Myths that Keep Your Horse Shod

The following is a guest post, written by AANHCP Hoof Care Practitioner and co-founder of Effective Pet Wellness, Narayan Khalsa.

horse shoeing

There is a saying in the natural horse care movement–that all horses can go barefoot, but not all horse owners.  What this means is that the horse has evolved for millions of years to get along exceptionally well on its own four feet, but many horse owners often “get in their horses’ way” so to speak.   In the outback of Nevada for instance, wild horses roam free of human meddling, and also free of the domestic horse issues we see so prevalent today like colic, clubfoot, navicular, and laminitis.  What is it that these horses get, or don’t get, that facilitates for them a life of soundness?  How can they effortlessly navigate 10 – 20 miles every day over volcanic rock with no issues?

There are seemingly endless traditions and practices in the domestic horse world today. In my opinion, most of them are harmful for horses.  Many domestic horse care traditions were born out of no real understanding of the equine in its natural and sound state.  They were human ideas of how to deal with things, passed on from generation to generation, often with no questions asked.

Horse people represent a culture filled with strong minds and often unshakable wills. They are tough, but they are also stubborn.  Certainly no one wants to hear they are doing something harmful to their horses.  This strength and rigidity in the domestic horse consciousness is a reason why so many practices still go unchecked today.

Let us examine for instance, the tradition of shoeing horses. It has not been around forever. It was born as a response to unnatural boarding situations within the royal establishment around 1000 AD or so.  Once they began confining their horses to small spaces where the horses could not move much and were stuck standing in their own excrement, things starting falling apart– literally.  Anyone today would agree that these conditions are a recipe for bad feet.  The hoof is a biodynamic living organism, having evolved to move, move, move. Not moving, in and of itself is a recipe for bad feet, but add the “standing in your own excrement all day” factor, and we have problems.

Now why on Earth the blacksmith was summoned to come and hammer nails into the hoof to hold a steel shoe on will forever be beyond me. Certainly an already compromised structure like a bone will be further compromised once nails are hammered into it.  But it’s not the first or last illogical tradition that humans have come up with!

Once the horse shoe became the norm, it also became a status symbol in the culture, and before you knew it, horses everywhere were getting their fancy shoes nailed on, whether they “needed it” or not. Hundreds of years have passed and the tradition has lived on. This tradition has gone unchecked all this time. . . up until about 40 years ago. (I am sure people have questioned it somewhere, somehow, but serious critical analysis didn’t happen until recently).

Now we know without a doubt that shoes are an antiquated technology.  As long as the horse’s biological needs to move and be fed a reasonably natural diet (low in sugar), and only worked within their inherent capacity, then they can be barefoot and sound as can be.

Here are a few more myths keeping your horse shod:

White hooves- Myth- Inherently weak, prone to chipping, need shoes

White hooves lack pigment. That’s all. They are either just as strong or just as weak as any pigmented hoof given the same natural care.  It all comes down to meeting their needs.  If you can eliminate sweet feeds and chemical medications including vaccinations, and do not shoe them, they will have hard feet whether white or black. Add to that plenty of movement and a true natural trim, and thats a recipe for rock crushing hooves

Thoroughbred- Myth- They all have inherently weak feet

This has also been proven false. This myth was born out of the ignorant racing industry that has fed most of its horses a diet out of alignment with their needs. The feed is so important I cannot stress it enough. Sweet feeds and sweet supplements = weak feet. Plain and simple. If this one aspect of natural hoof care was adhered to, we would have much more healthy horses with strong hooves.  Add to this the myriad of unhealthy things a racehorse has to go through including multiple vaccines and even steroid shots. Anything that creates a metabolic disorder in the horse can and will leave it sore. There is no way around it.

Trail Horses- Myth- Need shoes

Again, the horse has evolved to make your trail ride look like an afternoon stroll in the park.  Typical trail rides have nothing on the day to day life of a horse in the Nevada Great Basin.  The horses in the outback of Nevada live in harmony with their species needs, including plenty of movement, no sweet feed, and a rugged self trimming terrain. When we mimic these core needs, our horses will be able to navigate any terrain that comes their way. My horses, most with white hooves, will charge through the most rocky ground, not even thinking twice about where they step. It all comes back to creating a life in harmony with their needs.

The number one myth of all is what we call the ‘farrier principle’–that horses inherently have weak feet. It’s just how they are. How they were born. Or you will often hear that we ‘bred the hoof out of the horse’. This claim lacks a fundamental understanding of biological evolution.  It would take millions of years for a species to undergo a fraction of adaptation when it comes to their base genetic expression. What this means is that science has proven that the horse in the rugged outback living the sound and healthy lifestyle we see is essentially the same horse (genetically speaking) as the one in your paddock. Sure they may look slightly different, but their biological needs are the same.

The closer you can get to bringing the truly natural elements of a horse’s life into your backyard, the happier and healthier your horse will be.  For a more in depth understanding of what we call the Four Pillars of Natural Horse Care and to learn about how to eliminate infections in your horse without chemicals please visit the site below. Thanks for reading!

To the health of your horse,

Narayan Khalsa

AANHCP NHC

Co Founder Effective Pet Wellness

www.effectivepetwellness.com

Casie

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

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9 Responses

  1. Debora Lay says:

    “White hooves lack pigment.” This is incorrect. That is like saying blonde hair lacks pigment. White or light colored hooves have pigment, it is a lighter colored pigment, usually beige or tan. You an still see the unpigmented “white” portion next to the laminar line. The amount of pigment relates to the amount of keratin and strength in the hoof. So a dark hoof with less black and more white unpigmented area is weaker. Same with the tan pigmented hoof. Its just harder to see on the lighter colored hoof.

    “It was born as a response to unnatural boarding situations”. Not totally correct. In Joe Camps “The Soul of the Horse”, he talks about metal being applied to horses hooves as weaponry in the bronze age.

    • Thanks for writing. Doug Leach, a leading equine researcher from Canada and now in the US wrote in the American Farriers Journal, “Hoof color has traditionally been implicated as an important factor in the durability and strength of horse hooves. However it has been shown that black and white hooves do not differ in water content, chemical composition, hardness or compressive strength.”

      Pigment is color, and in no way reflects more keratin or less keratin.
      I would be happy to see some evidence that pigment (color) is related to the amount of keratin. Certainly hair for instance, that in a humans old age (or not so old age!) has turned white, can still be strong and even beautifully thicker than say another persons black as night hair. The chemical composition of horn, or hair for that matter, and how much color is has, from my understanding are totally independent. Is blonde hair weaker than black hair? Certainly not always, but perhaps sometimes. How strong my nails are for instance, which are clear, has nothing to do with their color, but rather the vitamin, mineral and amino acid integrity of my whole body, reflected in my nails, which brings me to my point.

      The health of a horse shows up in the hoof. As my teacher Jaime Jackson witnessed with his own two eyes in the outback of Nevada, sampling hundreds of hooves of varying colors, all feet where impeccable and embodied the same characteristics regardless of color. In other words the myriad of white hooves (or extremely light colored) were totally sound, not weak, nor prone to chipping or over wear.

      The essence of what I was attempting to convey, was not so much the science of keratinization and its subsequent abundance or lack of pigmentation, but rather that what Jaime observed and what our organization has witnessed over the past 30 years, is that white hooves (or beige, brown, or striped) are just as capable of total soundness barefoot. Again almost all my horses have white feet, if I may, and can navigate any and every terrain with a rider no problem and their feet are practically perfect. There soundness is and will always be dependent on the management practices they are subjected to in my care, not their hoof color.

      And for what Joe shared with you is not totally relevant to my message. Whether or not they were used in the Bronze Age for warfare does not legitimize the tradition, nor speak to the beginning of the widespread tradition itself of commoners using horse shoes as the norm. My point being stressed was the inception of this unquestioned practice as a customary application by many people, not just warriors

      I hope that the essence of my article is understood or at least recognized, which is not so much dates and science facts. We like to provide that for confirmation, but rather I and my friends practicing NHC always come back to the direct experience of soundness in ours and our clients horses. The proof is in the pudding.

      Either way thanks for the message and happy holidays.

    • then5925 says:

      Regardless of the exactness of these details, I think we can agree that Narayan made some valid points about why horse shoeing continues and also how we can leave this practice behind with more understanding of natural hoof function.

  2. C.c. Alberta L. Evans says:

    My two fillies are 3 1/2 and 2 1/2 yrs old. The older is a Pinto w white and lightly striped hooves and the younger a TB/QH cross chestnut bay w black hooves. Both trimmed regularly by a farrier they go barefoot 24/7. The farrier has noticed no difference between the feet in hardness/softness or soundness. They are on a dry acreage fed coastal/grass/timothy hay depending on availability w a smattering of alfalfa/sweet feed/grain in the colder months. Both working lightly under saddle at this point. Although my boyfriend is convinced of white=softer, ( he also doesn’t have as much experience w horses) I do not see any differences between my two fillies.

    • then5925 says:

      Thanks for sharing, Alberta. I, too, have horses with both light and dark hooves and I trim them myself. I haven’t noticed any differences between the hooves.

      • Glenn Wilson says:

        I have trimmed many horses who have a mixture of white and black in the same hoof, a couple with a clear line of difference down the dorsal wall. Now if the myth that white hooves are weaker than dark ones is true, then why doesn’t this type of hoof wear asymmetrically?

  3. ana says:

    Agreeing with most of what is said, the key remains that the vast majority of people who own a horse, do not own land and can only find stables or small paddocks to keep their horses. Even if feeding and exercising were optimal, horses that work and live in soft footing will never have rock crunching hooves! that, and the dificulty of finding the right boot for your horse are the main culprits for shoeing. Boots have a bad reputation because they fall off or apart easily if not properly fitted and adapted to you horse’s stride. Shoes are so much easier! no work for the owner whatsoever.

    Transitioning hooves also tend to spend a couple of months chipping and most owners will never grab a damned rasp to keep them smooth till the trimmer’s next visit.

    And lastly, even if we move up on technology, the logical approach would be a glue-on flexible shoe with optional hoof filling if the horse is to work on hard footing… but who can afford that??? not to mention that most farriers don’t even know how to work with those… and even on this option you will be trimming in an unnatural shape: there will be no roll, no lifting of the quarters, no bevel in the heel… it’s bound to cause issues too!

    in the end, there is no magical pill to solve this problem. Horse people simply have to understand the harm that shoeing does and maybe one day, think twice before deciding to own a horse if they can’t afford the time/money to manage it coorectly.

  4. Glenn Wilson says:

    Re thoroughbreds; Another observation re this breed is that many of them are shod from 18 months or so onwards as they are prepared for their ‘careers’. Their hooves have not even fully formed and thus by being shut down by the application of a shoe, never recover and grow to be normal healthy hooves. On the other hand I’ve seen plenty of Tbs that have not been shod and they have sound and healthy hooves.

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