Barefoot Hoof Care FAQ

Barefoot horses must be trimmed in 4-6 week intervals for optimum performance. Why must the trim be so frequent?

When we allow our horses to go too long between trims, the walls grow out too far. This begins the process of “flares” and “mechanical separation” caused by leverage. Since the walls are too long, every time the horse steps he is essentially pulling his hoof wall away from the inner hoof capsule, like pulling on your fingernail. It is quite painful. The horse eventually gets a lowered coffin bone due lack of suspension and support inside the capsule. The sole then drops and becomes too low, causing the “ouchy” pain over rocks and gravel that we all know so well. Frequent trims stop this road to destruction. We must trim every 4 weeks to keep the walls in check, the heels and bars in check, and the toes rolled to allow for easier break over and to prevent and stop leverage in the toes. This allows all new hoof growth to grow straight down with good inner attachments. Once the walls grow back down straight with good lamellar attachment, the coffin bone and sole can pull back up into place. This is usually the point when horses become almost instantly sound over any and all terrain.

My horse is going to be ouchy without shoes, how will I be able to ride?

Hoof boots! Today’s technology has provided us with many alternatives for metal shoes for horses that still need protection. There are many brands and styles of hoof boots to help you find a pair that both fit your budget and your horse. Most horses will only need one pair of boots to get them past the ouchy stage. Boots are very tough, and most will last several hundred miles of riding. Boots have a rubber sole, which not only aids in shock absorption and traction, but also protects the still sensitive sole from stone bruises.

Why did my horse abscess right after pulling the shoes?

Most shod feet have necrotic (dead) tissue built up inside. Because of the decreased blood flow and temperature, the body is not able to remove and flush it out. That is what an abscess is: the body’s way of removing dead tissue and starting the healing process. Most abscesses will clear up within a week or two and do not require veterinary attention, but if lameness persists and the owner is concerned, a vet may be able to help dig out or apply medication to the site. The best treatment is to soak the hoof in epsom salts or diluted apple cider vinegar for 30 minutes once or twice a day to help clear out the infection.

Be warned: some veterinarians do not completely understand the barefoot movement. They may tell you what you are doing is cruel, and you need to put shoes back on. I can assure you: You are not being cruel! Cruelty is nailing metal shoes on a horse for its lifetime and simply numbing its feet to the destruction going on inside. It’s like putting a band aid on cancer, and saying it’s better because you can’t see it. The first month may be the hardest, but your horse will thank you in the long run and will be the happiest and most comfortable he’s ever been.

What are the benefits of a barefoot horse?

You’ll never have to cancel a trail ride for losing a shoe, first of all!

Barefoot horses, due to their improved blood flow, tend to live longer. There’s less strain on their heart. They have more energy and enthusiasm. Better joint movement and less strain on the joints. Many times arthritic pain and heel pain are greatly reduced. On horses started barefoot from a young age, many don’t ever develop the debilitating effects of arthritis. The benefits are endless.

Do some breeds do better barefoot than others?

A hoof is a hoof, regardless of breed or color. ANY hoof can be rehabbed barefoot, but the trim is critical. The trim is the same no matter what breed or discipline. Whether a gaited horse or a barrel horse or a racehorse, the hoof must be individually shaped to match the inner structures to create soundness. If the proper trim is performed and maintained, any horse in the world can be rehabbed to rock crushing barefoot soundness.

Do foundered horses need elevated heels and shoes?

This couldn't be further from the truth! People think the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon (DDFT) is pulling the coffin bone out of place, and they are trying to alleviate the pressure by raising the heels to reduce the damage. Problem is, they are making it worse and actually forcing "rotation". The fact is that the Coffin bone CANNOT move. It is attached to the short pastern. What DOES happen is the laminea has inflammed and consequently died, and detached from the bone. By keeping the bone ON THE GROUND, ground parallel, and allowing the wall to distort upward, we prevent further damage and allow the hoof to heal. Leverages from moving and walking cause the wall to pull away from the bone, not the DDFT pulling the bone away from the wall. We seem to be assuming the wall is static and the bone is moving, when in reality the bone is static and the wall is what is moving.

By keeping the horse barefoot, comfortable, and moving, we increase blood flow within the hoof capsule and speed the healing process. Foundered horses shouldn't be kept confined, but rather encouraged to move around and even hand walked.

Do navicular horses need elevated heels & shoes, and are they permanently lame?

Navicular horses can he healed with a barefoot lifestyle. Many times if you just remove the shoes, turn them out to pasture and don't bother them, they'll heal by themselves. Most times Navicular pain isn't navicular bone related at all. It can be caused by a squeezed or contracted heel, thrush, elevated heels, or shoes themselves. Elevated heels cause heel contraction, and also cause excessive strain in the tendons and ligaments. The weight of the horse is being forced to HANG on these ligaments and tendons instead of being supported by the heel and the ground.

Balancing the hoof, allowing the heels to support the weight of the horse, encouraging heel first landings, and treating infections such as thrush usually will cure any "navicular" diagnosed horse.

Will I be able to ride my barefoot horse?

Why not?? Barefoot hooves are better suited to support the extra weight of the rider. They offer better cushioning to the joints, more traction to the hooves, and more energy to the horse. Barefoot hooves can be rode over any terrain. After all, wild horses do it all the time! A transitioning period is necessary to build up strength and sole calluses, which the shoes take away from the hoof and boots may be necessary in the beginning. But horses can and should be happily ridden barefoot and live a barefoot lifestyle.

Do hooves have to be trimmed to certain "angles" for the horse to move correctly?

We should never trim a hoof to a pre-determined angle. The live sole plane and natural growth angle of the hoof wall will tell us the correct angle of the hoof for each individual horse, and even each individual hoof. We do a great disservice to our horses when we try to trim or shoe to a "correct" or assumed angle that WE determine hooves should be at. The horse will tell you what angle he is comfortable at, and we just need to listen. Simply trimming each hoof to the natural live sole plane will set your horse in his correct and comfortable position or "angle", no measuring required!

Do different breeds require different styles of trims?

A hoof is a hoof! No matter the breed, size, discipline, sport, age or use, all horses have the same coffin bone and the same leg mechanisms. They do not need extra long toes, long or tall heels, or specific angles in order to perform, gait, run, jump, or walk. They all need the same individually naturally balanced hooves to work at their best.

No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.  ~ Winston Churchill