To shoe or not to shoe... about as polar in thought as Bush and Obama... can’t we all just get along. There are so many opinions on the subject , yet mostly at either end of the pendulum swing and not so many in the middle. On one end you have people who think it is a sin (probably their only comfortable moral absolute) if any type of shoe or hardware is applied to the horse's foot (usually at the hands of some meat-eatin’ neanderthal), and that most, if not all, types of lameness can be cured by yanking off the shoes. At the other end you have those who believe that if you’re going to ride them (and maybe even if you aren’t), they have got to have shoes, and they think you barefooters are a bunch of tofu-eatin’, yoga-sittin’, tree-huggers.
We like to approach the topic from a more laid-back, practical aspect. While considering the following observations, it’s probably best to remember that the only real obstacle to the truth is coming to the table with the presumption that you’ve already laid a firm grasp to it. We believe that each individual case, horse, genotype, phenotype, and intended use are collectively packaged uniquely unto themselves. It is not any easier to believe that all horses genetically have a perfect foot, or for argument’s sake even a good foot, any more than it is to believe that all men genetically have a perfect head of hair. Some of these beasts slipped into the gene pool while the life guard wasn’t watching, and some were pushed in regardless of their feet because they had a prettier face, ran a faster race, or had more size and muscle than their peers.
You may trim a horse in accordance with sound, barefoot principals from the day it hits the ground, and you are not guaranteed that it will be comfortable or sound while barefoot under saddle. In defense of the bare-footers, it honestly seems that the best a foot can possibly be, conformationally, is one that is properly maintained (should it not wear sufficiently) in a barefoot manner. It is arguably conceivable that many problems may be man-made due to poorly applied (let’s generously say for argument’s sake) traditional pedal hardware. The problem is that gut feelings are hard to scientifically prove, for since genotype plus environmental influence begets phenotype, it is virtually impossible to keep all factors constant (even theoretically difficult, were clones available) so as to allow for fair, scientific comparison.
We do think the barefooters have some worthy claims, and it would behoove us steel-whacking meat-eaters to entertain the possibilities of real gems hidden within the catacombs of the cult. People such as Pete Ramey, Gene Ovnicek, Robert Bowker, and others have either done a lot of research or made some good, well-intended observations regarding the natural type or mustang foot; the chicken-or-eggfirst relationship between the poorly developed digital cushion and caudal hoof or navicular syndrome will need to be cautiously examined with an open mind in the years to come. In the mean time, the pragmatic realist will have to balance patience with potentially improved foot health and longevity.
1)Renegade Hoof Boots:
2) The Easyboot Glove
(Renegade boot shown above)
The questions that then arise for us are: can a competitive, athletic horse perform as well barefoot_ if apparently sound, does it (the barefoot horse) have the power, impulsion, suspension, and/or traction it needs_ does it have soundness issues that may never be alleviated without mechanical compensation_ is there an attainable balance of shoes-on verses shoes-off (or boots-on when riding)that is compatible with a performance career. We happily acknowledge that there are some nice, well-thoughtout boots available for riding (see the links below or on the resources page), and perhaps these can let you have your tofu and eat it too. The debate will likely never cease, but for those of us who still wield hammers (and no... not everything looks like a nail), there are principals being brought to light that will benefit the shod horses, assuming legitimately incorporated support and technique.