Why your horse should go barefoot
September 17, 2006 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Why your horse should go barefoot The single most convincing thing for me was to see a thermograph of a horse's feet - three of which were without shoes and one which was shod.
posted by Lanark (59 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you'll excuse an ignorant question, is there some kind of shoe, made with synthetic materials that have a little more give than iron, that can be applied and removed to the outsides of hooves in much the same way that humans don and doff footwear?
posted by pax digita at 8:59 AM on September 17, 2006

In a few of those links, pax digita, they discuss horse boots. They fit on like shoes would on a human, and are used when trying to train horses out of shoes, or just to protect their feet at other times.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:05 AM on September 17, 2006

I'm very surprised that it's taken this long for people to question horseshoes. Shouldn't we have been doing this a really long time ago?
posted by reklaw at 9:07 AM on September 17, 2006

If someone tried to pound nails into my fingers and toes, I'd kick them into next week.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:13 AM on September 17, 2006

Wont somebody please think of the ferriers?
posted by baphomet at 9:13 AM on September 17, 2006

I'm so glad you addressed this. The MSM for too long has failed to take a courageous stand on the issue of horseshoes.
posted by Skygazer at 9:20 AM on September 17, 2006

Come on now Zach, hold still and you'll get a sugar cube.
posted by substrate at 9:22 AM on September 17, 2006

ZachsMind: The parts that are nailed into don't have any nerve endings, it wouldn't be any more painful then trimming your fingernails.
posted by delmoi at 9:25 AM on September 17, 2006

Dammit, the horse leg is getting colder..no wonder, I would too get cold feets with metal shoes.
posted by elpapacito at 9:25 AM on September 17, 2006

If it wasn't the issues a modern life imposes. I'd be barefoot with the horses.
posted by Rubbstone at 9:25 AM on September 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

How about taking the horses to the mall and letting them decide what they want?
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:31 AM on September 17, 2006

Oh, wait...they'd just only stop at the Apple Store. Not that that's a bad thing in itself...
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

What a shoddy post.

Thanks! I'll be here all week!
posted by sourwookie at 10:10 AM on September 17, 2006

*murders sourwookie*

This is one of those "never will affect me" issues that think is really cool anyway. I'm also kind of surprised this hasn't been a major debate.

That being said, I'd always gotten the impression that horseshoes were vaguely analogous to having steel fingernails, which I'd be first in line for.
posted by ®@ at 10:14 AM on September 17, 2006

Damn you Smart Dalek, now I'm going to spend the whole day thinking about silhouettes of horses grooving out with little iPod headphones stuck in their ears.
posted by quin at 10:15 AM on September 17, 2006

Natural hoof care is a great thing for people that can pasture their horses (which is also a great thing). Unfortunately, a lot of horses live in stalls, softening and weakening the hoof while at the same time allowing it to grow faster.

That being said, there are a number of horse breeds that have naturally strong hooves and are never shod. My family raised Peruvian Paso Horses, which have a very showy natural gait and never wear shoes.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:18 AM on September 17, 2006

In fifty years, barns all over the country will have Nike Thoroughbreds hanging over the doors.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:19 AM on September 17, 2006

The pros and cons of going unshod.

My wife's horse kicks his own shoes off regularly. In the rocky, hilly terrain he's in, that means he cannot be ridden, so we think he does it on purpose.
posted by moonbiter at 10:27 AM on September 17, 2006

ya know, i hate horses, but i've been around them enough to know why i hate them. however, it's kinda funny to see how people here, who probably know nothing about them, make comments. Folks:

1. putting on horseshoes does not hurt the horse. it's like cutting your fingernails. if the horse feels pain, there is a problem, and the ferrier will know immediately.

2. the shoes protect the horse's feet. maybe when they roamed the earth naturally it wasn't a problem, but a split hoof is extremely painful to the horse, and that's what a horseshoe prevents.

the only cruelty involved would be in not shoeing a working horse.

but as an aside, that thermal picture was odd. wtf?
posted by lester's sock puppet at 10:32 AM on September 17, 2006

Correct me if I'm wrong, but if one of your three feet had a funny high shoe on it, wouldn't you adjust your gait to put less stress on the odd one? That would mean you used those muscles less, giving a cooler radiograph. The idea may be sound, but that image is not very convincing proof.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:32 AM on September 17, 2006

By the way, I'm not saying it's bad to let your horse go unshod. It depends on the horse, the terrain he's in, and what he's doing. My wife's horse goes half the year unshod. But sometimes you just want to have ya some steel-toed boots...
posted by moonbiter at 10:34 AM on September 17, 2006

this is all well and good, but what about dog shoes?

posted by snofoam at 10:40 AM on September 17, 2006

Sportpony.com, one of the original links, has a pretty balanced outlook on this - Some Horses Need Shoeing, Some Don't
posted by Lanark at 10:41 AM on September 17, 2006

There are other shoe materials besides steel.
posted by Brian B. at 10:45 AM on September 17, 2006

Horseshoes are fine for those horses that need them, such as working horses, or horses with problem hooves or feet. It's the every horse should have 4 shoes attitude from some ferriers that bothers me. My daughters horse goes barefoot, although she is giving some thought to shoing his front feet in the winter.
posted by COD at 10:54 AM on September 17, 2006

Some Horses Need Shoeing, Some Don't

The site loads and I see the title...but the page is empty.
posted by cribcage at 11:44 AM on September 17, 2006

At first when I looked at the thermograph, I assumed that the three hot legs were the ones with hooves that were shod, the other (cooler leg) hoof unshod. When I read that it was in fact the reverse, I thought WTF? Why would the unshod legs be hotter than the shod leg?

I don't think metal shoes would make your legs cold. I think, if anything, they would transfer heat from hot pavement to your feet; if you were standing on dirt or grass then I don't think they would make a huge difference in the temperature of your legs. To me the only reasonable hypothesis is the one advanced by Popular Ethics above that the horse is not using that foot because the shoe on it feels funny so he's favoring his non-shod feet.

But I could be wrong. Let's get some grant money and study this further! C'mon, who's with me?
posted by jenii at 12:13 PM on September 17, 2006

They explained it the hoof expands with blood when it hits the ground and contracts when it leaves the surface. Check the horse link in the FPP it talks about horses having 5 hearts.
posted by Rubbstone at 12:20 PM on September 17, 2006

Any article that states the horses have 5 hearts can't be trusted to have any factual information about Horse anatomy. Makes me wonder if they know the difference between a frog and a hock.

I'll follow Baxter Black's recommendations as to whether pack stock should be shod or unshod.
posted by X4ster at 1:05 PM on September 17, 2006

Has there been a spelling convention change for farrier to ferrier? Because I thought ferrier was the archaic french version, and the modern meaning of ferrier was someone who runs a ferry service.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:20 PM on September 17, 2006

X4ster, RTA, the five heart comment is metaphorical.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:32 PM on September 17, 2006

I think horses would be much cooler with wheels and tires. Enough of this feet nonsense!
posted by stenseng at 1:35 PM on September 17, 2006

But I haven't got a horse.
posted by crunchland at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2006

X4ster, it is obviously a Klingon horse.
posted by QIbHom at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2006

Dobbin wants new jet-propelled roller skates! 16 Wheels of JUSTICE.
posted by Sparx at 1:48 PM on September 17, 2006

Oh, metaphorical like in the song; 'Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel ... 'Cause they've got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snorting fire'

As to the spelling - Here on the left coast of the US I've always seen the spelling as Farrier for anyone who does shoeing and hoof trimming. That's the spelling my brother used on his business card when he was still doing the job.
posted by X4ster at 1:52 PM on September 17, 2006

This is interesting. I groomed hunter/jumpers for a while, and I know a few farriers. Sorry for the long post here, but this is something I've thought about for a while. While I agree that something needs to be done about the current state of horses' hooves, these are my general reactions:

Most horses out there would be better off going unshod, not because shoeing is inherently bad, but because almost every farrier working today doesn't know his job. Any horse that gets ridden any amount will be better off if he's well-shod. I've seen lame horses, horses that could barely limp with a person on their back, who suddenly gained a great deal of movement back through expert shoeing.

The thing is: shoeing is an extremely diverse art. Most farriers you meet seem to think that shoeing means slapping iron on the bottom of a horse's foot so that it doesn't wear down. Anyone who knows physiology-- and my farrier knows more about horse physiology than any vet I've met-- knows that, as these links say, the idea that horses need shoes to prevent wear is pure bunk.

But the thing is, that's not why they've been putting shoes on horses for hundreds of years. (It's sort of ridiculous and unrealistic to assume that, for hundreds of years, every single person in every one of the billions of times and places that have used horses in our civilization has been so stupid that they didn't try letting horses go unshod.) We shoe horses because the shape of the bottom of a horse's foot dramatically affects the gait and posture of the animal, and, considering that a horse is an extremely heavy four-footed creature, expert shoeing allows us to control the most important factor in his/her health. Iron is still the best material for this because it's soft enough for us to mold and shape it at the barn but hard enough to support a horse adequately. There is nothing "medieval" or "primitive" about expert farriery; and it might be useful to point out that horses were often better cared-for in the medieval than they are now.

The thermograph that was given of a horse's legs is very telling; yes, it shows that the shoed leg is deadened a great deal. But to say that that's simply a piece of evidence against shoeing leaves out a lot of considerations. First and foremost, and most obvious, is the fact that if only one leg is shod, that leg will be completely unbalanced; perhaps if the other three were shod, none of them would be deadened. Second, even if we had a thermograph of the whole horse shod and unshod, it might still show the shod legs deadened, simply because the farrier might not be doing his job properly.

There is no understating the amount that the farrier's art has been diminished in the last fifty years. Older farriers, or those very few who take their craft seriously, can tell you that they're surrounded by a great deal of ignorance; it isn't an overstatement to say that nearly every horse-related accident was directly caused or could have been prevented by the farrier. Aside from rider-caused accidents, every jumping accident I've ever seen, including one in which a nine-year-old girl died, was caused by bad shoeing.

So in the end, I guess I agree with the sentiment expressed in these links. I'm still firmly behind good shoeing, and I'd still shoe any horse of mine; but most people are not as educated as they'd need to be to spot bad shoeing, and most farriers are atrocious at what they do. So I would say that it's probably healthy to encourage most people to leave their horses unshod.
posted by koeselitz at 2:03 PM on September 17, 2006 [8 favorites]

...and I should say that this quote from the wikipedia article is dead wrong:

"When horseshoes were first used, the scientific study of anatomy and physiology had not been invented yet."

Every good horseman-- and they've existed for thousands upon thousands of years-- has known the physiology of his horse. Practical physiology is the best kind. What's more, people like Aristotle were studying the physiology of horses for two thousand years before horseshoes were invented. Ugh. In fact, the wikipedia article is rife with this kind of thing. Kind of a good example of how wikipedia can be so bad sometimes.

posted by koeselitz at 2:09 PM on September 17, 2006

my father-in-law is a farrier... his horses go unshod out in the pasture... horeshoes are for horses that are ridden constantly, do work or have problems with their hooves... they are not for every horse every day... and I have never heard a farrier make such a claim...

I never knew what a farrier was until I met my future wife... one of our first conversations went like this:
"What does your dad do?"
"He's a farrier. He shoes horses."
"He's a fairy who shoots horses? Please tell me you did not just say that."

She married me anyway....
posted by WhipSmart at 2:39 PM on September 17, 2006 [2 favorites]


this is all well and good, but larry david is still bald!
posted by clyde at 3:14 PM on September 17, 2006

Keoslitz, Aristotle's physiology was often amazingly inaccurate, even fanciful. Galen's anatomy and physiology dominated western thought on the subject all the way until the seventeeth century. The circulation of blood and the functioning of the heart and lungs wasn't even known until Harvey.

You might expect, what with all the slaughtering of animals and so forth, that people would have understood the basic workings of anatomy all along. But that isn't the case. To understand why that isn't the case, you have to understand why Aristotle and Galen were so often wrong. It has to do with understand the universe in a way that is very alien to a modern in an industrialized society.

So, really, the statement you're disagreeing with is certainly literally true—that the sciences of anatomy and physiology hadn't been invented yet.

Of course horesmen since the domestication of horses have well understood the apparent anatomy and physiology of their horses. But there's no reason why that would include understanding the (supposed) essential role in circulation that the hooves have when it wasn't until modern times that it was even understood that blood circulated in a closed system (and understanding which is necessary for the argument about unshod hooves to make sense).

I say this as someone with considerable formal education in the history of science, but a really nice overview of the subject, including the dominance of Galen and Aristotle's wholly inadequate and often fanciful medicine until the enlightenment, is Boorstin's The Discoverers.

I guess I should qualify my point by admitting that Galen, Aristotle and others shouldn't be thought as epitome of knowledge on this subject during this period because I don't doubt that many common people had practical knowledge that was superior to theirs in many ways. Nevertheless, there's only so far you can go with that and we know as a matter of historical fact that almost always in these sorts of matters, in pre-scientific cultures this practical knowledge was a mixture of facts and real comprehension and lots and lots of false folklore. Because, ultimately, even these people with daily practical experience were understanding the world in terms similar to how Aristotle was. For example, if you begin with a mystified notion of health and disease, you look at physiology (obviously) and even anatomy very differently.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:20 PM on September 17, 2006

Ethereal Bligh: "Aristotle's physiology was often amazingly inaccurate, even fanciful."

True, at least as far as horses go. (And even people, to an extent, although that extent is usually overestimated.)

But horse physiology was actually an object of everyday and unbiased study far before human physiology. One of the best examples of this, if you ask me, is Xenophon's book on horsemanship. No, it isn't an in-depth book on physiology, per se, but it betrays a deep, intimate knowledge of how a horse feels and acts. Xenophon also has this benefit: if he wasn't familiar with Aristotle's work on physiology, he was familiar with other physical scientists of the age, and thus could combine practical knowledge with a perspective on the "theoretical" view.

Finally, the reason I mentioned Aristotle is that, while his knowledge might not be as refined as that of scientists today, I think his methods are better. Knowledge about horses comes more from watching them live, working and living with them, than from cutting them open or x-raying them. The scientific method of today was founded by people (Descartes chief among them) who generally believed that animals are essentially different from humans; in a word, that humans have souls, but animals don't. This belief, I think, has led to a state where we're warned not to 'anthropomorphize' animals, and told that anyone who even pretends to understand how animals think or feel is kidding himself. But horsemen have always known that understanding and communicating with an animal can bring deep knowledge of how the animal lives and thinks. In no realm is this more apparent than in horse care; for, even in this age of 'high science,' veterinarians almost never know exactly what makes horses sick, and are usually reduced to trying to shift guts around in order to make them more comfortable. (Being a vet is more than that, but it's certainly more careful guesswork than scientific research.)
posted by koeselitz at 3:55 PM on September 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, and by the way, the point which the wikipedia article's statement seeks to support, that no one knew that horse's hooves were living, had blood vessels and muscles, etc., before the modern era, is demonstrably untrue; this is not only visible when carefully watching a horse, but, if I recall correctly, Xenophon mentions it.
posted by koeselitz at 3:58 PM on September 17, 2006

Science according to koeselitz:
"human" is separate from "animal"

Humans have souls

Animals lack souls
Somehow I missed each of those days in my science class. Please tell us more.

As for Aristotle's methods, I'd love to hear how the guy who taught that women have fewer teeth than men, without ever bother to check, had methods that were better than those of today's science.

Again, please tell us more.
posted by NortonDC at 9:24 AM on September 18, 2006

According to a horsie person I sent the FPP link to, this unshod business is about as reputable as homeopathic medicines...
posted by five fresh fish at 10:27 AM on September 18, 2006

NortonDC wrote:
Science according to koeselitz:

[ blah blah blah ]
All three of your statements, which do not deserve to be reprinted, are either distortions of or outright lies about what koeselitz wrote, even accounting for subjective differences.
posted by scrump at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2006

Hmm, I don't think so... (checks, again). No, I definitely didn't ask you, scrump.
posted by NortonDC at 12:44 PM on September 18, 2006

You didn't ask me, either. But you're still wrong, Troll.
posted by cribcage at 1:09 PM on September 18, 2006

Fascinating information I will probably never need to know, therefore the best kind of information. :)
posted by nightchrome at 5:52 PM on September 18, 2006

Interesting stuff, koeselitz.

NortonDC, you seem to have misread koeselitz's comment entirely.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:54 PM on September 18, 2006

NortonDC: Hmm, I don't think so... (checks, again). No, I definitely didn't ask you, scrump.

Huh... and yet, when you post something blatantly bullheaded and inaccurate, other people in this public forum choose to get involved. Fascinating.

Anyway, I think koeselitz's point about Aristotle was pretty clearly made: that he finds careful observation to be a more satisfying method of study than uninformed dissection. It might be a simplified view, but it's one that I can heartily agree with. Which is not to say that uninformed or careless observation is a good substitute.

That was waaaay more defense than this argument deserved.

koeselitz, thanks for the enlightening tidbits on farriers. Makes me wish I could find one around here to follow around for awhile.
posted by medialyte at 8:15 PM on September 18, 2006

koeselitz packed a lot of the stupid into a tight space. Very efficient, but not very informative.

His statements on science describe the founding of an era he assigns to Descartes through to the modern era. He draws a straight line, heavily implying that the biases he assigns to Descartes are still hobbling (oh, I kill me) medical science's understanding of horses. The beliefs he posits are that people have a soul, that animals don't, and that science tells us this separates humanity from animals. And all of this appears as "support" in a paragraph devoted to telling us how Aristotle's method's are better than the methods of scientists today.

Horseshit. Aristotle could not be bothered to check his reasoning against reality, leading to blunders exemplified by his no-room-for-doubt assertion that women have fewer teeth than men. The fact that he pushed this idea without looking to see if it was true is an enormous failure of process, of method, one that modern science would not make, because it's methods are demonstrably better. In fact, it's their demonstrability that makes them better. Scientists still say countless boneheaded things, but the scientific method weeds them out.

By the end of the paragraph koeselitz is trying to draw another comparison, this one between modern equine medicine and modern science, but it's halfhearted, and even in it's halfhearted state it undermines his own point to whatever degree it's relevant (which is not high, since he is unfavorably comparing modern physical medical intervention to the behavioral observation capability of antiquity, ye olde apples and oranges). He's now setting up the "guesswork" of horse veterinarians as a feeble counterpoint to "scientific research", when previously in this same paragraph his argument depended on modern science being still so blinded by its founder's biases that it was worse that Aristotle's divorced-from-reality reasoning. So, the comparisons koeselitz makes regarding horses are: Aristotle good, science bad; and then in the same paragraph veterinarians bad, science good. Vigorous pursuit of either argument destroys the other, killing any possibility of the ideas and reasoning in that paragraph standing up to scrutiny.

Now, is this all koeselitz had to say? Nope. It was just the only part that I read that was too boneheaded to let pass without comment.
posted by NortonDC at 8:55 PM on September 18, 2006

The conventional view of Aristotle, at least from a modern scientific viewpoint, is that he just made shit up. But this isn't really fair to Aristotle. What's much closer to the truth is to say that he was a very, very, very bad empiricist...but that the fact that he was an empiricist in any sense, to any degree, is really remarkable and he deserves credit for it. He was haphazard at what he'd actually look at and describe; sometimes he did just that, other times he'd do it partly and then elaborate with theoretical presumptions, and often he'd just manufacture from theory.

In any case, I don't think it can be argued that Aristotle was very correct in his being an authority on anatomy. Certainly not in the context of this discussion which is that standard set by anatomists after the eighteenth century.

My example of the closed system of blood circulation and Harvey, I thought, was a good one and essentially settled the issue. You can't really argue that anyone could understand the importance of what is described in these links (how the hooves act as blood pumps) unless you understood blood circulation.

As to the rest of koeslitz's and NortonDC's argument, I have no interest or opinion.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:31 PM on September 18, 2006

Wow. I've never been in the sideblog before. Matt, all: thanks.

As for the Aristotle thing, a stupid derail which I admit to starting myself, I only want to correct some of NortonDC's misperceptions about what I said:

I respect horse veterinarians a great deal. What they do is very difficult work. However, the nature of their work isn't classically "scientific," at least not as the word is used now, and not as I understand it. It can't be; it wouldn't work for a vet to be scientific. I'm not a vet, but I'll try to explain what I mean.

Vets do a lot more than take care of sick horses-- they try, of course, to prevent sickness. But while a vet can generally tell a lot about how healthy a horse is, what condition its muscles are in, et cetera, there is a limit to that knowledge. That is: it's almost impossible to actively prevent sickness in horses. Ask a vet how to keep a horse from getting sick, and he'll generally tell you what we've known for years: feed and water and exercise.

When a horse actually becomes sick, it's extremely dangerous; horses often die from the things they do to themselves when their insides don't feel right. They won't eat, they won't drink, and they'll often slam their heads or bodies against any available wall. The difficult thing for a vet is: there are usually no outward indications of what's really wrong. There are no simple tests that can be done, no quick fixes. A vet often has to stick his arm into the horse's anus (!) and hope he can find where something's tangled. If not, he sometimes tries running the horse to see if that dislodges something. Being a vet means being good at this kind of guesswork.

It's difficult precisely because horses aren't like people: they can't say "it hurts in my stomach." We have to try to communicate in other ways with the animal and, when that fails, guess; we have to attempt to understand what the horse is going through, what he/she is experiencing. That's the job of the veterinarian. The scientific method is based upon attempting to eliminate experience in order to isolate reality; a scientist's own experience when doing an experiment, for example, is abstracted from, and the reality of the experiment is emphasized. But being a vet means understanding what an animal is going through, what it's like to actually be a horse going through what it's going through. That's not something that can be observed, as it's not something physical.

Aristotle, in his treatise On the Soul, points out that there are two ways of considering anger: we can think of it externally, noting that it seems to be caused by certain movements of blood, et cetera, or we can think of it internally, noting that it seems to be caused by some thing which makes us angry. Which, he asks, is correct? Is it the way that considers the physical causes, deducing from them other physical causes? Or is it the way that considers experience from inside experience, and thinks of things like love and anger as objects within the human realm? Or, he asks, must a careful thinker not do both?

That's why I brought Aristotle up: because he was more careful about this than many are nowadays. It's easy to forget, in these times when animals aren't really part of our lives anymore, how interesting and rewarding that relationship between humans and horses can be; I think it helps to teach us the quality of our own experience.

Anyway, NortonDC, you should try Aristotle by reading him for yourself. He's pretty interesting and fun, especially in a good translation. (I recommend those by Joseph Sachs.)

NortonDC: "Horseshit."

Exactly. As in: that's what I was shoveling while I was thinking all this stuff through.
posted by koeselitz at 4:12 PM on September 19, 2006

"Anyway, NortonDC, you should try Aristotle by reading him for yourself. He's pretty interesting and fun, especially in a good translation. (I recommend those by Joseph Sachs.)"

Mr. Sachs teaches at the small college I attended, by the way.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:30 PM on September 19, 2006

Yay St. John's!
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:40 PM on September 19, 2006

"Yay St. John's!"

Are you a johnnie, too?

I should mention for those not familiar with SJC, that it's a Great Book program with a single and fixed curriculum. All of us learn ancient Greek and have actually translated Aristotle (as quickly as the second semester of Freshman year!) besides reading most of his works. We're all quite familiar with Aristotle.

And the Program has six semesters of laboratory science, as well. It traces the development of Western science and, I strongly believe, provides a very strong sense of what is good and bad about empiricism. With that in mind, I well understand koeslitz's argument, though in the end I think it's weak. For the most part, the non-empiricist comprehension of the natural world is evaluated on its success and failures. And its failures far outnumber its successes.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:58 AM on September 21, 2006

No I'm not an alumnus, though I've plenty of friends who are. Mostly, I just love the program, and the sorts of people who choose it and are produced by it. Frankly, I'd love to teach there, but I don't read Greek. :-)
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:48 AM on September 21, 2006

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