What does “Barefoot” mean?
“Barefoot”, or Natural Hoof Care, is essentially the art and science of trimming horses’ hooves to a state close to how they would be in the wild. The starting point to going barefoot is maintaining healthy, well- functioning and properly formed feet, free from nail-on shoes. From there we can move forward to establishing a holistic discipline which considers diet, pasturing, equipment, training, and bodywork. Barefoot trimming is also used to assist in rehabilitating horses with postural and structural problems. Going barefoot requires both commitment from owners and education from well-trained practitioners.
What does that mean to me, as a potential student?
It means that learning natural barefoot hoof care can provide a lucrative income to someone who loves horses, enjoys working with their hands, appreciates a challenge, and wants the freedom of owning their own small business. You can use bare hoof trimming as a way to supplement your income by trimming only part-time or you can make it a full-time job and do quite well for yourself. The choice is yours.
But haven’t horseshoes been used for thousands of years?
People have maintained and protected their horses’ hooves for as long as they have kept horses. Woven sandals, rawhide cups, and metal boots have all been used to prevent hoof chipping and to allow pain-free purchase on jagged and sharp surfaces, especially on primitive roadways. Yet for the vast majority of horse owners throughout history shoeing their horses was an expensive and unnecessary proposition. The modern horseshoe as we know it first appeared in the middle ages and was a part of the armor of war horses. As the world began to industrialize in the nineteenth century, horseshoes became widely available and, especially in the US, increasingly common. In fact, the majority of horse and donkey owners in the developing world still don’t shoe their equines.
Aren’t horseshoes harmless and in fact beneficial for horses?
While horseshoes are effectively painless to nail on, horses seem not to notice them, they can provide improved traction and protection on sharp ground, they do have profound implications for the horse’s health and well-being. Horseshoes limit the foot’s natural circulatory action, which occurs when the horse is in motion, by reducing the amount of weight bearing surface of the foot, sole, and heel that contacts the ground. This reduction in contact area contributes to deterioration of overall health and contraction of the hoof as the horse ages. When young horses’ feet are not allowed to develop naturally by being shod the overall health of the hoof is compromised. Large concussive forces are present when a horse is shod which places considerable strain on the horse’s limbs.
Do horses need any sort of “transition time”?
Horses that have been shod will often require a few weeks to a few months to adjust to being barefoot. Hoof boots are a great way to protect horses’ feet as their soles callous over. There are many factors which determine a horse’s transition time, including diet, environment, and the horse’s personal history. The longer a horse has been shod, the longer the transition can take. It can sometimes be as long as a year or more.
Are nail on shoes forbidden to use?
From our perspective, horses that are ridden barefoot consistently perform to our expectations. We are cautious on surfaces we believe would cause harm and recommend the use of boots when protection is needed. But if the horse is required to perform a task where nail-on shoes would be a benefit, i.e. to gain traction while pulling loads on icy roads or while on a roadway which would abrade the hoof faster than it can repair itself, then there is no reason not to use shoes, if they are used with respect for the functions of the foot and only for a limited amount of time.