Author of the book ‘The Barefoot Horse: An Introductory Guide to Barefoot & Booting’, Lucy Nicholas, guides us through the early days of transitioning from horse shoes to bare equine feet…
When horse shoes are initially removed from a horse or pony’s feet, a horse that has no major issues that has been regularly well balanced and shod will usually be sound immediately at pasture, and is often sound for at least short distances on a hard flat surface and only sore on uneven or stony hard surfaces.
This theoretical horse (e.g. with no major issues) you could expect to ‘transition’ to being comfy without shoes in a few weeks (under the right conditions), whereas a horse that has very flat soles and has been shod with flare will probably take a good few months to get to the same level of comfort. You can get an idea if you think back to when your horse has lost a shoe – did it bother him? Did he go instantly sore on the foot, or did you finish what you were doing and notice it on the way back home?
Even if your horse does seem fine straight away without shoes, you do need to bear in mind that there are a lot of physical changes taking place in the hoof that you can’t see, and it is easy to inadvertently cause soreness if you do too much too soon.
Hoof growth is stimulated by movement and wear; hoof growth is a reactive process, so the hooves need to be given time to respond to the increased requirements placed on them. If for example you were to take your newly barefoot horse out and do the same amount of roadwork on a fit horse as you were used to in the first few weeks without building up to it or using hoof boots with pads, you will almost certainly run into a situation whereby the horse’s natural hoof growth is not keeping up with the wear, and the hooves will start to show signs soreness and a ‘lack of growth’.
Imbalances or changes in gait may also start to creep in. Almost certainly, a horse coming out of shoes will have a longer hoof capsule and thinner sole, and may well be lacking concavity. Due to the peripheral loading the shoe enforces on the foot (peripheral loading occurring when the weight of the horse is taken on the outer wall), the sole, frog and heel are not always given the stimulus that they should and this leads to the internal structures becoming slacker and often less well developed.
This is especially true if the horse is shod before the age of five, while these structures are developing. Movement is crucial to the transitioning phase and the use of boots and pads should be used to enable the horse to keep working during this phase if needed. This will also prevent a drop in the horses fitness, enabling no break in the riders plans either- so the rider is happy and the horses hooves benefit from the added stimulation at the same time! The key during this phase is to listen to your horse and do whatever you need to keep him sound and comfortable whilst waiting for his hooves to adapt to the new stimulation.
Check out Lucy’s book HERE.