Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
According to Dr. Chris White in the publication The Horse, many horse owners in the northern United States remove their horse’s shoes for the winter to keep snow from packing onto the steel shoes.
Even if you live where there’s not much snow, you may still want to remove your horse’s shoes at some point, and it is important to have a plan.
Transitioning your horse from wearing shoes to going barefoot requires a bit of planning, and it is better for your horse if done gradually.
In addition to ice and snow packing, allowing your horse to be barefoot for a period of time will help with contracted heels and allow your horse to grow a healthier frog, especially if your horse has a problem with thrush.
Regularly trimming your horse’s hooves is always important, but any trimming after your horse’s shoes are freshly removed should be minimal, as the protection that was provided by the shoe is now gone.
Removing the shoes and then possibly too much of the sole can lead to lameness due to bruising. Farrier Alicia Harlov, a hoof care provider on the North Shore of Massachusetts and a member of Progressive Hoofcare Practitioners, and the author of the Humble Hoof says if she is going to remove shoes, she starts with the hind feet as she feels this is an easier transition. Some horses are uncomfortable when removing all four shoes at the same time and keeping the front shoes on for a while gives them time to adjust to being barefoot.
Alicia also says that a well-balanced diet is important for hoof health. Addressing any conditions like laminitis secondary to Cushing’s disease, or equine metabolic syndrome, is critical for success.
Alicia makes a point that barefoot is not for every horse. Some horses have genetically thin soles and will never do well barefoot, while others do very well without shoes.