Nia Cooke DEP MEPA(UK)
Alistair Taylor DEP MEPA(UK)



Improved Shock Absorption 

When a shod hoof makes contact with the ground, the ground reaction forces travel first through the shoe, and then the wall, and then the bony column, with little contact from the frog or any cushioning structures in the hoof. In a correctly landing unshod hoof, the heel hits the ground first, with the frog, lateral cartilages and digital cushion acting as a natural shock absorption, along with the laminae filling with blood to allow the hoof wall to expand and contract (see next section!) So there are hugely reduced impact forces hitting the wall and bony column and other internal structures in an unshod hoof. This is clearly likely to reduce the risk of injuries to tendons and ligaments and arthritic changes such as Sidebone and Ringbone etc. Achieving a proper heel first landing, as opposed to flat or toe first can massively improve the gait and therefore improve the overall performance of the horse.

Improved Circulation 

It is widely accepted that shoes restrict circulation to the hoof, by restricting the amount of expansion and contraction that can occur, being as hoof keratin is some 10000 times more flexible than aluminium or steel. As mentioned above, in an unshod hoof, the laminae will with blood and, which in turn helps ensure a healthy supply of the entire hoof. This is believed to influence and improve proprioception (the horses' ability to know where it's limbs are) so you also end up with a more sure-footed horse, as well as a healthier one.

Better traction 

In a transitioned and healthy barefoot hoof, there will be a nice concavity to the sole, thick walls a little above the level of the sole at the quarters, a healthy frog big enough to just make contact with the ground, a nice thick sole which will create deep collateral grooves, and healthy bars - all of these things create a great multi-depth surface, being triangular at the heels where it's needed the most for traction, just like a car tyre or like tread on wellies or walking shoes! It is also thought by some that the frog and heels bulbs have a suction effect on mud or ice increasing the traction. Better traction can be very useful in time trials - People often comment that their newly unshod horses perform much better on turns, once the rider gets used to the swifter turning sensation it's great!

Early warning system 

Changes to overall health can be witnessed earlier in an unshod hooves and so any changes to health can be identified and treated much sooner than if the horse was shod. A shoe does mask a lot of lameness, especially what we tend to call more 'footy' issues. If a horse is footy without shoes, it's still footy with them, it's just been masked. And in my view, a footy horse is not something that should be ignored. Laminitis is now incredibly prevalent in domestic horses, with as many as 90% chronic sufferers having an underlying hormonal condition. In an unshod hoof, any inflammation in the feet, which could be an indicator of such a conditions, are identified quickly and diet and environment can be improved to reduce the risk of any future flare ups. (See laminitis article to learn more.)


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