10 Misconceptions About Barefoot
Every time I write or post a barefoot-related article, I seem to get a wide range of comments. Many are supportive, but occasionally someone is not. And while I usually don’t care to debate with people online, I do get a kick out of some of their responses. Some people are very happy having their horse in shoes–and that’s their business. But I find it interesting why many believe that barefoot simply won’t work for their horse.
I’d like to highlight some of the leading misconceptions I’ve either heard or read when it comes to barefoot:
1.) Barefoot just means you pull the shoes. Of course your horse will technically be barefoot if you take the shoes off, but having a healthy, sound barefoot horse is a little more involved. Barefoot is truly a lifestyle which requires an educated barefoot trimmer (which can certainly be you, if you so choose), the right diet, movement, and the ability to be patient and flexible as your horse adjusts. Depending on what you do with your horse, you may need to use hoof boots during the transition process. The key with barefoot is to be informed. Don’t just be a bystander, but instead an active participant in your horse’s hoof care!
2.) Thoroughbreds have bad feet and just can’t go barefoot. This is a very common misconception. It’s true, many Thoroughbreds have poor hooves. But I would blame this not on genetics, but rather the fact that most are shod from a very young age (for racing) before the internal structures of the hoof have had a chance to fully develop. Couple that with the stress of racing, and it’s no wonder many of them have feet with problems. But with the right diet, trim, and exercise, Thoroughbreds, like most any other horse, can go barefoot. Here are just a few links that prove so:
And here’s a story on Thoroughbreds who are raced barefoot: Barefootin’: A Healthy Choice for Soundness?
3.) A barefoot horse will wear his feet down to nubs on rough surfaces. This is another common misconception, and one I’ve tried to wrap my head around for a while now. I suppose when someone says this, they’re thinking of what could happen if they simply pulled the shoes and immediately took their horse over rough trails or rode on cement all day long. I assure you, most horses would be very sore. Would it wear the hoof wall down some? Probably so. But who in their right mind would ride a horse barefoot over rough terrain when his feet obviously aren’t ready for it?
Transitioning to barefoot often takes time. Horses shouldn’t be expected to make the switch overnight. But with the proper trim, diet, and movement (am I sounding like a broken record yet?), the sole of the hoof will toughen (callous). This process will take place more quickly in an arid environment.
Just take a look at these semi-feral Fell ponies in England. Do you think they wear their feet down to nubs?
4.) Barefoot trimmers aren’t as knowledgeable as farriers. There are bad apples in every bunch, but most barefoot trimmers I know take their job very seriously. They’ve studied hooves far more than most people know. I’m not certified by any particular barefoot school, but if you asked my husband who knows more about hooves–me or him (who attended farrier school once upon a time) there’s no doubt he’d say me. I think horse owners have long viewed their farriers as experts, and while some of them are quite knowledgeable, others know just enough to nail a shoe on. Something else to keep in mind is this: Farriery focuses on the art of shaping and applying shoes to a flat hoof while barefoot trimming focuses more on creating a healthy, functioning hoof from the inside out. Both require knowledge–but a very different type of knowledge.
5.) Horses with navicular or founder can’t go barefoot. By contrary, proper barefoot trimming (often coupled with the use of therapeutic boots) can make a huge difference for these horses. I’ve read countless stories about horses healing from death-sentence conditions with the help of a knowledgeable barefoot trimmer. As far as laminitis/ founder goes, Jamie Jackson has a great book I recommend: Founder: Prevention and Cure the Natural Way. Again, barefoot is more than just pulling the shoes–you must take diet and environment into account with laminitic horses, especially.
And with navicular, many horses heal very well once the shoes are pulled and the hooves are trimmed properly. Here’s just one example I wrote about several years ago: Beating Navicular: Spice Girl’s Story.
For more information on going barefoot with a navicular horse, I recommend this article by Pete Ramey.
6.) Performance horses can’t go barefoot. This is like saying wild horses can’t go barefoot. It’s ridiculous. In fact, I’m working on an article for another publication at the moment on top-level barefoot performance horses. It’s not the norm, but it darn well could be. Here’s a blog post I did a while back on this particular issue.
7.) Barefoot horses are more prone to slipping/ have trouble with traction. This goes hand-in-hand with Misconception #6, and it simply isn’t true. I once read a great analogy from Pete Ramey. He asked which would get better traction on a car: steel rims or a rubber tire? A bare hoof has better blood flow and shock absorption–plus, it can flex in a way that no shod hoof can. Traction simply isn’t an issue.
8.) Barefoot horses can’t be ridden over rocks. Go back to the video posted below Misconception #3. 🙂 They can if they have had time to adjust to this type of terrain. The more a horse is ridden on rough terrain, the more he’ll be able to handle it. If they’re pastured on rough terrain, it likely won’t be an issue at all.
9.) A barefoot trim and pasture trim are essentially the same. To the untrained eye, the two trims may appear similar. But they are quite different. For one, farriers learn how to trim a hoof in preparation for shoes. Even if they don’t nail on shoes, they still trim the same (unless they’ve learned the barefoot trim). Barefoot trimmers leave the sole and frog alone for the most part while farriers may pare out the sole and trim back the frog. Barefoot trimmers will focus on taking down flares in the hoof wall while that isn’t usually a concern for farriers. Barefoot trimmers will usually roll the hoof wall in what’s called a Mustang Roll. Farriers don’t typically do this. Those are just a few of the differences.
10.) Barefoot trimming is more expensive than shoeing. This misconception stems from the fact that it’s recommended that most barefoot horses are trimmed every four weeks (or possibly shorter intervals). While it’s true that many barefoot trimmers charge a little more for their trim than what farriers charge for a pasture trim, you’ll still end up saving money in the long run.
Here’s a little math for you. I don’t know the going rate of shoes these days, but about fifteen years ago, I paid a farrier who was recommend by my vet $90 to trim and shoe one horse. That was on the high end then, but let’s say it costs $80 for a set of shoes.
$80 every six weeks = $640 per year
$30 every four weeks = $390 per year
Even if the prices vary from what I’ve posted, chances are barefoot will still save you money. (And if you learn to trim yourself, your only cost is your tools!)
Feel free to share any other barefoot misconceptions you’ve heard in the comments!