There are approximately 300 different horse breeds and an estimated 6.9 million horses in the United States alone. Horses are used for everything from racing to simple trail rides. Their environments range from the black asphalt and concrete of large cities to the rugged mountain trails of Montana. My point is that there are thousands upon thousands of different uses and environments for horses, but some people advocate that there is only one approach to hoof care. On one side, natural hoof care advocates state that there is absolutely no use for shoeing a horse. A select few might go as far as saying that shoeing a horse is abuse. On the other side, others zealously argue that natural hoof care is nothing more than a scam. The passionate debate between natural hoof care advocates and traditional farriers often drives a wedge between the two sides and makes it difficult to accept the merits on both sides.
Traditionally, the majority of farriers have been opposed to natural hoof care. There are several reasons for the opposition that can range from a simple resistance to change all the way to the misconception that natural hoof care takes money out of the farrier’s wallet. The opposition is often further ingrained when the very skills of a farrier are attacked. For example, Jaime Jackson, a noted expert on natural hoof care states, “The equine species is genuinely adapted to go barefoot. It is only through human ignorance of the horse’s natural state that led us to the incorrect, and harmful, conclusion that shoes are necessary — or useful. They aren’t, and, moreover, contribute significantly to the lameness we see everywhere around the world.” For the farrier’s point of view, this can be a harsh statement. It directly attacks the years of training, experience, and hard work required to become a professional farrier.
Farriers are by no means innocent bystanders in the controversy. There are a number of farriers that absolutely refuse to consider any of the advantages of natural hood care and advocate for shoeing every horse. That being said, the majority of hoof care professionals and farriers fall somewhere between those two extremes, but the fact remains that the extreme points of view create the majority of the controversy.
So in the midst of the debate, what is the truth? The fact of the matter is that one size does not fit all. No one horse is the same so you cannot apply the same approach to every horse. In some cases, a horse may need shoes due to the environment or type of work. In other cases, a natural or barefoot approach may be more appropriate. It’s human nature to resist change. We fear what we do not understand. When you combine these natural tendencies with a fierce allegiance to a specific point of view, it makes it difficult to accept the value of a different approach. This article is not about advocating for one approach over the other. Nor is it about discussing the advantages of one over the other. There are hundreds of articles and knowledgeable experts that can discuss these points in great detail. The purpose is to remind you to hold your objections and skepticism for just a moment and consider the merits of the other side. Regardless, of the outcome the time you spend learning and considering the opposite point of view will help you become a better farrier or hoof care professional.