By Barry Denton


We were schooling some cow horse colts at Scottsdale, Arizona last week at the Arizona National Livestock Show which takes place at a beautiful facility called West World. There were plenty of good horse trainers and nice horses. It seemed good to get down to the bright warm sunshine for a few days as we are about twenty degrees cooler up here in the mountains this time of the year. The day we arrived in Scottsdale it was eighty one degrees and we had to peel off layers pretty quickly. As we got our trailer unloaded and stalls set up there was a horseshoer in another barn hammering away on his anvil. Anvil noise is always music to my ears so I thought I would go over and visit with him when we had our horses settled in. I was just walking around the end of the barn and a neighbor was unloading her horse from the trailer. The horse was over sixteen hands tall and backing down a ramp. As the horse was backing it stepped on itself and ripped its hind shoe off. The shoe happened to be an egg bar with a great wedge pad on it. The lady looked at me and I mentioned that she was in luck as there was a horseshoer working in the next barn over. She said she had to call her regular shoer to replace the shoe as it was a “special shoe”. Then she went on to explain that I just wouldn’t understand unless I owned a horse like that. I do not enjoy talking to clueless horse owners so I never explained I have been shoeing for thirty seven years and the guy shoeing next door who had been shoeing almost as long could nail that back on for her. The next morning I was going to the barn to feed and I ran into the kid of a horseshoer friend of mine. I asked him what he was doing there and he said his father had sent him out to tack a hind bar shoe back on some lady’s horse. I explained about the incident the day before and we had a good laugh over that one. Like the boy said he charged her a lot for a special trip and she was very relieved that he came. He also indicated that he kept bar shoes on both of her horses as she liked them. Peace of mind can be very expensive sometimes.

Our four horses were stabled in a twenty stall barn so naturally we had other trainers stabled there with us. I was amazed that each of the other trainers had horses wearing bar shoes. The horses looked perfectly fine and sound so I wondered what they were for? I felt I was in a veterinary clinic as opposed to a horse show. 

You have to understand that bar shoes certainly have their places. Theoretically they are the “perfect” horseshoe as they support the leg evenly all the way around. However, they are not good from a practical standpoint as they encumber traction by not allowing the dirt to leave the shoe via the back of the foot. This is not a horseshoe that you would want on any kind of an active western performance horse by choice. You may need one on your horse to help heal an injury or to remedy a hoof problem. The bar shoe is primarily used as a therapeutic device to get a horse well as it lends additional support to the limb. For instance I used to have a client that was a wild cattle contractor. About once a year he would bring me a horse that had ripped off a hoof or at least a quarter as he was racing through the rocks after a wild cow. Most of the time the remedy was a bar shoe of some sort. I made them in many configurations to accommodate the injury.

What was baffling me was that these horses that I saw wearing bar shoes at the horse show were mostly “slow” horses or halter horses. Halter horses are horses that are shown in hand and led by the exhibitor. By a “slow” horse, I am referring to one that competes at a slow gait such as western pleasure, western riding, equitation, etc. The horses with the least amount of stress and torque were wearing bar shoes.

The other part of this foolishness is the plight of the American Quarter Horse Association halter horse. This horse was once heralded as the epitome of the breed. Back when there was a breed standard these halter horses were meant to be the finest example of a working horse. In modern times most of these horses cannot be ridden and live in bar shoes to keep them sound enough to be led. Many of these horses are over fed, have too much weight for the hooves, and are muscle bound. The consequences of all this is most often laminitis and lameness from a horse that never gets ridden. Why do people think this is a good thing to do with a horse? Some type of bar shoe can give the horse some relief which is good, but often prolongs his misery because folks think their severely laminitic horse will get better. I’m all for giving a horse relief from pain, but I’m not for people keeping suffering horses alive longer to suffer more.

My point with this whole thing is that bar shoes are great for many different problems a horse may have. However, I have noticed that they are over prescribed by veterinarians as a cure all. In other words, when the vet cannot pinpoint a problem they recommend bar shoes. Any time you lend additional support to the limb it normally helps even though you haven’t found the cause of the problem. This actually works out good for the farrier as bar shoes are easy to put on and you normally get a larger fee for doing so. Keep in mind that heart bars are very difficult to get set right and harder to make. In conclusion, get to the root of the problem and try to make a good decision about it. Bar shoes are not band aids.