What you need to know before going barefoot with your horse

Thinking of going barefoot and taking off your horse's shoes? Here's Liz Angus, a member of Barefootworks (the UK's first barefoot trimming practice) to explain what you need to know.

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What are the benefits of my horse going barefoot? 

There are many advantages to going barefoot. These range from improving the health, shape and quality of your horse's feet, to less obvious benefits, such as endurance riders noting improved heart rates and recovery times in their barefoot horses, as well as fewer concussion injuries. 

Having a horse that slips less on a wet road because he's got more traction, or no longer pulls his shoes off in the mud can be a major selling point too.

Many owners whose horses have struggled with poor hoof health for years often see their horse's feet change beyond belief when they venture down the barefoot route. 

As an owner, you'll probably also find you get much more involved in your horse's hoof care routine, noticing things about his hooves that you've never considered before, so it can be a great learning curve.

How does caring for an unshod foot differ? 

A barefoot trim focuses on supporting your horse, allowing him to utilise the many complex and incredible functions  that exist in his hooves, and that have evolved over millions of years. 

Your farrier/trimmer will be responsible for maintaining the length of your horse's feet if he's unshod, but as an owner, you'll also need to be more aware of subtle changes in his hoof health.

This may mean learning to recognise common problems, such as thrush, in addition to the normal daily hoof checks you'd do if he was shod. 

What do I need to consider before my horse goes barefoot? 

First, it's important to consider that barefoot isn't a quick fix and requires a certain amount of commitment from you as the horse's owner. 

While some horses will breeze through the transition from shod to barefoot, others who may have been shod for long periods, or whose feet have become more compromised, may need more support. 

It's often necessary to invest in a set of hoof boots. 

These can provide excellent protection while allowing your horse to grow a healthier, stronger foot. 

The quality and design of hoof boots has improved dramatically in recent years and there are many cutting edge designs on the market to choose from.

You may also find your horse requires more frequent trimming to help his foot grow in a better shape and improve his soundness. 

This can often work out cheaper than regular shoeing, but it's still a cost that should be taken into consideration.

The trim from your farrier/trimmer is usually only 10% of the successful equation, with diet and exercise making up the other 90%.

As the owner, you have to be prepared to take these factors into consideration, often making adjustments to things like your horse's grazing and sugar intake.

A low sugar, mineral balanced diet and lots of exercise are key to stronger, healthier feet. 

The more you work your horse the more you will stimulate growth and help develop a robust, well-connected hoof capsule with a thick sole.