Shoeless and Satisfied

I must take exception to comments by Stephen E. O'Grady, DVM, MRCVS, in "Barefoot vs. Shod: An Equine Podiatrist's Perspective" online at Nails are not "toxic," but shoeing is an invasive procedure. Infection can occur when nails penetrate corium and/or white line. Perforations weaken anything, including hooves (tear along the dotted line). Nails provide a direct path into the hoof itself. How it came to be believed that a one-quarter-inch piece of iron can protect the sole from rocks that stick up one-half inch and more is beyond me and makes no sense at all.

Xenophon (431-355 B.C.) wrote the average lifespan for horses was 40-50 years; no mention of shoeing. Plutarch and Onesicritus both wrote that Bucephalas, mount of the great Alexander, was 30 years old, dying of wounds received in battle! In Das Pferd Im Alten Orient (The Horse in the Old Orient), Valentin Horn cites training of horses over 75 km per day without hoof protection.

Here is an excerpt from "Historians tell us that the nailed-on shoe first appeared ... when nobility and their horses began to live in castles. Horses for the first time were kept in small, enclosed spaces ... hooves were exposed to the harmful effects of ammonia ... experienced a dramatic reduction ... of movement ... caused prolonged periods of reduced circulation to the hooves causing decreased hoof quality and growth ... caused the horses discomfort so they were no longer able to perform, which led to the need for horseshoes." And further, "The healthy hoof compensates for the small heart of the horse ... hooves ... are auxiliary hearts ... to assist the relatively small heart. When the horse takes a step ... the hoof expands and fills with blood ... weight is taken off of the leg, the hoof constricts, and blood is ejected out of the hoof capsule and returned up the leg ... healthy, pumping hooves take 50% of the workload off the cardiac system of the horse."

Endurance riders are covering distances of 25-50 miles on varied terrain with their barefoot horses. Sometimes removable hoof boots are used, but they do not impede the needed mechanism. Darolyn Butler-Dial is a prominent endurance rider who has ridden a formerly foundered horse barefoot on 50-mile rides.

On the Web site, Tomas Teskey, DVM, writes, "I ... was prescribing eggbar shoes, pads ... special shoes ... I can't do that anymore. I have changed. I remember many horses that have died at my hands because I didn't know of anything that would save them ... now I see horses just like them ... better in a short time. This is life and death stuff, here, and that's why I use terms like 'terminal' and 'life-threatening' when talking about the effects of shoes and poor hoof form."

The Web site of Odette Suter, DVM, ( reads, "The horse is built to live a life outdoors with continuous movement. A wild horse travels 10 to 20 miles a day ... a domestic horse's ... hooves are equipped with nailed-on iron shoes that further damage the horse's body ... the conventional keeping of horses is very detrimental to the animal ... the healthy hoof also functions as a blood pump and waste eliminator."

Many of us arrived at "barefoot" only after exhausting all traditional treatments, i.e., shoes. Barefoot often is the last stop before euthanasia. I will never put shoes on another horse again. Yes, I've also heard horror stories about "barefoot trims" that left horses lame afterwards, too, and there could be any number of reasons for such a result. More likely it's the trimmer rather than the trim.

Our 23-year-old Arabian mare that brought us to barefoot wasn't even getting up to eat or void her bowel or bladder four years ago. Prior to this experience I had also believed the dogma that shoes were a necessity. Following the site, we pulled her shoes, kept them off, and I applied a "therapeutic trim." That site and the trim saved her. Improvement in all systems was rapid in spite of my clumsy efforts. She is now sound enough to ride comfortably for hours on all terrain. Our other horses have benefited as well. The fact that our barefoot horses keep up with the rest doesn't go unnoticed--they don't slip and slide on pavement the way the shod horses do. Why? Because their hooves function as Nature designed.

About the Author

Sue Bates

Sue Bates, a reader of The Horse, owns Mystic Star Arabians and American Indian Horses with her husband, Bobby, in Wildersville, Tenn.

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