Natural hoof care
As my career with horses continues, It has become a necessity for me to incorporate proper Hoof care and Hoof Rehab into my program. My experiences have lead me to promote Barefoot and Non-metal protection solutions. I cannot properly train any horse who’s feet hurt, and are at bad angles to support healthy Bio-Mechanics. Unfortunately, I see it far too often. Sore feet and bodies create a vicious cycle which cannot be trained around. Pete Ramey is arguably one of the most important authorities of Hoof care and Rehab. There are others, and other schools but ultimately, The best Trimmers and Owners Listen to what their horse (and horses hooves) are saying and not a particular “Method” or One size fits all approach.
Within the natural hoof care philosophy, the term barefoot horses refers to horses which are kept barefoot full-time, as opposed to horses who are fitted with horseshoes. The hooves of barefoot horses are trimmed with special consideration to a barefoot lifestyle.
While horses have been used without shoes throughout history, the benefits of keeping horses barefoot has recently enjoyed increased popularity. Not only does the horse benefit with a healthier hoof in some cases, it can be less expensive to keep a horse barefoot, and many owners have learned to trim their horses’ hooves themselves. As the health and movement benefits of barefoot have become more apparent in horses that have completed transition, horses are being competed barefoot in various sports (including dressage, show jumping, flat racing, steeplechase racing, trail riding and endurance riding).
The barefoot trim aims to emulate the way in which hooves are maintained naturally in wild horse herds, like feral horse herds such as the American Mustang or the Australian Brumby, as well as wild zebras and other wild equine populations. Important to the success of the barefoot trim is consideration for the domestic horse’s environment and use, and the effects these have on hoof balance, shape, and the comfort of the horse. There is some research, which indicates that removing horseshoes and using barefoot trimming techniques can reduce or in some cases eliminate founder (laminitis) in horses and navicular syndrome.
It is generally agreed upon by most natural hoof care practitioners that the management of the animal (diet and boarding conditions) are the most important components for the success of the horse to be barefoot. If the diet is unnatural, there will be inflammation and the horse cannot be comfortable.
Horses were shod with nailed-on horseshoes from the Middle Ages to the present, though well-trained farriers also performed barefoot trimming for horses that did not require the additional protection of shoes. It has become standard practice to shoe most horses in active competition or work. However, there is a growing movement to eliminate shoes on working horses. Advocates of barefooting point out many benefits to keeping horses barefoot and present studies showing that improper shoeing can cause or exacerbate certain hoof ailments in the horse.
Damage from improperly fitted and applied horseshoes can be seen in a gradual distortion of hoof shape, along with other ailments. Hoof soles are often sensitive when going barefoot after a long period of having been shod (because they are not thick enough through callusing). It can take weeks, months, a year, or more, depending on the horse’s prior condition, before a horse is sound and usable on bare feet. During this transition period, the horse can be fitted with hoof boots which protect the soles of the feet until the horse has time to heal and build up callouses, though these boots, especially when not properly fitted and used, can cause hoof damage as well.
The two things which can directly affect the health of the hoof are diet and exercise. Observers of wild horse populations note that the equine hoof stays in notably better condition when horses are in a herd situation and are free to move around 24 hours a day, as wild horses do, permitting good circulation inside the hoof. It is recommended that horses be allowed to walk at least 5 miles per day for optimum hoof health. The terrain should be varied, including gravel or hard surfaces and a water feature where the hooves can be wet occasionally.
Diet is very important too, as changes in feed can directly affect hoof health, most notably seen in cases of laminitis. Even some lots of hay may be high enough in sugar to cause laminitis. A healthy diet for horses currently with or prone to laminitis is based on free access to hay in a slow feeder that has been tested for carbohydrate content , some mineral supplementation, and no grain. Feeds and forage with high levels of sugar (carbohydrates) correlate with higher risk of clinical or subclinical laminitis and with other hoof ailments.