In a well-conformed, well-built horse, the barefoot state is the most natural situation and probably the healthiest, depending on the work the horse is asked to do. But taking the shoes off a horse and leaving them off is not a good idea for every animal, writes Marcia King in the November edition of The Horse.
Thoroughbreds often have no depth of sole. But irrespective of breed, many conformation types are ill-suited to going barefoot.
"The long-toed, low-heeled, long-sloping pasterned horse is an unlikely type to go barefoot," said Emil Carre, president of the American Farrier's Association. "The long toes and low heels may likely lead to heel pain and tendon problems, and a longer, sloppier gait because of toe length. The horse that is extremely offset in the knees is another type that probably can't go barefoot for any length of time.
"Then there is the club-footed horse," he continued. "A club-footed horse is going to have a pair of mismatched feet (unless it's a bilateral club foot), so those horses will have a mismatched gait. In order to help that, you have to make adjustments in the feet and lock those adjustments in with shoes. If you don't, the toe will break off the club foot and you'll have a stumpy little gait on that side."
Horses prone to hoof chips, cracks, and shelly feet also can benefit from protected hooves.
"Even some horses that have never been ridden and were always pastured have to wear shoes," Carre said.