Going barefoot- Is it for you?

Many people have recently discovered this wild horse strategy and Natural hoof care has become quite popular. In fact so popular that there is a shortage of people trained to provide it.

This article will address your questions about going barefoot. What is involved? Can it help horses with major problems? How is it different?

If I do not cover your particular question here please feel free to email me.

1)Q: What is natural hoof care?
A: Natural hoof care is a way of looking after a horses whole well being including and starting with the feet. It encompass the diet, environment and mental outlook of the individual horse.
It is based on the study of wild horses in the natural environment. Also called the Wild horse trim, the mustang trim, and the barefoot trim.

2)Q: How is natural hoof care different from traditional hoof care?
1)Natural hoof care does not use shoes. Of course you probably already knew that.
2) Natural hoof care allows the horse to heal itself with a minimum of interference.
3) Natural hoof care does not try to force/correct conformational flaws but attempts to help the horse to find the hoof form that will function best for it.
4) Natural hoof care focuses on balance rather then angles.
5) Natural hoof care ideally looks for a low heel a deeply concaved sole and short, rolled toe but without forcing that on the horse.

3) Q: What is the Mustang roll?
The Mustang roll is the bevel that is put on the hoof wall and especially the toe area of the hoof. It facilitates the proper breakover of the foot and prevents excess pressure on the structures joining the hoof wall to the coffin bone. This prevents issues such as wall flare, coffin bone rotation, tripping and toe first landings.

4)Q: What is Transition?
A: Transition is a period of healing. Transition time can be anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years depending on the horses problems/pathologies.

5) Q: How can I help my horse through the transition period?
A: If your horse is sore when shoes are removed place him into hoof boots with padding right away. Some horses may even need boots 24/7 for the first few weeks, some need boots for turn out for a while and some just need them for work. Each horses needs differ. Even if your horse is not super sore but tippy toes on the rockier areas I recommend booting for work to allow a comfortable heel first landing for the horse. If the horse is not landing comfortably heel first he will not develop strength in the structures in the back of the foot that allow him to be a happy barefoot horse.

learn more about hoof boots, and measuring for boots here.

Horses in transition and all horses need lots of exercise on varied terrain in order to develop and keep a healthy natural hoof.

Wild horses move an average of 20 miles a day, purposeful movement not just standing and eating in a lush pasture. They expose their feet to rocky places, soft muddy places, dry hard places and so forth during this movement. As they use their feet they self trim by natural wear that does not allow excess hoof to grow to the point of breaking splitting and cracking.
If your horse's hooves are splitting or chipping it is time ,and past time, for him to have his feet tended to. Please do not wait until your horse looks like he needs a trim to call your hoof care provider.

6) How do we simulate movement in a domestic environment?

a) riding-Not just the hour or so around the arena but get out and move them. Encourage them to use their feet. Trail ride. It is not only good for their feet and muscles it's god for their minds and ours.
b) A natural pasture- One that has varied ground conditions. Not groomed and manicured and planted but having many native plants, rocky,muddy and hard packed areas, hills and valleys if possible.

c)Simulating natural
Making food and water sources a good distance apart encourages movement. Installed beds of gravel in places the horse must cross simulates rocky ground where none is available naturally. A pond or allowing the water tank to spill over and make a mud hole simulates a wild horses exposure to muddy wet areas. Creating a paddock paradise http://thenaturalhoof.homestead.com/Paddock2.html where not enough land is available for large turn outs.
Again riding the horse....

What is a diet that is healthy and safe for horses hooves?
Like humans horses have recently become prone to things like insulin resistance and metabolic issues. The main culprit in these conditions? Sugar.

Where is sugar found in a horses diet?
Rich pastures of lush green grass, concentrates in the form of grains and feeds. Spring and fall are the times of highest incidence of founder and laminitis not because of an over abundance of food but because of the sugar content of the grasses. Stressed grass is high in sugar. Grass exposed to cold nights and warm days is very high in sugar as is overgrazed grass and fertilized grass.

Lean more about grass and sugar in equine diets here: http://www.safergrass.org/

7) What kind of diet is best for my horse?

Each is an individual. But a main source of food should be hay and natural forage. This includes many wild plants as well as some grasses.

A pasture that hosts many species of plants and grasses is ideal. Horses do like and will eat many plants that we consider weeds. These plants can be very beneficial for the horse. Horses in fact can and will self medicate if plants are available.

My own mare once showed a marked desire to eat poison ivy. Literally stopping to munch every bunch of it she found.
I later read in a holistic horse magazine that Poison Ivy in a horses diet reduces inflammation.... at the time Baby was dealing with a displaced shoulder that had been undetected until several weeks later.

If the horse is needing additional calories look for natural grains. I personally prefer oats but for some horses even this is too much starch in the diet. There are feeds available out there designed to be low in NSC such as Triple Crown Low starch. And some pelleted feeds that are just ration balancers that provide needed vitamins and minerals but without adding calories such as Ultium.

Avoid feeds that are high in Molasses as these tend to cause the biggest problems in health and behavior. Thing of sweet feed as giving candy to a kid with ADHD. Bad news.

For horses with IR and other metabolic issues even carrots can pose a problem. natural sweets like carrots and apples are very high in sugars. Carrots are especially of concern for an IR horse.

8) Can a barefoot horse be ridden on pavement?

Yes a properly transitioned barefoot horse can indeed work on pavement and in fact will experience les fatigue and concussion shock compared to a horse wearing shoes.

In Houston TX the entire mounted patrol unit consists of barefoot horses. Read more here

Important note
However it must be noted that this kind of conditioning takes time. A horse can only adapt to the environment he is presented with on a regular basis. So if you ride mostly on soft ground IE: Dirt trails or sand arenas, and are planning to take your horse for a ride someplace that is very hard surfaced, paved, or very rocky it would be best to provide him with protection in the form of well fitted hoof boots.



Below are some examples of healthy barefoot hooves

Saddlebred gelding, out of shoes for one year. Healthy hooves.

3 year old off the track Thoroughbred gelding. Set up trim