In Defense of Horseshoes

Ever since the beginning of the Barefoot Movement, horseshoes have taken a bad wrap.

Nails — awful.

Steel — restrictive.

Damn farriers!

Ruining all our horses with outdated, medieval malevolence!

Yet — please!

Let’s don’t throw out the hoof with the bath water . . .


I’m primarily a Barefoot girl, no problem.

And barefoot is great, under the best circumstances.

I’ve ridden sound, barefoot horses on endless trails, for years.

But I shod my horses last week — and took them on one of the trails we’ve ridden, barefoot, for the past twenty years — and it enhanced the entire endeavor!!!


Aria Shadow, Pinos Ride

Bright, springy steps replaced delicate plodding.

Heightened enjoyment, not just for my husband and I, but for the horses — as they didn’t have to bother avoiding sharp, crystalline rocks.


Steel, and pads, and hoof packing — actually saved the day!

Fae Hooves Pinos -- Shoes


So what caused me to add the shoes?

We’ve had a very long, cold and drawn out winter here in the mountainous region of Southern California this year, 2017. In fact it filled our reservoirs, and broke our multi-year drought.

The ground was saturated for more than two months with snow, ice, mud.

Just when it began warming up, drying out — more rain, snow, mud.

It SNOWED 4″ in early MAY!!!!

And just when my horses hooves were developing their hard, dry soles (a kind of callus which acts like shoe protection for the internal structures and comfort of their hooves) the late snow, saturating the ground, caused those soles to slough — the equivalence losing your shoes on a hot day at the beach . . .

And caused those hooves to feel every pebble. Every rock.

rainbow hoof, Hawaii


Shoes and Pads to the Rescue

Enter steel Natural Balance horseshoes, leather and Shock Tamer pads, and Sole Pack medicated packing material.

As a farrier, it’s something I’ve done for other people’s horses for years: Shoe. Pad. Protect.

But something I’ve rarely needed to do for my own homegrown, four-generation, hardy-hooved herd.

Why? Because my own healthy-hooved horses really didn’t need it. Barefoot worked fantastic for my horses (other than occasional shoes to help with gait issues or overreaching).


Shock Tamer Pads -- Fae

So when we rode the top of our local high-elevation (8,000′-9,000′) Mt. Pinos trails the other evening and FELT the difference — same trails, same horses, we’ve ridden for twenty years — I knew I just had to write.

Because theory is one thing.

Reality is another.

Aria Shoes Pinos


Enter Uncle Ink

I agree. Not all horseshoeing is made equal — that’s why I learned to shoe, from my farrier Uncle, Ink Knudson.

I learned to trim my own homebred herd of Arab-cross horses from Uncle Ink in Malibu in 1990.

Great. Wonderful. Sound. No problems.

But by 1996, I’d moved up here to the mountains, and got an Arab-Tennessee Walker, named Max, with less than ideal hooves.

An old barb wire injury to his coronet resulted in a large scar tissue bulb that he would overreach and tear with his hind hoof, causing him head-bobbing lameness.

The hoof that did grow, came in abnormal.


Hoof soreness.

Poor Max!

The local farriers up here in our region weren’t able to keep him sound. Even with pads and packing and egg bar shoes.

That’s when I took him down to Uncle Ink .

And Uncle Ink’s shoes made Max sound.

That’s when I realized, the other farriers couldn’t, wouldn’t do what Uncle Ink did.

I had to learn how to nail on shoes — to help Max. To keep him sound.

DawnHoof - Therapeutic Shoes, Hawaii


Bad Shoeing is Bad — Good Shoeing is Good!

But what was it about Ink’s shoes that worked?

Why couldn’t the local guys have fixed Max and made him comfortable?

What did Ink know that the local guys up here didn’t?

That’s the real secret — the real story.

Steel shoes, alone, aren’t the culprit.

It’s how the hoof is trimmed, and how those shoes are applied.

As my Uncle Ink taught me, “It’s art!”

And as with all art, it takes a good eye, a good feel, and a good understanding of why you’re doing what it is that you do . . .

Aria Leather Pad, Shoes


Uncle Ink was a metallurgist in the Navy in WWII. After the war, he went to Cal Poly,  San Luis Obispo to learn the art of horse shoeing, on the GI Bill.

Then he honed his craft apprenticing with the old Calvary shoers in the LA area.

He worked with famous veterinarians doing specialized therapeutics. He could make any shoe or support apparatus in his coal forge.

He shod every kind of horse for every kind of discipline. He shod for every kind of person, including a cadre of famous actors.

He shod Ronald Reagan’s horses, Roy Roger’s Trigger, Gene Autry’s Champion . . .

And he shod my scruffy first horse, Rebel.


Marco with Grinder

The majority of today’s farriers either studied with an elder, or attended one of the farrier schools.

Emphasis seems more on appearance than function.

How nice the low-nailed clinches appear.

How straight and level the hoof.

(The old question of balance!)

Problem is, high, angled nails hold better.

Heel nails, now out of fashion, hold the best.

Many hooves are, in themselves, not straight or level. The bones have de-mineralized in accordance to the horse’s conformation.

Shoeing those hooves “straight and level” is the same as shoeing a straight and level hoof out of balance.

But how do you teach this?

How do these guys learn what it took my Uncle sixty years under the anvil, the forge, the horse, to gain?

Fae Shoes - all 4


So imagine my bliss in discovering, that the skills I originally learned to help Max with his old injury, actually improved my sound, “barefoot” horses on a real-life trail ride into my own local mountainous back country.

Solid hoofbeats. Solid horses.


We’ve got a great riding schedule planned for this season!!!

Rick on Fae, with Orbs, Pinos


Join Dawn for a Soul Horse Ride!  Experience the thrill of becoming one with your horse . . . Join Dawn and her homegrown herd for a  Soul Horse Ride in the Frazier Park Outback!

Call to book your Life-Changing Adventure today:  (661) 703-6283


Like what you’ve read here? Visit Dawn’s sister blog: Journal of Dawn

Copyright 2017

Anna's Tree, Pinos




May 31, 2017 · 1:51 am

12 responses to “In Defense of Horseshoes

  1. Great piece! I have a question about the increased stride length when you shod your horses. The shoes clearly reduced foot sensitivity, but studies have shown that reducing sensation means that stride length is no longer adjusted to protect the limb on harder surfaces, increasing the risk of concussive injury. As shoes also increase the vibrations transmitted up the leg, compounding any increased strike force, are you worried about the potential for increased injury?

    • I also added pads on the fronts and packing material to reduce concussion. (You can give me a call and I’ll tell you more, too much to discuss in this little comment section.) In my experience — and I’ve bred, trimmed, and ridden these horses for four generations, I’m a good reference here — well-shod horses are fantastic! The trouble is finding a farrier who knows the right stuff. Most AFA trained farriers miss the mark. My methods are based on the research of some very smart, alternative men and women, and my own vast shoeing and trimming experience :))

      (Been trimming my own herd since 1990, shoeing since 1996, as I first had to learn to shoe for a therapeutic horse of mine who could not at all go bare.)

      Please give a call and I’ll answer any questions :)) Dawn

      (661) 245-2182 home/ (661) 703-6281 cell

      • I can’t call you unfortunately as I’m in England so the phone bill would be huge (especially as I think we’d have a lot to discuss!). I agree with you that a well-shod horse will outperform a barefoot horse, but I’m concerned with the eventual cost to the horse’s joints. Rice et al. (2016) found that footwear with more padding led to increased load rates on the leg in human runners. Obviously, this is humans and not horses, but I think they are comparable. If you remove the horse’s ability to feel the ground, they will lose the ability to moderate their strike force on harder ground and so land with more force on each leg.

        I read some of your blog – it’s fascinating! I’d be interested to know a bit more about Max’s abnormal hoof growth, as one of mine has a gait abnormality that causes her to wear her hoof in a way that means she can’t be shod. If she was, it would throw her breakover completely off and her leg would likely seize up more.

        • Max had an old injury to the coronet from a wire cut, before I got him. The hoof grew in with a big funky brittle channel under that area, and a large lump of scar tissue caused him to overreach with his hind and tear himself up — very painful.

          My old farrier Uncle sorted him out and got it all right, but the other farriers up here where I live just messed him up. Uncle Ink shod him with more breakover on the front, squared the hinds and set them back a little bit, so that if he did hit with a hind, it would be with his own hoof, not the shoe.

          Ink apprenticed with the old Calvary shoers here in LA area after WWII, so it was way before AFA (American Farrier’s Association). The shoeing I studied was with Gene Ovnicek, the closest thing to what Uncle Ink did. I learned with Gene and Dr. Robert Bowker and Dr. Barbara Page, back in the 90s and early 2000s. Fantastic, research-based stuff. David Nichols, in England, is a talented and smart farrier who has worked with these folks.

          My horses have been barefoot forever. But I’ve had several now that had to have a breakover I couldn’t get barefoot (our horse, Sage, a rescue Arab, ie.). You might want to look into Epona Shoes — they are out of California, Monique and John Craig. Very intelligent people, lots of research, good stuff.

          All in all, everything just depends . . . on environment. On how it’s all done. But saying that shoes are always bad is simply not true, in my experience.

          My oldest horse, Starboy, born in my arms in Malibu in 1990, is completely sound and happy and still earning his hay money taking groups on fast-moving carriage rides — and in shoes right now.

          Enjoy your journey with your horses — do what they each need to be happy in the job they do. Don’t stress over it all. Life is too short for that!!! :))

  2. I envy you those trails to ride on. Although I do have access to forest where I keep my horse. He is shod in front and barefoot behind. He is an advanced level dressage horse and it is not common for them to be barefoot behind and there are a lot of theories that with the requirements of dressage to carry weight on their hindquarters and with movements like the pirouettes then need to be shod. I bought him 3 years ago and he was barefoot behind then and it seemed to work and it is still working.

    • Good for you :)) If it works, wonderful. Barefoot. Shod. Boots. I’m into doing what the horse needs in order to be comfortable and happy in the environment we’ve got for them.

      (Interestingly, some horses actually do better shod behind and bare in front . . . I’ve utilized this strategy in quite a few instances. It can be used to help a struggling horse get more power, better breakover, or better purchase behind, and lightens up the front end.)

      Also, a lot of the success with shoeing (or trimming) depends on the approach of the farrier. As my farrier Uncle taught me, “It’s art!” And not all artists approach their art the same way, which makes it very tough to make a recommendation :))

      Best to you and thanks for reading my blog :)) Dawn

  3. I don’t have a horse, but these awesome articles make me want to get one!

  4. Fantastic article! I had an excellent farrier – retired now – he taught me the basics of hoof trimming so that I could keep my few horses sound. It’s exhausting work – oh to be a muscular man instead of weenie old girly me – but crucial and rewarding. I love barefoot when it’s appropriate, but sometimes you just need iron. When my first pony resumed becoming laminitic, my farrier would build me rocker shoes that he made out of his beat up old rasps that he’d replaced. He stood there for hours cutting them up and welding them with my dad’s tools, and showing me the entire process so I’d understand. They helped to correct the pedal bone in her hoof, made her rideable again, and after about a year she was being shod correctly. The problem? The old farrier who had worked her before had always shod his horses with high heels, a nightmare with a fat pony who would eat anything, even though she became more slender after she came to me. And to think, the vet had diagnosed it as tendonitis and billed me 1100 euros for the privilege. I think that farrier saved her life. He helped me out with my colt after he severed the flexor in his hind leg too. Vets were disgusting in that scenario, an expensive horror story, but he did everything he could to try and help me make my boy sound. (He never was). This farrier (his name was Thierry) was, as a result, in enormous demand, and like you he flew! His special skills, understanding the hoof and keeping horses sound, meant he was in demand all over europe, and multimillioners would have him fly out to trim and shoe all their horses, landing on their personal airstrips, then take him out for dinner on a yacht or whatever. A high flying lifestyle, literally! He was a magnificent man who felt that most farriers were poorly trained (in France the farrier course is a six month one, and then you can shoe and mutilate what you like.) He was convinced that he was always learning, and he was always teaching as a result of that, I had enormous respect for him. A magnificent man and absolutely a horse whisperer. I owe him a great deal.
    I’ve followed you, I hope to read more about your horses in the future!

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