The Barefoot Movement in Horses

May 15, 2006 (published)

Many of you involved in the equine industry may be familiar with the barefoot movement. This is concerning a movement among a group of horse people that believe all horses should be unshod regardless of the horse or activity. The proponents of barefoot horses are almost fanatical in their beliefs.  Unfortunately, no scientific studies exist at this time to prove their beliefs. I also believe in many cases it is better for horses to be barefoot as does Dr. Steve O’Grady, a veterinary podiatrist and farrier in northern Virginia. Dr. O’Grady indicates whether the horse can go barefoot or not depends on the owner’s situation, use of the horse, composition of the horse’s foot, and its environment. 

However, he also believes horses can be shod in a physiological manner that will cause minimal damage to the horse’s hoof wall. Shoes are used for protection when wear of the hoof exceeds growth, for traction, and for therapeutic reasons such as abnormal limb conformation. Dr. O’Grady believes all horses’ feet are not the same and this is also my experience. I believe it is impossible to make a blanket statement about horse hoof care because each horse should be treated as an individual. Dr. O’Grady indicates horses are much more likely to do well without shoes if they have never had shoes. When shoes are applied, the horse’s hoof looses contact with the ground. If this is done when the horse is young while the foot is immature, the horse will have a difficult time adjusting to being barefoot later in life. If you decide to take the shoes off your horse, they should be taken out of work for at least 60 days. Join us on our next program as we will continue with our discussion on the barefoot movement.

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