Why Barefoot Doesn’t Work for Horses

It seems many people are giving barefoot a try these days, but all too often, I hear of someone giving up, becoming convinced that barefoot just doesn’t work for their horse.  They find that their horse’s hooves are just too sensitive, especially on rough terrain.  So shoes are nailed back on and all seems well once again.  But what they may not know is why barefoot didn’t work for their horse in the first place.

If you’re simply going barefoot because it’s the latest fad, it’s easy to give it up when the going gets tough.  I’ve never been one to follow the crowd though, and I didn’t go barefoot with my horses to be trendy.  I went barefoot when I became convinced that it was the only way to have a naturally healthy horse.  I’m in it for the long haul.  I’ve witnessed the detrimental effects of  horse shoes and I’m not going back there again.

I don’t want to judge people who do shoe their horses though.  I know most of us are just doing what we think is best.   Or maybe just doing what we’ve always done–simply because we don’t know any other way.

But, shoes, plain and simple, are not healthy for horses’ feet.   The entire hoof as well as the structures inside it become weakened when a metal shoe is nailed on and left in place for any length of time.  Shoes do not allow for the natural contraction and expansion of the hoof that comes with movement and weight bearing.  This, in turn, impedes blood flow in the hoof.  The truth is that shoes really don’t allow for any part of the hoof to function as nature intended.

Horses are meant to be barefoot.  It’s the unnatural ways in which we manage them that make them unable to do so.  If we provide the most natural lifestyle we can for our horses, they can develop and maintain naturally healthy hooves.  But it’s also going to take some effort on our part.

We have to look at the whole horse if we want barefoot to work–especially his diet and lifestyle.  There are many pieces that need to be in place in order for the hooves to be healthy.  Take just one piece out, and the more likely that barefoot just won’t seem to ‘work’ for your horse.

Here are a few reasons why barefoot doesn’t work for horses:

1. Too much sugar and starch in the diet.  Horses did not evolve to eat the lush green grass or the high-starch feeds that many consume today.  They evolved to eat sparse, dry grasses that were low in sugar in starch.  Most of us know that a sudden overload in sugar/ starches can cause laminitis, but even steady, lesser amounts of these two components in your horse’s diet can cause hoof sensitivity.  A diet comprised of mostly low-sugar grass hay (12% NSC or less) is the best way to support healthy barefoot hooves.

2.  Not enough movement.  If your horse is in a stall or small pen all day, he’s not getting enough movement (unless you happen to be riding several miles every single day.)  In order to promote circulation and toughen barefoot hooves, movement is crucial.  Allowing your horse to live with a herd in a pasture or a Paddock Paradise will increase natural movement.

3. Mineral deficiencies or imbalancesZinc and copper are deficient in most horses’ diets, and these happen to be two very important minerals for the hoof.  Another common issue is that of too much iron, which can block the absorption of whatever zinc and copper the horse may be getting.  It’s also important to provide both major and trace minerals in the correct ratios (see this post for more information on mineral balance).

4.  Your horse is pastured on soft or wet ground.  We can’t expect our horses to fare well on rocky or rough terrain when riding if they are only exposed to soft ground at home.  It’s just not going to happen.  The only solution here is to add some varied terrain into your pasture or loafing areas  (pea gravel is a great way to do this) and/or  gradually increase your riding time on rough terrain on a consistent basis.

5. Not trimming frequently enough.  The whole idea of the barefoot trim is getting a tough and functional sole and back of the foot.  If the hoof walls and/or heels are consistently allowed to overgrow, this just isn’t possible.  Most horses aren’t going to get the wear that they need to keep the walls in check on their own so trimming on a frequent and consistent basis is CRUCIAL!  I trim my own horses at least every four weeks.

6.  Your horse has been in shoes for too long.  There’s a chance that if your horse has been shod back-to-back for most of his life, he may not ever be completely comfortable barefoot.  I have one like this.  Kady wore shoes year-round for about eighteen years before she came to me.  She’s also insulin resistant.  Although she is barefoot now and okay in the pasture, she needs boots when she’s ridden anywhere besides the arena.

So if barefoot doesn’t seem to be working for your horse, hopefully, this post has given you some insight as to why.  Barefoot isn’t just about pulling the shoes, but providing the foundation for healthy, strong hooves.  Don’t give up though–the benefits of barefoot are worth it!

Ta-ta,

Casie

Casie

Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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73 Responses

  1. Robynne Catheron says:

    Brilliantly stated, Casie! Concise and to the point, and indisputable. I hope it’s okay that I share this everywhere, because I can’t possibly say it as well. Thank you for consistently providing invaluable facts of natural horse care!

    • then5925 says:

      Thank you again, Robynne. I always appreciate your comments. 🙂 And by all means, please share!

    • Louise Mekata says:

      Awesome article, with lots of good information and facts. We don’t ruin our horses hooves intentionally, we love them, we do what we’ve been taught and conditioned to do. The problems don’t start overnight, it’s taken time and we must learn that we can’t reverse that damage overnight either. We need to realize that repair and healing is going to take just as long, maybe in some cases longer. We’re an in a hurry, want it right now society. Thanks again for showing us we can learn to change our attitudes with time and patience.

      • then5925 says:

        Thank you, Louise. And you’re are exactly right–barefoot isn’t necessarily a quick fix. Anything worth having takes time!

  2. Robynne Catheron says:

    Tee hee hee… I already did 🙂

  3. Malin says:

    My horse has been barefoot for about 1 1/2 years now, and it is wonderful. She was a Hunter Jumper and was shoed during show seasons due to constant wear to the heel. Now that she is a Dressage horse, I have kept her barefoot. No more chipping hooves, no more missing shoes, and just nice healthy feet. Love it.

  4. Maria says:

    Tosh! Barefoot propaganda cripples horses.

    Yours sincerely

    Maria (Owner of four successful barefoot and one successfully shod horse)

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Maria,

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course–and I know you’re not alone in your sentiment. I could say the same for shoeing propaganda though. . .

  5. kitkatcowgirl says:

    my barrel horse is 12 yrs old and was shoed all of her life until 2-1/2 yrs ago when thru trial and error we started the barefoot trim process and successfully i found a great trimmer in John Fitch of Wellsville UT…..we were having problems getting false sole to slough off naturally….had xrays done to check alignment in all 4 hooves and sole depth AND about a year ago i caved LOL and got smooth slightly fractured pea gravel put into my feeding area (16 ft X 16 ft) about 6 to 8 inches in depth and about 100 feet away is her water trough with a huge circle of same depth pea gravel around it….needlesstosay voila’ the false sole gradually was gone and the white line towards the quarters is gone (used oxine/citrus acid powder soaks and sometimes either No Thrush or Magic Cushion) and now have tough hoof walls and no more flaring on the hinds on the outside. she is one happy horse….we are moving to a new place where i will have hilly rocky barren type ground in a 6 acre field where she will be turned out but she will be able to come into her run which will be pea gravel to eat…i also for 2 yrs have been using slow feeders, Porta-Grazers for all our horses (we have 3 head) and those are a true blessing! thank you for a wonderful article and i am enjoying your other topics as well

  6. kitkatcowgirl says:

    in addition to my prev post today i also feed Horse Guard for our horses’ feet and Renew Gold feed……each horse gets a palm full of that mix morning and night…..they are on grass/alfalfa hay, about 12-14 lbs in their Porta-Grazers and a forkful of barley straw (sometimes oat stray when i can get it) to keep their digestive tract moving. they get turned out in a dirt/rocky 100′ X 100′ pen for 2 to 3 hours a day to play together…their runs are 16′ X 30′ with a covered shed in the back 16′ X 16′ feeding area.

    • then5925 says:

      Thank you for your comment, kitkatcowgirl. 🙂 I think having the pea gravel or some rough terrain in their living area really helps. I’ve dealt with false sole as well on one horse and then it just started coming off in chunks. Nice, smooth sole underneath! The slow feeders are great as well, keeps them from gobbling up all their hay at once!

  7. Monika says:

    Genetics plays a role in this too. You can do as much for a horse as you want but if his genes say hes going to have flat feet, its pretty hard to fight it. Some horses need correction in their feet and shoeing makes that easier. I shoe my gelding in the summer because he would wear his feet down too fast because of the amount of riding I was doing. Shoes protected them. As for boots, most only fit a certain type of foot and they still wear down just as fast as the hoof does… I dont want to buy $180 boots every 8 weeks. Shoes are much cheaper.

    • kitkatcowgirl says:

      i have bought 2 diff types of Easy Boots and also Renegades and for my mare they just don’t work…..having been tied up with family affairs she hasn’t been getting rode but once we move to our new place, i plan to get her legged up and slowly see how she will do out in the hills….

    • then5925 says:

      I just don’t buy into the whole genetics thing with feet, really. We don’t allow horses to live like horses for the most part–and their feet are paying the price. When I accepted corrective shoeing (wedges) advised by a vet at one time, it seemed to help the horse for a short time, but made the problem worse in the long run. I’m rehabbing that horse’s feet right now with boots (Cavallo’s) as a matter of fact, and he’s been in them nearly full-time for four months. If fitted correctly, good boots should last a year or two at least, especially if only being used for riding. So actually, shoes are not cheaper. The only hooves that need protecting are the ones which have not been allowed to become tough as nature intended–and that is by our own doing, in my opinion. (and here’s an article that talks more about the ‘genetics’ factor. . .http://naturalequinepodiatry.com/transition.html)

      • Monika says:

        Cavallos don’t last. I have sets of cavallos and easyboots. The straps went on the cavallos almost immediately and the easy boots were tractionless after 8 weeks. Thats only used for riding.They were used to try to help correct a horses feet who has no sole on his foot and no wall. Both types of boots, fitted correctly, chaffed this horse very badly. Due to a genetic deform to his feet. He was born with LTLH and shoes aee the only way for is to correct it due to the lack of growth in his feet. I do believe in boots, but I firmly believe they have their place. Again they are designed to fit a certain type of foot. Im not saying barefoot is a bad thing and that all horses should have shoes. I have a herd of 20 and only 5 are shod. What I’m saying is that Not all horses can go barefoot.

        • Janet says:

          I have Cavallos and love them, holding up great and have had them for a year and a half. Not sure what the problem is, but that hasn’t been my experience. Just thought I’d offer some balance in experiences.

          • then5925 says:

            Thanks for sharing, Janet. I had a hard time finding boots that would stay on in the pasture for rehabbing. My Easy Boots all broke (the gaiters tore). I’ve used another brand (Boa boots, maybe?) that rubbed. The Cavallo’s have been wonderful though. No rubbing, and they have really held up. I think many of us may have to try out a few different boots before finding the perfect one for each horse though. I love the hoof boot swap page btw–http://www.naturalhorsetrim.com/boot_swap.htm–good info. on the different boots and you can swap, buy or sell boots there.

    • Some of my most sound clients horse’s have the flattest feet on earth (all barefoot of course). This much concavity, that much concavity….too little concavity. It does not make a difference if the key pillars of natural hoof care are in alignment- diet, trim, and boarding

      Opting to do what is cheaper with the knowing of something better is dangerous and in my opinion, negligent.

  8. Could not agree more – barefoot is for every horse as every horse should be.

    And horses should not be pounding on hard surfaces on mad racing, should be climbim “impossible” hills with added 80kg on top as they should not be rottenly worked everyday for the time of their existence.

    I respect sport horses, I do. I did a bit of that myself only to realise how bloody miserable a horse on a training schedule feels, regardless of the fancy pictures shown on every athletes website, they just don’t like it, don’t ask me why but having seen both sides of the game, and now having 5 of my horses living a “natural” life…dam, call me crazy but I can almost hear them say: thank you.

    Barefoot is not taking the iron off and leave at that, nature does its thing. Yes, nature does its thing in wild horses that from day 1 have been built for that, also genetically they are not the same horse as we own and those hoofs are not the same hoofs we “create” with the fake living we impose on our horses.

    Barefoot is about taking care of the hoof and adapting it to the naturalistic life we can create. My horses don’t work everyday, not a chance, they play everyday though :).

    They go out on training once or twice a week, and on rides maybe another 2 times a week making a total of about 10 hours work every week, their hoofs? Like solid steel, no injuries in the past 2 years! None of them, apart from the foal that played too hard one day :)…still learning.

    I am fortunate enough to have a farrier that is completely sold out on the barefoot thing and that makes me happy because he is a brilliant farrier if not the best in my country, Portugal.

    For me, barefoot all the time, if it does not work we are doing something wrong, not the horses off course.

  9. Rick Burten says:

    Casie opined(as in made a statement that has no basis in either truth or fact),

    “But, shoes, plain and simple, are not healthy for horses’ feet. The entire hoof as well as the structures inside it become weakened when a metal shoe is nailed on and left in place for any length of time. Shoes do not allow for the natural contraction and expansion of the hoof that comes with movement and weight bearing. This, in turn, impedes blood flow in the hoof. The truth is that shoes really don’t allow for any part of the hoof to function as nature intended.”

    There is not one scintilla of verifiable evidence or research that follows the Scientific Method that horse shoes are responsible for any of the things mentioned above. The opinions contained in that paragraph and elsewhere in the article are rooted in ignorance, fed by junk science and promoted by those who preach dogma as a substitute for science and are lapped up like water for a thirsty man when what is being offered to slake the thirst is sand, not water.

    Even Dr. James Rooney, DVM who was a strong barefoot proponent stated,

    “There is so much myth and nonsense spouted to support crackpot theorizing about the foot of the horse, it is only a miracle thaty man has not succeeded in destroying the animal utterly”. And he was speaking about the proponents of barefoot only trimming, not farriers.

    Dr. Rooney, when asked about blood flow/circulation in the hoof stated:

    “Measuring such flow accurately and over a period of time and interpreting the results properly is a difficult task and not for casual diddling around. I am not an expert in peripheral vascular physiology and neither are any of those who are making claims about the foot and hoof vascular flow. Just shooting in a dye and taking pictures or slapping on a Doppler ultrasound does not mean the results are being correctly interpreted.”

    • then5925 says:

      Hello Rick,

      As a former science teacher and a freelancer who often writes on scientific studies, I appreciate your desire for clinical evidence on the ill effects of shoes. Have you read any of Dr. Robert Bowker’s research? It is a fact that rigid shoes, nailed in place do not allow for expansion of the hoof. It is also a fact that shoes always create peripheral loading which negatively impacts the circulation of the hoof. And what I write about on my blog also reflects my own personal observations as a long time owner of shod horses and a more recent owner of barefoot horses (which I trim myself). I am not naïve enough to believe that this post will make a barefoot convert out of the staunchest horse shoe proponent. I’m only stating what I personally know to be true and trying to help those who are determined to make barefoot work for their horses. . .

    • Dave Jones says:

      You should research the work of Bracy Clarke and Prof Chris Pollit. Both have produced irrefutable scientific evidence of the damaging effects of shoeing to horses hooves. Anyone with an open mind can compare a large number of hooves that have been shod for extended periods with a similar number of hooves that have been barefoot for a similar lenth of time. The superior hoof quality in the barefoot horses will be absolutely obvious.

    • It does not take a rocket scientist to evaluate a horse in his gait or natural expression to figure that a barefoot horse carries his weight with a lot more easy and confidence in all surfaces than a shoed horse. I have risen shoed horses all of my life and for the last 3 years I have got them all on barefoot, as mentioned in a comment here before barefoot is not “leave at that”. It takes a much greater commitment than having a farrier nailing iron into hoofs. It takes constant trimming (I must trim my horses on millimetres every week I think to avoid flare on abnormal growth areas) and I check them every single day despite them being left in the paddocks for about 8 months of the year, we are that lucky here in Portugal :)…

      Science goes only as far as humans try to prove something, regardless of their natural impact, hence our world being more and more polluted and not less, just saying.

      With all animals, without going too much in the whole “horse whisperer” thing, is about sensibility to understand them and despite the fact that science call tell me how many calories they need and how their muscles work when they canter it does not show me levels of contentment because that is measured with your soul.

      Call me crazy, used to it 🙂

  10. siobhan says:

    Hi there,
    I am looking for some advice as to what supplements my horse may need.”Alfie” is a 14 year old rescue 16. 2 TB gelding, thankfully I managed to save him from the factory. “Alfie” was horribly thin with overgrown feet, he had lost all interest in life, and had all but given up. I have him 4 years now and love him to bit’s, I hacked him out once or twice a week. He had on and off soundness issues. My vet nerve blocked him following a series of lameness and diagnosed him with navicular and advised me to retire him. He also has stiffness in the fore legs paticularly when turning tightly. His feet are very good and hoofs are healthy (he is shod). Following intermittent lameness I took him for an xray this showed That he did not have navicular The X ray did not pinpoint any specific reason for his bouts of lameness, just put it down to his age and breed. I moved his field shortly after (Alfie lives out 95% of the time ) the ground here is much softer, Alfie is here a year and a half now and has only been lame once, he’s still stiff when turning so i avoid tight turns and allow him his head for comfort. He does not seem in any pain or discomfort so i am back riding him once or twice a week. I find it beneficial for him to keep him going. I feed him hay, coarse mix (oat free) & beet pulp daily in the winter months and he grazes all summer. His body condition is excellent. Can you advise me what supplements I can give him paticularly to help with his stiffness issues. Also is there any piticular vitamin that I should be giving him as an aged TB. Thanks so much Siobhan & Alfie

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Siobhan, I’m not a vet so I can’t tell you exactly what your horse needs, but I’ve had success giving older horses a glucosamine/ chondroitin supplement, devil’s claw, and/or turmeric for arthritic conditions. Also, here is a post I wrote on navicular: http://thenaturallyhealthyhorse.com/hope-navicular-horses/ Good luck!

    • I agree 100% with everything in this article. The only thing I want to add is that I have fixed the “unfixable”(according to my vet) with a nutritional supplement called Black Diamond Cookies. Please visit http://www.happyfeethorsecare.com for more info if you are having a hard time with your horse’s feet.

      • then5925 says:

        Thanks, Nicole. I will check out your products. 🙂

        • Janet says:

          Where do I find the ingredients in black diamond cookies? Saw mention of magnesium….but what else and how much of each?

          • Magnesium Malate, B6, Astaxanthin, sodium boratate (boron), chaste tree berry, kelp, diamomatcious earth, cinammon, blackstrap molasses and coconut oil. I have cured 2 difficult founder horses with these cookies, then realized I was fixing a bunch of other problems I didn’t know were problems!! Win-win 🙂

            • Janet says:

              But really, it wasn’t just the “cookies”/supplements……there had to be lifestyle changes also. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, there are not “miracle” supplements, one has to look at the big picture…..it’s “never just one thing”.

              • then5925 says:

                I agree with you there, Janet. 🙂 Many factors involved in healing hooves.

              • Thank you for pointing that out…. I am a barefoot trimmer and these are my own horses I’m talking about. I’ve read all the books, my horses live in a paddock paradise, no green grass, mixed grass hay fed out of a hay nets, “grain free” grain, low NSC content. I was doing everything “right” by all natural standards. Yet, I had 2 horses that were continuously foundering, another headed that way and 2 “healthy” horses that were severely over weight with bad worms and horrible rain rot!!! My mind is curious so I was always looking for answers. It took a few years of constant research and experimenting to finally get it all right (although I’m always still leading something). For humans and horses, there simply is NO disease, there is only mineral deficiencies!! That is bold, but it’s true. I am in the process of reversing an “incurable disease” in myself by replacing vital nutrients. I have researched extensively WHY insulin resistance and founder happen in horses. So, I am saying that yes, a life style change is important, but you can’t “fix” a problem by just changing a life style. You can slow the progression, but you can’t FIX it until you support the body with proper nutrients. Hope that helps.

                • then5925 says:

                  Thanks for adding that information, Nicole. I took Dr. Kellon’s NRC Plus class and learned to balance my hay with the deficient minerals/ vitamins. It has definitely made a difference.

                • Janet says:

                  Yes, thank you. I do supplement my EMS horse with magnesium, chromium, E & selenium, ground flax seed, biotin, etc., no grain, no pasture, grassy hay all year round, lots of exercise….I am still always reading and ready to adapt if I learn a “better” way. But don’t you think that sometimes, there may be a genetic disposition or something genetically wrong from birth that no supplement or balance is ever going to cure? Help to make it better or easier to tolerate….but sometimes we can’t have a “cure”. Hopefully this is the exception…..not the norm.

            • Canadian Cowgirl55 says:

              Hi Nicole
              Are your cookies available in Canada?

  11. Angelina says:

    Hi! I’m a co-worker at a very new website-community in sweden that talks about barefoot horses and how to care for them etc. Would you mind if I translate your text to swedish and publicate it on the site with links to your blog post?

    This would be wonderful to add to our articles on the site!

    Thank you for a good read that sums up all my own thoughts on the matter!

  12. Janet says:

    I like that she gave a list of why some horses don’t do well barefoot…………..not that they shouldn’t still be barefoot, they should. But there are other reasons why some horses just don’t seem to be able to be barefoot when really it is some issues that require lifestyle changes. Good info and balanced summary of the situation. So many articles ignore the aspect of issues that cause hoof soreness/tenderness. Some articles say barefoot, barefoot, barefoot without a disclaimer as to why barefoot might not seem to work. but again, nearly all horses are better off barefoot, but take care of any other issues also.

  13. Pam Gore says:

    There is not a barefoot trimmer farrier in my area anymore. We use to use one and then put on boots when needed. Our new farrier says he does a barefoot trim but it’s not so we went back to shoes. Horses seem to be happy with them. Only used in summer and fall months when we ride more. Finding good barefoot trim farrier is difficult and usually the good ones have too many clients to take on new ones. Thus people end up shoeing.
    Is it better to use shoes at any time?

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Pam–I understand your frustration. My husband went to farrier school and used to trim and shoe mine, but he didn’t know a thing about the barefoot trim. I could only find two barefoot trimmers in my area (this was about four years ago though–I’m sure there are more now) and I had to haul my horses to them. So I decided to learn to trim myself. It has completely been worth it! Yes, shoes are easier. That’s why most people use them. But personally, I don’t believe they are ever better than a barefoot trim. They can make a horse more comfortable because they cover up any pain, but they don’t correct anything, and in fact, they weaken the hoof. If you are interested in learning to trim, Pete Ramey’s book, Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You is a great way to get started. And btw, my husband has felt for a long time that shoes were not good for a horse’s hoof. He completely believes the barefoot trim is best now as well (but still doesn’t want to trim mine since I’ve taken over all the work!)

      • Pam Gore says:

        Thanks for your comments! I will get the book and maybe give it to our farrier. ; )
        I have tried to trim but don’t have the strength or stamina.
        My horse has the best feet in our herd. I worry about injuring them when riding gravel roads or going on vaca and riding them longer over difficult terrain. Thought it was best to shoe than not. We do have gravel in our dry lot and they still don’t like to walk on it. : )
        We have a big muscled heavy mare who’s hooves flare and are very tender even with pasture roll trimming. We’ve tried shoeless with boots but she really seems much happier with shoes. But when the shoes come off….oh my gosh she is sore. I don’t like it.

        • then5925 says:

          No problem. 🙂 I know that none of us like to see our horses in pain. And as far as the strength part goes, I could only do one hoof at a time at the beginning. And, oh, it was hard! I’ve built my stamina up though and can do all four feet in about 30 min. or less now. It can be done!

  14. kimberly says:

    My horses have been barefoot there whoke life and due to an awesome ferrier we now only have to trim there gooves twice a year because have rocks that wear them down and we have plenty of pasture were they never stand in mud and they have dry ground what is a dirt sand rock grass mix which in my opinion is as close to the natural environment they would live in in the wild

    • then5925 says:

      That’s great, Kimberly! Unfortunately, we have a lot of soft, grassy ground where I live. Had to bring in some pea gravel to help their hooves out!

  15. This a nice article Casie. I agree with whole article and feel Number 6 is rooted in your horse’s IR. I know of many horses, shod for a lifetime, able to be totally sound. I would be curious if that horse’s endocrine system is on auto pilot and creating an overactive pancreas = IR, because I am sure you have refined the diet.

    IR can be rooted in having had too much stress and sometimes the endocrine organs need to be rejuvenated. We can help with that. My feeling is that most of these “hopeless” horses are in this situation.

    Keep up the good work Casie. I almost responded to that guy above talking his scientific method stuff… then realized it wasn’t worth my time!

    Blessings

    • then5925 says:

      Thank you, Narayan. 🙂 I do feel her IR is connected and I’m hoping that my new track system will help. I’m working with Dr. Joseph Thomas, a TCM practitioner, in treating her IR (and also probable Cushing’s). She also has an old injury to one front hoof which has left a permanent crack all the way to the coronary band. It was thought that she could never go shoeless just because of the crack, but I have proven that wrong!

  16. Jess says:

    Ok – but half of these are totally irrelevant to barefoot. Diet and nutrition that are high in sugars and lacking other necessary vit/minerals are going to affect ANY horse barefoot or shod. Please get your information correct before posting an article like this.

    • then5925 says:

      Of course, diet, including sugar, will affect any horse. I’m not denying that it won’t. I’m simply stating that these factors adversely affect the hooves, and therefore will lead owners to believe that barefoot isn’t working for their horse. If these factors are addressed, then the horse will likely have barefoot success.

    • Janet says:

      Here’s the thing…..shoeing can “mask” the fact that sugars and/or overweight is a problem. Best to be barefoot and then you can work with resolving issues as they truly are. Anything artificial, like shoes, will not give you a true picture of the whole horse. Work with the whole horse uninhibited in it’s “current” environment and then make adjustments accordingly. I know we’re not dealing with feral horses in their natural environment…..so tweek their environment to work with what is best for the individual horse,…..which would be barefoot and possibly many other issues like sugars, vit./min. deficiencies, cushings, etc. It’s usually not just one thing causing the problem. But masking the problem is not the answer.

  17. Gillian Stewart says:

    What an awesome article with many awesome replies.
    I have 2 Peruvians that have both been barefoot all their lives.
    I don’t how good my farrier is but their feet are always good and they have never had a lameness problem.
    He has told me of clients that want to go barefoot and then go back to shoeing because they don’t have the patience to wait for the foot to toughen up. He told me it takes about 8 weeks. Yes, they will be tippy toey but they have to build up calluses to protect their feet. Have to share this article.

    • then5925 says:

      Thanks, Gillian. Yes, there is usually a transition time and it varies depending on the horse. And as this post says, diet, environment, movement, etc. all play a big role as well. If all these factors aren’t addressed, the feet may never completely toughen up. But there is always a reason!

  18. Marissa says:

    I kept shoes on my horse for the four years I’ve had him. He was okay but still really tender on rocks. He got an abscess and the farrier decided to pull his shoes. After his abscess had drained the farrier came back out and my horse’s hoof wall wasn’t thick enough to put shoes on. I kept the shoes off and it was very rough at first. He was almost always “lame”, even in the arena, but I noticed a lot of improvement and his feet were actually getting healthy! He had always had really bad hooves. He would always throw his shoes which in return broke his hooves off. They were dry and cracked even after I used hoof conditioner. Hoof supplements did nothing for him.
    Now that he has been barefoot for about a year he is awesome without the shoes on all different terrains. We can trail ride and even do cross country just fine! His feet are healthier now than they have ever been.

    • then5925 says:

      Thanks for sharing, Marissa. 🙂 Sounds like his feet just needed some time to heal.

  19. Lisa says:

    I agree with all but #5. My horses are on a pasture of reclaimed ag land consisting of grass, packed dirt, and crushed glass (added long ago to loosen soil for growing crops). Of the 6 horses, 2 mules, & 1 donkey in the last year we have not trimmed any of the ‘normal’ ones. Their feet wear and chip naturally. Cracks grow out and break off harmlessly. We only trim the old cripple who wears unevenly and the mare with ringbone to help her break over easier. We have had only 1 bruise in the last year (probably from a hidden rock) – no abcesses or other hoof problems of any kind.
    Left alone, in the right conditions, hooves trim themselves naturally. I think we humans often have a hard time just leaving nature alone.

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Lisa–thanks for your comment. You’re right. In some environments, horses can self-trim. Where I live, unfortunately, it just doesn’t happen. It’s too wet and grassy here. But if yours can wear their hooves naturally, that’s great!

  20. Michelle Sabba says:

    Thanks for the article! My boy is 10 years old and has been in shoes all of his life. Last summer he managed to tear off 2 shoes and a good part of the hoof wall with it. Needless to say, there was no way shoes were being put back on those feet. It has been a year now that he is barefoot. I will NEVER put shoes back on again. It was hard in the beginning since his feet were tender so we just rode on the grass for a while and he was off most of the winter because of the ice and snow. The farrier said he wished that he took pictures of his feet then and now because of the changes in his feet. He used to trip terrible after just a few weeks of being shod and he hasn’t tripped once since he has been bare. My vet said if she didn’t my horse and just saw his feet, she wouldn’t recognize him.

  21. Back on track says:

    While I agree with some of your article points, I disagree with others. I believe that you are correct that some people do not understand the benefits to barefoot. Some that try it will give up too easily. Some will not look at the other factors, such as diet, terrain, trimming, and so on, that need to be considered for barefoot horses. However, there is one HUGE factor that was not mentioned and that is GENETICS. Some horses are not, I repeat not, going to do well barefoot because they do not have the genetic makeup for that kind of hoof. These are the horses that frankly, Darwin’s theory would not allow to survive and pass on the gene. Yes, horses evolved to survive without shoes for who knows how many years but there has been a GREAT BIG influence in the horse’s makeup due to breeding manipulated by humans. Particularly in the last 50+ years. The quality of the hoof from a 100 years ago in some horses is vastly different than the quality of hoof of some today. Genetics plays a big roll here and I disagree that any horse can go barefoot if just approached correctly. Don’t believe me? Just ask the next bald person you see to take a different approach to their diet, or environment, to grow hair! That’s no different than expecting that any or every horse can grow a better hoof with just the ‘right’ circumstances and it does not always work that way. A thin, pliable hoof wall or sole does not get thicker just by adding zinc or making them walk on gravel. And as for environment, ask your barn manager or owner to please make your pasture a gravel one. My point here is that many, many horse owners board their horses and are not at liberty to create the “ideal environment”. Furthermore, please, please consider that the environment varies a great deal by the climate/weather and terrain of the area in which you live. There are a whole host of elements to consider in each area of the country. Snow, ice, rain, desert dry, humidity, temperature fluctuations. I’m sure you get the idea. I don’t wish to offend, just offer a different view. I believe the power of the gene is too often disregarded or overlooked. And in case anyone is wondering, I have one of each: successful barefoot and one not. It’s not the horse’s fault and not mine either. We have to play with the genetic and environmental hand we have been dealt.

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Back on Track,

      Thank you for your comment. I disagree on the genetic factor, however, and that is why it’s not included in the article. (see this post I did for more on that: http://thenaturallyhealthyhorse.com/bad-hooves-genetic-anthropogenic/) It takes thousands of years to change the base genetics of any species (such as weakened hooves), not just a few hundred. Do the research. . .

      • back on track says:

        I reviewed your post however, I really did not see anything new in it from the post above. Same main points, diet, environment, trimming, etc. I don’t see any evidence or argument on why genetics are not a factor. Did I miss it?
        As for the length of time to change the genetics of any species it can be far, far less than thousands of years. Entirely NEW breeds of dogs, horses, plants, you name it, can be produced in just a few generations of selective breeding. That is exactly what has happened through selective breeding and in the name of creating better specimens for specific purposes (such as halter, reining, hunter jumper, gaited). Even so, I’m going to guess that you will not accept that argument and we will have to agree to disagree on that note.

    • pologirl says:

      Agree! The barefoot supporters need to be as open to the possibility of shoes if horses are not comfortable (and not all are) as the farriers need to be open to the idea of barefoot when possible. I believe in an ideal world that barefoot sounds great. I did this with two dressage horses for 9 months, great footing, lots of turnout, low starch, no processed feeds, etc. etc. So an ideal situation. Though there were some nice improvements in the foot, they could not go the long haul without their shoes. One is a 17.2 TB with a nice looking foot but doesn’t grow a lot of sole (in fact lost a bit while barefoot), the other a horse with ringbone who definitely benefited from a better foot but became more sore and ouchy with time, might need the protection from the shoe. Anyhow, it’s not for every horse and there is no point for a horse to have constant inflammation in the foot and soreness for the sake of being “barefoot”. At this point, we pull shoes day in advance of a new cycle and give the horses a few days off with their bare feet to encourage they stay open, circulation, etc. Horses seem to happy with this scenario.

  22. kitkatcowgirl says:

    this is such a great blog! got myself and my QH mare (who has been barefoot 2-1/2 yrs now) into Pete Ramey’s one day clinic here and i can’t wait until October!!! so excited…you see i’m riding the fence right now as to keep her barefoot…she’s trimmed every 4 to 5 wks and her feet look great but even with pea gravel and her being in a 16FTX24FT shedrow that leads out into an 85FT X 65FT dirt/gravel turnout her feet are not 100% happy all of the time…..i think i am going to take the online course about grains/hay/feed…..need to do some studying…portagrazer feeder used with smallest holes, grass/alfalfa hay, 1/2 small scoop (about 1/2 ounce) of Redmond salt/mineral added to my palm full of Renew Gold grain free pelleted feed morning and night….that’s all she gets. so i’m thinking something is up with my feed program….need to test my hay….plus we are moving to a new place with wild native grass/weeds, clay & salt based ground and rocky terrain..(actually what those wild mustangs run on here in UT and NV) has anyone ever tested water supplies….we have an old well that has high minerals (manganese, sulfates) that has been tested…it is not contaminated and we could drink it but don’t (smells, tastes bad)….it is used for our livestock…..at our new place there is wonderful well water that we can’t drink enough of and cool from the tap and crystal clear…what’s a mother to do lol

    • Casie says:

      Thanks Kitkatcowgirl. 🙂 I’m hosting a Pete Ramey clinic at my place in January and am super excited about it as well! Just a suggestion, but you might drop the alfalfa and see if that helps with the foot soreness. Could be high NSC hay too. I highly recommend Dr. Kellon’s online nutrition courses–I learned a ton there. Good luck!