SWEDEN’S show jumping team shone a spotlight on the barefoot debate whilst achieving the gold medal at last year’s Tokyo Olympic Games. Not only did they jump more clear rounds than any other nation, but two of the three horses did it all without shoes.

Both Henrik von Eckermann’s King Edward and Peder Frederickson’s All In and were barefoot throughout the Olympics, with Frederickson and All In adding individual silver to the Swedish team’s gold medal. Last year also saw plenty of debate surrounding one of the top show jumping sires in the world, Dominator Z, who was photographed jumping at 1.60m unshod.


Horses are shod for several reasons. Shoes provide protection when wear exceeds growth, traction on certain surfaces, and they can help abate structural issues within the foot and certain lameness issues. Although horseshoes can and often do provide benefits, it may be more beneficial for a horse’s hoof health and overall wellbeing to go without shoes. It does, however, take time for the hoof to strengthen and adjust to going barefoot.


Veterinarian and farrier Dr Stephen O’Grady approaches equine podiatry on an individual horse basis, and he has been supportive of taking shoes off sport horses for many years.

“It’s not something that’s new to me,” O’Grady says. “I advocate taking shoes off when it’s possible especially when trying to rehabilitate a compromised or distorted hoof capsule. With the footing you have today in most jumping rings the horses can often go barefoot. The horse’s foot, when the structures are in good condition, without a shoe is the best at accepting weight, absorbing concussion, dissipating the energy of impact, and allowing the horse to perform without any possible encumbrances on its feet.”

One of the biggest benefits to a barefoot horse, O’Grady explains, is allowing the whole hoof surface to interact with the ground and receive the stimulation that will continually strengthen the overall foot. He says: “When you have the horse’s hoof shod, the weight of the horse is placed around the periphery of the hoof, where the shoe sits, putting all the horse’s weight on the hoof wall and not using the soft tissue structures within the hoof capsule. A healthy bare foot is much better at accepting weight than a foot with a shoe because it loads the weight across the entire foot.”


The need for shoeing if we accept it within a sporting context is intrinsically linked with the horse in its entirety.

The shoeing debate is not restricted to the hoof: the entire biomechanics of the horse affect the hoof and without doubt, vice versa. Farrier Yogi Sharp DipWCF expands upon the subject:

“Without sounding insensitive we must appreciate that the domestic horse no longer lives by the rule of survival of the fittest.

“Horses reach adulthood with poor conformation, creating imbalanced forces on the hoof, leading to poor hoof conformation and feet that require shoes in order to create optimum load support and hoof-ground interaction.”

Yogi concludes: “What we should really look to create is unity and agreement of the currently opposed factions of hoof care, understanding what’s best and what’s necessary, not only of hoof care, but the factors that play a role in it.

“It shouldn’t be farriers vs barefoot trimmers, it should be what is the best for this horse at this time.”