To Shoe or Not to Shoe

- July 11, 2011

"New Mexico horse trainer Beth Longanecker took the big leap into the barefoot world and finds the payoffs worth the journey."

For years I have been wondering what we are doing to our horses’ feet, bones and joints keeping steel on their feet.  When I was a little girl my father always pulled our horses shoes for the winter months and turned the horses out.  We did not re-shoe them until spring right before our show schedule started.  Our horses had beautiful feet; we never had a problem with lameness.  It was such a simple time.

As an adult, I have experienced not such a simple time owning my own horse business in Colorado, then moving to Santa Fe New Mexico in 1997.   I have gone through many crises from quarter cracks, to toe cracks, imbalance, sloughing frogs, no sole depth or too much sole depth.   It can make your head spin. Today, too many good horses are retired prematurely from joint and feet issues developed at an early age. 

About 3 years ago, my sister and brother-in-law, both farriers in Westcliffe Colorado, recommended a seminar nearby given by Gene Ovnicek on Natural Balance®.  Gene had spent several years researching wild mustangs’ feet to ascertain why they have such great feet, never get any care, yet manage to travel about 70 miles a day over any kind of terrain. 

After his seminar, my thinking started to change; however, the most profound thing he said was that in the winter months his father used to pull his horses shoes and let their feet rest for the winter. Remembering my childhood, that clicked for me. 

Then we had a great show horse develop a lameness we could not resolve.  So we traveled to Little Colorado for an MRI to find that our horse had injured himself due to a lack of balance.  The vet thought it might take a year of stall confinement.  Gene met us after the MRI and spent three hours balancing our horse so he would heal properly.  Gene referred us to his Santa Fe student, Gene Legerski, to maintain this horse.  Luckily, it took only about 5 months with the Natural Balance® hoof care method. The horse recovered and went on to the World Championship Shows.

I was convinced.  I took the big leap into barefoot and back to basics with the support of my barn client’s 24 horses.  The first year was really hard.  We had to trim more often from old problems and experimented with different boots to manage the horses. Horses with Cushings, laminitis or insulin resistant need extra attention. 

It was exhausting taking on and off the boots every day on 24 horses for turnouts. They were sore just as you would be if you took off your shoes and run over rocks.  Today our horse’s feet look better than ever. We have no contracting heels, no quarter cracks, no hooves that look as if the horse is standing on tuna cans.  We have healthy frogs, and we have reduced the injections of hocks or coffin joints by 75%.  That’s a pretty amazing payoff. 

Moreover, our horse’s movement had started to decline over the years, resulting in lower placing at shows.  This bugged me to no end.  However, after we went through the transition to barefoot, the horses started to move as they had as yearlings.  The lights came on.  Now, we trail ride and show barefoot.  Their feet look beautiful.   

There are times when we shoe – primarily when we are going into extremely rocky or wet terrain. We use the Easy Boot Gloves for trail riding, and the Old Macs for transporting and getting the horses to and from different arenas at horse shows. If you’re using boots, carry backups and duct tape for the rare rip or tear. The boots stand up well to average conditions including deep sand, but are compromised by a lot of water.  Water seems to create suction that pulls the gloves off. Unfortunately, shows do not permit the boots in classes.

Before you begin, consult with your Farrier and your Vet.  Your Vet and Farrier need to be on the same page: the farrier can only see what the outside of the foot tells him.  It can be a great help to have the vet take x-rays for the farrier.  The x-rays are not expensive for a baseline of what's happening inside the foot.  

A great deal of information is available on websites.  Appreciate that it takes a horse a year to grow a new foot, so patience is required. Don’t throw your farrier away if your horse gets sore because most likely soreness will occur.  Most of all, I recommend a farrier that specializes in Natural Balance®.

To shoe or not to shoe is a personal question.  I have had greater success with basically barefoot horses.  

Beth Longaneckeris an AQHA and Paint horse trainer in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Email  or phone 505-930-1989

Gene Ovnicekis nationally and internationally recognized as a farrier, clinician, researcher, and apioneer in the study of wild horse hoof form and function.

Gene Legerskiin Santa Fe, is available for Natural Balance trims, shoeing, or consultation.  Phone 505-429-9828 or email