Is barefoot for you?

As many of us ponder the pros and cons of allowing our horses to go shoeless, more and more riders are proving it can be a feasible option, even for horses who work hard. One such trainer is Nic Barker, who runs a yard in Exmoor that specialises in rehabilitation livery for horses with hoof-related lameness (www.rockleyfarm.co.uk). She has a yard full of barefoot eventers and hunters, and believes unshod horses can work consistently and soundly.

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“I find horses performing without shoes suffer fewer injuries and less concussion to the joints and have a more efficient movement,” says Nic. “A healthy foot is also incredibly capable on tough terrain. Allowing a horse to go barefoot isn’t a quick fix, but over time it focuses on strengthening his hooves from the inside out.”

While Nic concedes that shoes do have a use and can be a practical way of helping less than perfect feet to perform, she believes hooves are a mirror for overall health, so a horse who struggles when he’s unshod may have an underlying metabolic or nutritional issue, rather than simply a foot problem. 

However, it’s not just a case of whipping your horse’s shoes away and hoping for the best. “We use a range of hoof-friendly surfaces, including pea gravel tracks 
and woodland, to help keep our horses comfortable when they first come out of shoes,” says Nic. 

“Controlled and careful exercise, both in-hand and ridden, then helps build stronger and better balanced hooves.”

As Nic explains, the long-term success of going shoeless hinges on 3 key elements:

1 Your horse’s diet

A high fibre, low sugar diet that contains all the necessary minerals is essential.

2 His exercise regime

This should be regular and varied, including lots of roadwork (provided your horse is comfortable on hard surfaces).

3 His biomechanics

These must be in order. His hoof must have correct medio-lateral balance and his leg should land heel-first. You need to assess this in walk on a flat, hard surface, and may need to film the movement and slow it down to spot the landing.

“Going barefoot can result in a healthier hoof, but it often means more work for the owner,” explains Nic. “The responsibility for a shod horse’s feet lies largely with the farrier, whereas if a horse is barefoot his owner has to be more concerned with the management of his feet.”

If he has experience of hard-working barefoot horses, your farrier is a good person to ask for expert advice. 

Find out more: follow Nic’s blog at www.rockleyfarm.blogspot.co.uk

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