A growing body of scientific and veterinary evidence shows the benefits of keeping equines barefoot, says Lucy Nicholas, author of the book: ‘The Barefoot Horse – an introduction to barefoot hoofcare and hoof boots’.
Farrier Mike Chawke (RF(BngC), MF(IMFA), CE-F) says: “Why not try leaving your animal in its natural state, and simply fit hoof boots when you want to train or exercise? Your horse’s hooves will expand and contract as nature intended.”
To keep a horse barefoot, you’ll need to provide the following:
Regular trimming by an experienced practitioner
A good diet based on food the horse’s body evolved to thrive on
Exercise, including natural movement in the field and little confinement
Remember, your horse’s feet aren’t just your farrier’s responsibility! It is important that owners recognise the basics of a balanced hoof. Do research barefoot hoofcare extensively, if you are interested in moving to a barefoot regime, so you can provide the diet and management essential to successful barefoot horse care.
When to use hoof boots
Hoof boots help protect the hoof when transitioning from shod to bare, and also boost the hoof’s shock absorption properties on hard surfaces. With correctly fitted hoof boots, horses can still perform normally, including galloping and jumping.
If we are working our barefoot horse above a walk on unforgiving surfaces, there will be elements of concussion, and hoof boots reduce this; comfort pads may also be used within barefoot boots for extra cushioning. Pads help prevent peripheral loading, which occurs on any flat surface (whether the horse is shod or barefoot) and compromises blood flow.
It is vital if you are using a hoof boot that it closely fits the horse’s foot size and shape. Each style of boot suits a slightly different foot shape, governed by hoof measurements, hence it is important to measure each hoof separately.
A close-fitting boot will help to ensure the most natural break over (e.g. how quickly the horse completes a step), and will help prevent tripping.
If your barefoot horse needs boots constantly to cope with his workload, his dietary requirements and management regime should be addressed. Hoof boots are commonly used to boost the hooves’ shock absorption properties on hard surfaces, or when transitioning from shod to bare.
Choosing your hoofcare practitioner
Within any service industry there are good and bad practitioners! Most of it comes down to choosing a provider through recommendation, particularly via someone whose situation is similar to you own.
When choosing your hoofcare practitioner, ask for recommendation and spend time talking to them about their methodology and techniques. What’s their own schedule of personal development – do they attend seminars and training on barefoot techniques? Have they studied the latest thermography and gait analysis papers? Can their customers share a testimonial?
While a farrier is obviously very capable of trimming a barefoot horse, in my experience it is very much down to the individual farrier, so ask them about their ethos of and experience within the field of barefoot hoofcare.
You may choose a barefoot trimmer; many are more than happy to come and give you an initial consultation with your horse, giving you the opportunity to ask questions and understand what your horse will need to be a sound and happy barefoot horse. Do your research, and seek local recommendation! Lucy’s guide to hoofboots is available online.