I own three wonderful horses...Jazz, the Hanoverian dressage horse and the star of Behind the Mist and Mists of Darkness, Kit the thoroughbred and star of my Riding Colorado trail guide books, and Party Hardy, my pony jumper that makes a brief appearance in Mists of Darkness as a race horse. I have had all three horses since they were young and just saddle and bridle broken. Kit is now 23 years old and I have had him since he was 6. Hardy is now 18 and I have had him since he was 2 and 1/2. Jazz is now 12 and I purchased him when he was 4. All three get lots of work.
My riding friends and I are always discussing the pros and cons of shoeing. After years of horse ownership, I have come to one conclusion regarding shoeing: IT DEPENDS UPON THE HORSE, WHAT YOU ARE DOING WITH HIM AND WHERE YOU ARE DOING IT!
So, no, there is not one easy, peasy answer for everyone and every horse. Horses in the wild are never shod. However, this is not always a good deal for them. Some horses have lost their lives by becoming crippled from hooves that have grown too long, or become lame from stone bruises and abscesses. If any of you have seen a horse or donkey whose hooves have grown into a long curl, you know how heart breaking that is. That being said, mustangs, in particular, seem to have evolved into a breed with very strong, slow growing hooves. They seem to do well...yet, they too, do not live as long in the wild as a well-cared-for domestic horse due to a variety of reason.
When you consider whether to keep your horse shod or not, you have many variables to consider as I listed above. If you horse is always on sand, soft dirt, you probably won't need them. In fact, the sand tends to work like an Emory board and file the hooves. If you live in Colorado and want to ride on the mountain trails that I write about in my trail guide books, Riding Colorado and Riding Colorado II, you will definitely need some sort of hoof protection whether shoes or boots such as EZ boots. You can click on the name to see my friend, Carol Crisp, testing out the EZ boots on the Colorado Trail.
The footing is one factor. Another factor is the health and strength of your horse's hooves. Some horses have very strong feet and souls. Unfortunately, others do not. I have one pony that has great feet but he is also a whimp. When I take him on even a pepply (I just made up that word!) trail, he is always searching for a softer route. This sometimes causes my knees to get bumped against trees!
How you are using your horse makes a difference as well. A horse that rarely leaves the arena (assuming the surface is not so sandy that it rubs off too much hoof) probably won't need shoes. If you just ride on soft, grass covered rolling hills and don't need the extra grip that a calkin or wedge on the heel of a shoe would provide (hunter use these) then you can probably go barefoot.
Kit, my main trail horse, is shod. His front shoes have a 3 degree wedge pad to help tilt the coffin bone enough to prevent further navicular (click on that to learn more about navicular.) The back feet are shod in the summer when I am up in very Rocky Mountains. (They get their name for some reason you know!)
Jazz is never shod. I usually ride him in the arena and only take him on a trail when I know the footing is good.
Hardy is also never shod. I jump him a lot but he doesn't have problems slipping. When I take him to the mountains, I have EZ boots for him.
So how do you decide? The way I see it, there are three people who need to make this decision: You, Your Horse (yes, a "people") and your farrier. If you are having problems without shoes...try shoes. If you are having problems with shoes, try without. Or, perhaps shoes part of the year, barefoot part of the year.
So, I hope something I wrote will be helpful even if I didn't give you any definitive answer. Keep your horse happy and healthy!
Send me the story of your noble and great horse. I also like pictures! Send it to: email@example.com
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