Keeping horses 'natural' can be challenging, but there can be advantages in barefoot trimming. Linzi Hill explains.
Although it is thought that the horseshoe could have been introduced as early as the 4th Century, barefoot working horses have been in existence for as many years in countries such as Mongolia and the South Americas. Indeed, even where shoeing is a feasible option, many owners value the improvement in horn, hoof shape and gait that the barefoot method offers their equine companion.
As the natural approach to equine husbandry has caught on, the UK, in particular, has embraced the barefoot concept, and a handful of qualified equine podiatrists exist, maintaining the feet of leisure and competition horses alike.
So why is barefoot preferable to the protection of a shod hoof? In essence, careful trimming of the barefoot method allows wear of the growing hoof, whereas metal shoes do not. Bad shoeing can degrade the shape of the hoof and, in some cases, hinder movement. There are also reports that lameness is reduced or even eradicated when barefoot.
I can only find good things said about gait improvements after shoes are removed in researching this topic. Some report soundness when previously a horse was lame. The horse, after all, will be moving as naturally as his physiology will allow. Reports of more fluid movement and improvement of problems such as dishing and overreaching make a good case for the barefoot management of hoof then removing shoes will undoubtedly be easier than if he has poor crumbly or cracking hooves. If this is the case, extra management will be required in the early months.
Most horses need a transition time of around eight months or more to get used to being without shoes. Although this is a fairly long period, owners unanimously agree that it's worth the wait. Removing shoes and continuing full work is entirely plausible. As long as a horse is managed correctly after the initial period, he can compete as normal.
When the shoe is first removed, increased blood flow starts the process of rebuilding the structure of the hoof. The trick is to give the horse time to get used to the new way of going. If your horse is a little lame, it does not necessarily mean that barefoot isn't for him - it may just mean that he hasn't been given enough time to adjust. Hoof boots can help here if your horse is competing or in full work. On the other hand, some horses take to it immediately without any transition time at all, especially if he already has a healthy horn and a good sole. Your podiatrist or farrier will be able to advise on this.
The introduction of harder surfaces and gravel is essential. The hoof needs to be strengthened, and this can be done by gradual exposure to different types of surfaces. Some initial work in hand may be required, and feeding hoof supplements may also be advisable.
Podiatrists don't just trim your horse; they also provide support and information about the management of the hoof and any supplements that may prove helpful.
Cheaper than shoeing
No worries about cast shoes
Improvement in horn, gait and hoof shape
Some horses need a gradual introduction to work
Protective boots can be tricky to fit
Possible traction problems with fast work
Horsemanship Journal | Additional Barefoot Information
As a horse owner creating a healthy hoof is something we all care about and worry about. Hoof health is a complex topic; whether you take your horse barefoot or keep them shod, many resources can help you have an informed discussion with your farrier, trimmer, podiatrist about hoof quality.
Below is our definition of the various professionals who help with hoof care and some further reading and resources that Horsemanship Journal has found useful.
What is an equine podiatrist?
Equine podiatrists focus on horse feet and understanding how to keep their feet in the best shape. An equine podiatrist has studied the science of the horse's feet and can advise on trimming and environmental factors affecting the horse's feet.
What is a Barefoot Trimmer?
A barefoot trimmer specialises in keeping horses comfortable and able to work without shoes. They are trained to trim but also prepared to advise on diet, environmental factors that affect the horses' hooves, and the use of hoof boots.
Can my farrier do a barefoot trim?
Yes, they can, and many do; they can advise on environmental factors; a good farrier can look at your horse holistically.
Hoof Care Blogs and Podcasts
Hoof Geek | A blog and Academy run by a practising Equine Podiatrist
The Humble Hoof | Podcast for both horse owners and equine professionals, offering discussions into various philosophies on the health of the hoof and soundness of your horse.
Barefoot Horse Trimming | Podcast with Craig Morley