How to help your horse go barefoot

Tuesday 5th May, 2015

Barefoot horses are the latest trend sweeping the equine industry and with the mounting research to support the movement, it is easy to see why this concept is catching on. Horses have been shod for centuries with farriers fitting handmade shoes to the hoof to support the soles on hard, rough or rocky terrain. However the latest research communicates that in order for healthy feet and limbs the hoof is actually designed to flex; one function that is considerably impaired with the application of iron shoes.

Hooves and the heart

The hoof is a living tissue that flexes to provide shock absorption for joints and tendons during movement. The action of the hoof flexing has an important function within the horse’s circulatory system as it pumps blood back up the legs toward the heart. Thermographs of shod horses have shown that blood circulation within the hoof and lower leg is dramatically reduced in comparison to that of a barefoot horse.

Transition time

Trying the barefoot concept is not something that owners should attempt lightly, as the hooves will take time and a great deal of care to ensure that they grow and strengthen to support the horse’s weight on all terrains. The longer it is unshod, the stronger the hoof gets and some horses barely seem to notice that their shoes have been removed in the first place. However the actual time taken to achieve a healthy strong hoof will depend upon their condition when first unshod.

Some tenderness may be experienced in the first few weeks of being barefoot due to exposure of the flattened hoof sole, but the sole should soon return to its natural concave shape that will help prevent bruising on tough terrain. Horses that are overweight, have existing metabolic conditions or hoof abnormalities may take a good deal longer to reach optimum hoof health.

Trims and treats

Diet has a huge part to play in hoof health, so ensure that you feed the highest quality feeds available, and limit molasses, sugars and fillers. Use mineral licks and grooming in place of high sugar treats with zero nutritional value. Regular trimming by a barefoot expert is essential as they will be able to shape your horse’s feet to accommodate the transition from shod to unshod and help develop a hardened hoof wall and a firm, formed frog which will support good confirmation and gait. Stabling will also play a vital part in the restoration of the hoof, so ensure your horse has a soft, deep absorbent bed with good drainage and ventilation to promote optimum hoof health. During the barefoot transition you will need to rest your horse and restrict exercise until the hooves have hardened, therefore a stimulating, spacious stable and plenty of one on one attention from you will both strengthen your bond and encourage his recuperation.

Do your homework

Before starting out on your barefoot journey make sure you do your homework and discuss your plans with barefoot professionals so that you are sure that this is something you want to commit to long term. Above all, make sure you know your horse, trust your instincts and learn what is normal for him. By understanding his gait and body language you will be better equipped to assess his foot health and general wellbeing.

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