Q & A with NO B.S!
Having barefoot horses is easy. It really is!
I have twenty years experience in this industry helping many clients find the right boot for their horse and seeing them transition out of shoes. It saddens me when I see some "elite" farrier say only some horses can be barefoot, and only if he applies his amazing magical touch to the trim. This is just not so for 99% of domestic horses.
Below are the most common questions I see from those considering barefoot. I will try to answer them as simply as I can.
Can any horse be barefoot?
Yes all horses can be barefoot, but not every horse can be ridden barefoot.
Our domestic pasture horses will need hoof boots or flexible shoes once they leave their pasture. If you are not going to provide this don't even bother trying barefoot because you will just be swapping one kind of lameness for another!
Can any barefoot horse fit into hoof boots?
Most can. Most boots come in individual sizes so even if your horse has different sized hooves you can find a boot style that will work. Some of the huge Clydies may have trouble finding boots to fit them but boots do come in very large sizes too. There is also a range of really tiny boots for our mini friends who are often used for carriage driving too.
Whats the difference between Therapy Boots and Riding Boots?
To help with laminitis and lameness there is a large range of Therapy Boots. These are loose fitting and have soft inner soles for comfort. They can be applied over bandaging. They are designed so a horse undergoing treatment for laminitis or serious hoof issues can have cushioning that prevents pain and have protection for the hoof. This allows access to the outdoors and sunshine which is so important for full recovery. They are meant for horses in a small turnout area not those in large pastures.
If your lame horse is in a large pasture then choose a style of riding boot that allows padding and can be left on during the day. Riding boos are tough and meant for all sorts of terrain and less likely to come off if the horse over reaches. Manufacturers also sell pads to insert into many boots if your feel your horse needs more comfort.
Can you leave hoof boots on in the pasture?
No. Just as you need to take off your shoes to let your own feet breath then horses need to have their boots removed after every ride. Their hooves need direct access to the varying surfaces in the pasture to enhance their hoof growth and so they can have natural wear too.
How do you check for boot fit?
The manufactuers all have sizing guides on their online shops. Most require that you measure after a fresh trim. Any horse should be regularly trimmed at least every six weeks to ensure good fit. If you leave the trim longer than six weeks the horse's hoof will undergo leverage stresses that will create forward running toes and hoof cracks.
Do boots have good warranties?
Yes they do. I am always amazed at the great warranties offered by most boot manufacturers. This fact shows how confident they are in their products's ability to withstand the rigours of riding. As a boot seller of fifteen years I am still surprised at how few exchanges we get from online sales. Most of these are due to incorrect measuring by the owners not failure of the boots. We supply boots to every equine discipline even the mounted police in Australia.
Are boots hard to put on?
Yes and no again! This is a hard question because it depends on the horse and the person applying the boots! Boots are easy to use when you have used them a couple of times and, if you have a compliant horse. Most horses are happy to lift a leg to have their boots applied and even begin to happily anticipate the process.
Some boot styles are close fitting and suitable for use as sporting boots, they do require a bit more grunt, but the payoff is they never move or twist these have been widely tested by endurance riders world wide. Some boots encompass more of the hoof capsule and suitable for trail riding and pleasure riding, and are very easy to fit, so its really up to the boot purchaser. Perhaps look at the many videos on the manufactuer''s site to help you decide.
How often does a barefoot horse need trimming?
Do not leave your horse longer than six weeks between trims. If you left your shoes on the horse till they almost fell off before you called the farrier it might be time to attend a barefoot trim workshop and learn how to do a maintenance trim yourself so you can do a tiny rasp job in between calling the farrier. Leave a barefoot horse too long between trims (more than six weeks) and because most just graze on soft pasture, their hooves will grow too long and leverage forces will cause them to have forward running toes and to crack.
If there a difference between trim styles from a professional farrier or trimmer?
There shouldn't be, but there often is. The saying "a good trim is a good trim" is not always true. If your farrier is not familiar with rehabilitative barefoot trimming he may not know why the basic "good trim" he has done for years is leaving the horse sore, or not helping horses with serious issues to grow out problems such as collapsed heels and deep cracks.
If you are changing to barefoot to help your horse with a serious problem such as navicular syndrome then I suggest you seek out a specialist such as an Equine Podiotherapist. This is often not possible for everyone and in that case I suggest you get one of the books I recommend on this site and you and your farrier/trimmer use these as a guide and work together to create change. This doesn't have to be a confrontational process. Many farriers welcome a chance to learn new skills.
Can I still compete in my chosen equine sport?
Barefoot/booted horses are competing in many sports now. The many horses medalling at the recent Tokyo Olmpics show clearly that you can take barefoot sporting horses to the very top level with the right hoof protection.
Some sporting bodies are sadly still bogged down with old rules (racing etc.) but at low level competition boots are generally readily accepted. Rules need to be updated don't be afraid to challenge the rules if you feel you can. I have seen sports that don't allow boots but will allow crippled horses in corrective shoes to compete!! If you find you can't use boots or glue on shells, then use the next best thing. Use Easyshoes they offer advantages that steel shoes cannot, and still allow many of the normal functions of the bare hoof.
How long do boots last?
Hoof boots gererally last a very long time. They are made from strong materials. You will find they far outlast many sets of steel shoes. For the average pleasure rider they may last for years!
Can you clean hoof boots?
Yes they are easly to clean if you want to with soap and water. Most riders just hose them if they feel the need. If you want them to look sparkly new then wiping them with a spray like Amourall does the trick.
Flexible Shoes are they better than steel shoes?
Yes they are. Flexible shoes allow for many of the natural functions of the hoof to continue, but we won't know for several years their benefits because they are so new on the market that no long term studies have been undertaken. There are many different styles available for many different disciplines, and can these can be applied with a glue-on process or with nails. These shoes were highlighted at the Tokyo Olymics and used by several of the equine competitors there. Easycare Inc. has a vast range of flexible shoes available.
Do barefoot horses need a special diet?
No and yes! If your horse is on a good diet already then he should have healthy new hoof growth. What is a good diet? Don't be seduced by feeds that offer amazing hooves just by feeding the bagged feed from big retailers. Take the time to research a little about the needs of horses to sustain continual good health. I highly recommend looking at the information provided by Dr Ellanor Kellon DVM. Many of her students now also have businesses where they are happy to analyse your horse's diet for you. Most good diets can be quite simple. Don't be seduced by fancy supplements, horses actually require very few supplements if they have good natural diets.
Equine Nutrition Questions? There is a great resource just a click away.
Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD | ECIR Group, Inc.