Performance horses need shoes, right? Not all of them!
While shoes have certainly been the norm in nearly every equine sport for many years, some competitors are breaking away from the stereotype and proving that their equine partners can not only go barefoot, but actually excel without shoes.
Take eight-year-old AQHA, Convincing Class, aka Tulsa, owned by Summer Nicholson of Raymond, Nebraska. This mare’s feet have never seen a pair of shoes, and for the past three years, she and Summer have steadily risen in the world of barrel racing. Tulsa is a rodeo money earner and has won multiple sanctioned jackpots. And just last month, the duo placed 3rd in the 1-D (out of 350+ entrants) at the Bonus Race Regionals in Guthrie, OK.
While Tulsa has been barefoot her entire life, her feet haven’t always been perfect.
“Her hoof wall was so thin when I got her,” said Nicholson. “She had visible bruising on her white feet and hurt to walk on concrete. She would bruise or abscess very easily.”
Since changing her diet and switching the mare to a natural barefoot trim (as opposed to a typical farrier trim), Summer noted that Tulsa’s hoof walls and soles have thickened and her frog, widened.
“It’s been a process to change my thinking about horses’ feet,” she said. “But Tulsa has proven to me over and over that she does best barefoot. The long haul is what I’m after, and this is definitely the best way.”
Maree Young and her ten-year-old APHA mare, Moonshine Bandit, are proof that barefoot horses can also jump. The duo currently competes in one-meter showjumping in Victoria, Australia. In the 2015–2016 competition season, they won the high-point award for show jumping in the Horse Riding Club Association of Victoria.
“In many competitions on grass or muddy ground, she keeps her footing much better than shod horses,” Young noted.
Bandit has never suffered from lameness issues, said Young. She credits her barefoot status to having greater hoof proprioception.
“I feel many times I haven’t been taken seriously as a competitor due to riding a small, colored, barefoot horse,” said Maree. When other competitors learn her horse is barefoot, they often ask, “Don’t they slip?”
“Considering in the muddiest competition of the year, she was the only Level 2 horse to jump clean all day, I think that says otherwise,” she said.
Young also relayed that she enjoys answering questions about her barefoot horses—she loves helping to educate others on the benefits of keeping the hoof as nature intended.
Nicole Turner and her 13-year-old Thoroughbred, Galeleo Figaro, aka Fig, compete in affiliated dressage at intermediate level one in the UK.
Like many Thoroughbreds, Fig came off the track and wore shoes for the first part of his life. He’s now been barefoot for over five years. During this time, they have won several area festivals at novice and medium levels and Regionals at the medium level. In addition, the duo has earned top ten placings at high profile shows and premier leagues, including Somerford Premier League.
Why barefoot? “I’ve no need for shoes. I don’t compete on grass against the clock and whilst he hacks out, it’s not a big thing for us. They simply weren’t needed,” said Turner.
“The best bit is that I never have the surprise of a lost shoe on the day of an outing. Also, he doesn’t slip or trip on waxed surfaces as much as shod horses.”
Richard Greer and his gelding, Battle of Troy, compete all over the UK in the sport of teamchasing, a timed event which requires a team of four riders and their mounts to cross approximately two miles with somewhere around 25 natural obstacles.
Nine-year-old Troy has also been barefoot his entire life.
“Hard ground doesn’t bother us,” said Greer. “And in soft ground, we don’t worry about slipping—he sorts it out for himself.”
But like Tulsa, Troy has had issues with his hooves.
“He has always had pretty bad surface splits, and he wears his feet unevenly,” said Greer. “I treat the splits with vinegar, and our trimmer keeps his feet balanced for me. We couldn’t do it without her!”
Other competitors are generally surprised to learn that Troy competes barefoot and often believe that their own horses couldn’t do the same.
“I tend to point them towards my partner who teamchases our 17-year-old warmblood at novice level barefoot,” said Greer. “He had terrible feet having been shod until he arrived with us at age 11. We were told he would always have to have heart bars on.”
Last but not least: Kayla Hairbottle and her 13-year-old Arabian-Appaloosa cross, West, who compete in 80–120 km endurance races in their home country of South Africa.
West has been competing for seven years, but only transitioned out of shoes a little over a year ago. Hairbottle started riding with an endurance club that promoted both barefoot and bitless riding, so she decided to make the switch.
“West’s legs also had splints from his shoes, and he failed to complete many rides,” said Hairbottle. “Since he has been barefoot, he has completed nine 80 km rides, winning five of them. He finished in the top five in the rest.”
At the Capricorn Race, the pair won two years in a row and also received the award for Best Conditioned Horse for both events.
“This particular ride is heavily rocky terrain about 90% of the time,” said Kayla. “West and I did not have hoof boots at the time, but we completed the 80 km races in under four hours both times with an average speed of 22 km/hour. Barefoot.”
For extremely rocky rides, she uses a pair of Renegade Hoof Boots.
About 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. Follow Casie at www.casiebazay.com.