To Shoe or Not to Shoe: Part 3

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I’ve shared this photo a few times now. Do you think Salty’s foot is healthy? Why or Why Not? Salty is carriage horse. What protective factors do you think his owner considered when making the decision to shoe?

In this seven part series I sat down with one of this country’s leading farriers to tackle the age old debate of shoeing your horse verses leaving him or her barefoot. The series is both controversial and enlightening and in the end, my goal is to provide information on both sides of the fence so that you may make an informed decision about your horse’s shoeing needs.

In the previous two installments, To Shoe or Not to Shoe: Part 1 and To Shoe or Not to Shoe: Part 2 I introduced the series and provided some initial shoeing factors. In this week’s post, I’ll be covering what makes up a healthy hoof and options to protect it.

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Part 3 (The Healthy Hoof & Options to Protect It): Davis describes the ideal healthy hoof as having a shine to it and being free from cracks and splits. It will have a tight white line. The frog will be full and free of pockets and flaps that house bacteria. It will have a shallow central sulcus, an area located in the center of the frog. The toe length and angle of the hoof will be proportionate to heel length and angle. The sole will have a concavity to it and will be firm, not necessarily moveable to a person’s thumbs.” He continues, “I examine the horse’s hooves with a client to make sure that they meet these criteria and take all of these points into consideration from the outset to help insure that the correct decision is reached.”

“Many owners come to me concerned about long term damage to the hoof caused by shoes but the hoof is only compromised from where the nail exits the hoof to the ground and that will grow out,” Davis explains. Any damage incurred is minimal and temporary. He adds, “Sometimes owners who have had shoes pulled from their horses during the off season will notice chipping but this is most usually only short term. If shoes have been correctly applied they are low trauma. They do not cause the horse’s feet to become contracted. They do not restrict blood flow. They are not painful and in most cases, are very helpful to the horse.”

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Horse owners today have an ever-growing number of options to consider should they decide to forego the more traditional route but still wish to provide a level of protection to their horse’s feet. Among those options are boots and glue on shoes and both can be great alternatives depending upon what goals the horse owner wishes to achieve. Davis cites the following advantages of boots: “following a somewhat large initial expense, they become cheaper in the long run. They can be used only when extra protection is needed, and they are easily replaced if lost while riding down the trail.”

He adds, “on the other hand, boots must be maintained or cleaned after each use or the dirt that accumulates will facilitate decay. Boots must also be removed and reapplied before and after each ride, a time issue for some riders. I have also had clients complain that their horse’s boots fill with water and rocks at creek crossings which can be an inconvenience when you must stop and clean them out before continuing your ride.”

Glue on shoes are another alternative to traditional shoes or boots. Davis says he likes that glue on shoes are less likely to be lost and states that some clients prefer them because there are no nail holes but adds, “the acrylics used to adhere the glue on shoes can, over time, bring about deterioration of the hoof. There is also a higher cost involved with applying them and if a consumer loses them while out on the trail there is no hope of replacing them in that particular setting as there might be with traditional shoes or boots.”

In next week’s post, the real controversy begins when I cover pasture vs. barefoot trims. I’ll follow that with reasons to shoe, selecting and keeping a quality farrier, and finish the series with optimal hoof care.

About the expert: Jeremy Davis has been a professional farrier for nineteen years. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier with the American Farriers Association and is a Diplomat with the Worshipful Company of Farriers. He is currently the Farrier in Residence at The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

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