Wild Horses and Hooves
What is Barefoot?
Barefoot is the term now used and accepted to describe a horse that does everything it did while shod—but now without shoes. This should not be confused with a horse that simply has not been shod for a long time, or ever. The latter is commonly out in a field but also commonly, will not have a chance to wear down their feet so they frequently grow long, become flared, cracked etc. This is typical for example, of some brood mares who get no hoof care until their feet are in a terrible state, as we see frequently. They will have someone come to take the overgrown chunks off but little or no real attention given to their overall hoof care. This is a very long way from the sound barefoot horse. All creatures either need to wear down their hooves, claws or nails as they do in the wild, but when domesticated, they have to be trimmed.
Reasons for Trying Barefoot
If your horse has good sound feet and soles, the chances are he could transition into a barefoot horse very easily and with little problem, given an appropriate amount of time. However, many other people aspire to making their horses barefoot because the hooves have visibly deteriorated after years of nailing. Finding a site to nail into when you have a crumbling hoof wall is very difficult. This situation is also common but considering going barefoot as a quick fix for these cases is neither a sensible assessment or option. However, it can be be achieved given the appropriate amount of time and professional care and ultimately, this would be the best option to rehabilitate the hoof.
This may seem like a dilemma because for long term recovery the horse must be allowed to remain barefoot, bringing potential problems as he does so. The irony is that if the horse were shod at this stage, it would seem he was fine, but this is 'Fool’s Gold' as far as your horse’s hoof health is concerned. He will become progressively worse until the hoof crumbles again, at which point you are running out of options. This could be compared to a drug dependency where we know the person would be better of without the drugs, but in the moment feels better with them.
The Barefoot Trim
A barefoot trim is where the horses foot is trimmed to a shape that resembles what would happen with the hoof being worn away naturally by daily use on rough terrain. The shape of the hoof is dictated by the position of the pedal bone and the sole. A barefoot trim bears no resemblance to a shoeing trim, which is by necessity flat, in preparation for fitting a flat iron shoe. The barefoot trim requires the ‘leaving on’ of what a shoeing trim takes off. In many cases there is insufficient hoof wall to achieve the desired natural shape in one trim, so the hoof must be shaped to encourage new healthy growth.
The condition of the sole is of vital importance. If the horse has a good thick sole, one concave in shape like an upturned saucer, he is nearly there. When shoes are removed from a horse his sole is closer to the ground than it would be were he sound and barefoot. The sole bars, the frog, which although close to the ground when shod, will now be touching the ground harder and with more pressure. This is called point loading and would be similar to a person having a stone in their shoe. For this reason primarily, the solar foot must be very carefully trimmed.
If the horse has thin soles, he should be worked on a surface like sand which will toughen and thicken his sole without fear of stone bruising. It is amazing to see how in time, a beautiful foot will appear where previously there was nothing but a rotting crumbling mess.
Photos of horses living wild with perfect feet.
Wild horses... roam the earth in almost every climate, on every continent. The horses that roam the American West, the mustangs, are feral descendants of domestic stock brought to North America by European colonists during the 1500s.
The Spanish or Iberian influence remains very strong in the wild horse populations that have the longest histories of escape from domestication. Later, however, military, saddle, and draft horses dominated by the Thoroughbred, Morgan, Quarter Horse and draft breeds escaped into the western rangelands or were intentionally released. As their numbers increased, they formed broad zones of introgression (intermixing) with the earlier Iberian colonial bloodlines.
In Europe, the Dülmen ponies in Germany are some of Europe's last indigenous wild horses. The fenced Wild Horse Sanctuary of the Merfelder Bruch covers an area of 3.5 square kilometres. The terrain has meadows and grassland as well as marsh, heathland, birch, oak and coniferous forests. This offers a wide range of food and also an adequate coverage and protection for the horses. There, the ponies live completely on their own. The herd - both adults and foals - consists of approximately 300 animals.
All of these horses have evolved in different climates and all have perfect hooves without need for iron shoes.
To quote a member of the American Association of Horse Care Practitioners "Nature created something perfect, beauty in motion and most notably, it was born without steel nailed to his feet."
Fjord horses in Norway
Przewalski horse (Poland), the oldest horse breed on Earth.
The majestic American Mustang
Wild horses at the Nepal Tibet border, near the Everest basecamp
Camargue wild horse, France
Dülmen ponies, Germany
Trimmers and Methods
Horse owners, when they explore the idea of going barefoot, are blitzed with information about different trimming methods taught by a few key people who have written books and hold clinics and workshops all over the world. Through time, I have come to know most of these people and respect them all greatly but I feel owners are being misled when they are told how one method differs from another. I have compared horses trimmed by FOUR supposedly different methods and found they were essentially the same. There is no external governing body for hoof trimmers or hoof podiatrists to belong to. However, each of these key people have established their own self regulating associations or bodies. The people who train within these bodies go from learning how to hold a rasp to doing a difficult trim in a suspiciously short space of time. In my experience over the past thirty years, the problems they will encounter working with ‘real’ case horses is going to be a shock, and when unprepared for a situation, a negative consequence may occur. We do not want that to happen, for either horse or man’s sake. When I watch a skilled farrier, I consider it such a waste as he with his existing skill and knowledge, he would be the ideal person to set up a barefoot trim.