Keeping horses 'natural' can be challenging but in the case of barefoot trimming, there can be advantages. Linzi Hill explains. Although it is thought that the horse shoe 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.
In researching this topic I can only find good things said about gait improvements after shoes are removed. 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 time 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 go on to 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 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 important. 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 needed 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