From shod to barefoot

Transitioning from shod to barefoot, by Maaike Boshuis 28.12.2019
Yes, this topic is worth a blog. Because it is not as simple as just taking off the shoes. Although, you do have a barefoot horse then. Keep in mind this is just my opinion. There are many more ways and opinions about transitioning.

If you want a successful transition, which means a sound and preferably performing barefoot horse, you should think about more factors than just taking off the metal.

Personally I like to start asking questions. Why do you want to go barefoot? How old are the current shoes? And has the horse been barefoot before, or shod most of his life? Is the horse having hoof problems right now?
I also want to know what the horse’s lifestyle is and what his diet looks like and if the owner is willing to get hoof boots.

I ask these questions to get a good idea of where the owners mindset is and to predict how this transition from shod to barefoot might go. I will explain to the owner that transitioning to healthy barefoot hooves might take some patience and time, and might require making changes. But sometimes everything goes smoothly. It can also happen that the horse is a bit sore in the beginning (but that's what hoof boots are for!).

After that, I check all 4 feet and the movement of the horse.

Depending on the answers and what I see, I suggest different things. Most often I will be able to take the shoes off straight away, but sometimes the horse would benefit from wearing the shoes a little while longer.

If the horse has a raging central sulcus infection or severe thrush, the shoes will need to come off to allow for natural movement and better blood flow, because both are needed in the healing process and to grow healthier tissue. The infection will need to be treated daily also and if the horse is sore when moving, you will need to get hoof boots.

If the horse has just been shod or if there is barely any growth since last shoeing, I will suggest to leave the shoes on for another 4 weeks or so (IF the shoes are still nice and tight!). Going barefoot on freshly trimmed or short hooves gives a higher risk of the horse being footy. With some growth, some mm's of wall height above the sole, the horse can get used to being barefoot without getting too sore. Especially if the soles are flat.
Bloodflow will return in a day or two, which is when the horse will start to feel his feet properly. Obviously we can take the shoes off immediately if the owners agrees to getting hoof boots, if needed.
On the day I take off the shoes, I will trim the absolute minimum, just to make sure there is balance and no points of pressure. At our second appointment a proper/normal trim will be done.

If the horse is stabled a lot and gets forage and hard feed with too much sugar/starch, I can suggest two things:
I take off the shoes immediately. But if the horse ends up sore or will be sore in the following days, change needs to happen: hoof boots, more turnout with other horses and a low sugar/starch diet. So, I will only take off the shoes if the owner has agreed to make these changes.
Or I don't take off the shoes immediately. Because a horse that has limited movement and too much sugar/starch in his body (which leads to inflammation), there will be a higher risk of the horse being footy once barefoot. So changes need to be made before going barefoot: more turnout with friends and a low sugar/starch diet. Give it some time so the gut can adjust and the hooves can get some better hoof growth down. And after some weeks or months I will take the shoes off.

So, I think you get the idea. Going barefoot is not just about taking off the shoes. And the transition is different for every horse and every owner. So if you're thinking about going barefoot, make sure you have the key ingredients in place or are at least willing to get it right. That means diet, environment and disease free frogs.

Just remember, if your horse is not sound, wether that’s just after removing the shoes, or randomly years later, think about what might be causing it. Because most often, it is NOT because the shoe is missing.


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