By Lucy Nicholas, author of the book: ‘The Barefoot Horse – an introduction to barefoot hoofcare and hoof boots’
Barefoot in the modern sense is generally regarded as a term to describe a horse or pony that is able to perform anything that the owner would like to do, without the need for permanent hoof protection.
Can all horses go barefoot?
This is a hotly-contested subject among hoof care professionals, and one answer frequently heard is that: “every horse can go barefoot, but not every owner can!” The reasons for this argument are that shoes are a convenience for the owner that allow the hooves to be maintained in such a way that little needs to be done by the owner to keep the horse sound enough to work in the immediate future on most surfaces.
Barefoot management however requires that hooves are kept in prime condition, and some horses will be harder to maintain in a barefoot regime that others, depending on their background.
Transitioning horses with less than ideal hooves may be a job that requires time, patience and a little investment, at least in the beginning, and in all cases, the management of a barefoot horse may not suit the owner’s requirements for practices that are predominantly chosen for convenience (such as stabling).
Other professionals cite that some horses are unable to go barefoot due to genetics, structural or conformational problems and that it is fairer to the horse to remain shod. The vast majority of hoof care professionals will say that there are very few horses that do not have the potential to lead sound working lives without metal shoes on, but that some will be harder and take longer than others to transition, and there may be some that will always need another form of hoof protection when working (hoof boots) in order for them to remain comfortable.
Every horse is an individual, and it is not just hoof quality that needs to be considered (as often horses that go bare improve beyond recognition within a relatively short period of time). Horses with very poor hooves will need to be kept in as close to ideal conditions as possible to succeed; horses with good hooves before transitioning may need very little changin,g in order to adapt.
Considering the options
When considering whether your horse could become barefoot, it is best to get the opinion of at least one professional.
A horse that is being kept more artificially with, for example, a high sugar diet and restricted turnout, may have poor quality horn. There would need to be a significant change in the horse’s management system and the use of hoof boots, in order to produce healthier hoof. Looking after a barefoot horse is no harder than a shod horse for most owners once new routines are established, but owners should consider their situation before deciding! The points cited by the vast majority of barefoot advocates when referring to a successful barefoot horse are:
A good, regular trimming schedule
A good diet based on food the body evolved to thrive on
Exercise, including encouraging natural movement in the field and little or no confinement
When to use hoof boots
Hoof boots (above) help protect the hoof when transitioning from shod to bare, and also boost the hoof’s shock absorption properties on hard surfaces. With correctly fitted hoof boots, horses can still perform normally, including galloping and jumping.
Click here for my ‘Ultimate Guide to Hoofboots’.