There are a few factors that you should take into account when determining the hoof care needs of and individual. Ask yourself:
What are you going to do with this horse?
A lot of times the answer is not much. If the horse is going to be used lightly on easy footing like sand or grass, the horse may be fine shoeless. On the other hand, if your plans include extensive trail riding or the footing you have is abrasive, I would recommend having some hoof protection.
Competition horses benefit from horseshoes because of the increased traction can give an edge to the horse. In horse racing, shoeing choices are made known so the bettors will have more information to base their wagering decisions on.
People who show or ride their horses away from home may need shoes as the venues may have unpredictable footing.
What is the quality of the horn?
The hoof wall is made of horn. The horn can be thought of as lots of tiny “straws” starting at the top of the hoof and growing towards the ground. Horses with horn that grows pretty much straight, without flaring (“platter foot”) or bending at the heels (“crushed heels”) are candidates for barefoot.
This is not a static state either, once hoof imbalances are addressed and a new growth pattern is established by a few cycles of timely shoeing the barefoot option may be asked again. A goal of mine when shoeing any horse is bringing the foot to equilibrium with or without shoes.
Horses of all breeds can be successfully kept barefoot but ponies, gaited horses, drafts, appaloosas, paint and mixed breed horses usually have inherently good hoof quality.
Is growth exceeding wear?
If the horse grows two nipper round of hoof in four weeks, it may not get them nailed back on. The hoof is excellent and gives excellent traction on a variety of surfaces. A horse like this may be able to perform at high levels without shoes.
Does the horse have a condition that the shoes help alleviate?
Therapeutic horseshoes can be of great value to the unsound animal. Veterinarians will recommend shoeing protocols designed to help the limb function more normally. Wedge heels can decrease pull from certain tendons, leather pads can protect a thin-soled foot and modifications to a basic shoe will help ease breakover (the phase of stride where the foot rolls off the ground). Good horseshoeing can enhance performance.
Some horses will transition without missing a beat when taken out of shoes, some will require a little time to get used to it especially while the old nail holes grow down. Most performance horses need shoes because of the demands upon them.
I recommend evaluating your current situation and discussing the options with your farrier or hoofcare provider.