Rick Burten, Master Ferrier from Urbana, Ill., is a man on a mission. "There isn’t a single ounce of scientific evidence that shows shoeing a horse is harmful," Burton said. "But people hear things like ‘shoeing makes the hoof go numb’ and it seems to make sense to them so they believe it."
Along with the mission, Burten may also have a small chip on his shoulder. "People say, ‘sure you want to shoe horses. That’s how you make money.’ Really? If it was about making all the money I could, I’d quit shoeing horses and stick to just trimming hooves," Burten said.
What Burten advocates is doing the right thing for your horses. Maybe the right thing includes shoes or perhaps not. Speaking at the recent Horse Days event, Burten tried to dispel a few common myths about horse hoof care. Of special interest is a group of people advocating for the "shoeless" horse.
"There are horses that don’t need shoes," Burten said. "And if your horse doesn’t need shoes then you shouldn’t put shoes on him. It’s not barefoot (unshod) versus shod. It’s doing the right thing for your horse."
A trustworthy ferrier understands the differences between horses and making sure the animal gets proper care. The ferrier will work with you as part of a team that can include a veterinarian and a nutritionist and any other providers and handlers.
Since no two horses are the same, each animal needs a complete evaluation that should include consideration of what the owner needs, how the animal is being used, the kind of horse, and its living conditions. "I have an intake protocol," Burten asserted. "I watch the horse on hard surface and soft surfaces. I ask the owner a series of questions including the horse’s hoof-health history."
When considering hoof care and finding the right ferrier for your horse, Burten said it’s important for you to be the voice for your horse. Someone who refuses to have pictures taken of the hoof work probably isn’t going to work well with the team, for example.
"No two horses are the same and no two feet are the same either," Burten said. "If a ferrier works only by a formula they can screw the horse up. The idea isn’t to make all the hooves ‘even’ it’s to create the optimal position for each hoof."
Another common myth, Burten said, is that steel shoes can increase concussion/impact-type injuries. The first clue it’s a myth is the existence of so many different kinds of shoes. Burten explained that you match the type of shoe you use to the horse and what the horse needs. "And a recent study looked at concussion injuries and the use of steel shoes and discovered concussion injuries were actually reduced with steel shoes in performance horses," he said.
The horse business community ends up dealing with issues that are not truly controversial because of beliefs and values that have nothing to do with taking the best possible care of a horse, Burten said. Just because one person has good luck not shoeing a horse isn’t proof positive that no horse should ever have shoes put on, he added.
"There are cases when a horse should have shoes for a specific time and use and then may be fine without shoes the rest of the time. There are times when you may only need shoes on two hooves," Burten said. "Yes. There are horses that don’t need shoes."
Do what’s best for the horse is his final advice.