It is not natural for horses to wear shoes and it is very rare to find a stable or riding school offering rides on barefoot horses the reason for this is that we are accustomed to see horses wearing shoes that our reaction to the idea is comparable to the idea of human beings going barefoot.
Can you imagine going to an important meeting, wearing your suit and tie and presenting yourself barefoot with your briefcase under your arm? It just isnt done. However most of the damage and deformity done to human feet is caused by shoes, especially womens. The same applies to horses.
The humble horse shoe has been argued to be one of mankind`s greatest inventions. Horse shoes allowed soft footed domestic horses to be ridden or driven over any terrain and they helped mankind conquer the New World - in warfare, agriculture and transport. Horse shoes weren't just dreamed up by a blacksmith on a quiet day!! They were needed. So, this justifies our desire to keep horses barefoot. The thing is, if we take a look at the traditional hoof care of domestic horses, it is broken. Not today or tomorrow, but the ultimate outcome (in many instances) is premature retirement due to chronic lameness.
The theory of putting shoes on horses hooves is to supplement their primary function - the protection of soft inner structures - but by doing this, all of the other functions of the equine foot are impeded.
Loss of concussion absorption
Horses feet are designed to absorb nearly all of the concussion from ground impact before it reaches the joints of the lower leg, which are only able to accommodate a very small amount of concussion. The equine foot is a complex, three dimensional shock absorber. But horseshoes blow this function right out of the water. The impact of the rigid shoe is transferred straight through the hoof wall, into the bones and joints. It has been estimated that a shod foot receives more concussion at walk than a barefoot does at trot. A commonly accepted figure is a 70-80% increase in concussion when shoes are applied.
Foot function allows both blood and lymph to freely access every living cell in the foot, providing nourishment and removing waste. This cellular nourishment is able to continue, even in spite of the crushing weight of a horse standing feet. There appears to be a significant compromise in the circulation around horses feet when they are wearing shoes. This is most evident on cold mornings, when healthy barefoot are warm to touch, but shod feet are cold. Even more evident is comparing the temperature difference between shod feet and bare feet on the same horse (ie: shod on front, bare on rear). Have you ever wondered why bare feet grow so much quicker than shod feet? Healthy tissue cannot grow with poor circulation. So, how are horseshoes implicated in this? Putting a shoe on a horse's foot significantly alters the weight bearing arrangements on the ground surface. The equine foot is designed to share the weight bearing responsibilities across most of the ground surface - the inner wall, some sole and most of the frog. Notable exceptions are the outer wall and quarters which are not designed for weight bearing. The foot even adapts, over time, to the ground that it is living on in order to optimise this important sharing of the load. A shod foot, however, carries the weight of the horse entirely on the wall, including the outer wall and quarter, which should not be weight bearing.
With bare footing, we are able to maintain a horse's feet in a physiologically correct framework, so they are able to move correctly and rest comfortably and can ultimately remain functional at all times. It provides the opportunity to develop strong and healthy foundations beneath a horse, rather than just prop up dodgy foundations. This leads to better long term soundness.