TRANSITIONING from Shoes to Bare

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There's been a lot of questions, lately, about transitioning hooves from shoes to barefooted. I know we've discussed this before but thought I'd bring the topic up again and take a week's break from the videos that I've been posting from Linda Harris on "Understanding the Equine Foot" . I've posted 5 lesson videos already and there are 5 or 6 more to go. So -- we'll take a little break this week. 

These hooves, shown below, belonged to a 23 year old Thoroughbred who had been in shoes all of his life. His owner decided to take him barefoot and asked the farrier to remove the shoes.

So the farrier did and, as you can see, did nothing else.  That was really a GOOD thing ... trimming these hooves back to a 'perfect mustang hoof' would have been impossible and would have caused alot of pain and suffering to the horse. You can see these hooves also were in a state of "High-Low" .. meaning one hoof was low and long while the other one was high.  I've marked the difference in the photo below: 

You can easily see that the left front was high while the right front was low and forward. Look at the difference in the shapes of the tubules growing down from the hairline to the ground. Look at the angle of the heels ... these landmarks tell us alot about what's going on in the inside of the capsule. (Review the videos in the last 5 weeks of blog posts to learn more about this.)

Now I could have gone ahead and taken toes back and heels down so both hooves would pretty well near match each other. But, instead, I simply smoothed off the walls, brought the toe back on the low hoof and made sure the heels were balanced on each hoof and the bars were not outstandingly protruding past the sole.  Then -- we waited for 4 weeks until the next trim. 

In the meantime, while the owner and I waited for the hooves to grow some, she hand-walked the horse, not just once a day, but, 3 times a day on a hard, tarred surfaced road. In order to GET to that road she had to walk him down a 1/4 mile driveway. Yes, she did this 3 times a day. 

In 3 weeks the owner and her horse completed a 15 mile trail ride through rocky, New England trails, completely barefooted. Not even any boots. And this is what the hooves looked like on the 4th week after removing the shoes, after my trim: 

Looking at it now, yes, the angles were great, the hooves looked great but I really should have left MORE heel on this hoof BUT -- both hooves were now a matching pair. AND .. you can see just a little bit of curve to the hairline that, now, I understand, meant the foot, inside the capsule,  was being pressured too much from the capsule being trimmed down a tad too much.  And you can see the hairline, itself, is lower than it should be. But, back then (this was almost 15 years ago if I remember correctly. I didn't mark my photos as I should have back then.) 

Live and learn, right? 

But, most importantly, the horse was SOUND!  And moving out like he never had before in his entire life. 

Now, this woman was fortunate in the fact that she was retired and had the TIME it takes to walk this horse 3 times a day on a tarred road. Doing that did more conditioning than ANY marketed hoof supplement or sauce can ever do. I still, to this day, advise people to hand walk their horses on a tarred road at least 10 minutes a day for ultimate conditioning. Not only does it toughen up and stimulate the hooves, it's good exercise for the horse AND the human!  Plus, it allows for some great connecting time where the horse and his human can simply relax and enjoy their time together. 

I was, I remember, rather miffed that the farrier did not trim back the hooves at all but today?  I would let the hooves stay just that same way as the farrier did 15 years ago. I would leave the hooves or rasp VERY lightly; handwalk the horse every day on that hard, tarred surface and allow t-i-m-e and movement to start the healing process for the hooves. I would also recommend treating the hooves for thrush and yeast. 

The 2nd trim I would then see how the hooves have changed and trim accordingly to each hoof. More common than not, the toes usually need to be brought back and the bars skimmed down; the heels maybe balanced out a bit and usually would still require treating for Thrush and Yeast with charcoal soaks, maybe some sea-salt or copper spray and a blend of essential oils to help get rid of any residual yuckies in the hooves and foot. 

The 3rd trim should have us 'almost there' and by the 4th trim I can usually then relax and not nit-pick quite so much as the hooves are pretty well half-way through a new growth cycle and have a good 'template' into which all that new horn can grow. 

Also, now, I would examine the diet of the horse and recommend a good quality (organic, if possible) raw forage diet with good, naturally chelated raw minerals, free-choice sea salt, 24/7 turnout if at all possible and yes, still maintain those daily walks! 

(Photo from Balanced Hoof Services, Monika Martin, Danbury, NH.)


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 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 20 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. You can email to Gwen -- or telephone in the US (239)-573-9687. For further information please click here:




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