26 October, 2020 16:24
Is it right for shod horses to have their shoes taken off over the winter months during a break from work? Richard Stephenson MRCVS weighs up the options…
Horses, whether shod or not, have a tough, horny hoof capsule, while human feet, unless accustomed to walking barefoot, are covered with soft, sensitive skin. However, we need to remember that many horses will struggle to make the transition from being shod to going without shoes and, in some cases, they will suffer pain and discomfort to a level which is simply unacceptable. It is fashionable in some circles to view unshod horses as “natural” and shod horses as being the victims of an outdated and harmful practice. But is it natural for a modern horse to be unshod, and what are the potential benefits and pitfalls?
While shoeing is frequently described as a necessary evil, it is important to appreciate that the modern horse is the result of many centuries of selective breeding which has rarely concentrated on hoof quality. With the possible exception of some native pony breeds, there is little “natural” about our horses. We must also recognise that even the so-called native pony has an enormous variety of different environments to cope with in different parts of the UK. One foot management approach cannot be made to fit all circumstances or all horses.
Before thinking about taking shoes off during winter, we need to ask why we put them on in the first place. Farriers will say that shoes offer protection from wear and provide grip — for the majority of horses in active work this is true, but do they really need shoes while at rest?...
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