Are Metal Horse Shoes Ever the Answer?

I’d like to start this month’s Monthly Musing post with a little background information on me and my horses, for those of you who might not know. Until about eight years ago, I kept my riding horses shod for most of the year. My farrier/ husband talked me into pulling the shoes for the winter (when I usually didn’t compete) and I saw the sense in this because of the snow and ice and all. But other than that, I never thought twice about metal horse shoes and whether they were good or bad for my horses’ feet.

This all changed when I met a barefoot trimmer while attending Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute. Barefoot was an interesting concept and it sure sounded easier than shoes. So I started doing some research and before long, I became convinced that barefoot was absolutely the best option after I read Pete Ramey’s, Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You. I decided to learn how to trim my own horses and really haven’t looked back since.





But occasionally, I will read a case story online or someone will tell me about an instance where shoes were ‘needed’ in a particular situation, and this always catches my attention. Are metal horse shoes ever the answer? I will admit, shoes can sometimes make things better. Or rather make them APPEAR better. Shoes seem to take away the pain–and that’s what we all want to see, right?

But I realized a while back that the shoe isn’t actually taking away the pain. It’s merely masking it for a while, kind of like a big ole’ metal band-aid.

I’m not saying we should ignore horses who are in pain. Something needs to be done. But that doesn’t necessarily mean applying metal horse shoes. Yes, some horses need protection, but there are far better options these days.

My first suggestion would be to get a barefoot trimmer (or learn how to trim yourself!) Educate yourself on how to have a healthy, barefoot horse. And your horse may very well benefit from wearing hoof boots. Despite what you may hear, there are some great ones out there. Not every brand works for every horse and you may have to do some trial and error. One particular brand (which many people rave about) kept breaking when I turned my horse out in them, but another type of hoof boot lasted for several years (until a dog made a chew toy out of one). The Hoof Boot Swap page is a good place to buy and sell used boots, by the way.




There are also horse shoes being made from flexible materials now, such as rubber and even plastic. These are better than metal simply because they can move and flex with the hoof.  While I wouldn’t condone their long-term use, they might be a short-term solution in some instances.

Whether it be laminitis, navicular, cracking and chipping, thrush, or any other issue,  shoes will never be the solution. Nailing a metal shoe to a live hoof which is meant to move and flex and pump blood back up into the body will not fix anything. And there’s a good chance that it may make things worse.

Are metal horse shoes easier than dealing with your horse’s problems or taking the time to do research on what may be best for your horse? Absolutely. That’s why they are so popular.  They’re also just what people do. Let’s face it–people are often like sheep, just doing what everyone else does. I was like this too.

But when we take the shoes off, we get the truth. The truth about the horse’s nutrition (and what may be lacking), the truth about the environment in which the horse is kept, and the truth about any underlying issues in the hooves.

So next time you think that metal horse shoes may just be the answer, I ask you to consider all your options and think about what’s really best for the horse.






Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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11 Responses

  1. Kathy says:

    Well said! We’ve ALL done the “sheep” thing at one point or another. Kinda human nature to do what everybody else does or has “always done.” We should learn to question, question, question!! People did things the “same” way for decades (centuries in some cases!) due to lack of info. Modern times means much better technology & tons of research that shows us many of the “same old things” are counterproductive. Our very kind, tolerant, and patient animals pay the price when we don’t get motivated to learn better ways and adapt. If we think we’re the superior species because of technology… then utilize that technology to educate ourselves and make our animals’ (and our) lives better, healthier, and happier! Thanks for all your great articles, Casie!

    • Casie says:

      It is human nature and it’s hard to go against the norm, but agree–we have to question things, especially when problems arise. Thanks, Kathy.:-)

  2. Sheila says:

    I agree with most of what you said but you do not need to make people feel badly about making the choice to put shoes on when they are recommended to help with a specific issue. I am very ANTI-shoeing BUT my horse currently has one shoe on. Why? Because she had a very bad case of white line disease, mechanical founder and a very thin sole. My vet resected a very large section of her hoof and her farrier applied a heart bar shoe (?) to provide the support necessary for keeping her hoof intact and allow it to heal. I was mortified to be putting a piece of metal on her hoof and cried as he nailed it to her hoof. Two months later, she’s still in the shoe but her x-rays show a huge improvement in the thickness of her sole and her coffin bone is less rotated. She’ll be in the shoe for a few more months and I hate looking at it but she’s getting better. That’s what is important. Sometimes, the “easy” fix isn’t always easy or being lazy. It’s what is necessary. And by the way, I tried the natural, no-shoe way over a year ago with a barefoot trimmer and doing everything that was recommended. It didn’t work and her hoof was in worse shape.

    • Casie says:

      Hi Sheila–it is certainly not my intention to make anyone feel bad. I just want people to know there are other and better options out there.

  3. Paul Magee says:

    Wonderful article, and great advice coming from an experienced horsewoman. Barefoot is the way to go if you want healthy feet.

  4. Jeannine Hinderman says:

    Our horses are barefoot but when we go to rocky areas we boot. We plan on going to Arizona where we will apply shoes again. I am looking at the plastic shoes and hoping they do the job of a metal shoe on boulders and large rocks. If anyone has had experience with barefoot horses and rocks their soles and hooves don’t last very long barefoot. We live in a sandy area where most all the horses are barefoot because the terrain is so soft.

    • Harold R. Sitton says:

      It’s been a year and half but my horse is getting pretty sound barefoot in some of those audacious high mountain desert Arizona rocks.

      I finally decided OFF WITH THE BOOTS. We’ll go until you say this is too hard for my feet and then we’ll turn around and go somewhere it’s not too hard.

      He continues to agree to harder and harder trails. I look at the bottom of his unchanged hooves at the end of a hard ride and am simply amazed.

      • Casie says:

        I would suspect that as long as diet is not a factor, the hooves would adapt to the environment which we expose them to more and more. Wild horses have no problem with rugged terrain.

        • Harold R. Sitton says:

          Hondo’s forage was tested about 6 months ago. He has been on balancing copper/zinc trace mineral supplement ever since. I believe that, plus a little more aggressiveness in some trimming parameters, is bringing him toward a rocky terrain (in the extreme) soundness.

          It’s been a long (rocky) learning curve and the title caught my attention.

  5. Debbye says:

    Totally agree. So much more education since days of old. I’m always baffled some people don’t get it. Having always ridden I count own until I was 50. I was a sponge, but my first horse was my Guinnea pig. First couple of years I showed him as he came to me that way. I had to wait a couple of yrs to even find a natural barefoot trimmed. But I now have 5, and no shoes. I do have one that’s had to have some protection in pasture I chose ‘casts’ a woven mesh type material that’s glued on. Pete Ramey shows a video in it. They saved my horse and I also keep the easy care boots on hand. Wish more people understood horse anatomy and why a metal shoe can never be the answer.

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