The Transition to Barefoot Soundness
I first sat up and took notice regarding barefoot horses some years ago when the last foal of my now retired P.R.E. stallion was born. I kind of drifted along for a while, not knowing that there was a major barefoot movement and rather discouraged (surprisingly!) by my farrier and most everyone else I knew in the horse world.
I later discovered my farrier humoured me as he regularly ´pasture trimmed´ this colts hooves, sure that I would shoe him once he began schooling. When I started working him and still didn´t have him shod more disparaging comments began to fly ´subtly´ through the air. But I had already begun to do my homework. So when the farrier told me stallions have stronger hooves than mares (not true, nor are white hooves weaker) so my colt might be able to perform, I just bit my tongue. When he continued with the ´good reasons why horses have been shod this past 200 years´ I again stayed quiet (actually there is evidence of shod horses over 4000 years ago!). I choose to bury myself in my investigations. Here in Spain, including myself, there are only 5 known professional barefoot practitioners. I am very alone down here in southern Spain (they are all around Valencia or further afield) in what I now know to be a very big affiliation. All these years later I am the only equine podologist practising and able to offer the Whole Horse Protocol.
In the interest of their horses´ health and welfare, more and more horse owners are turning away from the traditional horseshoe. There are many alternatives available from iron including the glue-on route, the two-pack build route to the most natural barefoot method. A successful transition from shod to barefoot, however, depends on specific conditions and a certain amount of knowledge of dietary requirements to enable your horse, after a time of transition, to be ridden over any terrain without problems. It is not a cheap alternative to the farrier! But nor is it an overwhelming impossibility.
For most horses the transition from shod to barefoot may mean a period of discomfort. They not only have to grow accustomed to a new more natural way of movement, they also contend with changes in the shape of their hoof, the coffin joint and the joint ligament. The discomfort in the period after the shoes have been removed is not due to excessive wear of the hoof.
Discomfort is usually due to the healing of a deformed hoof, altered from its natural, physiologically sound shape. Two hundred years ago the English vet Bracey Clark already stated that a hoof, after only a single year of shoeing, becomes deformed, i.e. contracted. The severity of deformation of the shod hoof depends on various factors. Amongst which are; how long the horse was shod, what type of shoe was used, the type of work it was used for, the dietary stability of the horse over the years and whether, as a young horse before ever being shod, it had good conformation and sound hooves.
Unfortunately, for many decades now, horses have been bred for a particular colour or height or head carriage etc, with little regard for whether or not it has good, strong, balanced hooves. Something that many, many years ago was the only consideration given to choosing a horse.
However, even an unshod hoof, through incorrect hoof care, lack of exercise & varied terrain and drying out, can become altered from its normal functioning form.
Deformed hooves must be healed in order to relieve the horse´s suffering. Pain-free movement is only possible with healthy hooves and they do not heal by themselves! After removal of the shoes, a natural hoof care professional will need to trim the hooves once a week or fortnight for about 3 months, in order that the hoof and coffin bone regain their physiologically correct (and naturally functioning) shape. This process can take as little as a few weeks or over a year, depending on the time the hooves were shod and the general condition of the horse. The transition period is also a time of patience for the rider.
Equine Podiatry Clinic we make this process as comfortable as possible for your horse, with our modern facilities, quality feed and most importantly the correct trimming and relevant exercise. We also offer the services of an Equine Massage Therapist as the majority of horses suffering hoof problems also suffer tension, muscle-misalignment and general soreness.
It is usual to make dietary recommendations and begin any nutritional changes necessary a month or so before removing a horses shoes. We find that if a horse is sound shod, then it will be sound unshod on sand or grass immediately after it´s first trim. If a horse is lame shod, then it will also be lame unshod, but often improvement is immediately seen after it´s first trim. It will take time for every horse to grow the thick and calloused soles necessary to walk on gravel and rocks.
I have been very fortunate, in that I didn´t have to give up any saddle time having other horses to ride and all my gang made the transition quite uneventfully. And my gang that made the transition where then aged between 7 to 18, all with different histories of both diet, treatment and injuries. (Note to self - find the time to write their stories. Let me know if you´re interested!) Though I was fortunate, it would be unrealistic for most of us to ask the same performance during transition as while our horse was shod.
This is where hoof boots naturally step in to bridge that gap. They can play an important part in helping the transition to healthy barefoot sound hooves or become a permanent feature of your horses wardrobe if circumstances dictate he live in a stall and is unable to benefit from a near natural habitat like a Paddock Paradise system.
All these things must be considered to achieve a successful transition to barefoot.
The amount of time the horse was shod. His diet, living conditions, exercise. His tack often needs to be reviewed along with balance in the shoulders or hips once shoes come off. That is why we call going barefoot The Whole Horse Protocol.
Providing this flight animal with freedom of movement around the clock (through an open stall with a paddock, allowing the horse to choose whether it is outside or in), is an essential prerequisite for healing of the hooves and the transition to being sound barefoot. Hence my horses have their Paddock Playground. However we don´t live in an ideal world and not all horses can have optimal living conditions. As owners we can provide them with the healthiest alternatives which are barefoot in a clean stall, and boots for when they work. Just as we put our´s on only when we ride!