Get 'em off!
A large part of my job involves helping owners to transition their horse from shod to barefoot. There are many reasons an owner may want to take their horse's shoes off and this article is designed to help anyone thinking of taking the plunge make an informed decision.
Before you go for it, think about why you want to do this. While it's true that being barefoot can benefit the horse's general wellbeing as well as hoof health, it needs to be done right in order to succeed. Do you want to event at a high level this season? It may be that you need to postpone shoe removal until your horse's schedule allows time for the transition. Transitions can be immediate or can take 12-18 months (if the EP's advice is followed) and you will probably need to invest in hoof boots and maybe therapeutic pads. You may need to alter your horse's ridden work to aid the transition - some horses need to be hand walked for 10-15 mins DAILY (not just once a week), others may need to be ridden as often as possible. In rare cases, the horse cannot be worked at all for a few weeks
Transitioning to barefoot can be hard work! You may need to up your hoof hygiene regime and soak your horse's feet in diluted Milton twice a week. You may have to change the diet, or the bedding, or put up electric fencing to restrict the grazing. You will probably need to increase the frequency of the trims at first, maybe as often as every 2-4 weeks (depending on the condition of the hooves) and should be prepared to see your EP every 6 weeks long term. Self-trimming is a rare thing and requires a lot of work over many different surfaces to be effective. Some horses just can't cope with this (at least at first, and for some - never).
Still here? Not put off? Good! So, why would anyone in their right mind transition to barefoot? Well, the benefits are huge! To name a few:
Increased proprioception - the horse is designed to feel the ground. There is a big difference between good proprioception and 'footiness' though, so listen to your horse when he drags you onto the verges to avoid gritty tracks!
Better hoof horn quality - it stands to reason that the hoof wall will be healthier simply from lack of nail holes.
Better overall hoof health - when transitioned correctly, frogs start to 'man up' as they come into contact with the ground, this in turn stimulates the digital cushion and lateral cartilages - part of the natural shock absorbing system. The heels will decontract, and any thrush/white line disease will start to disappear (if you are following the hoof hygiene regime advised by your EP).
Your horse's gut health may improve - huh? What on earth does the gut have to do with health? EVERYTHING! This is the subject of a future blog, but as we all know, we are what we eat. There is huge amounts of evidence and research to prove that what the horse eats affects the hoof.
Your horse's overall health may improve - the hoof balance and comfort have a massive impact on your horse's well-being.
Better traction - your horse's feet are designed with a natural braking system (can you tell I'm the daughter of a mechanic?!!).
Cost - although initial outlay may be high, you will eventually save money.
It hurts less when they stand on you! And there are less damaging kick injuries when all the horses in the paddock are barefoot!!
If you are thinking about transitioning, or tried it but it didn't work, I hope this article has shed some light for you. Please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions!