They are questions most horse owners have pondered at one time or another. Does my horse really need shoes? Do they help or hinder him?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Consideration must be given to several factors, including a horse’s job, how much he’s used, what type of foot he has, and the climate and terrain to which he’s exposed. And of course, when you ask for advice on whether or not your horse can go barefoot, the answer will vary depending on the person you query. It’s important to look at the overall picture before making a decision.

Doug Butler, PhD, Certified Journeyman Farrier and Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, whose book The Principles of Horseshoeing first appeared and became an industry standard in 1974, has spent almost 50 years as a farrier. He has taught farrier science in a number of settings, including university courses and clinics, for 40 years. And he’s a man who spent many years “cowboying,” and still swings a leg over a horse and rides almost daily through the rough country of northern Colorado. The terrain is laced with crushed granite, and Butler often rides long and hard.

“If you’re in this kind of environment, you can’t leave a horse barefoot for very long,” he states.

Still, he says, if a horse is used under circumstances that permit it, going barefoot certainly has its advantages. “It allows the hoof to have its natural movement and traction, which is limited to some extent with a shoe.”

Christian Rammerstorfer, PhD, PAS, equine exercise physiologist and nutritionist in the department of animal sciences at Oregon State University, agrees. As the leader of the university’s colt training program, and a breeder, trainer, and exhibitor of reining horses in levels including the National Reining Horse Association Futurity, he is a believer in barefoot benefits. In some cases, he