The Ins & Outs of the Barefoot Journey
How Long Does it Take to Transition my Horse's Hooves?
I am asked this regularly.
How long does it take for a horse to 'transition' from wearing metal shoes to being natural and barefoot?
My answer is always the same: "It depends".
It depends on the horse, the hooves, the trim, the terrain, the husbandry, the diet, the exercise, the discipline of riding and more!
In other words, it depends on each individual horse.
A horse that has been in metal shoes for years, may have a harder time transitioning than a horse that has only worn metal shoes for only a year or two. A horse that spends hours and hours a day in a stall, will probably have a longer period to transition to being naturally barefoot. A horse that is kept at pasture that is wet and boggy might have a more difficult time; but he might not. A horse that has worn shoes for years and has nothing for turnout but hard, dry ground, might not transition as quickly, or as well, as a horse that lives out on varied terrain and eats nothing but forage.
It really does depend on the individual horse and their individual circumstances, and there is no singular correct answer to this.
Barefoot Story 1
I remember one horse who had been in hard-core metal shoes for 23 years. Yes; 23 years... no relief, no breaks, the shoes were never removed. Just new trims and new metal shoes every 12 weeks. This horse was a thoroughbred, he was turned in every night but let out on varied New England ground (including a Cranberry bog) during the day. He ate forage from his turnout, hay and timothy pellets. Nothing extraordinary, just horse food. His former farrier pulled his shoes and left him.
A few days later, I gave him his first natural barefoot trim in the barn. He had to walk out over sharp pea-sized gravel to get to his turnout, he was a bit 'gimpy', I remember. I also remember that I did a minimal barefoot trim on him, and advised his owner to walk him down the tarred road for at least 10 minutes a day, which she did. Actually, she walked him 3 times a day, since she was on vacation and each walk was over the driveway to the road and lasted about 1/2 hour. Nothing else had changed, except his hooves being barefoot trimmed, and the conditioning walks down the road.
4 weeks later, I went back to see ribbons hanging on his stall.
The weekend prior, he had competed in a 5 mile trail ride, completely naturally barefooted and 100% sound!
Now... did I mention that this horse was a Thoroughbred? So much for the old wives tale that Thoroughbred's have lousy feet and can never go natural and barefoot.
Barefoot Story 2
I also remember a 7 year old Quarter Horse that had worn metal shoes for the majority of his life. He lived on grass and was stalled at night in a heavily bedded and matted stall. The barn was matted throughout, including the aisle. He was a bit sensitive, even while wearing metal shoes, so I didn't hold out much hope to his owner of any immediate, miraculous turn around. He also ate pounds of processed grain, got maybe 4 'flakes' of hay a day and otherwise ate what green grass he had access to.
I took off his metal shoes from all 4 hooves. He took one step, two steps... and then sat down!
Literally, he sat down like a dog and refused to get up. It took us about 10 minutes to convince him to get back up on his feet. He 'tip toed' out to his pasture, very, very gingerly and cautiously. He got out to the pasture and laid down. He was very curious, he kept on looking down at his now barefoot hooves. But then, after about 5 minutes, he got up, gave a huge buck and snort, and took off galloping to his herd! What a sight to behold! Now that was an immediate 'transition'! A bit curious to start with, but entertaining at the least!
Both horses, as far as I know, lived out the rest of their lives very happy, natural, barefoot, and shoe-less.
These are two very extreme cases. There have been hundreds of barefoot transition phases very different to those two and I have to say, not all barefoot transitions are alike! Each barefoot transition will differ according to the individual horse and their unique circumstances. All hooves transition differently, from pathological hooves with Founder, Laminitis, Navicular, White Line Disease, to 'healthy' shod hooves; not one horse has responded the same way as another. The pathological horses took longer to recover than horses with healthy hooves did to transition for the most part. However, I've had, what seemed to be perfectly 'healthy' hooves, take months to recover from wearing metal shoes.
So, if you're wondering how long it will take your horse to transition, all I can tell you is it depends on your individual horse. I will say this to you, measure your horse after the barefoot trim and order hoof boots to fit, such as Scoot Boots. The more the horse moves, the more circulation the hooves will get and that always helps speed up the horse's recovery time. Also, walk your horse barefooted on a tarred surface for at minimum of 10 minutes a day, more if you can. That is, by far, the best conditioning for barefoot hooves there is, just a simple walk, for most horses.
But remember, it all depends.
Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the world-renown author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" and "Natural Hoof Anthology" as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The 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 NE Connecticut and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here: www.thepenzancehorse.com
Gwenyth is available for freelance assignments, contract work and consulting.