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Barefoot Hoof Care

Barefoot at Kanopolis State Park
Horse and Rider climbing rocky trail
Kanopolis Park, Kansas

Natural Trims


   Natural hoof care is a growing field in the equine world. More and more people are pulling the steel shoes off their horses and discovering a better way to care for their horses. The latest research is proving that horses are better off without steel shoes nailed to the hoof. New materials are now used to make hoof protection more like athletic shoes and trims are being geared to model after what is natural for the horse by comparing to feral horses that have never been touched by human hands yet thrive with a minimum of lameness or health issues. This feral model has changed the face of not just hoof care, but horse care as a whole.


   The natural trim mimics wear (self trimming) of feral horses that a domestic horse isn't able to achieve due to confinement and softer terrain. Natural trims maintain and build the natural protection of the foot, and allow it to have its own unique balance that it needs to work for that individual horse.
  Domestic horses may still need some additional protection, especially when first removing shoes, or dealing with already existing lameness. After all, we do ask horses to do some unnatural things and they often don't have a chance to toughen their feet on their own in domestication. Boots can be fitted to add protection, yet allow the foot to function naturally with the added benefit of coming off at the end of the workout and leaving the horse bare once again. This can keep a horse from missing workouts while building new tough feet, or provide that extra cushion when going on tougher terrain than the horse is accustomed to working on.


     Bare and booted hooves get excellent traction and maximum shock absorption. This also means they suffer fewer hoof pathologies and soft tissue injuries.  A shod hoof on dirt gets the same amount of concussion as a barefoot on concrete!!! Metal shoes maximize concussion can induce leg strain and injuries.  Barefoot horses are capable of performing any task, from polo, racing and a roping cows that their shod counterparts can do.  Traditional shoes physically interfere with the ability to feel where the hoof is, while bare hooves can feel every step. Barefoot horses not only are healthier, but safer to ride. When turning a barrel or going down a steep hill, stumbling is not an option. Barefoot horses can feel a bad foot placement and adjust their stride and avoid bruises. The benefits are clear. The hard part is bucking tradition.

    I often hear the arguments for metal shoes. "Look how many horses are shod and aren't lame".  But how sound are they really? Most shod horses develop long hoof capsuleswith soft tissue injuries and navicular syndrome in what should be the prime of their life.  Or "My horse can't go without shoes because hissoles are so thin". Often the shoeing is what contributes to thin soles. Many horses that are thriving with natural trims had their shoes removed as last ditch efforts before euthanasia! The feet that "couldn't" go bare not only did, but wound up sounder than with shoes.

    No horse can't go without metal shoes.  It is the owner or trainer that can't. It may be a matter of convenience, a lack of willingness to give up the tradition, too impatient to put on the needed hoof boots. For them, metal shoes are the perfect solution. If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If the horse tip-toes on thrushy frogs, but never limps, is he really unsound? YES! For the owners that are willing to take two minutes to apply hoof boots, their horses will benefit. Some horses may be more challenged. Old horses shod their whole lives or those who have had severe, chronic lameness may always need boots to work, but the overall hoof quality will improve without metal shoes. Young horses that get plenty of exercise and have never seen a horseshoe may never even need boots.

    This site is not intended as a "how to", but to answer "why?" for those seeking answers about doing what's best for their horse in terms of hoof care. I'm not going to tell you how to trim a hoof here, but I offer information on why your horse should be barefoot. Diet and exercise play key roles in affecting hoof health, regardless of how the hooves are trimmed or shod. The horse owner has been revealed as having more impact than the vet and farrier in horse health. After all, the owner/handler has a day to day impact and it is their responsibility to keep up on the latest research to be able to make informed decisions. Keep checking back with my blog and Tips page for the latest in equine nutrition and hoof care research updates.