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.
“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
Don’t miss the latest issue of Your Horse Magazine, jam-packed with training and veterinary advice, horse-care tips and the latest equestrian products available on shop shelves, on sale now. Find out what’s in the latest issue here.