"Barefoot vs Shoes? Is the question ever really that simple?"
Barefoot vs Shoes? Is the question ever really that simple? And then ask a certain subculture of barefooters and it will be "Yes, definitely barefoot, but not THEIR barefoot, OUR barefoot". The same happens with farriers! (Just, in my experience, to a lesser extent). We have so many different qualifications available, and as always there are certain individuals in any school who like to perpetuate the "our school is better than yours" routine as if we were all back in 9th grade.
Now that a whole other sub-section of hoof care is growing - polyurethane shoeing - we're constantly finding ourselves debated as to which camp we belong in. "Well you're not really BAAAAAREfoot any more if you're putting shoes on" says one side. "Well, some of you started off as barefoot trimmers so you're not reaaaaaally farriers and you can't work metal when you need to" say some people on the other. But when we think about this for ourselves, the correct answer should always be: "The Horses' Camp".
I started off a traditional rider who would call their farrier out whenever my horse lost a shoe every 8 - 10 weeks and when ever he suggested pre-booking for every 5 - 6 I would roll my eyes and say to my parents "Gee, he must have another holiday coming up." My assumption was always if the horse can be ridden he must be fine, and if my farrier wants to come more often even though my horse is fine he must just want more money. When my horse eventually went lame that was when I discovered barefoot.
Once I was barefoot trimming my own horse, his improvement was sudden and miraculous. But remember, correlation doesn't equal causality. If it did, people would have stopped putting Nicholas Cage in movies a long time ago. In retrospect, a large part of the improvement would have been the fact that my horse no longer had long toes and underrun heels because he was getting trimmed every 3 or 4 weeks instead of having his shoes left on until they fell of. Now, don't get me wrong, its not that I don't think there's merit to barefoot horsekeeping. But as I progressed in my hoof career I found cases where boots and/or barefoot where just going to be damned near impossible for the owner to manage and maintain a sound horse.
This was when I learnt more about alternative shoes such as the GluShu, EponaShoe and EasyShoe (and many others on the market). So I went on a mission to learn more about shoeing. And the more I learnt about how to shoe, the more I realised shoeing wasn't inherently evil. The problem I was seeing was bad shoeing, or lack of owner compliance in shoeing schedules (*hangs 14-year-old-self's-head in shame*).
And that's where the paradigm shift kicked it. It shouldn't be this school or that school, it shouldn't be barefoot only or shoes only, and it shouldn't even be this shoe or that shoe. It should be about the horse - and how to help him to be comfortable with the job he's got, and the owner he's got, in the environment he's got, with the resources available. If that means referring out to another practitioner who provides the necessary service, be it experience fixing that problem barefoot, booted, traditionally shod, or using polyurethanes, then that's what should be done. If we're supposed to be about the horse we'd spend more time helping each other and cross referring difficult cases rather than arguing about which hoof guru can pee higher up the proverbial tree. It's certainly what the conscientious practitioner would do.