Horse Health

Why Barefoot Doesn’t Work for Horses

©Casie Bazay
©Casie Bazay

It seems many people are giving barefoot a try these days, but all too often, I hear of someone giving up, becoming convinced barefoot just doesn’t work for their horse. They find that their horse’s hooves are just too sensitive, especially on rough terrain. So shoes are nailed back on and all seems well once again. But what they may not know is why barefoot didn’t work for their horse in the first place.

If you’re simply going barefoot because it’s the latest fad, it’s easy to give it up when the going gets tough. I’ve never been one to follow the crowd though, and I didn’t go barefoot with my horses to be trendy. I went barefoot when I became convinced that it was the only way to have a naturally healthy horse.

I don’t judge people who do shoe their horses. I know most of us are just doing what we think is best. Or maybe we’re just doing what we’ve always done—simply because we don’t know any other way.

But I’m going to make what may seem like a controversial statement: Any horse can go barefoot. However, in order for barefoot to work, it will take some knowledge and effort on our part.

We have to look at the whole horse—especially his diet and lifestyle—if we want barefoot to work. There are many pieces that need to be in place in order for the hooves to be healthy. Take just one piece out, and the more likely that barefoot just won’t seem to work for your horse.

Here are a few reasons why barefoot doesn’t work for horses:

1. Too much sugar and starch in the diet

Horses did not evolve to eat the lush green grass or the high-starch feeds that many consume today.  They evolved to eat sparse, dry grasses that were low in sugar in starch.

Most of us know that a sudden overload in sugar/ starches can cause laminitis, but even steady, lesser amounts of these two components in your horse’s diet can cause hoof sensitivity. A diet comprised of mostly low-sugar grass hay (12% NSC or less) is the best way to support healthy barefoot hooves.

2. Not enough movement

If your horse is in a stall or small pen all day, he’s not getting enough movement—unless you happen to be riding several miles every single day. In order to promote circulation and toughen barefoot hooves, movement is crucial. Allowing your horse to live with a herd in a pasture or a Paddock Paradise will increase natural movement.

3. Mineral deficiencies or imbalances

Zinc and copper are deficient in most horses’ diets, and these happen to be two very important minerals for the hoof.  Another common issue is that of too much iron, which can block the absorption of whatever zinc and copper the horse may be getting. It’s also important to provide both major and trace minerals in the correct ratios.

4. Your horse is pastured on soft or wet ground

We can’t expect our horses to fare well on rocky or rough terrain when riding if they are only exposed to soft ground at home. It’s just not going to happen. The only solution here is to add some varied terrain into your pasture or loafing areas (pea gravel is a great way to do this) and/or gradually increase your riding time on rough terrain on a consistent basis.

5. Not trimming frequently enough

The whole idea of the barefoot trim is getting a tough and functional sole and back of the foot. If the hoof walls and/or heels are consistently allowed to overgrow, this just isn’t possible. Most horses aren’t going to get the wear that they need to keep the walls in check on their own, so trimming on a frequent and consistent basis is crucial! I trim my own horses at least every four weeks.

Please remember: barefoot isn’t just about pulling the shoes. It’s also about providing the foundation for healthy, strong hooves. Don’t give up though—the benefits of barefoot are worth it!


Casie BazarAbout the Author

Casie Bazay is a freelance and young adult writer, as well as an owner/barefoot trimmer and certified equine acupressure practitioner. She hosts the blog, The Naturally Healthy Horse, where she regularly shares information on barefoot, equine nutrition, and holistic horse health. Once an avid barrel racer, Casie now enjoys just giving back to the horses who have given her so much.

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