When I put on shoes, it’s specific shoes for running, riding horses, walking around town, dancing or when all else fails: flip flops. When I’m at home, 99% of the time, I kick my shoes off, regardless of how comfy they are.
My feet like to move and feel the texture of the ground. Even in loose boots, my feet can’t wait to get out and be rid of their socks.
I wear shoes outside because my feet aren’t very tough, I like to keep them clean and most ground surfaces would do serious damage to my feet (rocks, glass, pavement, heat, etc.). If I’m on sand, grass or in and out of rivers, I can go barefoot (but that’s not the majority of my walking surfaces).
The majority of the horses in the US are shod back to back. They are always in their supportive shoes. Even if I needed arch support, I wouldn’t want to sleep in it! But our horses do. They have shoes on 24-7 for months and years at a time. Possibly if they are used for breeding, the shoes come off. Possibly if they had an injury, the shoes come off. For the most part though, they are in shoes “for life”.
But their feet grow, like a 6 yr old growing through their shoes.
If you get them trimmed and shod monthly, you might get them trimmed in time to not have their foot feel cramped. Otherwise, if you get them done every 8 weeks or so, they are in “tight shoes” for a couple of weeks. If I have to be in tight shoes for more than 8 hours, my sweet swell up and I don’t want to stand on them any more. And I know women aren’t the only ones with the issue because there are a ton of tutorials for guys to get their tight, leather business shoes to stretch that involve wool socks and blow driers. Our shoes are either too tight, or we "overgrow" them, much like a hoof wall that starts to overlap its shoe.
So I’m playing Devil’s Advocate.
If you aren’t competing, riding, eventing or sticking to your trail riding over Winter… why does your horse still have his shoes on? Let him kick his shoes off for Winter!
If I have to stand in tight shoes for any amount of time, I start to rest each of my feet, shuffling back and forth between being weight-bearing and non. I need to release the pressure of standing, so that my tight shoe feels looser. The other foot, taking the full weight, gets irritated quickly and I have to then switch legs. By the end of a tradeshow, I am shuffling from side to side frequently and neither seems comfy.
When you walk back to your hotel, the first thing you want to do is get out of your shoes or get off of them, by sitting down. Seems horses will do the same.
And it's not like standing for a few hours is exhausting, and neither is a walk trot class that lasts 30 minutes, but we're both out for the count because we have to get off of our feet. If you've tracked with the anatomy blogs I wrote earlier this year, you can see why a horse would like to exercise barefoot for the flexing of the hoof and the ease on the tendons thusly. Again, the more work is shared between more parts, the less work another part has to handle alone. If the hoof can flex and is made so that it can't, the suspensory ligament, deep digital flexor tendon and shoulder muscles will have to pick up the slack. It's like group projects at work, where one guy slacks and the rest of the us pick up the workload and get grouchy about it.
Beyond tight feet, it is a common sense concept that hoof growth will slow during the winter months. If the growth is slow, you will see that your nail holes will get closer and closer spaced, as there is no new growth to clinch into. After a short period, you just have a line of nail holes going vertically, which leaves weakness in where you are trying to nail.
photo courtesy of Fran Jurga of www.hoofblog.com
On the left you can see a simple illustration of faster growth which leaves larger gaps between your nailing. In the middle, you can see slower growth, leaving little gaps between your nailing and structurally weakening the next nailing job. It has Swiss Cheese as a hoof wall between it and the shoe. The right shows your fresh hoof wall, after your last nail holes have all grown out of Winter and into Spring. Letting your horse go barefoot gives the hoof wall a chance to reset.
If you want to ride, then put boots on him to give temporary support. Otherwise, let him be “barefoot in his living room” just like you are.
If I go running, I put on shoes. So can he!
If I go hiking, I put on shoes. So can he!
But for all the time that I am at home, I don’t want my shoes on. I want to be barefoot. Guess what? So does he.
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Through a lifetime of "horse crazy" and the fortunate experience of riding nearly every shape and size of horse, I got to see a wide array of hoof shapes and sizes. No Hoof, No Horse is very true to me. I want to ensure that horses on every continent have a variety of footwear to pick from, to ensure the best match is found. I want your partner to be happy from the ground up!