Although going barefoot is a growing trend among horse owners today, it’s important to become educated before taking the barefoot ‘plunge’. Many owners have had their horse’s shoes pulled only to find that the hooves just don’t seem to adapt and instead, continue to be sensitive–especially when moving over hard or rocky surfaces. It’s easy to become frustrated and return to metal shoes without really ever giving barefoot a chance.
The most important key for transitioning to barefoot is having patience. Don’t expect to compete on your barefoot horse a week after the shoes have been pulled. Developing a tough and healthy hoof takes time, especially if the sole and frog have been incapacitated and protected by shoes or overgrown hoof walls for any length of time.
Also, know that some changes in your horse’s overall lifestyle will likely need to be made. Diet, movement, and environment are all important components in hoof health. If any of these factors are left out of the equation, there’s a good chance your horse will not develop the natural, gravel-crunching hooves that you’re hoping to achieve.
Here are a few tips for a successful transition to barefoot:
1. Be consistent with trims. If the hoof wall is allowed to overgrow, the sole will not be able to toughen up and form a natural concavity. A four-week schedule seems to work for many barefoot horses.
2. Use hoof boots. While some may see these as a crutch, they are often a necessary part of the transition, especially if you intend to ride your horse on hard or rocky terrain during this time. Hoof boots are also a great tool for rehabilitating foundered or ‘navicular’ horses.
3. Make sure your horse gets plenty of exercise—a horse standing around in a stall all day will not have healthy hooves. Horses turned out in pasture or put on a track system with a herd will naturally get more movement.
4. Feed a low-starch, forage-based diet balanced in vitamins and minerals. Pay special attention to the trace minerals copper and zinc, as these are often deficient in equine diets and are crucial for optimal hoof health. Getting your forage tested is the best way to know the mineral amounts your horse is currently receiving.
5. Consider adding deep pea gravel to your horse’s stall or another area where he frequents. This will allow him to evenly distribute pressure on the bottom surface of the hoof, increasing circulation, and toughening the sole.
6. Lastly, make sure you are employing the help of a knowledgeable barefoot hoof care practitioner (not a farrier who does ‘barefoot trimming’ on the side). This person should be able to help guide both you and your horse through the transition and into a world of barefoot soundness!
Casie Bazay began her journey into learning about natural equine health in 2008. She became nationally certified in equine acupressure and began studying equine nutrition and barefoot hoof care as well. Casie now works as a freelance writer and blogger, specializing in equine health and holistic care. She writes about equine nutrition, barefoot hoof care, holistic treatments, as well as specific equine conditions on her blog, The Naturally Healthy Horse. You can join her at http://thenaturallyhealthyhorse.com/