Investigate Natural Hoof Care & Hoof Boots

Natural Hoof Care- leaving horses barefoot - is complemented by the use of hoof boots that offer more protection than metal shoes at a fraction of the cost over the life of the boot.

More and more farriers are offering a "natural" barefoot trim these days, and their clients frequently keep their horses barefoot for most of or all of the year, having their horse shod only for special events or activities.

What's Changed?

Hoof protection has made the difference. Thanks to improvements in Hoof Boot technology, boots are now easy to use,and when they are fit correctly, they stay in place until removal without damaging horses feet. They are ruggedly constructed and last months or years, depending on conditions and amount of use.

Boots are affordable, durable, reliable and user-friendly, plus they provide superior protection. The best thing about boots? No concussion; they encourage a natural heel first landing. There are no nail holes, no lost shoes and when your horse doesn't need protection, they are easy to remove and store. You wouldn't walk around in metal shoes 24x7 if you had a choice... boots let you make the same choice for your horse.

Specialized Barefoot Hoof Care vs Traditional Farrier Trims

Horses with contracted heels de contract rapidly when barefoot and trimmed correctly. Under-run heels and long toes are easier to rehab if the horse is taken barefoot and trimmed appropriately.

Bare feet are kinder to the horses environment. A kick by a shod horse causes a significant amount of damage to the wall, trailer, person or horse that is on the receiving end of the kick, and shod feet cause more wear damage to stalls, trails, handlers feet and pastures.

The biggest difference between traditional farriers who trim and barefoot specialists is that barefoot hoof care specialists recognize the importance of diet, they trim more frequently (5 to 7 week cycle), plus they know about alternate protection like boots, sole coats, cushioning pads, casting and composite shoes.  And because there is a different trim approach that is more complicated to execute and care incorporates dietary changes,a natural barefoot trim costs more than a traditional trim. Let your farrier know that, if his trim helps your horse become sounder barefoot, you're willing to pay more for the trim.

A good farrier can be a great trimmer - as good as a barefoot specialist if not better - but they do need to learn the techniques that barefoot trimmers incorporate to keep their clients from going back to metal shoes.

The Truth About Metal Shoes

Metal shoes reduce traction in many footings,and increase the amount of concussion transmitted to the horses hoof and legs. Peripheral loading reduces circulation, which in turn impacts wall growth rates, density and durability. A bare foot grows a new wall in 4 to 6 months, while most shod feet take a full year to grow out. Shod hoof walls are typically half as thick as a bare foots wall on the same horse a year after shoes come off. Shoes left in place too long also amplify imbalance.  Shoes can contribute to a soundness problem.

Many pro-barefoot people complain about "shod feet", but from what I've seen, it isn't the actual shoe or nails that are the root of the problem. Once a hoof gets out of balance in a shoe, it seems to be a slippery slope trying to get the hoof back in balance while using shoes.

I work with horses that have had extreme contracted heels, dramatically under-run heels, long toes etc, and they often develop a normal healthy hoof shape in 2 to 4 months barefoot, and have a significantly changed foot after a year. I know from the owners of these horses that the farrier had been struggling months or years to accomplish the same thing.... so is it my trim, or simply being barefoot? I don't know. I also change the diet, use boots and casts for rehab, so it isn't any one thing. I do shoe with synthetic shoes, and while they are useful, they inhibit some of the changes I get from boots or bare.

Some horses are shod for years and still have great feet... so it isn't just the metal shoes and nails that create problems... Its a puzzle.

Why Use Metal Shoes?

Nail-on metal shoes have advantages over an unprotected traditional trim, which is why shoeing evolved. Nail on metal shoes are also less trouble for owners who don't want to use boots as needed for protection, and are cheaper than composite shoes. When owners balk at using boots and making recommended dietary changes, I usually refer them to shoeing farriers.

Most owners shoe their horses out of habit; they feel their horse needs shoes to stay sound. Many shoeing advocates don't believe shoes cause problems, but many more are simply very loyal to their farriers, and going barefoot means changing hoof care providers.

Finally, many vets are still more comfortable with metal shoes - and traditional farriers - than with barefoot, boots or synthetic shoes. For the first 6 years I trimmed horses, if a horse had any soundness issue at all, the vet recommended shoes 'just to see if that fixed the problem".

Metal Shoes VS Composite Shoes

Composite shoes offer more protection than metal shoes with most of the health benefits of boots. They are usually more expensive than a metal shoe, but they eliminate the more serious problems created by metal shoes, specifically concussion and peripheral loading.

I have Epona shoes in my car (I trim out of a Prius!), and have several ways of applying them. I'm not opposed to shoeing, nails don't create a problem if the horse has good wall attachment.... I use or recommend a synthetic shoe if that was the best solution. But with most horses, the underlying problem needs to be addressed before we add a synthetic shoe to the equation.

Curious? Ask Your Farrier To Try Barefoot...

If you shoe your horse because your farrier is one of the best available and they seem resistant to trying a barefoot trim, consider asking your farrier to try it so that you can use hoof boots for a few months.

Most of the best trimmers today started out as very successful farriers whose clients pestered them into becoming "barefoot" trimmers. Most trimmers and trimming farriers are more that happy to explain how their barefoot approach works to any farrier who'll listen. It's different from a typical farrier trim, but it's not rocket science.

Many of my new clients coming out of shoes tell me how much they loved their farrier, how much they regret having to change hoof care providers, but their shoer wasn't open to looking into new barefoot approaches.

The Lameness Epidemic

"Lameness" is a popular topic for equestrian magazines, email lists, forums, conferences and expositions. Everyone, it seems, is battling unsoundness. Why are so many of our young, athletic, carefully bred, well conditioned, trained, protected & maintained horses routinely diagnosed as unsound?  Do all of these horses really have "bad legs" or "bad feet"? Are our breeding programs that badly managed that feet regularly give out?