• Concrete Horse Barn Floors – Do Horses Need Shoes to Walk on Pavement?

  • Concrete Horse Barn FloorsThe question of whether or not a horse owner should shoe his or her horse comes up now and then and the discussion may get heated!

    Those who advocate on the barefoot side believe that many, if not most, horses will do just fine going without being shoed.  On the shod side, advocates may say that most horses can be improved by shoeing or that all horses should be trimmed regardless of their environment or occupation.

    The reality, however, is somewhere in between. Horses are as individual as people. What works for one may not work for another. Some horses have hard, strong feet. Some horses have weak, tender feet. Horses with good conformation and structurally sound hooves may do just fine all their lives with no shoes and simply being trimmed as needed. On the other hand, horses with less than ideal conformation, weak hoof structure or an involvement in equine sports will benefit from being shod.

    The Advantages of Going “Barefoot”

    • Your horse is likely to be more forward going particularly on soft surfaces.
    • Your horse is less likely to trip or stumble.
    • Your horse is likely to suffer fewer injuries or less serious injuries to the lower leg and hoof.
    • A lost shoe will not impede your riding.
    • Your horse’s paces may improve, particularly if the hoof is shorter in the toe and medial/lateral balance addressed.
    • Your horse will grow hoof faster due to improved stimulation. Many barefoot horses will replace their whole hoof capsule in under six months.
    • Your horse will benefit from improved shock absorption because the back of the hoof, digital cushion and lateral cartilages, will now be more engaged and put to work.
    • Your horse’s hooves are able to become healthier through the improvement of stimulus to the internal structures of the hoof.

    The Advantages of Shoeing

    • Shoes are easier on the rider.
    • Shoes can prevent bruising from long rides.
    • Shoes make the hoof temporarily stronger.
    • Shoes can support cracks and other hoof injuries while the natural hoof heals.
    • A horseshoe can provide your horse with good protection from any impact that may occur when they are working or walking on hard surfaces.
    • The shoe can help prevent your horse from slipping on wet ground. You can also add studs to a horseshoe to give your horse extra grip on various surfaces.

    Do Horses Need Shoes to Walk on Pavement?

    Wild horses walked and grazed continuously over a wide range of terrain that had never been plowed or paved. Their hooves were worn to a smooth, even hard state and the continual stimulation of the sole of the foot caused it to become thick.

    Now days most domesticated horses do not traverse distances to forage for feed.  They live on irrigated land, arena footing, and stall bedding, walk on asphalt or concrete roadways, and have lost some of their original strength and conformation through breeding. Without the natural conditioning that occurs in the wild, the feet of most domesticated horses grow overly long and become fragile and soft.  In addition, a diet that is not properly balanced contributes to additional foot and hoof problems.

    Domesticated horses are subject to work, stable, and management conditions that are much different from the horse’s natural habitat in the wild. In addition, horses have been bred for size, speed, and other traits, without paying attention to hoof quality and soundness. Many domestic horses have bone or musculature problems in their legs that are helped dramatically by corrective or therapeutic shoeing.

    Horses that race or participate in show and competition events are in another category. The training involved and the events themselves create stress in the hooves, legs, and joints due to concussive force. Properly designed shoes can help alleviate the stress and protect the legs and hooves.

    Here are the 5 Reasons You May Want to Shoe Your Horse

    Reason #1 Protection

    Generally speaking, if a horse’s hooves grow faster than they wear them down, a horse needs only to be trimmed. In this case shoes are likely not necessary. However, if a horse’s hooves wear faster than they grow, their feet should be protected.

    Horses that are kept in or ridden over rough ground will wear their feet quicker than a horse kept in areas with softer ground. Many endurance horses need shoes to compete in 50- and 100-mile races. Often times the shoes are worn thin after only a single race! Imagine what the feet would look like if the horse had no protection!

    Reason #2 Traction

    The need for traction on variable ground conditions can also dictate the choice between barefoot or shod. Shoes act as a traction device and provide more cup to the foot. Traction devices allow horses to hold their footing, prevent slippage, and improve overall performance in competitions such as eventing, jumping, steeplechase racing, and polo. Equestrian sports such as fox hunting that take place during winter are aided by traction devices because of their diverse weather and footing conditions. They provide safety to the horse and give the horse confidence while performing.

    Reason #3 Distributing Even Pressure

    By fitting lateral support shoes to the outside of a toed-in horse, the pressure is more evenly distributed over the limb, making the horse more comfortable. Poor hoof care can result in uneven pressure on the legs. Proper hoof care and shoeing can correct or maintain proper limb structure. Some horses have limb deviations that create a “toed in” or “toed out” effect. For these horses, weight is unevenly distributed and can cause discomfort in the joints over time similar to a pigeon-toed person whose ankles may start to hurt because of uneven weight bearing. A shoe placed under the limb’s center of gravity will help distribute pressure evenly so the horse is more comfortable.

    Reason #4 Improving Stance or Gait

    Shoes may be useful for a horse that needs help to improve its gait. This is often thought of in terms of show horses that already have very animated gaits but can be made better by the right kind of shoe. Farriers can help horses improve gait to the horse’s full potential. This does not mean intentionally making a horse sore to make the horse pick up his feet like so called “pressure shoeing” or other unethical practices. The intent of proper shoeing is to make the horse more comfortable.

    Reason #5 Treatment of Disease, Injury or Birth Defect

    Finally, shoes can be useful in cases of horses that have diseased or injured feet. A horse that has laminitis or founder will be sore in the front of the feet. The hoof wall that normally bears the weight is now painful to stand on because the laminae that connected the hoof wall to the bone is coming apart. A lot of horses with laminitis and founder decline rapidly because it becomes painful to move. Sometimes painful quarter cracks require shoeing to stabilize the hoof and allow the condition to heal.

    In some cases, the shoes may only be necessary until the horse recovers from its ailment (like a cast for a person who has broken a bone). In other cases, like navicular and severe clubfoot cases, the horse will probably need therapeutic shoes for life (similar to a person with fallen arches).

    As with all areas of horse welfare, it’s best to consult an expert.  A well-trained farrier can help owners with the decision of what is best for their horses.  Ultimately the debate regarding shoeing comes down to what is best for the comfort and safety of your horses.

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