Barefoot Specialist of Ellicottville, NY Promotes “The Barefoot Movement”
Horses without metal shoes? You bet!
In our world of technology and advanced living, people are drawn to horses because of their honesty, beauty and overall simplistic nature. Even though horse care can get complicated at times, their foot care should be easy … right?
The more you study the inner workings of the equine species, the more you’ll discover how much there is to learn. For some, the education process starts with basic reading on the couch at night, trying to provide better care, or get a few more years out of their horse. Others are forced to learn faster due to crisis or other health situation that plagues their horse. Either way, the information is out there and plentiful. We as horse enthusiasts share the same goal: to provide our equine friends the most natural life we can.
Welcome to “The Barefoot Movement.”
Shoe vs. Barefoot
A very brief history of the metal shoe …
Hundreds of years ago, when under siege, the kings and their royalty would stall their horses within the castle to “save” them from attackers. After weeks (and sometimes even months) of standing in urine and manure, the ammonia and bacteria would rot the horses’ feet. It was only a matter of time until a blacksmith came up with the idea for a band of metal to be placed around the perimeter of the hoof wall to hold the foot together … a pretty good idea at the time.
Outside the castle walls, peasants’ horses roamed the countryside, getting their exercise … perfectly healthy and barefoot! But over time, they, too, took to shoeing their horses. Why? Because the kings did it! So began the unnatural practice of nailing metal “shoes” to the horses’ feet.
The number of blacksmiths and apprentice programs has grown immensely over the past 150 years, and even colleges and vet schools suggest that horses not go “unshod.” But careful research in the farrier and veterinary fields will reveal a “much needed rest” from horseshoes for several months out of the year. It is not only the back-to-back shoeing that is harming our horses’ feet, but also the metal shoes themselves. This may seem a bit shocking to some, but keep in mind: the more you read the more you will know!
Before I go any further, I must point out that there are a lot of good farriers out there that are excellent at what they do. My specialty is barefoot trimming, boot fitting and horses in laminitis or founder. Horse owners usually educate themselves and then try to find a specialist in their area … and that is how they find us. So if you are a farrier or hoof care provider and are reading this, peace my friend. Remember, we should be working together to help the horse. We owe it to them. After all, they are the most beautiful animal on the earth!
A Horse's Natural Habitat
The past 25 years or so has been exciting for the horse world. As “natural horsemanship” has become more prevalent, so has the barefoot movement. There is a plethora of information out there on hoof care and general horse care. As people learn more, they find that it’s not just how we trim our horses’ feet, but how we feed them as well as the terrain we keep them on. If you study the habitat of wild horses, you will get an idea of how they were designed to live.
Horses have survived for thousands of years with their only defense being their speed and agility. (We all know they will kick and bite if they have to.) To keep from being a wild cat’s lunch, they travel in herds ... (and they’re scared of everything, right? Sounds like horses to me!) But in the wild, they also move … a lot, taking a nibble of wild prairie grass here and there. Moving ten to 20 miles per day has kept the wild horse healthy and alive.
And it’s that movement over varied terrain that has trimmed their feet! There were no wild farriers coming by every four to six weeks. It is movement with a constant uptake of fibrous grasses and different barks and roots that plays the key role to their health in the wild.
How we keep them now is a different story. Lush pastures with little movement, or worse - 15 hours in the stall every day - seems to be the norm. It is because of this practice that leads people to think that we have “bred the feet off the horse.” I beg to differ. I don’t think we breed the feet off the horse. I think we feed the feet off the horse! Lots of hay I can agree with, but that combined with lush grass and a bucket of sweet feed is not natural. If you study the digestion of the equine, you will find that they really don’t need most of what we give them. Feed manufacturers are beginning to follow suite in natural care, changing to low carb and supplementing with other forms of nutrition, like timothy balance cubes (which is what we use to feed our horses.)
Grasses can also be deceiving. If you study the findings of Katharyn Watts (www.safergrass.org), you’ll learn how to manage your pasture intake to something more acceptable to the horse’s natural habitat. Paying attention to the hay we buy is also important. How do horse people buy hay? We like how soft it is, or how it smells and looks. Both can be important factors, but without testing the hay, how do we know how much sugar it really contains? How do we know what it’s missing? Mineral deficiencies in the soil are transferred to the hay and then to the horse. A simple hay analysis can help you supplement just what is needed. Hay testing is a service that we offer and costs about $25.
Why do we talk about all this stuff and not just the trimming? Because the trim is only part of the puzzle. With horses (like humans), one thing affects the other, and sometimes unbalanced hoofs cause a chiropractic issue, or vice versa. Sometimes an injury causes compensated posture which affects the feet, etc. The way they chew is extremely important to digestion as well as posture.
Are you starting to see a pattern? There is no one thing that will get your horse going better because it’s about the whole horse. The more you study, the more you will get in tune with all the aspects of horse-husbandry and it will make you a better horse owner. Plus, your horse will love you for it.
So you have decided to go barefoot with your horse. Whether you have shoes on him now or you are already barefoot, the transition is what matters. Some feet are not conditioned to be on certain terrain. If I took my shoes off and ran across a gravel driveway, I’d be lame for a week! Some horses are sound on soft terrain but not on hard. Sound familiar?
We know that having metal shoes on 24/7 is not ideal, but my horse needs protection sometimes, so what do I do? Hoof Boots - protection that we can put on when we need it but take off after the ride. The best boots in the world have come onto the market just within the last five to 10 years. (Chances are, if you tried them 20 years ago and they didn’t work, you might want to give them another try.) The trick is to find the right boot for the situation and to get it fitted properly. Lack of professional boot fitters in Western New York is why we started In Balance Natural Hoof Care. We have dedicated our efforts towards helping horses go barefoot, and boot fitting is sometimes very important.
After fully transitioned, most horses won’t need their boots anymore, but you will have them just in case. Most pairs of boots cost around $100 and can last for years.
We love to help horses and their owners go barefoot. But even though our own daughter would rather ride in flip-flops, we still recommend that the human wear shoes when handling horses.
Some good websites to check out: Pete Ramey (www.hoofrehab.com) or our own website (www.inbalancehoofcare.com). Links from Pete’s sight and ours would be a great start for horse lovers looking to become a little more educated.
Good luck! And remember … barefoot horses are happy horses!