until medieval times, when people started confining horses to stalls. The hooves started getting bad from an unnatural environment, so horseshoes were invented for hoof protection. Glenn R. Vernam says in his book "Man On Horseback", "The shoeing of horses is a very old art, yet it was essentially a practice of civilized nations. The ancient nomads rode unshod horses for the most part because the half-wild horses of the Asian deserts seldom needed shoes. Horses born and raised in any open country, and allowed to run at will over the dry, rocky terrain of mountains and deserts, develop a hardness of hoof that requires little attention. So it was with the animals that spread south and west out of Turkestan and the steeps. Most of the ancient writers specially mentioned the greater durability found in the feet of those Eastern breeds. It was only after civilized man began confining his mounts to stables and soft pasturelands that foot protection became generally necessary." Shoeing became fashionable and then profitable, so people do not want you to know that shoeing and an unnatural environment is the major cause of hoof lameness in horses all over the world.

Many hoof related lameness can be cured by letting the horse revert to a more natural state, like removing the shoes, and placing the horse in a pasture instead of keeping him in a stall. Stalled horses cannot move around enough to restore the necessary circulation of the hoof. Here are some examples of the kinds of things some people have to say about shoes and the damage they cause. James R. Rooney D.V.M. stated "Horse shoes and/or hard going which prevent the hoof from cutting into the surface are singularly important factors in a variety of lower leg lameness of the horse." He also stated "How do we prevent navicular disease? Let the horse wear his foot naturally barefoot, and then trim him the way he wears. The horse wears his foot the way he does because that is what is mechanically and biologically correct for him. Your eye and ideas are not nearly as good as natures."


Ben K. Green, D.V.M. in his book "Horse Conformation as to Soundness and Performance" stated, "Many lameness have been cured by old horsemen simply by removing the shoes and turning the horse out to pasture on soft ground. In severe cases, even sand is better since at every step the horse puts pressure on the frog and the bars and forces the heels of the foot outward, all of this restores the natural circulation and general conformation of the hoof."


A well-known farrier, Don Baskins stated in his book, "Well Shod", "Most horses are better off if they can be left barefooted, rather than shod, especially if they are shod with ill fitting shoes that stress their feet needlessly." He also stated the "A horse who has foundered is better off going barefooted if possible a year without shoes but with regular trimming will allow the horse to wear his feet more naturally."


According to studies done all horses should have the shoes removed and they will grow a hoof that can support them and a rider all year long. Did you know that a horse shoe vibrates at about 800 Hz frequencies? Effects of such exposure include circulation problems, nerve problems, and other damage to living tissue, in addition each nail that is set into the hoof also vibrates at that frequency causing further damage. Jack Coggins wrote in the "Horseman's Bible", "The horses' hoof is equipped by nature with a hard horny box or hoof. It is possible that in the wild state a process of natural selection weeded out those animals with weak feet, it is also true that wild horses could in most cases pick the ground on which they grazed or traveled. Whatever the reason, for domestic uses it has been found necessary in the majority of cases to further protect this hoof with iron shoes. This is unfortunate as even the best designed and best fitted shoes damage the structure of the foot to some extent. Each nail driven into the hoof wall destroys the tubular horn fibers and weaken the very part which has to bear the greatest weight." Also shoeing impairs the natural hoof mechanism and circulatory pump of the hoof, and also causes the hoof to become contracted, because the shock absorption system cannot function properly. All horses who have been shod have a poor hoof all compared to horses that have not been shod. It is not a matter of who shoes the horse, but rather a matter of the damage caused by shoeing, and unnatural living conditions for a horse. Studies have been conducted on this since the early 1800's and one Veterinarian in particular Bracey Clark published several works on the subject of hoof damage caused by shoeing, and the history of shoeing itself. His experiments included monitoring the shape and health of several horses' hooves before and after shoeing for several years. Other people who either studied, or wrote about barefooted performance horses include, Xenophon in " The Art of Horsemanship" Written about 400BC and he noted that the military and cavalry horses of the time did perform their duties well without shoes, covering great distances with riders, or heavy packs. For more recent studies you can check out the newest version of J. R. Rooney's (D.V.M.) book The Lame Horse. In this book he advocates a "natural foot" and barefootedness for horses. Another Veterinarian Hiltrud Strasser has also been conducting research on the damages caused by horseshoes and the ways of correcting these problems which include removal of the source of the problem and a new way of dealing with lame horses by keeping them in a more natural environment, etc. Horses can and do perform well without shoes, for example the Lipizaners at the Spanish riding school are all barefooted.


James R. Rooney D.V.M. in "The Lame Horse" states, "Why in heavens name set standards of performance, standards of excellence that require horrendous feet, thick pads, warhorse shoes and mutilated tails? Natural is beautiful too!"


A horses natural environment does not include standing in a stall or small pen 24 hours a day. The horse was made to travel and cover a lot of ground every day. This movement along with shoeless hooves is a recipe for strong healthy hooves. I was looking through several magazines recently, horses in Mongolia in the National Geographic are pictured being ridden barefooted. These domestic horses live in herd environments and are allowed the freedom of movement that helps produce healthy feet. My boyfriend was stationed in Bahrain off the coast of Saudi Arabia for a while and had a chance to go horseback riding there. The horses at the stable he rode at were all barefooted, and all sound!


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