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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the difference between a "natural" or "barefoot" trim vs. a regular or "pasture" trim done by a farrier?

A. Your regular farrier will most likely do what's called a "pasture" trim. He basically nips away any long hoof wall from the bottom of the foot, trim the frog and rasp it all flat , and he's done.  If he were going to put a shoe on, he would likely also pare out the dead sole before nipping the wall. This trim is basically to make the foot resemble what we commonly see in domestic horses as they age, which is probably not a very good example to go by. Would you model what "the picture of health" is in people by looking at those that eat poorly and never excercise? Then why model our horses' feet after those that are already unhealthy?
      "Barefoot " or " Natural"  trims are  a bit different. The sole and frog are usually left to exfoliate on their own since the dead material will help protect the sensitive tissues inside the foot. The hoof wall will not be trimmed flat to the sole,(except for special reasons as needed) but will leave about 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch that is then beveled, or angled to prevent chipping and flaring. A good natural trim will mimic the wear patterns that a horse would have if our domestic horses were able to move enough over rough ground to self trim. Since our domestic horses live in unnatural situations, the need for a trim arises.  

Q. Won't the hoof wear off too short without metal shoes if I ride?

A. No. The hoof actually grows with each step your horse takes to compensate for wear. In fact, a domestic barefoot horse usually still needs regular trims to keep the excess off! Sometimes  it appears that the hoof isn't growing anymore,  this appearance of "not growing" actually means the hoof has found the right balance between growth and wear, but you should still have the hooves examined by your hoof care provider periodically. It is possible for excess length to come off in big chunks and cause lameness, this is why regular maitenance trims every 4-6 weeks are important. If you see large flares and splits, the horse is past due for a trim.

Q.   Can't I just have my regular farrier pull the shoes and ride if horses do so well barefoot?

A.   Not necessarily. While horses are individuals and some may fare well if you just "pulled shoes and rode", most will need some time to adjust and some always need some form of protection that can be provided in a healthier way than traditional shoes. Much like if you suddenly omitted wearing your tennis shoes out jogging, you wouldn't go very far until your feet toughened up.
      There is also a difference in the trims from your regular farrier and a barefoot trimmer's methods.  The removal of dead sole and frog that is routine in traditional trims removes the hoof of it's own protection. A natural trim leaves as much of the sole and frog as possible to build into thick callouses. Until your horse has built up enough callous, you will likely need to outfit him in boots to make him comfortable enough you can still ride.  This is much like you wearing gloves to muck stalls until you can do it barehanded. The gloves prevent you from getting blisters, but still allow callouses to form.

Q. How long will it take to get my horse comfortable barefoot?

A.  That depends.  If your horse has basically healthy feet and gets the proper diet and exercise, it could take as little as a month or as much as a year, but most take about 5 months. Some horses always need boots on rough terrain depending on their background, age, NUTRITION and living environment. They only adapt to what they are exposed to most.
The hoof adapts to current living conditions, so if you plan to ride on a lot of rocks, you should consider that in your horse's living area. If he's kept on soft footing, then that's what his feet will adjust to, so you would want to have boots for when the terrain becomes too much for him. Horses that have rocks in their daily lives tend to not need the boots after the initial adjustment phase. Keep in mind that hoof growth and toughening is measured in miles, not months. The more your horse is able to move, whether hand walking or turnout or even riding, the faster that transition can happen. A good trim can only get prepare them for so much, the rest is up to the owner to finish the conditioning. If that sounds like too much work, or too expensive to have rock brought in, just keep boots on hand.

Q.  What kind of boots and where can I get them? How much will they cost?

A.  The price varies by retailer and brand/style, much like human counterparts. There are different boots for different needs. I can help you determine what style would fit your riding style the best and in your price range. Keep in mind that the cost of boots seems prohibitive, but in the long run, the cost is less, (including the trims) than keeping metal shoes on your horse. Consider that most boots outlast shoes 3 to 1 and that your horse will normally only wear the boots while you ride and may eventually not need them at all.  They run from $129 to $150 (or more) a pair. Some are sold individually, some in pairs.
     I am an offcial dealer of EasyCare boots and Cavallo brand, to make them more accessible and to ensure a good fit. They are available in catalogs and tack stores, but if you purchase the wrong size you might not be able to return them and it's hard to be sure you have the right fit. It's better to have them fitted by a professional to ensure better results the first tim. The more you ride, the more secure the boot should be, but that may mean a trade for ease of application, so be sure to talk to your hoof care provider about what kind of riding and how much, you plan to do.

Q.  What if my vet says my horse CAN'T go barefoot? He has ______ (fill in the blank...navicular, laminitis, flat soles, thin walls...etc)

A. In my experience, if you are willing and able to keep up on regular trims (4-6 week intervals on average) and feed a proper diet, I've found that all horses can go without shoes, regardless of occupation. However, I must add, that those must be quality trims and if you do it yourself, you risk having a less than satisfactory experience with natural trims. Please don't blame the trim style in that instance.
     Navicular, laminitis, flat soles, etc are usually symptoms of underlying problems with diet or the way the trims or shoeing have been done. In most cases, you remove the shoe, get the horse moving comfortably and feed a high fiber, low sugar/starch  diet and the problems go away. Some horses do need protection for the rest of their lives, but boots are a much healthier option than metal shoes. Just for the record, the ones that need protection are generally the ones that have had shoes for a majority of time before they were 6 years of age, or older horses that have been shod most of their lives. The shoes can alter the very shape of the bones in their feet, forever altering the way the exterior grows.

Q. Can I compete on a barefoot horse? Don't I need shoes for traction?

A.  Your horse can do almost anything barefoot that he can do with shoes and do it better. The exception is the fancy sliding stops of reining horses; the bare-hoof gets too good of traction for that, so sliding plates still have to be applied for that, but the fronts can be left bare. The are currently working on slider boots, but they aren't available to the public yet. 
     A naked hoof gets better traction and shock absorption than a shod one. Metal just doesn' t flex enough and it raises the hoof off the ground, deadening not only the ability to feel through the metal, (think steel rims vs. rubber tires on your car) but also because it decreases blood circulation, further deadening sensation (much like when your foot falls asleep).  The frog, which can not get as much stimulation in shoes is the sensory apparatus that determines foot placement as well as offering some shock absorption. A shod foot can't feel the ground as well as a booted one, or completely bare one.A bare foot can not only dig into the ground better, but it can feel the ground beneath it, without tearing up the turf as badly. 
     Endurance,  Polo,  Jumping,  Racing,  Trail Riding,  Roping,  Western Pleasure...all these activities are performed by barefoot horses successfully. Even Gaited horses.

Q:   Why do Veterinarians still prescribe shoes for hoof problems?

A:  Most vets are more concerned with the rest of the horse, not just the feet. Though they understand anatomy, they don' t necessarily focus on the mechanics of the hoof. Traditionally that has been left to the farriers, in fact, unless you were dealing with broken bones or  laminitis, most vets pass the foot problems on to us, who work exclusively with the hooves. Even in those cases, the vet sends the horse back into the care of the farrier. I guess you could say farriers are a sort of specialists and vets are the general practitioner, though there are exceptions to that, of course. Vets and hoof care providers should be allowed to work together when you have a lameness issue in your horse.
    Most vets and farriers are taught traditional treatments for the same old problems. You also have to remember that until recently, the wild foot wasn't a model. The vets and farriers were so used to the problem feet, and the problem feet were the norm. It's hard to break tradition, too. It takes a lot of convincing to change practices hundreds of years old. Newer veterinarians are likely to know more about and support natural trimming methods.
  With more and more attention focused on wild horse hooves and the natural hoof care vets are starting to notice the benefits and more research is being done. In fact, more vets and farriers agree that shoes are not  healthy for the hoof, than ever before.

Q: So you want to use the wild horses as a model, but my horse isn't wild, he carries a rider and doesn't that mean he'll need shoes to compensate and protect his feet?

A: Quite frankly, NO. In fact, bare hooves are even MORE important than ever when you increase the work load. See, when you add weight you increase forces applied to the hoof, leg and tendons, etc. Metal shoes add to this concussive force, magnifying the destructive effects even more. Plus it hangs all this weight from a structure (the hoof wall) that was never meant to bear all that weight alone.  A natural foot is able to expand and contract, lessening the impact on internal structures, meaning a sounder, more sure-footed horse in the end. Shoes were a well intentioned invention (when kings started living in castles, and confining their horses, the hooves became thrushy and weak) to protect weakened hooves. They do anesthetize them to a point, making the horse appear sound. Before shoes came along, many a battle and chore were done by all barefoot horses and no mention of lameness was on record until the horses were stalled and shod.
   Also, considering work load, the weight of tack and a rider is about the same as a pregant mare in the wild, and she can run full speed to avoid predators with no ill affects. They are quite capable of carrying the rider's weight and remain barefoot. The key is in how you keep your horse and his history (previously shod horses may have permanant damage from old injuries or immature feet).
   You may still need to protect the hoof, of the domestic horse, that's true. Hoof boots allow the shock-absorbing natural function to work and keep the foot sound. Metal shoes are just too rigid, and let's face it, they were the only technology available. In this day and age, however, we have access to better materials, so why not use them? Technology has also enabled us to see what damage the shoes to to the anatomy on a live horse (x-rays and thermo-graphic imaging) and the blood flow.
Q: My horses' hooves still look okay, so can we wait until 10, 12 weeks or longer?
A: No. Just because everything "looks" okay, doesn't mean you can skip on maitenance. Just because your car is running well, doesn't mean you should skip oil changes, either. Lookng good is a sign that the hoof is thriving, but also, a trained expert might see the same hoof and not think it "looks okay". A healthy foot can get by with a missed trim on occasion, but it is certainly the exception to the rule, much like eating a candy bar once in a while won't make you fat, but the more frequently you eat them, the harder it is not gain weight.  Keep up on maitenance trims. 4-6 weeks is a reasonable time frame for preventing problems (more often if correcting a pathology like founder until it is repaired). Also, the cost of a routine trim is still cheaper than shoes every 8 weeks. Finally, it is not about how much comes off at a trim. If your hoof care pro simply rasps off a few millimeters, you are still getting your money's worth. Waiting for 1/2 inch of growth sets your horse up for stretched white lines and infections. The shorter the hooves stay between trims, the healthier the hoof can remain overall.
Galloping horse at liberty