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Why go barefoot?

Barefoot Horse

Does either of these hooves look healthy? If your horse has hooves that look like this, sooner or later they are going to develop lameness issues.

Horseshoes have been used for hundreds of years, and they have done what they needed to do - they have protected the hoof. So what has changed? Why now are people going, "wait a minute, there must be a better way?'

Metal horseshoes shorten the life and usefulness of horses by many years -they damage the very things they are meant to protect. The more times a horse is shod, the weaker the inner structures of the hoof become.

The shoe also stops the hoof from functioning correctly; they do not allow for the hoof to expand and contract correctly during motion - increasing the concussion up the leg by up to 80% - it is this increased concussion that contributes greatly to lameness issues - navicular, ringbone and shin splints etc are all caused by concussion.

If you have ever felt the hoof of a shod horse in the early morning, the hooves will feel cold, but a horse without shoes will have warm hooves. This is because the shoes decrease the horse's leg circulation - this is also why when you take the shoes off the hoof suddenly will grow faster! Tissue is not healthy unless it gets an adequate blood supply.

Going Barefoot - our style of trimming

Barefoot trimming as we see it should mimic the natural wear patterns of wild nomadic horses that travel 35-40 km a day on varied rocky terrain. Our trimming style is non-invasive, meaning that we do not cut into the live sole but trim in such a way that it encourages the walls to thicken and harden, the bars to straighten and strengthen, and the sole to callous. It is important for the hoof to grow in a natural concavity. A "traditional pastoral trim" does not allow this to happen - a farrier will plain the bottom of the hoof flat, as if getting ready for a metal shoe, and some of the structures and callusing that need to be there to provide good support and protection are rasped off with the pastoral trim.

The most important thing about a natural hoof trim is that it encourages a good heel first landing. This allows the horse to move at its biomechanical optimum. By encouraging the correct loading and unloading of weight while moving, the horse will be able to move more freely, its action will be straighter and its gaits will be more expressive and active.


Although still transitioning, this thoroughbred, has good concavity and well developed heals (but still underrun)- proving even thoroughbreds can grow good hoof!



So if we take the shoes off our horses does that mean they are barefoot?

Firstly, we need to define what we mean by "barefoot," Because it does not just mean the horse doesn't have shoes on!

When we do a barefoot trim we trim in a way that would mimic natural wear as compared to a horse that is just given a traditional pasture trim by a farrier (or worse still, a horse that doesn't get any regular trimming.) Our trim is the more natural style that encourages the hoof to return to normal function - to grow in a decent heel, strong straight well connected walls and adequate callusing. In other words we help nature to heal itself.

Weak damaged hooves  & Same hoof 4 months later

However, the hoof freshly out of shoes is going to be compromised, weaker, and require a transitioning period before it will be a capable functioning hoof again. This can take up to 9-12 months - in this time the horse will grow a completely new hoof capsule.

So unfortunately, no, we cant just take the horses shoes off and expect the horse to go well. It is going to take time to develop and harden those hooves so they can be ridden on all types of ground.

This is where we also must say that in order to grow good iron-hard hooves, a good diet and plenty of movement are just so important to the horse. Without these things a horse will not be able to grow a good hoof.

The contributing factors to hoof growth are:

  • A good diet: - a horse needs plenty of fibre, and well-balanced minerals.
  • Movement - horses are designed to move, they shouldn't be standing in a paddock or stabled all day - this is where track systems are handy on a small property.
  • Terrain - your horse needs to be exposed to the type of surface you are going to ride on daily. If you do a lot of riding on stones and rocks, have an area of paddock/track where the horse has to walk on this (around the water trough is ideal) This will help toughen and callous the hoof.

Happy Barefoot Horse

© Holistic Hoofcare 2008