KICK OFF YOUR SHOES: IS BAREFOOT BETTER?
There is a definite move afoot in the horse world in recent years to revert “back to nature” when it comes to horse management, husbandry and tack.
Social media is awash with “wow” videos showing riders performing amazing feats using bitless bridles or, indeed, no saddles, stirrups or bridles at all. It’s all very controversial, but probably the most hotly argued topic of all is the trend towards keeping horses “barefoot” – ie. dispensing with horse shoes.
Horses have been shod for almost as long as they’ve been domesticated in the service of man. Archaeologists have found bronze horse shoes with nail holes dating from 400BC in an Etruscan tomb, and we know that the ancient Romans in Britain used strap-on, solid bottomed “hipposandals” (not dissimilar to modern hoof boots) to protect their horses’ hooves.
Bronze shoes on horses were common in Europe by around 1000 AD, and by the middle ages iron horse shoes were de rigeur, being forged in large quantities, as the knights rode off to the Crusades.
Nowadays horse shoes come in a wide variety of materials and styles – steel, aluminium, rubber, plastic, or even titanium – the choice dictated by the type of horse and the work they do.
So, if the use of horse shoes has been tried and tested for so many centuries, why are many of us now deciding to go barefoot?
Let’s start by looking at why domesticated horses were deemed to need shoes in the first place:
In the wild, pre-domestication, horses lived in dry climates, travelling long distances slowly while foraging, allowing their hooves to be hardened and worn smooth, the sole being constantly stimulated to keep growth and condition healthy. When we discovered how useful horses were they were domesticated, put to work in all sorts of unnatural ways, and often imported to wet climates where their hooves were subjected to damp conditions.
Add to the damp and muddy conditions the fact that domesticated horses had to bear the weight of a rider, suffer the physical stress and traction involved in drawing a cart, wagon or carriage, and perform at high speed, and you’re bound to expect issues.
The result was the advent of all sorts of hoof and foot ailments – and as we know, “no hoof, no horse”!
So the horse shoe evolved to protect hooves, particularly in damp climates like Europe and Britain.
Our domesticated horses therefore really need horse shoes, right?
Wrong … in most cases! That’s not to say you can just gaily rip the shoes off of your horse and expect him to perform as usual, trouble free!
It is more than likely that with the right advice, care and patience you will be able to transition your horse to being barefoot, but it is equally likely that in most circumstances he will need the support of hoofboots, along with constant monitoring and attention paid to his feet.
If you believe barefoot would be better, be prepared to persevere. There’s no “quick fix” transition, and can take up to a year or more to achieve success.
Initially your horse will probably be sore without shoes for a variety of reasons. These include things like having thin, flat soles and over-rasped hoof walls; contracted heels; thrush; laminitis; and hoof cracks. All these issues can be addressed – many through diet – to strengthen, thicken and harden the hoof.
Above all it is vital to seek professional help and guidance from a farrier, vet and barefoot trimmer before you take the barefoot plunge, and during the transition process.
Big considerations when making the decision include such things as:
· Whether the horse has any hoof deformations.
· Whether his conformation is good without any bone or muscle issues.
· What kind of work he does and what activities does he do.
· Whether he gets plenty of exercise and turn-out time.
· Whether he has any diseases or conditions that require shoes that would benefit from therapeutic shoe-ing.
Once the horse is happily barefoot, will everything run smoothly?
Horse owners who’ve successfully transitioned attest to various benefits, ranging from an improvement in the health of a horse’s feet to improved heart rates and recovery times for working horses, and fewer concussion injuries. One obvious advantage is that you will no longer be dealing with your horse throwing a shoe, and you’ll also find yourself, of necessity, taking more interest and notice of your horse’s hoof care.
You’ll still need regular visits from a farrier or trimmer, more frequent than before, to keep his hooves in shape.
You’ll also need to closely monitor his diet and exercise: a low-sugar and mineral balanced diet along with regular work will help strengthen the hoof capsule.It's worth investing in a good quality hoof supplement.
LIKE MANY ISSUES IN THE EQUESTRIAN WORLD, THERE ARE ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST THE “BAREFOOT BRIGADE”. IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING TO DECIDE PERHAPS THIS ARTICLE FROM HORSE AND HOUND WILL HELP!