Why Not Traditional Iron Shoes??

A good friend, after she read my last posting, sent me an email. Following are her comments and questions:

“I am still puzzled about your search for an alternative way of shoeing your draft horse. As you said you would not walk on gravel without your shoes , why make her do it? I know that fashion comes and goes ,but what is so wrong with traditional shoes ? The keratin quality differ from horse to horse, some can take it other not. I have been spending half of my life around horses, riders and farriers, all sizes, all breed, all sexes. I have heard of a lot of technics, hopes, innovations ,to better the gaits, alleviate the pain, straighten the legs…I have heard a lot and seen a lot . I came to the conclusion that yoga ( dressage for the horse ) reasonable and adapted exercise for the horse is what will really make any difference and amelioration. If you are a bad dancer the shoes will not change that, practice will. Shoes are to protect the hoof, may be Vanilla is one of those rare horses to be able to work on hard ground without protection, it would be great. Here we have 18 horses, about half need shoes in the front.They live on pastures are ridden in a sandy arena and never touch hard roads but they develop abscesses and bruises with the coral in the ground. I would not take the risk. I never walk on gravel bare foot, not pleasant at all. Is it the idea of the nails ? Is it the cost of the farrier ? Vets are much more expensive ….”

So here is my answer. I'm definitely not an authority and I listen carefully and read what I can find on the subject: ( However, I never said I wouldn't walk barefoot. I love to walk barefoot but in the summer when I first take off my shoes, it's ouchy. Later it feels great.)

Although people have been shoeing horses with iron shoes that are nailed to the hooves for centuries, modern research is finding that iron shoes are not always the answer and often create serious problems. Because of the travel we hope to do with Toti and Vanille, we are examining other possibilities for Vanille. We are just at the question stage, nothing is decided. Here are our reasons:

1. We will be travelling somewhat long distances, although only short distances each day. Vanille's hooves are very heavy and we are no longer young with strong backs. If she were to lose a shoe, we might be in an area with no blacksmith, or we may have to wait days for one to arrive. In adddition, many blacksmiths refuse to work on draft horses as it is an especially difficult job. We are not capable of changing her shoes, but I am able to pick up her feet for short periods of time and I think I could put boots on and off. However, if we feel she is better with iron shoes, that's what she'll have while working.

2. Vanille has excellent feet and we want to keep them in good shape. The first trimming this year by a blacksmith who shoes horses with traditional shoes was not a success. Her feet chipped up almost immediately.

3. We want to be absolutely sure that Vanille will be comfortable, never in pain. We love her and want to be sure she has what is best for her; the best food, harness, and the best care of her very important feet!! Iron shoes cause numerous problems. The following is from an excellent article entitled It's time to Rethink Horseshoes. You can read the entire article on barefoothorse.com

“There are more than a dozen ways that shoes are known to damage the feet, legs, and circulatory system of the horse (see A Lifetime of Soundness by Dr. Hiltrud Strasser). Some of these are: loss of circulation in the hoof, loss of shock absorption, “white line”

Since Vanille is a draft horse, I have found the site http://www.hoofrehab.com/draft.htm very helpful. Here are a few paragraphs I have copied for you to read but if you can find the time, read the site. Pete Ramey's years of research and experience are invaluable.

This heavy draft horse plows several gardens every year, works kids to a plow (at our local “farm days” fair), trail rides and pulls a wagon on the road. His hooves are always ready to handle whatever the owner dishes out. The pictures were taken before a six-week maintenance trim during peak work season.

“It is so difficult to keep well connected hoof walls on draft horses, many owners and trainers have incorrectly decided draft horses are supposed to have flared, split hoof walls. The weight of a heavy draft is often more than the walls can take and the very finest shoers can really struggle to keep everything held together. “

“Recent research from Michigan State University (Dr. Robert Bowker) confirms what many insightful farriers have suspected all along. The hoof walls were never intended to bear all the horse’s weight. The soles, frogs and bars are supposed to share in the load, with the primary initial impact force received by the frog. This is why draft hooves seem so easily ripped apart; most people are trying to force the walls into a primary support role nature never intended.”

“We created the heavy draft horse through breeding. We didn’t manage to scale everything up proportionately, though. While overgrown walls can usually lift the soles and frogs off the ground in a light horse, they are rarely proportionately strong enough in a draft. Instead the walls flare, split and break away. Believe it or not, this actually works to the draft horse’s advantage. With the soles and frogs on the ground throughout life, it is rare to find a draft horse with inadequate development and sensitive structures in the back of the foot. Because of this, we almost always can pull the shoes, start a competent natural trimming program and the horse will comfortably keep on working. (If not, we use hoof boots for work while we wait for the inner structures to develop. I usually use the Easyboot Epics; available up to size #8’s)”

I understand totally that Vanille may not be able to travel barefoot. Every horse is different. But I want to be sure we're doing the best for her health and safety now and longterm. Proper trimming of her feet and time will tell us if it is possible. It has been a little over two weeks since her last trim and she is full of energy and galloping like a kid, chasing the dogs and in no pain. If this miserable weather ever ends we will begin to long rein her on the pavement for short periods of time.

If we do decide to leave her barefoot, we will also have easyboot epic with us if they are needed.

If we decide to shoe her with traditional shoes, they will be pulled when she is not working.

I want to make it very clear that we have not yet made a decision. We are just doing the research which is very interesting! We have friends who do not use traditional shoes for their horses with no problems. We have found an experienced man for trimming her feet who only works on barefoot horses. There is endless information on the internet.

I really appreciate feedback on this blog. If you find it difficult to comment on the blog, just send me an email.



About Suzanne

American living in France. Artist and lover of nature, gardening, all living beings. Married to the love of my life, mother of two wonderful daughters and grandmother.
This entry was posted in Art, barefoot draft horse, Community, Comtois horse, Gypsy wagon/Roulotte construction technique, Horse drawn vehicles, Lifestyle, Small living spaces, Travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why Not Traditional Iron Shoes??

  1. myra1055 says:

    If the going is not hard and she does not get footsore, there is no need for shoeing. Shoeing often does more harm than good. Breaks down the hoof wall and does not allow the frog which is the hoofs’ pump, to contact the ground and replenish the hoofs’ blood-supply. Barefoot is best and if she does need protection you can always buy hoof boots that can be taken off at the end of the day. You are doing the right thing!

    • Suzanne says:

      Thanks Myra. We have Easy boots but they were troublesome. We used Duplo composite shoes which we will not do again. We tried them for long trips on pavement. Not a good idea. I’ll go into more detail in an email. Jean Francois has kept a detailed journal Ith photos of her feet. He is organizing that now. She has very sensitive feet in front. Anyway, more later. Thanks for your interest and your comments. Much much appreciated.

  2. It is so interesting to consider these things from all sides. Great discussion.

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