Question: Do horses need to have their shoes removed when they are turned out over winter? Last season I thought I was doing my part-TB a favour taking his shoes off, but he was really crippled and unhappy hobbling around the paddock, let alone on the stoney driveway when I bought him in for his feeds. After about 10 days, I couldn’t stand watching him any more so I got his shoes put back on. Do the feet benefit really from having a period without shoes or is this a myth? I plan to turn him out over February-March this year as I am having a baby, and would ideally like him to be barefoot over that time, but I’m worried as the ground will be so much harder than it is in winter. Any advice appreciated.
Answer: Each horse needs to be assessed as an individual so there are no hard and fast rules about taking the shoes off for a short period. Dependant on type, breed and environment, some horses can manage perfectly without shoes and gain some level of benefit to the quality of the hoof while others will be foot-sore and/or the feet will deteriorate. If the shoes are removed for a period then it is still vitally important for the feet to be dressed and balanced at very regular intervals. However, from what you have said already, I would be cautious about removing the shoes on your part-TB if you have previously tried it and he was really crippled. With the ground being harder in the summer, I would suggest that he might not be very different this time around. Another option would be to remove the hind shoes and leave him shod in front only. The largest percentage of weight is carried on the forelimbs and feet (around 65%) so leaving the front shoes on would offer a certain level of protection and comfort to him while you are having the baby. You could consider talking to your farrier about whether this is a sensible option – he/she will no doubt know your horses feet and be able to make an informed decision for your particular circumstances. Good luck with the baby!
David Hankin Dip.WCF
This question and answer was first printed in NZ Horse & Pony magazine