Today's world has brought along with it many
enlightened methods for horse handling and training. Most of the new techniques
are based on ancient horse craft and natural tendencies of the horse. Along with
this drive to lighten up on the methods of training is a trend to do the "natural"
thing with horses in all manner of application.
One of these new
status symbolized methods is that of riding a horse unshod. The argument most
heard is that in the wild horses go unshod and remain sound. Well,
In the wild the horses running feral are the result
of centuries of natural culling. Any horse with poor feet would not be able to
keep up with it's herd mates and would certainly become fodder for prowling predators.
animals would meet a poor end prematurely. Over the course of time, genetic selection
and natural culling allowed for an overall standard of excellence among the wild
horses to a point that they have very sound, hearty, and solid feet. They can
run over stone, sand, cactus or chat without feeling it. They trim naturally by
wearing the hoof off and they often resort to digging for water or food with hooves
without ruining them.
This all sounds very good as well it should.
But how does that equate to the average domestic horse and the applications their
feet are required to endure?
To begin with, today's domesticated
horse, at least here in America, often comes from such stock as would have been
culled by natural selection in the wild. Horses with soft or poorly formed feet
are bred every day because of some other quality they possess that the breeder
wishes to propagate.
Horses today are generally kept up in small
fenced pastures, paddocks, stalls. ... rarely getting to live
the feral type existence whereby they become hardened to the requirements for
good solid feet. In the wild horses do not stand idol for long hours at a time
in a softly bedded stall. They do not spend days on end in one small pasture where
they rarely exercise. They do not stand on soils that are devoid of rock or other
hoof hardening surfaces. Today's domesticated horses live with
interference from man in many forms and endures some form of hoof trimming which
often times is not optimum for what nature intended.
In the wild,
horses eat from natures bounty and suffer famine and glut. They eat a wide range
of forages and derive minerals from many natural sources. Domestic horses eat
a rich diet including milled products, refined substances and artificially generated
additives. Such feeds may encourage hoof growth but lack the natural content the
feral horses glean in the process of grazing varied plantlife.
many of today's domestic horses are weaker than the feral strains. Left to their
own devices in the wild many would perish in short order due to weak constitutions
and inability to adapt to the harshness of the wild.
SO, why then
are we to expect to raise horses artificially by comparison to those feral horses,
yet attempt to treat them " al la Naturale?"
It does not
make much sense.
In the wild a horse uses his feet and teeth up by
the early teens as a rule. They do not have the life expectancy of 25 or 30 years
as domestic horse is achieving. The price paid for a free and natural existence
is not all wonderful.
Horses roaming in the wild travel constantly
and keep their feet in good shape. They do not carry weight upon their back and
if they wear their feet down too quickly they become sore and lame just like any
Today, humans apparently believe that they can ride
their horses barefoot with no consequence even though the horse was not designed
to carry weight.
Is it possible to do so safely? The answer to that
.and no. Not every horse is a good candidate for barefoot riding.
Just as not all horses are good candidates for becoming a cutting horse or high
Horses with good sound feet that are the result of good nutrition
and genetic make up, may perform reasonably well in some situations provided the
terrain is not too abrasive or rugged.
Horses in wet climates where
the feet remain softer most of the year are probably not good subjects for this
form of riding.
A few years ago this argument came up between proponents
of several different gaited breeds. Breed "A" was touted as having the
"best feet in the horse world" and was proudly submitted as totally
barefoot in use. Breed "B" was presented as shod with keg shoes.
discussion became a challenge between groups. With group " A" declaring
their horses could go anywhere the group "B" horses went and remain
The test was a ride of some 25 miles over varying footing
ranging from woodland spongy turf, to coarsely crushed rock, to silty sand, to
solid rock and then to hard packed soil.
The horses of group "
A" had been ridden and conditioned for months and had not shown undue stress
or difficulty to date. The horses from group " B" had been ridden and
conditioned as well.
The day of the ride all the horses were inspected
and declared sound and fit prior to the start.
The ride began with
horses from group " A" gingerly setting pace. They traveled at a modest
rate of speed up the verge of a highway that was primarily of packed soil that
was grass covered. After a mile the trail head was reached. The approach was an
old logging road that had been coated in coarse and packed gravel.
" A" horses continued on up the trail for a period of about an hour
before they began to slow. By this time the group had reached the spongy turf
portion of the trail that is excellent footing and very nice to gait along. At
this time the horses from group "B" struck out ahead of the horses from
group " A" but those horses were still performing without apparent tenderness.
They had just slowed down.
Coming out of the deep forest the trail
once more became a portion of an old logging road that was covered in large extremely
jagged rock for a space of approximately 100 feet before returning to broken rock
and soil natural footing. After negotiating this "bridging" of rock
the group " A" horses fell farther behind those in group "B".
trail began to climb and the footing changed to solid packed dirt with occasional
outcroppings of rock. The footing was crumbly and loose under foot as the elevation
steepened. At the top of the climb was a level track of rocky soil that ran along
AT the top of the climb the horses of group "B"
had to stop and wait for the horses of group "A" to catch up. It was
apparent they were having difficulty and were working much harder than they should
have needed to.
By the time the group "B" horses caught
up they were lathered and tired looking and one was noticeably tender on it' feet.
had gone by this time only 8 miles.
The riders of group "A"
insisted their horses were tough and could continue the ride. No amount of concern
would discourage them from progressing in the ride.
Only two miles
farther along, the tender horse became downright lame. It was not able to go any
farther. A second horse had gotten sore as well and the third was so tired it
was heaving and hanging it's head.
The horses from group "B"
were fresh and only just getting warmed up to the ride.
The end result
was all the horses of group "A" had to be ponied back to the starting
point where the trailers were parked. Inspection showed multiple stone bruises,
excessive wear to the sole, bruising of the heels and lacerations of the heel
and frog. Beyond that the hooves had become chipped and shortened. The break-over
points of the hooves were worn to the white line.
What does this
tell us? That while in some applications it may well work to ride a horse barefoot,
in other conditions or situations it may be folly to attempt to do so.
is absolutely no disgrace in shoeing a horse. From the earliest of times horsemen
have realized the benefit of protecting the hooves of the horses they depended
upon. Had there never been a need to shoe a horse, then horse shoes would never
have been invented!