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Are you having issues transitioning your horse from shoes to barefoot?


For some horses transitioning from shod to barefoot is a quick and easy proposition.

For others it is a longer rehabilitative type situation.

It all depends.

On what, you ask?

Well, let's take a quick look at what makes a happy, healthy, and sound barefooted "natural" horse -- there are a few things but let's concentrate on the two most important.

First, DIET comes into play. What goes INTO the horse GROWS OUT.  Yep -- everything the horse eats grows hooves. Just what is it that horses need to thrive? FORAGE. I won't go into particulars and specific foods here in this post but suffice to say that horses have survived and thrived on FORAGE for thousands/millions of years. Their entire systems are hardwired to be fueled from forage. The fiber from the forage is consumed and broken down into 1/4 - 1/2" in length during the chewing process and goes through the equine digestive system S-L-O-W-L-Y.  Not in a the matter of 10 minutes as with 'grain' but a matter of HOURS. The horse is created to eat a little bit of forage a lot of the time. 

Next question you ask, "What IS "forage"?"

FORAGES are plants or parts of plants eaten by livestock which includes Equine. **Edible parts of plants, other than separated grain, that can provide feed for grazing animals.**
Table 1. Forage types and definitions.
Vegetation Terms Definitions
Forage Edible parts of plants, other than separated grain, that can provide feed for grazing animals, or that can be harvested for feeding. Includes browse, herbage, and mast.
Browse Leaf and twig growth of shrubs, woody vines, trees, cacti, and other non-herbaceous vegetation available for animal consumption.
Herbage The biomass of herbaceous plants, other than separated grain, generally above ground but including edible roots and tubers.
Forb Any herbaceous broadleaf plant that is not a grass and is not grass-like.
Legume Members of the plant family Fabaceae.
Grass Members of the plant family Poaceae.
Grass-like Vegetation that is similar to grass in appearance and is usually a member of the plant family Cyperaceae (sedges) or Juncaceae (rushes).
Pasturage Not a recommended term.The recommended definition of pasture refers to a specific kind of grazing management unit, not that which is consumed, which is forage. Thus, pasturage is not a useful term.
Mast Fruits and seeds of shrubs, woody vines, trees, cacti, and other non-herbaceous vegetation available for animal consumption.
Forage crop A crop of cultivated plants or plant parts, other than separated grain, produced to be grazed or harvested for use as feed for animals.
Aftermath Forage grown following a harvest.
Residue Forage remaining on the land as a consequence of harvest.
**Silage Forage preserved in a succulent condition by partial anaerobic, acid fermentation.
Hay Grass or other plants, such as clover or alfalfa, cut and dried for fodder.
**Haylage Product resulting from ensiling forage with around 45% moisture, in the absence of oxygen.
**Fodder Coarse grasses such as corn and sorghum harvested with the seed and leaves green or alive, then cured and fed in their entirety as forage.
Green chop Fresh cut forages.
Source: Allen, 1991

**Silage, Haylage and Fodder are types of forage that are generally allowed to CATTLE and not horses. 

That pretty well sums up what FORAGE is. Suffice to say that "grain" or "complete feed" that comes in bags is NOT forage! Nor does it provide the FIBER that is needed for optimal gut motility and health.

What's in YOUR horse's feed bucket?

 Second we have trimming of hooves - this comes under both "natural trimming by movement" and 'manual hoof care trimming by human".

Wild horses move upwards of 20 - 30 miles during the course of one day looking for water and grazing that FORAGE stuff ... in the wild the forage depends on the territory in the herd's region of the world. The ground over which they move may be sandy and soft or it may be rocky and frozen or it may be grassy plains or dry, arid desert. The hooves are shaped and formed according to the terrain over which the horse moves daily.

This is a very important factor when manually trimming domestic horses' hooves!!! One MUST take into account the terrain on which the horse lives as well as the amount of movement the horse gets in a 24 hour period of time.

Movement not only conditions the hooves to their environment for the best possible protection but it also shapes and forms the hooves in varying time allowances according to the amount of movement the horse gets.

A domestic horse that spends much of his time in a stall with shavings or sawdust will NOT get the stimulation for faster growth because of the reduced circulation of nutrient-rich and oxygenated blood to the hooves that a horse would if allowed to move on its own 24/7 in a large acreage. The hooves will also not be worn down by the varying terrain that free-range over acreage allows. The hooves will also battle bacteria and fungus from standing in urine and manure. The uric acid from urine destroys and eats up hooves! The manure packs into the grooves of the hoof and provide the perfect harbor for Thrush and Yeast.

A constant battle.

This means that Hoof Care Providers MUST provide adequate and correct trimming and care to keep the horse's hooves as healthy and sound as nature would provide if afforded.

Are all Hoof Trims alike? 

ABSOLUTELY NOT!  Just as important to know - nor, should they be.

A farrier is trained to trim a horse's hoof to receive a metal shoe of some sort. You can  read my article series on the differences between a farrier's "Pasture" trim and a "Barefoot Trim beginning here: There you will see the differences between the two types of trimming.

If you have taken your horse out of shoes by a farrier who is not savvy to the 'natural' trimming of barefooted horses then you need to know that the transition may not go as smoothly as you expected. You also need to know that this is NOT an "instant' fix nor even one that will 'fix' in just a few days or couple of weeks!  For many horses who have been shod it may take a few MONTHS of conditioning and proper care and feeding to get the hooves to a place where they can go over any terrain. But that, too, means the horse must LIVE in the same conditions as the ground on which he is ridden! Or, at least get adequate exposure to it so as to help the hooves get conditioned.

One cannot expect a horse that has been wearing shoes for years and living on a grassy pasture to remove the shoes and be sound on gravel! Or, even hard ground! Just think of taking YOUR shoes/slippers off for the first time in the warm spring air and go ahead  . . . . . . go trotting right up the gravel driveway!  See how YOUR feet are going to feel!  You're going to be one, sore cookie at the end of the day and even vow never to go without shoes again!  Yet, if you start out slowly -- go outside in the grass for a bit in bare feet, maybe on some smooth, gravel free tarmac for a bit, keep repeating this and extending the time barefoot each day, by the end of a couple of weeks you should have enough CALLUS on the bottom of your feet to feel pretty comfortable!  UNLESS, the angles of your barefoot feet have strained the muscles and tendons of your ankles and legs from 'heeled shoes'. Then it will take a bit longer to acclimate your soft, supportive tissues to the new 'angles'.

If you despise shoes like I do then you'll do what you have to do to condition your feet to going barefoot!  Likewise, if you are determined to have your horse go barefoot and be the healthiest and soundest horse he can be, take the time your horse needs to condition to being barefoot!  Condition those hooves - walk your horse in hand over smooth tarmac at least 10 mins a day to start and increase the time over a 2 week period. Walk him over gravel for short distances. Walk him in sand, over grass, over pasture with rocks  . . . . . .  start conditioning and just increase the time a little bit each day.

Another tip here, if you want to ride your horse after you've just removed the shoes then get a good, properly fitting pair of boots and put 'em on him!

The more movement your horse gets, the better for the hooves!  So ride,  use boots! Remove the boots when not riding. Do the conditioning.

Check and make changes needed in the diet so that the most natural healthy food is provided ... 24/7!!!  (Hint - in other words, provide 24/7 FORAGE!)

In addition, find a trimmer who knows what they are doing and is well versed in the needs of a newly, transitioned horse!  TRIM "style" doesn't matter as long as the trim fits the "hoof-in-hand" on the "horse-in-hand".  Yes, each hoof must be evaluated, assessed and trimmed correctly for that individual hoof on that INDIVIDUAL horse!  Please find someone who understands this. Not someone who spouts off "I trim the "JACK DOE" way or the "XYZ" way.  Please ... find someone who trims the HOOF way! 

Not all trims are equal.

Most of all DON'T GIVE UP after just a week or two. YOUR horse may need more time!  The time that is needed to heal is equivalent to the time and amount of damage that has been done previously.  So please, consider YOUR individual horse and keep rootin' for him!  (and let him do some 'rootin' too! ... yeah, bad pun! Sorry!) Find an experienced, successful Barefoot Trimmer who can help you!

I have helped thousands of horses transition over the last 40+ years (yikes! I'm getting old!) ... SUCCESSFULLY! Horse of all disciplines, breeds, types, colors ... YOUR HORSE DESERVES A FAIR CHANCE. Please allow for that.

Feel free to contact me with questions or comments or help. I can help you to help your horse. Just holler at me! 



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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