Transitioning Your Horse From Shod to Barefoot

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Shod to Natural

It's been awhile since I've written anything about transitioning the shod horse to barefoot.


I have seen a few questions about it in various forums on the internet. So, I thought we could revisit the topic here!


In my research, I found an article entitled 'Barefoot Trimming Can Impact Hoof Conformation' and my immediate reaction was, "Well, of COURSE it does!"


I mean, isn't that precisely what we want to do when we take the shoes off our horses' hooves? We want the hooves to develop into the best, strongest, healthiest hooves possible. To achieve this, we will most probably have to trim to change the hoof conformation! 


So how is this achieved?


By correctly trimming the hooves!



What is the Shape of a Shod Hoof Compared to a Barefoot Hoof?

Most hooves are shaped to fit the shoe unless that horse is 'lucky' enough to have a hot shoe.


A white horse wearing metal shoes on concrete


Most shod hooves have the heels pretty much removed from the foot with the toes left a bit longer than what would be considered 'correct' for the barefoot horse. The soles are also usually found to be dangerously thin in shod hooves.



So What Does this Mean in Terms of Transitioning?

It means the heels need to be allowed to grow, the toes need to be taken back and the soles need to be left alone. 


That being said, when first taking off the shoes it is not always the best idea to immediately take the toes right back to where they 'belong'. A better solution would be simply to bevel the wall at a 45* angle from just the outside of the white line, to the distal edge of the hoof wall, then smooth off the ragged edges of the wall.


If one heel is higher than the other, rasp that higher heel down to match the level of the lower heel. Only do this if it can be done without hurting the horse. 


If there is bar that is protruding past the hoof wall, then that can be skimmed down to just the sole level, tapering up to the heel height at the back of the hoof.


Most shod hooves that I've seen do not have much frog, so leaving that frog to grow with the hoof is acceptable. Trim off any flaps that would be a harbor for bacteria and fungus but otherwise leave the frog alone.


A barefoot trim on a horse's hoof



The Second Transitional Barefoot Trim 

'Rinse and repeat' in 3-4 weeks.


The toes may be conservatively taken back some more in the 2nd transitional barefoot trim. Be careful around the heels and do not trim sole.


Be cautious not to be impatient wanting that 'perfect' hoof shape. Chances are it took a long time for the hooves become the shape and condition they were in shoes. It will take time, so allow the hoof to grow out and heal.



How Long Will it Take to Transition?

I found it took a good 4 months for a sore horse to become comfortable on all terrain, only if the horse was conditioned properly on all terrain.


Generally speaking, 4 months is just about 1/2 a hoof of new growth. Hooves grow from the coronary band down to the ground in 8-12 months.



Conditioning Your Horse

Being 'conditioned properly on all terrain' means plenty of movement on varied types of ground, from sand to rocks, gravel to grass.


The best conditioning comes from hand-walking the horse for a minimum of 10 mins a day on smooth, tarred surface. Doing this with your horse several times a day helps to condition the hooves more quickly.


If the horse is comfortable with this, you can move onto riding. Riding the horse daily will help the hooves grow in faster from increased blood flow to and throughout the hooves. The more movement of the horse, the better. However, if the horse is tender then the wearing of hoof boots, such as Scoot Boots, can mitigate the discomfort, allowing the horse to move out freely.




It all sounds pretty simple and with relatively 'healthy hooves' it isn't a difficult task to transition the hooves to barefoot. However, when there are other conditions such as thrush, white line disease, LTLH, flares, a poor quality horn, etc., transitioning can take awhile to accomplish.


There are no shortcuts. Ensuring a good, 'natural' diet for the horse that is forage-based, providing enough movement over all sorts of terrain, and diminishing the amount of manufactured 'chemicals' in the diet, and applied to or administered into the body, will aid in the successful transitioning from shod to barefoot. 


Go here: to read more information on Transitioning Your horse from Shod to Barefoot.


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:

Gwenyth is available for freelance assignments, contract work and consulting.



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