Monday, December 25, 2006
To shoe, or not to shoe?
Mankind has been putting shoes on horses for longer than you would imagine. That's my farrier, Randy, shoeing Blue. That's me holding onto Blue's lead rope and peeking over his shoulder.
I've considered it a necessity, with all the horses I've owned, to keep them shod if they are being ridden on any un-natural surface such as gravel or asphalt. I've let them go bare-foot through the winter when they weren't being ridden as much. The times I'd take them out on gravel roads unshod, they'd limp with almost every step.
And then I've always remembered the time, years ago, when Cliff's sister rode a pony on gravel so much that his hooves were worn down to nubs.
Paying the farrier is one of the major expenses of horse-keeping... $80 every six to eight weeks. Some horses seem to have a knack for losing shoes, which makes it more costly. I don't blame the farrier for the fee he asks, because shoeing a horse is a back-breaking job. And lots of horses aren't so easy to deal with.
The past two summers, my Blue has had a problem with shoes. His feet don't seem to grow fast, and when it was time to re-set the shoes, the nails had to be driven so close to where the preceding ones had been, it made the wall of his hooves weak, and they chipped and broke until the farrier eventually had to patch them with a cement-like substance; finally, I asked him to remove the shoes entirely, and I began feeding my horse supplements and unflavored gelatin, hoping to strengthen his hooves.
More and more, I was finding articles like this one on the Internet. And this one. In fact, just type "barefoot horse" or "shod horses" into Google, and you come up with dozens of people advocating no shoes, and very few voices heard from the other side of the coin.
It sounded good, but what about the way the horses limp when taken onto gravel unshod? They're obviously in pain.
I have a blogging buddy who is quite knowledgeable about horses, and I asked her about this. She told me that a horse's hooves will "toughen up" in about two months, just like a person's feet will when they go barefoot for awhile.
So I decided to test the theory. At first Blue would limp every time he'd hit gravel, and I'd do my best to keep him in the grassy areas beside the road. I do a great deal of my riding on farm ground down on the Missouri River bottom, so once I got there, we were home free anyway.
As time went on, the gravel affected Blue's stride less and less. Yesterday I rode for almost three hours, mostly on gravel roads, and he didn't limp or give to the rocks even once.
His feet look nicely trimmed, thanks to the wear they get. I notice his front feet have a strange wear pattern that might need attention, but I think perhaps Cliff and I could take care of that ourselves.
We'll see. It would be nice if I never had to pay a farrier again.