Friday, 8 August 2014

"We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

This is a post I've been mulling for a while but many of you will be familiar with what I'm posting already so feel free to come back another time if this is repetitious :-)

One of the questions that recurs time and time again when the topic of barefoot horses comes up is the hoary old chestnut "Can all horses go barefoot?"
There are a number of almost inevitable comments which are made at this point by those on both sides of the debate*.  They generally run something like this:
  • Horses aren't born with shoes on
  • Feral horses cover significant mileage without shoes
  • Domestic horses have different demands on them than feral horses, hence the need for shoes
  • Some horses are fine but some can't cope; its only right to shoe the horse if its uncomfortable. 
For me, these are often the wrong answers to the wrong question.

I've used the quote from the declaration of independence as the title here because I love the idea of a "self-evident truth" and that's where I think we should begin.
It is, I believe, a self-evident truth that a horse with healthy feet can walk, trot and canter over even the toughest terrain and can do so day in, day out, free from injury.

Taking this as the starting point, if a horse "can't cope" barefoot then it is actually because its feet are unhealthy.

Its then our responsibility, I believe, to look at why the foot is unhealthy and whether we can do anything to improve it.

Is the horse being fed a diet which is too high in sugar or starch? Is the horse deficient in key minerals? Are the feet balanced or are they unable to properly support the limb? Is the horse now being asked to work on different terrain or at a higher rate to what he has been used to?

Any or all of these issues can affect feet, with some horses being more sensitive than others in this as in every other area.
If we are unable to improve the health of the foot (or unwilling to try) then its possible to improve the performance of an unhealthy foot by using boots or shoes. But lets not forget that - even if this improves performance - the one thing we haven't done is make the foot healthier.

*I use the terms "sides" sadly but advisedly as few topics seem more divisive and contentious among horse owners than the relatively trivial question of whether to put metal on a horse's foot. There are a number of reasons for this, IMO, but none worth exploring in this post!


Emily said...

A great thinking point, and as always, eloquently put. I think this is the point that most people miss or gloss over. Shoes can mask a problem but they are never going to solve it - they inherently can't. Would you mind if I stole that quote for my website (credited to you of course!)?

Nic Barker said...

You're welcome Emily :-)