The never ending barefoot vs. shod question - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 52 Old 06-15-2010, 06:51 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: NE Ohio
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The never ending barefoot vs. shod question

I'm almost afraid to open this can of worms, but I'm just not sure what to do.

My 4 y.o TWH developed an abscess recently, right after being shod. Now I'm really itching to leave her barefoot. The abscess may or may not have been due to a nail during shoeing, not sure. All of my friends in Ohio (where I used to live) that have horses leave theirs barefoot and are all very pro-barefeet. One of these friends is a vet and a long time horse owner. She only shoes for show.

Everyone here (SE Kentucky), including my vet, insists that horses here need shoes because the terrain here is "rougher" on their hooves and that their hooves will wear too quickly. My vet said they could only go barefoot here if you ride them very little. We usually ride once or twice a week, but often they are long rides (5-10 hours).

Now, admittedly, my pro-barefoot friends mostly ride their horses in arenas and flat pastures. Very little pavement, gravel or rock. Here, on the other hand, we ride at least 1/2 mile on pavement to get to the trails which have a lot of gravel in certain parts. Plus there is a lot of rock and rocky creekbeds in the mountains where we ride.

Currently I know I can't let her go barefoot as her living conditions are a little wetter than is ideal (I know that was a big factor in the abscess development and that is changing VERY soon), but once she is turned out on about 10 acres of mountain "pasture" I'm interested in trying the barefoot thing. There won't be gravel or creeks, but some parts are rocky and steep.

Will her hooves toughen enough to handle the terrain we ride in as long as she lives on a similar terrain? Am I asking for trouble if I ignore the locals, my husband, and my vet and let her go barefoot? Can the local farriers who strictly shoe trim a barefoot horse correctly? Is the trimming any different? Does anyone have experience riding barefoot in "rougher" terrain?

If anyone can point me toward some actual, legit research on the subject that would be really helpful. So much of what I've read has been theoretical or anecdotal, which is helpful too, but I'd like to see some actual research if it exists.

Thanks a ton!

I was normal...then I got a horse.
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post #2 of 52 Old 06-15-2010, 07:01 PM
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My favorite barefoot website. A wealth of info! IMO, use easyboots when you ride, if the footing is rough.
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post #3 of 52 Old 06-15-2010, 07:02 PM
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Okay.. here's my blunt and very personal opinion.. ready? Each horse is different, and each case should be looked at individually.
Some horses thrive on going barefoot; others do better with shoes. There's no hard and fast for any individual horse. Sure, you'll get the pro-barefoot people, and you'll find equally as many people who are pro-shoes, and they'll both argue till they're blue in the face why almost every horse should go either way - the truth of the matter is that it depends on the individual case.
I would speak to your vet and farrier about your concerns, and do some research and trial and error. Some horses can't do "rough" terrain barefoot - especially horses with flat soles, or a predisposition to be tender-footed. Others can go barefoot all day on rough terrain and be completely fine.
Those are my two cents, though I feel that I haven't really made this decision easier on you at all... sorry!

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post #4 of 52 Old 06-15-2010, 07:28 PM
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Its really tough, and to be honest the "talk to your vet and farrier" doesn't always work.

I am going through that now...

My horse has too high of a heel, its clear to most that he is not being trimmed and shoed properly.

I, like an idiot, trusted my farriers professional opinion, but when I ook pictures I could SEE what was wrong, and my horse's heel in one photo is higher on one side then the other! Plus when I consulted this forum a lot of negative things came out about my horses feet... The ones my farrier shoed two weeks ago...

I told my farrier that my horse has too high of a heel, it needs to be lowered and he needs more toe... he told me the horse is fine and to stop reading internet forums and websites and stick to the guys doing the work.

I asked my vet about my horse's high heel and lack of toe and how this could be negative to his health and corrected. He told me not to bother with ex-rays and to talk to my farrier about it.

I talked to three new farriers and they all make it sound like I'm some young woman that doesnt know crap about feet and I read too much into it, after all THEY are the professionals...

I'm having a VERY tough time finding a GOOD farrier.

A freind gave me a number, but when I looked at her horse's feet done just the week before you could see the farrier never even took the flare off the foot and they did round the edges off even. And they thought this was a good Job!?!
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post #5 of 52 Old 06-15-2010, 07:28 PM
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I attended a hoof trimming clinic on the weekend, and I learnt a ton. I'll share with you what we were taught. The person doing the course, Andrew Bowe, is a master farrier and certified race track farrier - he has now converted to barefoot and specialises in rehabbing cases of chronic lameness (Navicular, laminitis, neglect) using barefoot techniques. I found it very interesting that someone who has shod for years, well, has now on his own violition, switched to a completely barefoot approach. Of course, this clinic was taught from a barefoot POV, but all of what he said made sense to me. I don't think I will shoe any horses again - I had only shod one horse on the fronts many years ago and all of mine since have been barefoot, but not 'properly' barefoot - just farrier trims.

Firstly - In regards to the terrain. A healthy, barefoot hoof can travel just about any terrain. Horses survived being hunted almost to extinction many, many years ago by surviving in places so arid and harsh that men could only survive in nomadic tribes, not numbers big enough to have enough hunting power to wipe them out. They travelled many miles a day in pursuit of food and evading predators. The healthy hoof is designed to travel many miles a day, on rough terrain. It's what it is designed to do, and it does it very well when managed properly. So if you can get your horses feet functioning as they should, he should have no issue on the rougher terrain.

How it should function - The hoof should always land heel first. This is because there is a set of 'landing gear' in the back of the hoof - the frog combined with the digital cushion which is a pocket of fibrous cartilage. These two combined act as a shock absorber - They spread outward and convert the energy from an impact into heat energy in the blood and pump blood throughout the hoof capsule every step. This circulation of blood stimulates the growth of cells, which leads to faster growth of the sole and frog, and a thicker sole. So in essence, the further the horse travelled, the more circulation was enabled, and the faster the hoof grew to accomodate for the extra wear. So there was a kind of symmetry - The more movement, the more growth - the less movement, the less growth. For this to happen, the hoof needs to have a short toe and the frog needs to be touching the ground - To do it's job of absorbing the impact. This is where the principles of barefoot trimming come about - The two main principles we were taught were as above - Short toe and frog on the ground. The feet of wild horses who travel many miles also showed us another few points of how the hoof was designed - There are two layers of hoof wall - the inner wall and the outer wall. The outer wall is not designed to bear weight - This is why you see what is known as the 'mustang roll' - The outer wall is worn down and the weight is born on the inner wall. It assists in breakover and prevents chipping. The other point is that the quarters are not designed to be weight bearing - this is the sides of the hoof, between the toe and the heels. Not entirely sure why this is, but it is. lol.

So, if we trim to these parameters, we can get the hoof functioning as it is supposed to, with the shock absorbed by the landing gear, which facilitates circulation and will speed up growth to accomodate excess wear.

Now, this can be disrupted by many things, namely the fact that our horses don't travel many miles in a day and they are often on soft ground. Many aren't trimmed properly or are shod, meaning the frog isn't on the ground and the landing gear can't do it's job. This generally means the horse will change to a toe first landing - Which is not good.

A toe first landing sends all the impact up through the wall of the hoof and straight into the joints of the pastern/leg. These joints have only a thin layer of cartilage and a thinner layer of joint fluid seperating them - they are not designed to absorb impact, after all, that's what the landing gear is for. This is the main cause of most chronic lameness and minor lameness - These joints tryign to absorb shock they should never see. This is why you often hear that studies show a shod hoof takes more concussion at a walk than a healthy, functional barefoot does at a walk - Because the landing gear isn't being utilised.

Because the frog/sole aren't touching the ground, the structures inside the hoof can start to drop, seeking that contact. The wall is not held fast to the innner structures - The inner structures are almost 'floating' within the hoof capsule, so when the support of the frog and sole is taken away, they begin to drop to try and find it again. This is when you will see flat soles developing.

Another consequence of the landing gear not touching the ground is compromised circulation, which in turn leads to slow growth and thinner soles. Because it is not being used, the frog often compacts. Many people notice how much quicker the hoof grows when shoes are pulled, as the circulation can begin to function again. The shape of a healthy barefoot is vastly different to the average shod hoof - The barefoot should be almost circular, with a large frog that is wide at the bottom, a short toe, and a concave sole - A long term shod hoof often has a flat sole, small, contracted frog, a longer toe... All things that are proof of the foot not functioning as it should.

Now on to boots - Boots are handy when making that transition from shod to barefoot. You obviously can't just hack into the heels and sole to get the frog touching the ground - this would cause immmense pain. Boots are used along with specially designed pads for any issue. If, as is usually the case, the frog is not on the ground, then you would use pads with a raised frog section so that the frog can get back to it's job of absorbing shock and enabling circulation, which will speed up growth of the frog and sole, and it will soon grow out enough that the pads can be taken off and the frog can function nirmally again. Pads can also provide support to the sole, so it doesn't drop or flatten further. The boots themselves protect thin soles while they are thickening from getting ouchy on rougher terrain.

In regards to you changing paddocks - That is great. The feet will be passively conditioned to the terrain - it is often said that if you want to ride on it, they need to live on it. Soft ground feet are vastly different from hard ground feet, and if the feet are conditioned already to the riding you want to do, it should be no issue.


Phew, that was a novel! Obviously you can tell that my opinion would be to give barefoot a go - Your success will depend on how long he has been in shoes.

That is just my opinion and what I learnt from a one day course (My mind boggles at how much I still have to learn) presented by someone who believes fully in barefoot. Go with your gut and good luck in whatever you choose!

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post #6 of 52 Old 06-15-2010, 07:30 PM Thread Starter
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Location: NE Ohio
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I do agree with the "every horse is different" part. That's been my feeling from the beginning, not from personal experience, but it just makes it sense to me.

Can I just try barefoot with her? She has healthy hooves, from what I can tell (husband's horse has hooves that aren't so great, so I'm just comparing). How will I know it's "working" or not? I've read "pro-barefoot" stuff that says abscesses and stuff in the beginning are normal during the transition. I just don't want to assume some problems are normal when they are actually a sign that she needs to be shod.

When we get her on "pasture" I even thought about adding an area with gravel, maybe around their water trough so they'll have to walk on it some, to better simulate the riding terrain and toughen her hooves. Bad idea? Good idea?

I just hate this because I'm getting so much pressure from my more horse experienced friends to do one or the other and I'll hate the "I told you so's." from either side.

I was normal...then I got a horse.
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post #7 of 52 Old 06-15-2010, 07:37 PM
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Abcesses should NOT be normal at any time.

A bit of soreness/tenderness and the necessity of a good trimming regime (Every 2/3 weeks is best if you can learn to do it yourself) is normal.

When we get her on "pasture" I even thought about adding an area with gravel, maybe around their water trough so they'll have to walk on it some, to better simulate the riding terrain and toughen her hooves. Bad idea? Good idea?
This is a good idea.

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post #8 of 52 Old 06-15-2010, 07:41 PM Thread Starter
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Yeah, trusting my farrier is easier said than done. I live in a VERY rural, very poor, very non-progressive area. Farriers here are found by word of mouth and they have no formal training. They've not heard any info about leaving horses barefoot, they don't do continuing education, and they're just shoeing horses like they always have. Leaving a horse barefoot is almost considered neglect here, since most people who don't shoe, don't trim either, usually due to lack of money. That's why I went with shoeing. I didn't want to buck the trend and encourage my farrier to trim barefoot when he knows nothing about it, especially since I'm a newbie at this. I've owned my horse a year and she's been shod a year.

I was normal...then I got a horse.
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post #9 of 52 Old 06-15-2010, 07:45 PM Thread Starter
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"A bit of soreness/tenderness and the necessity of a good trimming regime (Every 2/3 weeks is best if you can learn to do it yourself) is normal."

(Sorry, the quote thing didn't work right.)

Seriously, do you think I could do the trimming myself? I know there is no way I could get a farrier out her every 3 weeks. Last time we needed him we couldn't reach him for like 2 weeks - he was off on a trail ride. Our horses ended up going like 8 weeks between shoeings that time. Drives me insane. We can't get anyone to make appointments ahead, like I would like, they just tell us to call when we need them. They see it as "old fashioned". I see it as irritating.

I was normal...then I got a horse.
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post #10 of 52 Old 06-15-2010, 07:55 PM
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Wildspot, thanks for typing all that out! The function of the "landing gear" etc., make sense to me. One simple fact: humans started nailing shoes on because they were using horses to point that their hooves were wearing down.

Snoggle, the calibre of farriers in your area is lamentable! I wish I could wave a magic wand!

Last edited by Northern; 06-15-2010 at 07:58 PM.
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