8 Alternatives to Metal Shoes


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. Ardath says:

    I have a coming 4-year old who unfortunately doesn’t have good front feet. His mother/Dam did not either. He is prone to abscesses and cracks. We were successful in growing out the cracks (with both horses) by using shoes. We live in snow country so pulled the shoes in late Dec. to avoid balling up. By early March the crack was back. Any suggestions on handling cracks?

    • Casie says:

      I would take a look at diet first. Is excess sugar an issue (sweet feed, high-NSC hay, rich grass)? Are trace mineral and protein needs being met? Cracks don’t mean shoes are needed though, in my opinion. The horse may need a different trim, with the wall rounded (mustang roll). Or thrush/ heel pain could even be an issue, causing the horse to walk on the front part of the hoof (increasing pressure, and therefore cracks). It’s hard to know without seeing pictures, but I wouldn’t automatically assume shoes are needed.

      • Ardath says:

        Thank you for good points. He is never feed sweet feed, is on grass hay, has access to horse Purina mineral block. I just started him on Farrier’s Formula and in time will see if that helps. No evidence of thrush. Maybe a different trim. (?) Past experience has been that without a shoe, a toe crack forms at an old abscess point and progresses up. My farrier and vet think that the lamina at that point has been damaged. With a shoe, the crack will grow out. Your article made me wonder if a flexible shoe would help the foot growth til the crack is grown out. If I could get him out of shoe entirely I would be happy.

  2. It worries me when someone with an clear interest in the welfare of the horse proposes ‘8 Alternatives to Metal Shoes’. If we truly wish to consider the welfare of the horse in our choices for its feet, there is only one possibility.

    A complex situation has developed over the past few years whereby owners consider that they are doing their best for the horse by removing the shoes and a niche has opened where their farriers, who don’t understand barefoot any more than the owners, propose alternatives to the removed shoes. The owner, in all ignorance, considers such a proposition as viable because it has been proposed by a so-called expert. And use this ‘solution’ not only during the (prolonged) transition period but long afterwards. Sadly, the barefoot movement has also honed in on this somewhat lucrative niche, displaying an ignorance impressively equal to that which they ascribe to farriers.

    If we look at the ‘alternatives’ mentioned in this article, the following reasons to AVOID their use can be given:

    – the traditional hoof boot weighs even more than the iron shoe it supposedly replaces. This is adds a gigantic effort to the movement of the horse and -if not having a directly negative influence on the leg joints as a traditional iron shoe does- puts extra stresses on the tendo-muscular chain and the vertebral joints. It also leads to accelerated fatigue of the horse. Remember that for every 1 kg on the feet, we should count 7 kg on the back; that means the average pair of hoof boots is going to add a proportional 5 – 8 kg, if not considerably more; if we were to boot all around, that would add 10-15 kg… Do not be misled by thinking that the alternatives are significantly lighter; in general they are not.

    – anything that is glued is going to require that the hoof is degreased first. The products used for degreasing (e.g. Heptane) are irritant, neurotoxic and carcinogenic. The glue itself is a methacrylate which is highly irritant and known for its toxic effect on the cardio-vascular system. These dangers are not only applicable to the farrier but also to the owner AND to the horse.

    – in many jurisdictions, the application of casts etc. is seen as a medical intervention and must be carried out by, or in the presence of, a veterinary professional -a farrier is NOT a veterinary professional. If the veterinary professional is not prescribing such items for a demonstrable pathology, then he is operating outside the bounds of medical ethics.

    – the constant growth of the hoof wall severley limits the usable period of any of these prosthetics. The hoof wall is not the part of the hoof that carries the mass of the horse but many of these products move the load-bearing area to the periphery of the hoof. Even those items that supposedly afford some contact with the load-bearing areas will fall foul of this problem -sooner rather than later- by the simple expedient of hoof growth.

    – any horse that is worked so hard that its feet wear too fast, is being overworked and THAT is the welfare problem it faces, not the condition of its feet. When considering wear, the mistake that farriers, most veterinary professionals and owners, and even the majority of barefoot ‘professionals’ make, is to look at the wear of the hoof wall. But the horse can never wear away too much hoof wall; as already said, the hoof wall is NOT the load-bearing part of the hoof -and it only goes down to the ground anyway!

    – the ‘shod’ horse, be it shod traditionally or shod contemporarily, is having its livelihood put in danger. The shod horse is incapable of determining what sort of surface it is walking on and thus will be impervious to surface imperfections. For the rider, this is a godsend; the horse will (still) go absolutely anywhere the rider wishes and with whichever gait the rider asks. For the horse, not being able to judge the surface and moving at an inappropriate gait or rate, this can mean permanent injury or even premature death. Riders who consider their horse ‘footy’ and attempt to solve the ‘problem’ with any form of prosthetic are not truly considering the welfare of their horse but are rather pampering to their own selfishness.

    As a final point, those riders and owners who consider they are doing their best for the welfare of their horse by removing the shoes, I have bad news; if you still shut your horse up in a stable, if you still feed him commercial food, if you still use a bit, if you use spurs or a whip…you are far from home yet!

    • Casie says:

      You make some good points, Timothy, but I still believe these alternatives are better than metal shoes for two main reasons: 1.) they’re flexible and allow the hoof to function in a more natural manner. 2.) for the most part, they’re used temporarily, meaning the horse is barefoot the rest of the time. Sure, there are people who will misuse any type of shoe and apply protection to a lame horse as a band-aid instead of finding and fixing the real culprit. But overall, I’d say these are a step in the right direction. I believe it’s best for horses to be barefoot (with the right diet, trim, & plenty of movement), but when added protection is needed, I’d much rather see a boot or glue-on than a metal shoe nailed on.

      • Timothy BOLTON-MILHAS says:

        I cannot agree – their flexibility is not a problem but their isolation of the foot from the surface is. When the horse is deprived of exteroception, it cannot make informed choices about its movement leading to injury. In addition, the excessive weight of these prosthetics is also damaging. The moment that a horse really needs to be devoid of prosthetics, is precisely the moment when they are applied.
        As for temporary use, that is a fallacy. Yes, the horse is barefoot in the field, but every time it hacks out, the boots are applied.
        You talk about ‘…[the horse needing] added protection…’ but you don’t define your criteria. If the horse supposedly needs added protection, it simply is not ready to be ridden; more time in the hand on hard surfaces and less moaning about not being able to ride. We are talking welfare of the horse, not selfishness of the owner.

    • Roger says:

      Renegade hoof boots DO NOT weigh more than steel shoes and provide shock absorption ans sole protection while allowing the hoof to be shoeless a great part of the non stress riding time.

  3. Karen J Cox says:

    Timothy, I have a horse that can go barefoot over rough terrain for 20 miles before showing signs of ouchiness. But I figure he is ouchy before it really shows, so I boot him for most riding. You make a very good point about the horse being able to feel the ground (proprioception)… you may appreciate the article I’ve linked, its why I prefer flexible light weight boots. The fact is that people are going to continue riding horses, and that in itself is “selfish”? We don’t need horses in the modern age, we ride for enjoyment. So if we ride we have to weigh the pros and cons of each method of protection (or barefoot). https://scootboots.com/blogs/blog/shoes-boots-proprioception

  4. Sue Leanna says:

    Hi Cassie. In reading replys to shoes my take on it is READ AND LISTEN TO YOUR HORSE. This means keeping in tune w your friend. Eyes ears and touch is my mantra. The time it takes to earn their trust and love, a bond has been tethered. I had noticed thee slightest and barwly there gimp in my girl as she came in for her feeding. R front. But it was her demeanor more. Called in vet. She had thinning walls in that hoof. Dr. said 6 months. Well I got to work! Four months they came off and her wall was great. I do not believe in shoeing BUT I will do for my girls what I can. I call the work of a farrier an art and they are as close to an equine vet as not. Some things die hard but a truly good farrier has the mentality of Whats better for the Horse. My reason for finding an alternative is for their welfare 1st in that at times I will be on roads. For me the best application is on and off that I can do myself. I did it for my children. I want it for my girls. Happy Trails. Be safe and most of all God Bless.

  5. Cassie says:

    Hi there,
    I’ve been reading through your articles about nutrition, natural boarding and “barefoot” options. I’ve been slowly transitioning to a more natural approach with our active standardbred racehorse stable.
    Are there any options, other than metal shoes, that would be adequate? We race year round, even in the winter when it is necessary to add borium to provide gripping power in the slippery snowy conditions. We jog a handful of miles per day. Since horses are meant to travel 15-20 miles a day I don’t see distance being an issue. Should I take into account that they are exercised on a limestone track and going at a quicker pace which creates more force on their feet?
    I have no experience with boots or alternatives and don’t know where to begin. I like the idea of being able to turn horses out or jog them barefoot in the warmer months and only needing to apply boots in the winter or possibly on race day.
    I know you’ve mentioned performance horses in some of your articles but I’m not well rounded on how other performance disciplins compare to racing.
    Thank you for all of the knowledge you provide us with!!

    • Casie says:

      Hi there, Glad you found your way to my site and have found it helpful. I’d suggest contacting someone else in the race horse business who runs their horses barefoot. Here is one stable: https://www.silverspringsstud.com/articles/some-thoughts-on-racing-barefoot.html. If you email me (through this site), I can provide you with a couple of other contacts who might be able to help you out. As for non-metal shoe options, there are several flexible shoes available but I don’t know how they’d fare for racing. I’d think transitioning to barefoot would work for most of your horses though so long they have the right nutrition to support healthy feet (trace minerals, especially zinc and copper, low-starch diet, etc.). I have a good friend who has a top-notch barrel horse who’s always been run barefoot and I can pass along her contact info as well.

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