Myth or Bust: All Horses Can Be Barefoot

Myth or Bust:  All Horses Can Be Barefoot

The hot topic of whether or not one's horse should go with or without shoes is up for constant debate in today’s equestrian community. It's discussed by pleasure riders to the top ranking competitors around the world. When it comes to the hoof, horseshoes, and the science behind farrier work over the last 50 years, we turned to one of the most prolific farriers in the biz, Stephen Teichman, for the answers. 

Stephen started his career in 1973 shoeing Standardbred horses in central Delaware. In 1980, he worked as an intern for the University of Pennsylvania farriers’ shop at the New Bolton Center. With a BA in Biology and a MA in Equine Locomotion Research at the Royal Veterinary College in England, he has even shod horses for Kings and Queens. Stephen has worked at six Olympic Games, six Pan American games, and the European Open for the United States Equestrian Team. In your opinion, do you have a preference as to whether horses should be barefoot or not?

ST: “I am a middle of the road kind of guy. I would like to see (in my career) great horses go barefoot as long as possible before shoes. It takes that foot about 5 years to get to full size and fully develop. I have seen many do it sooner, but I am always for what is of the best interest of the horse.”

In what circumstance is it important for your horse to have shoes?

ST: “When working with top athletes, especially when traveling from location to location, I would say shoes mitigate many problems. The hoof capsule is very sensitive to the environment, and it is difficult to keep a horse barefoot who is competing in multiple locations.

For example, if I have a client who is doing really well barefoot in CA and is accustomed to the footing, who then travels to England with a higher moisture content that is more often wet, you are in trouble within no more than 10 days. The horse hoof is equivalent to one’s fingernails getting soft in water, or curly hair in the shower. It is an alpha-keratin, so when it gets wet, the hydrogen sulfite bonds slide past each other and move/change shape. Depending upon the environment and climate, a horse's hoof capsules will react accordingly. Horseshoes are designed for this reason in order to not only keep a horse sound, but the hoof intact and from further damage.”

What is the major benefit of shoeing a horse?

ST: “There is definitely a reason for shoes. In my experience with the upper level competitors, there has to be a level of adaptability. With such a variety of climate zones these athletes face during their season, very often horses feet will fail. The horseshoe can help prevent foot soreness, foot expansion, and support, and because of this, many professional upper level horses remain shod.”

In your opinion, what are the benefits to maintaining a barefoot horse (if the lifestyle allows)?

ST: The benefits are a healthy, comfortable, sound horse. Additionally, it is substantially more cost effective.”

Are there any other shoeing alternatives in your experience?

ST: I love glue-on shoes. They are a great option up to a certain level and last for a very long time. They have come a long way. I think glue-ons are a wonderful option for trail riders and pleasure riders, I do think they can get slippery once the riding gets to a more advanced level but for most bare-footers who need another option, this is a good go-to.”

What advice do you have for someone seeking answers for what to do when making the decision between barefoot and shoeing?

ST: “In my experience, it’s not so much about the argument of barefoot or shoeing -- both are wonderful options -- but what decision is best for your horse to make them comfortable. This decision will be based on the structure and development of not only their hoof but the environment they are living in. Lifestyle and athletic demands are a major component in determining the health and outcome of your horse's hoof.”

Looks like another myth busted! Whether you are a pleasure rider who does not travel and has the option to stay in one climate, or a competitive show jumper who frequents multiple locations in various temperatures and footing, it will always depend on the situation in order to decide what option is the best for your horse's health.

Read this next: Ask Us: When and How Should I Intervene With the Vet/Farrier?

Written by Troy Anna Smith

Troy Anna Smith is a Nashville-based writer with a BA in Journalism from Penn State University. Troy finds her passion through her daughter, her love of horses, and her two rescue pups. Some of her writing can be found in The Plaid Horse Magazine, Sidelines Magazine, and The Spark by Heels Down.