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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Barefoot - a horse management question

How often do you hear 'I tried barefoot and it didn't work for me.'

The operative word being 'me'. Where barefoot is not working - it is often for the person and not necessarily the horse. Let me explain my thinking.

Barefoot requires some reworking of how we manage our horses. We have to put aside some of our conventions and start looking at life from the horse's point of view. It may take some time and persistence before we get the management mix right (for the horse).

There are a whole chunk of people out there for whom this is not an option, for whatever reason. For these people barefoot might not work (don't get me wrong - given the appropriate care it would most likely work for their horses).

Let's briefly look at the management issues that need addressing and then I'll post about each in more detail separately. For ease of reference I use the acronym DEET - Diet, exercise, environment and Trim

Diet is a big factor - a significant proportion of the horse population is sensitive to sugar. It's really a digestive problem that has side effects on the feet. Modern diets have a tendency to be very high in sugar.

Exercise - the horse is designed to move, more or less constantly, and can easily cover 20 miles a day routinely. Current methods of horse care tend to restrict movement which has lots of side effects, one of which is poor foot health/growth.

Environment - Hooves adapt to the surface they work/live most on. The current trend towards soft sand arenas, grassy paddocks and protection against wear on hard surfaces contributes to poor, weak and crumbly hooves.

Trim - Hooves will self trim to their own optimum when given sufficient exercise over the right sort of terrain. Current management practices tend not allow this to happen. An effective barefoot trim will mimic the natural wear pattern and only remove what nature would have removed given the chance.


Di said...

We have two riding horses in the transition period from shod to unshod, it seems to be going well. We have boots for riding which the horses are quite comfortable with. It's been a slow journey for me, but I'm finally seeing things from my horses' point of view. What really brought it home to me was our two youngsters 2 and 3 with beautiful feet and no way did I want to start putting shoes on them.

Endurance Granny said...

Good post! ~E.G.

Akhal-Eventer said...

How true. . .I have been doing my own barefoot trims for about 5 years now and can say that I definitely spend at least 80% more time on my horses' feet than I did when they were shod by a traditional farrier. However, the work you put into maintaining your horses' feet will inevitably benefit their performance & quality of life on so many levels: nutritionally, physically, biologically, and even mentally. As an equestrian, it's been a transition that is akin to any personal lifestyle change. You can't just make a change in diet, exercise, philosophy, etc, without a supportive change in your lifestyle. And so it goes with caring for our horses. And like many major lifestyle changes, going barefoot can be extremely rewarding. Having control over your horses' feet and knowing what to do to encourage health and soundness is a powerful tool in a person's overall horsemanship. It's also a job that builds respectful relationships. In this regard, I feel the rewards of going barefoot outweigh the sacrifices by a long shot.

Sophie said...

The addiction to shoes reminds me of the addiction to nicotine. Once you've managed to successfully give up (and it can be so very very hard) you never want to go back.

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