Friday, September 6, 2013

Two Cents Worth

Tyche's Minder asked me a question about Lakota's feet...

Wow. That is one slow, painful process. I have a question. Did you ever consider shoes for him, even as a temporary solution, for instance when the x-rays were taken? I don't know if you are against shoes in principle, or if there's a reason they wouldn't have helped in this case. You've always thought through things so carefully, so I'm very curious to hear your views on that.

I figured I'd answer that here.  I am not fundamentally opposed to shoes.  There is a powerful "barefoot" movement underway in the horse industry and many, maybe even most, barefoot trimmers are almost fanatically opposed to putting shoes on horses.  I have been in the horse world for a very long time now and I've watched the barefoot movement grow from it's infancy as a fringe minority into what could almost be called a religious movement.  I was even told once that if I put shoes on my horse I should be arrested for cruelty.  

For the most part, I believe that horses are better off without shoes.  However, I have also seen shoes save many a horse's life, including one of my own some years ago.  That mare probably could have been helped by Equicasts (and Val, you can find more info about them by clicking here).  However, Equicasts did not exist then as they are a relatively new product.  My old mare Suki (who I wrote about just a couple of days ago), always had shoes on in the summer and went barefoot in the winter.  Until she started becoming swaybacked, which is purely genetic, she had never been lame a day in her life and we can all only dream of having feet as beautiful, tough and flawless as hers were and still are.  

As for putting shoes on Lakota, he is another story.  He also has had shoes on nearly every summer of his life.  When the vet took x-rays of him, he suggested that we put heart-bar shoes on him.  Riding Buddy and I opted not to go that route for two main reasons.  The first:  Been there done that and the horse is worse off because of it.  The second:  Finding someone who could do it without causing more harm seems to be an insurmountable obstacle in our area. 

It may be that the right farrier could fix his feet with shoes, but it sure hasn't happened yet and it's not for lack of trying.   He has had a variety of shoes, pads, wedges, etc. and they all brought him temporary relief  - along with a worsening of the underlying problem.  Lakota's problems did not happen over night and they are not from neglect or lack of caring.  You would be hard pressed to find a more conscientious or caring owner and she has done every kind of shoeing the vets and farriers have told her to and this is where it's led.  Having me trim and cast him is somewhat of an act of desperation.  However, the small signs of improvement we see in his feet are the first improvements we have ever seen so we are encouraged and keep at it.

I get asked some variant of this question quite often and I wish I had an easy answer for it.  I think shoes are OK for some horses as long as they are put on properly and there is the rub.  It isn't about either/or it's about how.  I think bare is better, but it isn't always enough and I think we horse (and donkey) owners owe it to our animals to learn more about other options, such as the casts.  I think the horse is the only one who can really tell us, but I also know that figuring that out is not an easy task.  I really wish I could give a better answer then that and I mean, I REALLY wish I could give a better answer.  For my own sake.  

Wading through all the conflicting information is a nightmare.  We try to listen to out vets, who often don't know that much about feet, or our farriers, who can't agree, and we all just flounder around, trying to do the best we can.  

Regardless of whether you opt for shoes or no shoes there are some things to keep in mind about hoof trimming/shoeing:
  1. The animal should not be lame after a trim.  This happened to Lakota a couple years ago when a barefoot trimmer did his feet.  Afterward, his feet looked beautiful from the outside, but he couldn't walk.  He was so lame he wouldn't even go to the water trough 10 feet away.
  2. I've heard people say that their horses need 2-3 days to get used to their shoes after they are put on.  Sorry, but I think this is hogwash.  It should be no harder for a horse to adjust to his shoes then it is for you or I to change from a comfy pair of sneakers to a comfy pair of hiking boots.  Imagine what my boss would say if I had to take two days off every time I changed my shoes.  If your horse needs that kind of adjustment period after trimming or shoeing, something is wrong.
  3. Look at the bigger picture.  Lakota is one of the reasons I have been studying nutrition, forage and soil analysis so intensively.  I don't know why his feet are so bad considering that he has had the best care all of his life.  Having good feet isn't all about shoes or no shoes.  It's about diet, exercise, genetics, environment...Trimming and shoeing are just a part of the whole.



  1. I know you know how important this post is to me....'nuff said! :-)

  2. I so appreciate when people have good sense!! I no longer call it "common sense" because good sense is quite uncommon these days. I totally agree with everything you've written in your post. Unfortunately it sounds like your knowledge has come from having to learn it due to life circumstances. Years ago we had a mare that routinely had laminitis episodes. We did all the tests known to man to determine the cause and she passed every one with flying colors. We just resolved that she had hormonal issues that we were unable to manage and dealt with the symptoms alone. I learned far more than I ever wanted to know about founder and hoof problems. We tried so many different types of trims, shoeing, going barefoot, padding and wrapping (similar to casting), drugs, hormone therapy and the list goes on and on. After many years and many dollars and much effort and heartache invested, we finally let our beloved Scooter go to her rest. I still miss her and wish we could have done more. But we can't bring her back, and I know in my heart that we did all that we possibly could at the time, and I realize it wasn't enough. I get so frustrated at all the information out there, and the different opinions about how to manage hoof problems. It is mind blowing, for me anyway. My mare Sugar is navicular, and has a bone cyst in the rf that we're currently trying to manage with aluminum wedged natural balance shoes, we keep the toes short and I give her bute when I ride her, which isn't very often. I avoid steep hills, especially downhills and try to keep her weight right. Sometimes I wonder if we're causing more harm than good by putting those shoes on. This winter I'm thinking of pulling the shoes and trying her barefoot. Hopefully this will give her foot and heels time to expand and grow naturally. My vet and my farrier will no doubt squawk about this decision, but I feel it's best to try. I just don't really know what else to try. Thank you for this posting, it is very helpful. I sure hope you can help your donkey overcome his issues. I understand your frustration.

  3. I am so impressed with all your foot work. I appreciate the thought and study you've put into it...and I'm sure your "ponies" do too!

  4. My old horse, Carbonero, came to me with navicular disease. His shoeing job was terrible. After moving to Calif and going through 4 farriers I finally found a wonderful guy who really knew his stuff, especially with the donkeys. He had Carb in equicast for a few months but they he was really rough on them. He switched him to Easy Bootsn from easy care inc. Carb wore these for about a year (not 24/7) I took them off every other day for half a day to air out his hoof. If it was really rainy they would come off anyway, suction in the mud!) Now he is boot-free. If I trailer him I put them on. When we moved from nice ground to the harder surface in January I had to put them back on for about a month and gradually take off. He started off with size 2's and then with better trimming his consistent size is a 1. If any one needs a sz 2 I have still got them. Di

  5. A great, well thought out reply, thanks for sharing :-) My thoughts are always that horses, mules and donkeys did not evolve with shoes and it is up to us to adapt their care and use to ensure that they still manage as much as possible without them. Some of the worst hoof complaints that I've seen in working donkeys and mules are due to the use of shoes not because they were not used.... humans are very good at interfering with millions of years of evolution to no one's benefit. Having said that I agree that there are times when shoes help, if only momentarily, and that a flexible view of barefoot is far more advantageous than the evangelical view which is all too common.

    Keep on learning and sharing!