“There are those who think that all horses must be barefoot, all the time, no matter what. There are those who think that all horses must be iron-shod, all the time, no matter what. In my opinion, both categories of people are wrong. Every experienced equine practitioner has seen horses’ hooves harmed by both inadequate protection, and by excessive protection—personally, I have seen hooves destroyed by metal shoes and I have seen horses’ lives saved by them (and I’ve seen both with barefoot horses as well). As with almost every debate, there is a more reasonable balance somewhere between the two extremes.” Pete Ramey in his book “Care and Rehabilitation of the equine foot”
To be honest I may have been slightly pre-emptive in calling this page barefoot as although I have both my horses barefoot, I do appreciate that there may well be circumstances and horses that would at times benefit from being shod, this is particularly true if using options to rehabilitate after illness.
Further to this is the other debate of barefoot trimmers Vs traditional farriers. My personal experience is that there are equally good and bad in both camps. I’ve known awful farriers who are arrogant and unapproachable and completely un-interested in the concept of the “whole-horse”, I’ve also seen some truly awful people claiming to be “barefoot trimmers” with no where near enough experience and understanding and also at times an almost pathological belief that all horses at all times should be barefoot.
Personally I don’t care about their label, I want someone who cares about my horse as much as I do, I want someone who takes the time to talk to me about nutrition, movement and my horses lifestyle, I want someone who doesn’t think they know everything and are on a quest to constantly learn and “improve” what they offer, someone who learns from every horse they meet and ultimately becomes a better person because of it… so not much then… I have found both farriers and barefoot trimmers who have these qualities so I don’t think its a straight one or the other, they are as individual as our horses and indeed ourselves and what you really want is someone who works with you, not against you and is willing to discuss openly ideas with you to ultimately help your horse.
Obviously if your horse is shod this can only be done by a trained and qualified farrier (in the UK) so the choice between the 2 is only applicable if you are looking for a barefoot trim.
The main thing I think that is often under-estimated with barefoot is that as an owner there is absolutely no-where to hide. Barefoot simply wouldn’t be successful unless accompanied by a true holistic approach.
For me this is a benefit, I once heard a vet say that he often finds that he may see barefoot horses more often but usually for “less-serious” problems as these are picked up at a far earlier stage when lots can be done and prognosis is better. In comparison he had noted that generally when he saw a shod horse with a problem it was already far more advanced and “more-serious” in its long term implications.
What this means is that you are going to have to step up for your horse and ensure that you approach it from a holistic point of view: covering diet, movement, exercise, and general husbandry – how your horse is kept, to ensure that your horse is able to be barefoot successfully (or indeed be shod with healthier hooves if thats your choice).
Yes there will be some exceptions with this, all horses are individuals, some will likely just be more resilient then others and more able to cope even if everything isn’t “optimized” for their success. Although even saying that perhaps even they have not reached their full potential of what they are truly capable of if they are coping with less then ideal conditions.
Another consideration is you may also need to be prepared to give him time, as often that is what its really all about. It can take between 6-9 months to grow a whole “new” back hoof wall from the coronet to the floor, a front foot is usually a little longer perhaps up to a year. This can be a tough decision if your in the middle of competing but ultimately its about the “long-game”. Short-term set-backs for you but ultimately a healthier and happier horse for many more years, to me its a no-brainer…
“I stand my ground about making that horse’s world as healthy as it can possibly be. I get “all-in the horse owner’s business,” often recommending changes to almost every aspect of the horse’s life. Sometimes, I tell horse owners their horse must have 6 months of rest, right in the middle of a winning season—I have more concern for what that horse will feel like when he’s twenty, than I have for blue ribbons when he’s six. The horses love me for it. Some horse owners love me for it. Some horse owners call me a fruitcake and move on to someone more compliant to their wants and desires—that’s their business.” Pete Ramey
Your horses hooves are vitally important, most of us know the well coined phrase “no hoof , no horse!!”. However I think that although this is very accurate in the literal sense it actually means far more. The hooves are an indication of everything else that the whole horse is dealing with. Poor inadequate nutrition will show itself in poor quality hoof growth. Incorrect movement or lack of movement will leave its trademarks in the hooves as they grown and develop. Body stiffness, pain, misalignment and natural crookedness will have an impact on how the horse moves and therefore how he “loads” the hooves and they will develop and grow to compensate for this (if given the chance). So when taking a holistic approach they can be a very good indicator of how you are doing, what else you might need to address and then ultimately how successful the changes you have implemented are.
“Some people are unable or unwilling to improve the diet, lifestyle or environment for their horse. Some people are unwilling to mess with hoof boots. Some people are unwilling to allow the hooves to have the time and space to fully develop their internal structures. Some people are unwilling to pay for routine hoof care. Some people insist on doing whatever is possible to get one more competitive season out of a compromised horse—even if it dooms the horse to permanent injury. This is their business, and I came to terms with it years ago (but I don’t have to watch). As for their horse; do I want to see it limping around barefoot, with no hope of improvement? Nope—I want to see that horse shod, if it makes him feel any better!
To the best of our combined ability, the Authors of this book have detailed the veterinary care, nutrition, trimming, booting, padding, exercise, movement, environment, early development and general health requirements necessary to grow the very best hooves that an individual horse can genetically grow, and to thus provide prevention and cure of many problems that might affect them. The biggest reason we find this is all so important, has less to do with the hooves—more to do with the rest of the body. The same things that improve the hooves, also improve every aspect of the horse’s life: performance, immune function, protection from injury, strength, stamina, recovery, longevity, general health, happiness and well being.” Pete Ramey
Having your horse barefoot or choosing to shoe your horse will have implications on both the hoof and indeed the limb and the whole horse so it is a choice that needs to be made through an educated analysis of your horse and circumstances, I think one of our biggest pitfalls is that in the horse world a lot of “stuff” is done to our horses just because its always been done and all to often we as owners, trainers and riders don’t stop to question why we might be actually doing something and what the benefits or indeed consequences may be. I think it is our duty to educate ourselves and be proactive in asking “why” only then can we make informed choices to ensure our horses health both now and in the future.
I had the good fortune to meet one of the oldest horses in the world, although sadly he has passed on now, he was 52 years old. Until I meet him I’d thought a horses life-span was 20-30yrs of age maybe a bit longer if it was a smaller pony. Since spending time at Remus memorial horse sanctuary I’ve meet many horses over the age of 40. This changed my perspective hugely having just bought a 3 year old at the time, I felt weighed by the responsibility of knowing that he could be with me for the next 40 years, as a by-product of this I thought what’s the rush? Why are we out competing and pushing young horses so hard thinking that by 10-12yrs old they’ll be washed up and retiring from high level work/competition. Surely if we slow it down and get things right why shouldn’t we be extending our horses ridden active lifespan. But the duty is with us to step up and educate ourselves and actively choose professionals to work with who are doing the same and don’t already think they have all the answers, some of the most inspiring horseman I’ve met and spoken to are 70 years old and have so much knowledge already but freely admit they are still learning. Its that mentality that I think is so important and that will change all our horses lives for the better both today and in the future.
To read further posts and articles on this website about keeping your horse Barefoot please click on the picture below.