Risk of Injury – Shoeing vs Barefoot

Why should the shoes on the hind hooves of my horse be removed when it lives in an open stable? Do kicks from shod horses really have a higher risk of injury than kicks from horses going barefoot?

While there is clearly a tendency towards keeping horses in herds, many stable owners require the horses to have unshod hind hooves. It is generally believed that kicks from shod horses are more dangerous than kicks from unshod horses. However, plastic fittings can be a compromise.

A study from the Vetsuisse Faculty at the University of Zurich (Switzerland) shows that the risk to get injured by hits from shod horses is significantly higher than by those from barefoot horses.

The tests were carried out with impactors of equal weight made of iron, aluminium, polyurethane and horn and 16 forearm and lower leg bones from horses. A kick was simulated by dropping the impactor onto a prepared bone with a certain energy depending on the impact speed.

At a speed of 8m/s, the iron impactor fractured nine, fissured three and four bones remained intact. In a similar attempt with an aluminum impactor there were ten fractures, three fissures and only three bones were not damaged. The simulated impacts with polyurethane and horn at 8m/s did not cause any injuries to the bone. Therefore, the test was repeated with polyurethane and horn, increasing the impact speed to 12m/s. Only four bones were damaged by the plastic material. With the simulated barefoot strikes, the risk of injury with 2 fractures on 16 bones is only 12.5%.


Although the energy with which the impact hits the bone plays an important role, the material applied to the hooves seems to have a significant influence on the kind of injury. It becomes clear that shoeing with iron or aluminum should be avoided in herds. Even though barefoot horses can easily be protected with horse hoof boots some might need another solution. In such case plastic horseshoes can be an alternative.




Sprick, M., Furst, A., Baschnagel, F., Michel, S., Piskoty, G., Hartnack, S., & Jackson, M. (2017). The influence of aluminium, steel and polyurethane shoeing systems and of the unshod hoof on the injury risk of a horse kick. Vet Comp Orthop Traumatol, 30(05), 339-345. Retrieved April 9, 2019, from 10.3415/VCOT-17-01-0003