Hoofcare & Information for Barefoot Soundness

Linda Cowles Hoof Care - Serving the greater SF Bay Area and Northern California

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Gravel Crunchers

The ideal in the barefoot world is a barefoot horse who can handle extremes in terrain... a horse that can move easily across rock, sand, mud, and water.

The assumption in recent times has been that most domestic horses are incapable of having tough, durable feet, because "good footedness" has been bred out of domesticated horses.

But even barefoot fanatics are skeptical about the mythical "gravel crunchers", bare feet that can go anywhere, do anything....


Cagey, 10 year old Arab


About these dramatic "Gravel Crunching" pictures...

The horses depicted in these pictures are all eager and willing trail horses with very, very sensitive, if durable, feet. These pictures are taken on Coast Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore during a 24 mile - barefoot - ride, and the horses are so casual about the rocky environment that they had to be slowed down for me to take the pictures... so no, moving over rock at a decent speed isn't a problem - unless someone's trying to get good pictures!

boots like Old Macs, Epics and Renegades offer excellent protection. They take 3 minutes a set to put on, and they stay in place in all conditions. Riding booted is just as cool as riding barefoot! My horse almost never needs rear boots, but I do carry rear boots when his feet are extremely wet and soft and the terrain is extremely rocky.

Robby, 12 year old Arab

Tinker, an 18 year old shetland pony

Developing a gravel cruncher foot

The concept of passive conditioning involves using rock or gravel around watering tanks, gates and feeding areas.

Xenophon, a fourth century BC Greek cavalry commander, had a lot to say on horse management for the development of rock-hard feet. Some of the oldest writings about the care of hooves are found in the works of Xenophon, who wrote "naturally sound hooves get spoiled in most stalls," and included the instruction that their hooves should be toughened by putting a cobblestone area in their paddock, (a practice still in use today).

Building A Foot For Rocky Trails

Building a tough hoof is dependent on the right LIM (Less Is More) trim, a lots of time and travel, good low-carb diet (See , and booting when necessary.

While the process takes time and riding, it isn't difficult... feed right, trim just enough, get rid of thrush and provide good footing in the living environment and los of exercise.

The Shape of a Healthy Bare Foot

There may be an ideal shape for most conditions, but many shapes are possible.

Cagey & Robbie

cagey grew up in a tough 300 acre pasture. The mares and foals were again turned out to pasture until the foals were 3 to 4 months old, when they were again brought in and essentially round penned as a herd, taught the essentials of natural horsemanship. There were handled a bit, then turned out again to mature.

Cagey matured into an awesome almost bomb proof trail horse. Danielle tried shoeing him, but the farrier said his feet were too hard to trim, so wait until he wears them down and then he'd nail shoes on. After thinking about this - and trying to wear his feet down unsuccessfully - Danielle decided to skip the shoes.





Tinker is an almost 20 year old Welsh pony who is Deb Weathers favorite horse to ride. Don't let his size deceive you! This is an Equine to be reckoned with!

Tinker easily does 15 to 20 mile trail rides at top speed carrying owner Deb. He blows the socks off of Arabs and TBs, shod, unshod or booted, and he has ALWAYS been barefoot!




Linda Cowles Hoof Care
Serving the greater SF Bay Area & Northern California
Copyright 2008 Linda Cowles
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