A common debate in the horse world these days is whether or not to shoe your horse. Of course this can only be answered by knowing what you are requiring of your horse and the current condition of its feet. A horse that is retired and spending his days on pasture has different needs than a competition cutting horse. Other than an occasional hoof trim the pasture horse should be fine going barefoot.
The question becomes more complicated when the level of your horse’s activity is raised. One thing that I have noticed is that you rarely see a non-working horse come up lame. I believe that a big part of this is that when we ride we are placing unnatural stresses on the hoof. While it is true that wild horses live out their lives unshod, it is also true that natural selection takes the horses that have weak feet. In addition, the restrictions we place on the horse’s movement in various disciplines are issues which the wild or pasture horse does not have to deal with.
For example, when we ride we control the headset of our horse for appearance more often than for function (i.e. pleasure classes), our horses also constantly have to compensate for the weight of the rider above them, which compromises their balance. We also ask them to move in ways that generally affect their overall carriage and hoof placement.
Finally, working horses are first and foremost athletes, subject to the same types of injuries as their human counterparts. In the wild, a horse moves freely without a lot of repetitive motion. The working horse is asked to repeat gaits over and over again causing the hoof to strike the same way. In humans, runners in particular, this is called Repetitive Motion Injury.
I feel that this sort of disciplined movement is the cause of most hoof problems. I have found that a happy medium between steel shoes and barefoot to be the composite shoe. In a composite shoe or a hybrid composite horseshoe you get the benefits of support and shock absorption, while retaining the flexibility and the circulation of going barefoot.