Shod vs. Shoeless - The Debate Continues !
Pick up any one of the numerous equine magazines on any newsagents shelf and the chances are that it will contain an article either debating the merits of the latest design in remedial shoes or one promoting the benefits of being barefoot and natural
Opinion certainly seems to be just as divided as ever and unfortunately, this is one of the problems, many of these arguments are not based on fact, they are based on opinion. Opinion often supported by conjecture and supposition. So where does this leave the average horse owner ? Confused !
What we view as the traditional farrier sciences, have in fact changed little over the last 200 years. It is only in the last two decades that independent research has identified the true structural and functional anatomy of the distal limb. This new information has forced us to question the traditional approaches to hoof care 'Structure + Function = Performance'
The facts are that 1) the advent of a shoe, although providing artificial support, is actually detrimental to the health of the distal limb and that 2) a high percentage of horses can (with a managed transition and involvement of a hoof care specialist) can achieve high performance without the need for a shoe
In a ideal world we would like to see many more horses performing shoeless but the fact is that each and every horse is born with a certain genetic ‘hoof print’ and it is this ‘hoof print’ which will dictate at what level they are capable of performing without shoes. There are other contributing factors such as the environment, diet, exercise regime, owner commitment etc that will have a bearing but ultimately it is genetics that dictate the choice of whether or not to shoe your horse.
In essence this is simply a welfare issue, what is best for your horse ? But why would you want to go without shoes ? The fact is that the shoe itself is a restrictive ‘environment’. An environment, that prevents the foot from distorting across 3 dimensions as nature intended 'Correct pressure is the stimulus for correct growth' This distortion is essential at it provides the stimulus to the internal structures that is required for healthy growth. Without this stimulus, these structures will atrophy and weaken, but what does this mean ? It means that the following pattern of change is all too common
Any structural or functional weakness will mean that the foot is less capable of effectively ‘managing’ the energy that is generated in the foot during the individual stride phases. Specifically, the foot becomes incapable of fully utilising the potential energy required for locomotion (performance) and more importantly it cannot dissipate the excessive concussive energies that a healthy shoeless foot is capable of. This concussive energy, if not dissipated by the foot, will travel up the bone column and suspensory apparatus and can lead to trauma such as ring bone, side bone, caudal heel pain (navicular syndrome)
The key to true ‘shoeless’ performance is ensuring that the hoof capsule is placed in symmetry with the internal foot. This ensures that all bio-mechanical and neurological stimulus exerted on the dermal layer by the epidermal layer is correct and as such, will lead to correct growth (physiology) and not incorrect growth (pathology) 'True balance is only achieved through an equilibrium of function'
That said, you cannot simply remove a horse’s shoes and expect to achieve immediate high performance. The transition has to be carefully managed by a professional hoof care practitioner and the success of the transition will be dependent on not only on ‘genetics’ but on team work, owner commitment and most importantly of all, time.
'The horses has the inate ability to heal itself, providing that the environment is conducive to healing'
There are several ‘schools’ of barefoot trimming prevalent in the UK, but the Institute of Applied Equine Podiatry is the only one that has at it’s foundation a fundamentally new ‘science’. This unique science, developed by the founder of the Institute, KC LaPierre (a Journeyman Farrier for over 15 years) is based upon a foundation of ‘Theory, Model & Method’
Other schools cite the ‘wild horse’ as their model for applying a barefoot trim to horses in the UK, but there are few parallels between the environment of a truly wild horse and those of the horses in domestication. In order to understand the basic tenants of Applied Equine Podiatry (AEP), you have to accept that it is the very act of domestication that has caused the majority of the problems that we experience with our horses feet. AEP not only accepts this fact but actively works to compensate for the negative act of domestication 'Primun Non Nocere - Do No Harm'