Barefoot Care for Beginners

This is a guest post from Linda Carter who enjoys the World Wide Web, animals and blogs on horse trailers and equestrian life.

For many inexperienced horse riders or owners, the prospect of having a horse without shoes might seem like a very unusual prospect but once it is considered that wild horses are extremely unlikely to be shoed then the prospect of barefoot care suddenly doesn’t seem so unusual.

Step One to the Barefoot Transition

Step One to the Barefoot Transition

Barefoot is an extremely popular aspect of holistic animal care where the hoof itself is trimmed. The practice came about as a result of the perceived harm which can be caused to the horse and its legs as a result of shoeing and it is for this reason that it has remained popular.

The Effects

Studies have shown that the wearing of shoes can prevent the hooves from expanding properly as the horse presses down. This can, in turn prevent the feet from absorbing the shock of the movement and could injure the horse during running.

There is further consideration that further health complications can arise from the hoof forming around the shoe, rather than in its natural form.

Correcting this damage can be a difficult and lengthy process. Firstly, it is more than just a question of removing the shoe and leaving the animal to its own devices. In order to    adopt behaviour such as self-grooming, animals need to learn this from other animals in their tribe. The fact therefore that the majority of horses are exercised with shoes from an early age means that there are few ways of encouraging the horse to adapt and this can cause incorrect hoof form if not managed correctly.

Without proper care and attention, incorrect hoof form could cause cracks, brittleness, seedy toe, thrush and navicular. Therefore, it is essential that the owner or rider is able to manage the hoof treatment themselves, and this involves the owner being prepared for a transitional period.

The Transition to Barefoot

What may surprise some people is to find out that horses can be ridden as usual as soon as their shoes are removed and the hoof is returned to its natural form. However, depending on the amount of damage which has been done, the horse may need some special care in this period. The transition includes a programme of regular barefoot trimming and the potential use of hoof boots to prevent the horse from damaging their unused hoofs. A further part of the transition which may or may not become necessary is that some horses can require physical therapy. However, after this transitional period, which can take anything from months to years, the horse can ride over any terrain. It is important that if you are looking for a horse or pony for sale to be mindful that you know there footcare background.

The Loss of the Shoes

Most horse owners believe that metal shoes are a necessary evil and whilst they accept that the shoe may be damaging the foot, they are unaware that with consideration and the right preparation, the horse could manage quite ably to do of its required tasks without shoes.

However, as has already been stated, it is not simply a case of removing the shoes and letting the horse “get on with it”. Any muscle or part of the body which has not been used or relied on has to be built up before it can be safely used and the hoof is no exception. Thankfully, there are many on and offline sources of information for any horse owner looking to try this more holistic approach.


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  1. Very insightful article, thanks for sharing that. What strikes me is the similarity between horse’s hooves and human feet. There’s been a big movement recently to run barefoot or use those foot gloves rather than wear shoes. It’s the same kind of thing, when you run or walk barefoot the foot can expand. If you look at the feet of people who are barefoot all or most of the time you’ll notice that their toes are spread apart a lot more and their forefeet are wider.

  2. This is a great introduction for new horse owners to become aware of how leaving a horse barefoot can be extremely beneficial to the horse. As a barefoot trimmer and horse owner I have seen people who are first time horse owners thinking that their horses need shoes. I have also watched those same horse owners struggle with all sorts of lameness issues that aren’t always located in the hooves themselves. Horses were designed by nature to not have shoes, this allows them to use their own body mechanics properly not only aiding in hoof function but also that of the tendons, ligaments, and muscles throughout the horses body. What most horse owners do not recognize however, is that is it not only the job of the hoof trimmer or farrier to trim the hooves properly, but diet and turnout make up 90% of the horses hoof strength. Horses need movement to help their hooves grow properly, challenging surfaces will help make hooves strong, and diet is the most important. Horses are not designed to eat large nutrient rich meals and many horse owners do not recognize that what a horse eats also effects their hoof growth and function.

  3. I have tried it all. In order: Barefoot (apparently not correctly done), polyurethane shoes, Metal shoes (left my horse so sore I couldn’t clean out his hooves and me in tears because I couldn’t do anything to ease his pain while everyone was saying “he’ll get used to it”), and barefoot again (this time a correct trim and he’s been sound longer than he has been in the 4 years I’ve had him!) Nothing worked to rehab my horse’s neglected hooves until he started getting the RIGHT barefoot trim. I’ve learned that a correct trim is more important than just being barefoot.

    • Hi Mandee! Thanks for your comment! I went through that exact same progression and distress with my mare for three years. So grateful to have found Christina who has given her the correct barefoot trim after all this time. My mare is on the cusp of making a full recovery!

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