A Personal Story of Barefooted Horses

Edited Excerpt from "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves". --

In 1992 a move to Florida from Massachusetts led me on a search for a new equine partner and one who could be a gentle and kind teacher for the 60+ kids in my own 4-H club. Bubba was gifted to me. Actually, I rescued him from a very stressful situation.

He was barefoot.

But that horse would not only take the tiniest of children on his back with ginger care and watchful eye but also soar over 4 ½ ft. jump courses as if he had wings.


Bub continued gifting myself and children alike for over 15 years until he passed at the age of 32 years old. He was one in a million.

I put shoes on him twice as a demo for my 4-H kids. Both times, within a 2 week period of time, the frogs shriveled away to nothing and his stride became stilted and unsure.

I apologized to Bub and promised way back then, the shoes come off and I will never use them again.

Now, countless horses later from my beginnings with Blackie, each horse, each hoof has taught me grace and humbleness. Not only that the horses have taught me secrets of living life and how to relish each moment in time.

All of them barefoot.

All of them sound.

The pathological horses that have run across my path have become sound and remain sound - All barefoot.


That being said it is not without dedicated and heart-filled desires of the owners of these horses (including myself) to give and do the very best they can for their charges. After all, we all know we are the ‘guardians’ of these magnificent animals and in as much as we give them they give back to us ten-fold. 

In my herd now, the two horses that were range bred, our Mustang mare and our PMU mare, are the ones with the hardiest, strongest feet that need the least amount of human intervention. They are the ones who were born on thousands of acres and spent the first crucial months of their lives running miles with their herds.

The ponies follow closely behind being, genetically, hardy and tough little critters and then the ‘domestic-bred and raised’ boys and girls come in runners-up with problematic hooves that are maintained in soundness and health only with close attention to details.


My 28 year old OTTB (off track Thoroughbred), Dorian,  had the worst hooves. Far from text-book pretty, they are formed and trimmed according to HIS needs and are probably the least text-book hooves of them all. But, they were sound. As ugly as they were (sorry, Dorian but they WERE pretty nasty looking by expert opinion!) they were sound and they were barefoot.  He maintained and galloped his 1400 pounds of equine body through mud, sand, dirt, grass, rocks, mud, snow, ice, more mud, more rocks and just plain sopping wet ground with nary a thought. New England weather changes in a matter of minutes and therefore, so does the ground. Frozen to mud; wet to dry; hard to soft … and is typically rocky, granite earth. Our barn sat on a gravel strain and the front of the barn was like embedded cobblestones. Not happy footing for tender hooves by any stretch of the imagination. But great for toughening and conditioning hooves. And, embarrassingly, my equine ‘kids’ are, and always have been, like the cobbler’s kids with no shoes. My guys are the last to receive focused attention on their hooves as I’m usually tending so many others who are in such a worse place than our own are. With all the best laid plans to ‘trim today!’, come the calls for founder, navicular, the suddenly lame. Some from over a hundred miles away. So, I’m on the road and tend to the others knowing that my guys will still be here when I get back and there’s always ‘tomorrow’. But with the rocky ground and the changing environment combined with the fact that they can move about over acres as they choose, they generally get enough movement so as to keep their own hooves in pretty good condition.

The hooves of equines are amazing things!


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:  www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf

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