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"My two cents" blog

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.

If you want a succesfull transitition, which means a sound and preferbly 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? When were the most recent shoes been put on? 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 explain to the owner that transitioning to healthy barefoot hooves might take some patience and time, and might require making changes. It can also happen that the horse is a bit sore in the beginning.

After that, I check all 4 feet and the movement of the horse. My main concerns here are wall height and thrush, and if the shoes are loose or not.

Depending on the answers and what I see, I might suggest the following things:

“So, first things first: let’s help these frogs battle the thrush infection before we go barefoot.”
Infected frogs are not nice to walk on...

or

“The shoes are still nice and tight, and I don’t see much hoof wall height yet. Let’s meet up again in 4 weeks when the horse has a bit more foot to stand on. Then we take off his shoes.”
Horses new to being barefoot have a better chance to stay sound with a bit more wall in the beginning. That is how I prefer to do it anyway. Let them get used to the feel in their feet first, before plonking them down. Some call it a ‘set-up trim’, and I quite like this name too. Some people like using hoof boots instead, but it’s quite difficult to measure the hoof size when the shoes are on, plus, the hoof size changes after a trim. So it’s difficult to have boots ready when the shoes are being taken off. It also gets quite damp in boots, which isn’t ideal when they are worn day in & out for the first few days/weeks. So instead of trimming the hoof too much and mess with boots, I like for the horse to have a bit more hoof when it goes barefoot.

Another advice of mine can be:

“Based on what you just told me, I think it’s best to alter his diet and maybe lifestyle first and wait a couple weeks. This will give his gut some time to adjust and get healthier, which will mean that his hooves can grow some healthier and stronger horn.  And then we take off his shoes.”
When the diet isn’t exactly ideal as in too much sugar/starch or missing vitamins/minerals, the horse might be compromised in his gut and not able to grow healthy hoof horn or they are in an inflammed state (low grade laminitis).  The chance it will get footsore once barefoot is quite high, or maybe the foot will start chipping away too quick. For a succesfull transition, you want to get some healthy hoof growth down first. Unless the owner doesn't mind the horse being a bit footy and will get hoof boots asap of course!

Or I'll advice something else. Or maybe everything is already in place!

So, I think you get the idea. Going barefoot is not just about taking off the shoes. It takes time, changes and patience. The transition is different for every horse and every owner. But it is a very interesting journey to be on with your horse, you’ll learn so much! And, frankly, a lot of horses are sound and stay sound once barefoot as well.

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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