The Mythical Barefoot Horse
Originally this post was written as a guest blog for The Exquisite Equine in 2016, but I wanted to share it again here for others to read that may be interested or uncertain about switching to barefoot with their horses. This is my experience....
The Mythical Barefoot Horse -
I used to believe that only a special few horses could have the luxury of going without shoes… and that their owners should count their blessings because they owned a mythical creature. A creature so rare in this day of metal: iron, aluminum, egg bars, clips, glue ons, stacks, corrective, you name it. I used to sigh and dream that one day I would be blessed to own a magical unicorn of my own, that maybe with enough supplements and fervent enough prayers one of my own horses would be able to go without those big hunks of metal. However, according to various farriers over the years, this was an empty dream. All my horses were either too weak walled, flat footed, under run, thin soled, weak soled, you name it. Even if a horse came to me barefoot I was informed they would have to wear shoes. It was settled, I was stuck with animals that cost me a fortune in farrier services for the rest of the foreseeable future. I would never be free. Free of lost shoes, hot nails, and having to trust my farrier to not mess up my horse’s feet. No hoof no horse, right? So with no seemingly viable alternative, I just dealt with it… just like everyone else. It wasn’t until one of my mares forced me to try something different that I saw what I had been missing… The lies people had been telling me, all the misinformation out there, and how much money and time I had wasted on those damn metal shoes. I owe it all to my lovely 10 year old red dun Appaloosa mare, Pumpkin. Who, according to the farriers would NEVER be able to go sound barefoot. Pumpkin has/had what the farrier called “crappy appy feet”. I suppose Appaloosa’s are known to have really poor quality hooves? I don’t know if that’s true, she’s my first Appaloosa, but at the time she truly had the most difficult hooves to shoe. They just WOULD NOT hold a shoe. We tried everything. Not only would she loose a shoe every five to ten days, costing me a fortune in re-shoeing, whole chunks of her hoof wall would go with the shoe to the point where nothing was left to nail into. At some point we resorted to glue ons, and while she stopped tearing apart her hooves she still pulled the shoes every five days or so. I was absolutely ripping my hair out trying to keep this mare in shoes. On top of it all, towards the end of our “shoeing days”, every six weeks my horses went so tender after their “shod trims” they were unrideable for a good couple days at least. And while I realize this was not the fault of the shoes, but rather farrier error, it was just one more big shove to send me over the edge. Tears, lots of tears, as I picked up Pumpkin’s front feet that final trim to find the soles and frogs so completely raw and cut down they were bleeding. She was so sensitive on them she could barely walk. According to the very well known farrier I had worked with for the last seven years, this was “The only way to fix the issue and I’m not sure why she’s unsound.” He’d even agreed to try barefoot with this particular mare that last trim (since she couldn’t keep a shoe anyway), and this was how he trimmed her without shoes! My other horses were also extremely sore. I’ve never in my life seen my horses lay down for as often or as long as they did following that last trim. I honestly believe the farrier was trying to do what he thought was best, but I was done. Sink or swim we had to try something else. It couldn’t have gotten much worse.
I had already been aggressively mulling over the idea of going barefoot for sometime by this point. I had done tons of research and even knew of a few local barefoot trimmers. I was nervous to say the least, but if there was ever a time to make the jump it was now. I interviewed, observed, and chatted the ears off of quite a few trimmers and enthusiasts. I even sent work example pictures to someone who greatly inspired and encouraged me to make the change. (Thank you Emily). I was being picky as I had five different horses with very different needs, including an un-handled weanling that was arriving before too long. I knew I needed someone who really understood the barefoot horse, not just a farrier that would pull the shoes and call it barefoot. I needed someone that would pay close attention to the individual horse’s needs and even teach me to help care for their feet in between trims. My criteria was high, but eventually I found a trimmer where everything just clicked. Fast forward eleven weeks and three trims later and I could honestly cry I couldn’t be happier. We had minimal soreness that first trim, used protective boots when working on rougher ground, and by trim number two it was like they had been barefoot their whole lives! We lost absolutely no quality of movement, trail ride over rocky ground no problem, jump, train, play, and we no longer have to deal with lost shoes! I regularly text our barefoot trimmer absolutely gushing about how well all five of the horses are doing. I’m honestly still in complete disbelief over how easy and uncomplicated the transition was. I had feared the worst but was so relieved to find that the many years of metal shoes hell was at an end. My hopes and dreams were finally reality. I finally owned not only one unicorn, but five! I have five completely barefoot, beautiful, magical unicorns.
If you’re interested in switching to barefoot yourself, I highly recommend you look into a natural trimmer in your area (here is a recommended list). Feel free to ask any questions here too.