I have always put shoes on any horses I have had on loan or owned - well you have to, don't you? As with most people, I had gone through riding schools as a pony-mad girl, looked after other people's horses, worked for rides, had ponies on loan and also had 2 horses of my own (which I still have now). All of which were always shod on all 4 feet because I rode regularly, did fast work and on the roads.
Many horse owners and riders believe that horseshoes are needed if horses are to be ridden. Some may accept they don't need shoes if ridden on soft ground but MUST have shoes if ridden on roads or rough terrain............
............I now know this is not true!!!!
My farrier often told me that shoes are a necessary evil (!), but I, and many others, firmly believe they are a UNnecessary evil! I personally, will never have shoes on any of my horses again, and feel strongly that barefoot is best. However, PLEASE do not let anyone pressurise you into taking shoes off your horse. It will only work if YOU want it to! As one 'barefoot person' once said "Contrary to common belief, all horses CAN go barefoot, but many owners can't!". It is not easy, it takes time, effort and commitment, but you will be repaid by a horse that is sure-footed, comfortable, and less likely to suffer concussion, laminitis, navicular, DJD, arthritis etc.
Firstly, read, read and read! there are many good barefoot sites, just search for 'barefoot horse'. If possible, talk to someone who keeps their horse barefoot and rides the horse! There are some good barefoot forums where you can ask questions and get many good answers. Its important to be sure you want to give it a serious try, there's no point in putting shoes back on at the first sign of trouble!
So, what is a barefoot horse?
Most people's experience of barefoot horses is an old or retired horse who had his shoes removed when they stopped being ridden, and the farrier trims the feet every 3 or 4 months. The feet are therefore often in poor condition, flared, chipped and cracked - these ARE NOT healthy functioning barefoot feet. Many farriers will just do a pasture trim on a barefoot horse, basically what they do before they put a shoe on. A proper barefoot trim is much more involved and so creates a better hoof!
Proper Barefoot Trimming
There is a growing number of qualified barefoot trimmers in the UK. There are some associations that have lists of trimmers, but also many other good trimmers that haven't got formal qualifications but have read, studied and learnt how to do a good functioning trim. There are also owners like myself who have learnt to trim their own horses and now take on trimming a few others. The best advise is to research, find a local trimmer and ask to see references or chat to owners who have their horses trimmed by them. I personnally have found my own horses hooves to be my best adverts!
Expect the hooves to be trimmed a maximum of every 6 weeks. You want to trim before the hoof becomes flared or overgrown. A good trimmer will also advise you about exercise, care and diet. I could talk about the trim for hours, but there are many sites that can explain it better than me! It is basically about balance, having an even amount of hoof wall around the sole, equal height and level heels, straight hoof walls, wide large frogs, bevelled hoof wall and healthy strong sole. But its not quite that simple!
Movement is the key! each time the hoof hits the ground, it increases blood flow, stimulating more hoof to be grown. Therefore, the more miles the horse does, the more the hooves grow to compensate for wear. This explians why hooves don't 'wear out' as many people fear! When you first remove shoes, its important to allow as much movement as possible. 24hr turnout is preferable with as much riding on a varied terrain as possible. Roadwork it particularly good for strengthening hooves as it it smooth and hard. It may take some time to build up to stoney ground.
Diet is essential to allow a horse to work barefoot. Fortunately, the diet recommended for barefoot horse is also ideal for most horses, espeically those good doers or horse prone to laminitis. In simple terms, it is high fibre, low sugar, with essential vitamins and minerals. In an ideal world, horse would have unrestricted grazing of low quality scrubland with a wide variety of herbs and other plants for them to select as they need. Instead, many horses in the UK are kept in rather rich grass pastures or on restricted grazing paddocks (due to the rich grass pastures!!!!). Good quality hay is a useful addition is grass is restricted or in winter. Additional feeding may be required due to workload or restricted grass intake. I'd always recommend high fibre feeds such as low sugar/unmolassed chaffs or alphabeet/ unmolassed sugarbeet. There are also some good high fibre nuts and cubes. Remember, high fibre/low sugar.
To support a healthy horse, and therefore healthy hooves, the horse needs a good intake of allround vitamins and minerals. There are many available, I personnally feed seaweed. I also feed other supplements to my 2 barefoot horses:
Magnesium Oxide - can't recommend it enough. Excellent source of magnesium which most horses are deficient in. Good for strong hooves, reducing fat deposits, lowering risk of laminitis, and as a calmer.
Barefoot Biotin - increases hoof growth and quality
Rosehips - a good anti-oxident and rich in vitamins
Spearmint - tastes good! Encourages them to eat their feed and good for digestion
Going barefoot is something that has changed my life. I now trim several horses and sell Natural Horse Supplies. This all started one day when I plucked up the courage to ask my farrier to take of Rummi's shoes and tell him I was going to trim him myself!
If nothing else, finding out about barefoot will allow you to recognise a balance hoof and when it is well shod and not..............thats a start!