Horsemen around the world continue to debate whether horses should wear shoes or be barefoot. "This controversy has been going on for years and is not likely to be resolved any time in the near future," said Debra Taylor, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Nonetheless, she noted, more people seem to be jumping on the barefoot bandwagon. She discussed this trend during a presentation at the 2013 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 17-21 in Las Vegas, Nev.

Taylor reminded attendees that any management or treatment plan can be implemented correctly or incorrectly—thus, either doing good or causing harm. The barefoot concept is no different. She said that while some barefoot proponents aren’t overly well-informed, many are well-educated in the "art," which they believe can help enhance soundness and increase functionality.

During her presentation and in the associated notes, Taylor outlined several common questions about the barefoot concept and shared her thoughts on each.

Does "barefoot" really mean bare foot?

It can, but not always. Taylor said that while the long-term goal is to develop the horse’s feet so they can function properly without protection, the horse will need help—most commonly in the form of hoof boots—while getting to that point. And even after a horse has successfully transitioned to being barefoot, Taylor said, he will likely need protection when working on unfamiliar surfaces.

The Heel’s Role

According to Debra Taylor, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVI