The barefoot hoof is far more elastic than the steel shod hoof. There is therefore far less risk of catastrophic injury, for example, suspensory sprains in barefoot horses.
The barefoot hoof takes up a lot of the sideways strain that leads to suspensory sprains which is the result of bad footing and slipping, Lameness due to tendon or ligament injuries are rare in barefoot horses, but relatively common in shod horses. This means that many horses are out of work because of an injury which may not have occurred in a barefoot horse.
Applying a shoe to a horse prevents them from developing their own foot balancing naturally which occurs in the wild with unrestricted roaming in the form of natural wear and tear.
If your horse’s conformation is not correct, e.g., they may have a twisted limb or an old injury, the barefoot horse is able to grow a hoof that will best enable the horse to remain sound, to accommodate that deformity. It may not always look like a conventional hoof but it can make the difference between a lame horse and a sound horse. Your horse is less likely to overreach or cause themselves leg injuries and stumbling and tripping may disappear. You will find more information about this on the Rockley Farm blog website.
Laminitis is an inflammation of the sensitive laminae that connect the horse’s hoof to the pedal bone (coffin bone). It can occur severely and acutely, and it can be a one-time occurrence or a chronic/recurrent problem. If your horse does not improve on a good diet, I would recommend that you speak to your vet and ask for blood tests for insulin resistance and liver and kidney function as your horse may have metabolic issues.
Many shod horses have low grade laminitis but the owners are unaware of this until it becomes more advanced, as the shoe masks the problem. With a barefoot horse, you will notice almost immediately and be able to take preventative action early before the problem gets too advanced. You will be able to notice whether your horse has become toe first landing and not using the back of the hoof. Without sound feet, a horse cannot move freely, and a horse whose movement is hindered becomes a predator's meal in the wild and a liability to its owner in a domestic setting.
Ulcers may also be linked with lack of improvement, as they prevent the horse from absorbing nutrients in its diet effectively and reducing performance capabilities. Some horses will also show signs of irritability. Digestive tract ulcers are far more prevalent than riders and even equine practitioners realise and so are the ramifications. For example, muscle pain and chiropractic issues that lead to performance problems and lameness. A quote from Dr Kerry Ridgway DVM “In my opinion there are only two kinds of horses: those who have ulcers and those who are going to have ulcers".
Thrush is a common anaerobic bacterial infection of the horse’s hoof tissue characterized by a black, necrotic (dead), foul-smelling material. It typically affects the central sulcus or collateral grooves (grooves adjacent to and in the middle of the hoof’s frog), but in severe cases thrush can also invade the white line, sole, and sensitive layers of the foot, potentially causing permanent lameness.
Navicular Syndrome is a "catch all" phrase describing chronic forelimb lameness caused by pain stemming from the navicular bone and related structures.
"No foot, no horse" is perhaps the most used and still the most true statement there is in horse care. A horse is generally worthless without functional feet.