Do you think your horse always has to be shod? Well, OK, a few might. But the majority of horses will benefit from a rest period without shoes. Horse Journal’s editors explain why it’s a good thing to do and how to let your horse go barefoot and avoid any side effects of removing horse shoes.
It used to be common practice to remove your horse’s shoes once his workload decreased, such as the end of show season or the onset of snow, but letting your barefoot horses aren’t happening as often as they should.
The immediate obvious plus is cost savings. Even if you invest in a pair of boots for the horse, you’ll still save money. And most horses don’t need boots when barefoot. For those who do, you’ll recover the cost of the boots over four shoeings, and the boots should last for years.
Going barefoot is beneficial to the horse’s hoof. Long-term shoeing can lead to thin walls, narrow contracted feet and atrophy of the frog. Horses with imperfect conformation or with soundness issues will be free to move and wear their feet in the way that is most comfortable and natural for them, which can help the farrier in the future.
When properly trimmed for being barefoot, the changes in the hoof can be rapid. It’s especially obvious at the heels, where frogs bulk up and the heels spread. This provides the natural, stable, shock-absorbing platform for landing that the hoof is meant to have.
Some people are concerned the horse will be sore without shoes. This may be the case, especially in horses that haven’t been out of shoes for a prolonged period. The reason is that the normal protective layers of a deep, thick sole, strong digital cushion and healthy frog are not there. These horses usually do fine in boots for the worst ground conditions until their feet can adapt. You can also use Venice turpentine on the bottom of their soles to help toughen them up.
Chipping and cracking is another concern, but this may be eliminated by a correct trim and proper nutrition. Horses with these problems when shod actually benefit by being barefoot and growing out nail holes.
Tips for making the transition as smooth as possible:
- Trim heels down to close to the live sole plane, so that the frogs contact with the ground.
- Make sure the bars are not higher than the hoof wall.
- Do not over trim the sole prior to going barefoot.
- Be sure the toe is not too long.
- Put a nice bevel/rounding on the toe between 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock on the sole surface. Also bevel any areas that are prone to chipping or cracking.
Some people blame the lack of shoes for an abscess appearing shortly after they’re barefoot. It’s understandable, but abscesses can linger when hoof-wall expansion is restricted by shoes. When the shoes are removed, the hoof can expand naturally and the abscess can find its way out of the tissue. With a proper trim and plenty of movement, hoof quality and soundness should improve.