Transitioning to Barefoot
One of the main questions that i am asked is "Can any horse go barefoot?" Now this question does have a straight answer, the answer is "Yes". However there are several factors to consider when thinking about going barefoot. The first factor is welfare, people tell me all the time that their horse couldn't possibly go barefoot as when he/she looses a shoe they are hopping lame. This horrifies me to be honest, if my horse was hopping lame barefoot i want to find out why he is lame and fix it, i wouldn't be content with putting hoof boots on and then thinking "ah" problem solved. However the appliance of a shoe to a lame horse, magically makes the horse sound and problem free. This is why it is very difficult to explain to people why every horse can in fact go barefoot. Its important that when taking the shoes off your horse that your hoof care professional being either a farrier or barefoot trimmer has the experience to give you advise and solutions to help your horse transition. Its not OK to take the shoes off your horse and think him/her hobbling about is OK, that the hooves will toughen up. If you suspect or know your horse will be sore without his shoes then you must have boots and pads to help him transition. An experienced barefoot trimmer or farrier will know by examining the hooves if they will be sore or not. So back to my question "can every horse go barefoot?" the answer is still "yes", however i will not remove the shoes from a horse if the owner cant understand that the horse will need boots and pads for a couple of months until the hoof can grow and adapt, otherwise it becomes a welfare issue. Unfortunately in today's culture many horse owners want a quick fix, a magic pill, in some cases they want me to turn up with my magic barefoot rasp and work miracles, they want the horse fixed now and unfortunately healing and transitioning can take a year or more so many horse owners "try" barefoot and state it didn't work for "their" horse. For some reason they end up blaming the trimmer, farrier or vet when in fact they have completely ignored the professional advice that was given to them.
Below is a list of reasons why a horse may be sore out of shoes.
- Thin flat soles
- Thin over rasped hoof walls/ or no hoof wall left
- Contracted or sheared heels
- Under run heels
- Hoof cracks
All of the above listed are mainly affected by diet,(except under run heels and contracted heels they are body imbalance or poor trimming/shoeing issues) this is a huge part of equine management that is overlooked and often not linked to the hooves at all. Before the shoes are removed i will insist on a diet and over all management overhaul right down to what bedding you should use.
Below is a snippet of a case study over a 3 month period, for the full case study look at Buttercups case study from the menu.
The right photo shoes the hoof just after shoe removal, there is hole where the vet dug for an abscess in the white line, the hoof wall is non existent, the heels are slightly contracted. The horse is walking on its soles. There a little bit of thrush as well.
To the left is the same hoof 3 months later this horse was ridden in boots and pads, provided with a deep litter shavings bed when stabled and turned out on soft ground. The hoof wall has thickened, the heels are wider the frog is not as long and narrow.
Above the hoof before the shoe was removed by the vet. You can see its a front hoof with two clips either side as the front of the hoof is missing, you can see by the lighter part of the wall around the hole that the outer hoof wall has been over rasped and the wall thinned to much to hold a shoe on.
Above is the same hoof 3 months later, you see the hole has gone the hoof wall is stronger the flare is less.
Thrush is also a huge problem, i often turn up to a new client and the hoof as an awful thrush infection, the hoof smells rotten, the frog soft and tender and black slim ends up on me and my tools. ( However the smell lingers and when i pop to the shop afterwards people learn very fast about personal space stood in the cue next to me.) All jokes aside thrush can cause real lameness issues. Often when i point out that the hoof has thrush the owner is often surprised as no one has ever told them their horse thrush. If the hoof causes your eyes to sting and the urge to hold your breath whilst picking your horses hoof out then this inst normal. The hoof should actually smell like a hoof.
Photo to the left; this is part way through a trim, this hoof has thrush, you see the black slim on the frog, sole and white line are all infected. The owner has changed the bedding from straw to wood pellets and is using red horse products to treat the thrush next time i am their i will post the after picture.
The picture on the right is a thrush free hoof, this horse came out of shoes in February 2016 ans this 3 months later.
The next hurdle is "Hoof boots are expensive" Well yes if you buy everything brand new, however i aim to help my clients work within their budget and a set of 4 second hand boots with pads cost around £140 which is roughly two set of shoes and the set of 4 boots would last you years.
Photo on the left; a new client right out of shoes, the horse was sore, so we have scoots boots with pads on the front and second hand odd cavallos on back that cost £20. The horse has low heels on the back being barefoot would of caused his heel bulbs to rub on the ground making him very uncomfortable, however with boots and common sense we can now grow the heels and get the feet correct through time.
I am going to talk about hoof boots briefly, my horses are sound barefoot in their field and on a had flat surface, if im going on a 5 mile ride with rode work, some forestry tacks then i dont bother with boots, their hooves are tough and can manage this no problem. If im doing 10 miles on razor sharp forestry tracks then i put boots on as a preventive measure to excessive wear and possible bruised soles, this is common sense, many people who opt to go barefoot or people who are confused about what barefoot means think hoof boots are cheating, yes i have been told by fellow horse people that im not "properly" barefoot because i use hoof boots. This is crazy! Some horses have body issues and as a result have flare and land on one point of the hoof more and as result that part of the hoof wears away faster, no problem just ride in boots it will still take over a thousand ridden miles to wear a boot out.