The 3 Keys to Transition Your Horse Succesfully from Shod to Barefoot

Make sure to seek qualified assistance before you pull the shoes of your horse to go barefoot, said Swedish equine researchers, who are currently conducting a comprehensive barefoot study following an increased interest in transitioning away from traditional iron horseshoes. Here are the three keys to successful barefoot transitioning.

By Helle Maigaard Erhardsen

The interest in going barefoot is exploding worldwide and has sparked a new comprehensive research project to scientifically explain why elite riders such as Olympic Gold medalist Peder Fredricson is experiencing far less injuries and lameness in his horses after taking their horseshoes off. 

However, Peder Fredricson and the two main figures behind the new study, veterinarian Staffan Lidbeck and Professor Lars Roepstorff, said that horse owners should seek competent assistance before pulling the shoes off their horses, as the horse needs correct barefoot trimming and help to adjust to the sensation of touching the ground directly.

“It is important that anyone who wants their horse to walk without shoes gets competent help. In the beginning, the hooves may need to be trimmed every two weeks, and eventually the owner will find his routines so that the farrier can come less often,” Peder Fredricson said to Agria Djurförsäkring, which is the animal insurance company who’s funding the new research.

We at Scoot Boots completely agree that horse owners need expert advice and support to successfully transition their horse from shod to barefoot. In the following, we will look at why it is so important to ally yourself with a qualified barefoot trimmer or barefoot farrier with specific experience in barefoot transitioning, and explore the three keys to a successful transition from shod to barefoot:

  • Fibre and forage based diet balanced with minerals and vitamins
  • Qualified barefoot trimming
  • Conditioning and protection of the new barefoot hooves

  • Iron horseshoes inhibit hoof function
    Traditional iron horseshoes have been found to inhibit expansion and contraction in horse hooves and people are wanting to transition to barefoot like never before.

    The Best Horse Feeds to Support Barefoot Hooves

    If you are considering taking your shod horse barefoot, it is important to start by looking at your feeding routine to make sure your horse has got the best foundation to build strong, healthy barefoot hooves. Horses’ hooves are designed to constantly replace worn away tissue, so the horse needs a constant flow of nutrients to build these new layers of hoof and the quality of the new growth depends on the quality of the nutrients. 

    While good quality hay and fresh grass contain all of the vitamins a horse needs, it generally doesn’t provide optimal levels of minerals. Zinc and copper deficiencies are particularly common in horses. Zinc and copper are not only vital for your horse’s immune system, but also for the health of his hooves. Zinc deficiencies are associated with slow hoof growth, thin hoof walls and weak hoof horn. Low copper levels have been linked to cracked hooves, leading to issues such as thrush and hoof abscesses.

    Although some nutrients are more important for hoof health than others, they all work together. As such, you should be careful about adding extra targeted hoof supplements to your horse’s diet, as this could change the balance of the total intake of nutrients. Instead, it is much more effective to get his entire diet right, which will then be feeding his hooves as well as the rest of his body optimally.

    The rule of thumb is to focus your horse feed on forage and fibre and avoid sugar and starch from cereal grains. You can base your horse’s diet on these four, simplified steps:

    • Let your horse graze on fresh grass and/or good quality hay as his primary feed.
    • If your horse needs extra calories, top up with fibre/legume based hard feed.
    • Add salt and other minerals needed to balance the diet of hard feed and grass/hay.
    • If your horse is stressed with travelling, competing and hard work, he needs additional vitamins - particularly vitamin E - to what his grass/hay provides him with.

    Forage based horse diet to support hoof health

    Fuel your horse with fibre and forage instead of grains and sugar if you want to help your horse grow healthy, barefoot hooves.


    Why you need Barefoot Experts to Help Transition your Horse to Barefoot


    Professional barefoot trimming techniques are based on imitating wild horse’s feet, who - as we know - are neither shod or trimmed but still their hooves remain naturally hard and strong. As such, the science behind barefoot trimming has to embrace the horse as a whole and incorporate effective exercise/conditioning of the hooves as well as supportive nutrition. 

    When you call a traditional shoeing farrier without specific barefoot expertise, he will commonly perform a so-called pasture trim. The technique of a pasture trim is practically no different to the trim the farrier would do before applying a new shoe: Cut or rasp the entire hoof back to a flat plain appropriate to suit the shape of a shoe. This means that all parts, heel, bars, hoof wall, sole and frog will be taken back to a specified height and levelled out.

    Quite differently to a pasture trim, a barefoot trim seeks to take as little off the hoof as possible. In principle, a barefoot trimmer will only take away the excessive growth of the toes that the horse’s environment hasn’t been able to help him wear off naturally. Rasping away the toe callous can make the horse instantly sore and sensitive. As the frog and sole will shed themselves, these parts are usually left untouched. 

    Another typical difference between a barefoot trim and a pasture trim is the length of the toe and breakover. Since a pasture trim commonly will shorten the entire hoof, the toe is often left longer than after a barefoot trim, and this longer, straight toe is likely to delay the breakover of the foot. On the contrary, barefoot trimmers use a so-called brumby roll technique to round the toe at the hoof's natural breakover point, to imitate what would have occurred naturally if the horse had worn his hooves as wild horses do.

    Read more on the subject in our article: Best choice of Hoof Care: Barefoot Trim or Pasture Trim


    Barefoot trimmer

    You will need help from a hoof care professional who fully supports your decision to go barefoot and has the experience to make the transition from shod to barefoot successful.


    The Process of Transitioning your Horse to Barefoot

    It can take anything from a couple of weeks up to a year to transition your horse from shod to barefoot. It all depends on the condition of the hooves once the iron horseshoes have been removed and the reason your horse has been shod in the first place. If you have merely used horseshoes for extra protection, it might not take any longer than a couple of qualified barefoot trims and a set of hoof boots for your horse to be back in full action.

    When a horse has barely ever touched the ground directly due to the application of horseshoes, you must expect some degree of foot soreness after removing the shoes. Sore feet could make your horse alter his gait and movements in an attempt to avoid the pain, which could result in a whole other range of problems. As such, you want to ease the transition. The best way of getting your horse used to touching the ground and rebuilding his hoof strength naturally, is by letting him wear some well fitting, shock absorbing hoof boots.

    Most experienced barefoot trimmers provide the service of helping to fit suitable hoof boots on your horse and if not, try finding one in your area by using our Scoot Boots stockist list. This list might also be helpful to locate a qualified barefoot trimmer if you’ve been inspired to try a different approach to hoof care and a more appropriate trimming of your barefoot horse.

    Once your horse’s feet have hardened up, you may not need to use hoof boots very often. You might only choose to use them occasionally to provide some extra protection for your horse’s feet when you’re riding on a rocky trail or rough gravel, like Peder Fredricson uses hoof boots for.

    hoof boots for barefoot transitioning

    Using Scoot Boots is the most gentle and effective way to transition your horse from shod to barefoot.

    How to Condition and Harden Up your Barefoot Horse’s Feet 

    When going barefoot with your horse it’s important to remember that his hooves will adapt to the environment he spends most of his time in. As such, it is to be expected that your horse could be somewhat footsore when out hacking on gravel or rocky trails, if he’s spending most of his time in a soft, sandy paddock or on thick grass and muddy soil.

    Wild horses’ hooves adjust to the environment they move across and their hooves will grow according to how quickly the natural environment wears them down. That is why wild horses rarely suffer from the common hoof issues of domesticated horses and why wild horses don't need to be trimmed by a farrier. In recent years the concept of setting up a track system in the paddock with a variety of surfaces to condition the horse’s feet has become extremely popular.

    However, as discussed above, it is not a good idea to go “cold turkey” on a horse who has just had his shoes removed and drop him on a gravel track to harden up his feet, as this will only make him sore. The advantage of using hoof boots in the process of conditioning your horse’s feet is that hoof boots such as Scoot Boots allow the hooves to function as they were naturally intended although they are still protected from bruising.

    In Scoot Boots, the horse will learn to stimulate the foot’s natural shock absorber - the digital cushion - by being comfortable enough to land heel-first, which as a result will strengthen both the function of the lower limb as well as the hoof itself. Then as the hoof adjusts to being barefoot, you can gradually expose your horse to different surfaces without the protection of a hoof boot. The key is to expose your horse at his own pace - if he shows any signs of soreness, he might need to wear boots a little longer.


    Read more about What to Feed your Horse to Improve Hoof Health and Soundness
    Find more information about using Scoot Boots here  


    About the author

    Helle Maigaard Erhardsen is an investigative journalist specialising in environmental issues. Her devotion to the outdoors includes a life long passion for horses of which she has three: Pannigan - an off-the-track Thoroughbred, Luka - a Paint Quarter Horse/Arab and little Audrey - a Shetland pony, who are all bitless and barefoot. Helle is born in Denmark, where she graduated from the Danish School of Media and Journalism in 2015. Her work is characterised by comprehensive research and she was nominated for the special media award Bording Prisen for her investigative reporting with the newspaper She later obtained a Master’s degree in Journalism, Media and Communication from UTAS, when she relocated to Tasmania.