My First Horse was Barefoot
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or are completely new to horses), you’re likely aware that the barefoot vs. shod debate is a hot topic these days. But I remember back when I didn’t give either one much of a fleeting thought. When I leased my first horse, a retired Hunter Jumper named Lady Be Good, she was barefoot. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. Lady wasn’t registered (some of the best ones aren’t!), and I remember her owner telling me she could be shown in the pony classes barefoot and the horse classes if she had shoes on. I never did enter any shows which distinguished between pony and horse classes, but I always kept that in mind.
But the truth was, we rarely ever put shoes on Lady. I rode her all over the place barefoot. One of my favorite places to go was an area we affectionately called the ‘wash-outs’. We had to take a short jaunt through a neighborhood to get there, but it was a great place to ride–several miles of trails, a creek bed with hills to play on, and a gigantic field butting up to it where we could lope our horses on firm ground.
I also took Lady to plenty of shows, and learned how to ride English on her. She was left barefoot for these as well, so I guess, technically, I was showing a pony!
The only time I remember putting shoes on her was for our annual trail ride to Robber’s Cave State Park in southeastern Oklahoma (beautiful place, if you ever get the chance to go there). It’s quite rocky and I remember shoes pretty much being a prerequisite for riding on the trails there. Of course, I knew nothing about hoof boots back then, nor did we have the wonderful selection of boots that we have now. I bet Lady would have done just fine in a pair of Cavallo’s or Jogging Shoes though.
Another thing I remember about Lady was that she had beautiful feet–three dark and one white hoof. I don’t think she ever had an abscess, crack, or thrush. Looking back now, I think I know why. We fed simple things like whole oats and grass hay (and sometimes a bit of alfalfa). They were on pasture full time, but grass was limited since we generally ran about 4-5 horses on our small acreage. Lady got plenty of exercise, too, since I rode her nearly every day when the weather was good and sometimes, even when it wasn’t. We also had regular hoof care. All of these things are important for healthy hooves.
Maybe I was just lucky with Lady and she just happened to have great feet, but I have a feeling that keeping her barefoot so much of the time actually played a big part in that, too.
As she grew older, I retired her altogether from showing. I rode her less and less (I’d moved on to another horse and was just getting into barrel racing), but I began giving riding lessons on Lady ($5 for a half hour!) because I figured she could teach a few more kids just how wonderful horses could be. The light exercise was good for her aging joints, too.
We weren’t completely certain how old Lady was when we got her, but she lived at our place for about eleven years. I was in college and we estimated she was around thirty-three when we finally had to lay her to rest. I still get emotional just thinking about her sometimes. She was one of those once-in-a-lifetime horses. The kind that would any child would be lucky to have. I know I certainly felt lucky.
I also feel fortunate to be able to look back and compare Lady’s feet with the feet of some of the other horses which we kept shod nearly year-round (my mom rode endurance then). One of those horses had frequent abscesses and then was diagnosed with navicular in her later teens. Another horse developed crippling arthritis in his knees. Neither one of them made it anywhere close to the ripe old age that Lady did. It makes me wonder if being constantly shod had anything to do with it. Maybe. . . maybe not. There’s no way to know for sure. But it’s definitely food for thought. . .