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Why your horse should go barefoot

July 29, 2002

by Ingrid Khan

picture from the IBEM website
Have you ever listened to the various explanations people come up with when they insist that their horses NEED shoes? I have heard them more than once in my life with horses which is soon reaching 40 years! Dare I admit age, no, I don't.

When I had my first horse shod because I was told that horses need to be shod, I watched this performance and I cringed thinking 'good heavens, nails are being driven into life tissue here, how this can ever be of help to the animal? What about the pain to the animal? How can it walk and why does is pretend it can walk on these irons?

Well, I did take my shod horse to a Show but coming back, my farrier removed the shoes again. Yes, it is an expensive business to have them shod just for the day and I was only doing what everybody else said you need to do, shoe!, but there were other horses in the paddock and I did not want to risk added injury to these other horses by keeping the irons on should they have a good kicking battle!

I started studying the pros and cons of shoeing and decided NEVER AGAIN, they will all have to go barefoot.

My horses have been barefoot for all the years they have been with me. Their feet have been near enough perfect i.e. the odd chip here and there, nothing serious but on a whole their feet were in excellent shape.

A horse's foot spreads every time it is being put on the ground with the horse's weight behind it. An iron shoe nailed onto this hoof restricts this movement! The foot cannot spread, the horse cannot feel the ground it is walking on! To add insult to injury the bars on some horses were left too long which resulted in more pressure up the leg since the bars touched the ground on weightbearing. This resulted in the little navicular bone being squeezed from the ground via the long bars and from the upper leg with the weight of the horse! Again, this resulted in eventual pain and the horse went lame! It was called Navicular Syndrome!

Years ago owners were advised to put their horses to sleep since you could not 'cure' navicular syndrome. Thinking about it makes me very sad indeed, what lovely animals and what tremendously ignorant people. But the fraternity of barefoot horse owners is growing fast. We have a lady veterinarian Dr. Hiltrud Strasser, who studied the horse's hoof over 20 years and runs her own Hoof Clinic. She teaches all over the globe and runs courses for horse owners and farriers and vets! But of course, as is the usual case, she also gets a lot of flack from people who disagree and are too adamant to change their views and ways forgetting their horses in the process.

Needless to say I joined in on one of those courses. Alright, we did have to work on dead feet first, which was far easier before we ruined a live foot! The dead foot we placed between our knees sitting on a stool and away we went under Dr.Strasser's beady eyes. It was immensely interesting and well worth every penny it cost us.

I went home to my own horses, had a look at their feet again and yes, realized that they could do with some improvement. The hairline of a foot should be sloping, which meant that the distance from the bulb of heel to the ground should measure 3.5 cm. The toe should be backed slightly and the bars removed up to 1 cm near the wall which acts as a skid-break! I bought the tools needed to do this job myself…….What I did not realize at the time was that I also had to carry half a horse! Yes, do laugh, but my horses lift their legs willingly only to start resting on ME! After my first trim I thought I needed to crawl away, never mind straighten up and walk. I began to size this situation up.

There is a wonderful book 'Lifetime of Soundness' by Dr. H.Strasser. I had read it before the course (in order not to appear too stupid) and bought a few for friends. One of these friends was my farrier! He was quite interested and lo and behold he is now trimming my girls the way I want them trimmed or rather the Strasser way, the way horses feel happier being allowed to use their OWN feet!

I do support the Barefoot Movement for the sake of the horses and I have collected some very nice and encouraging tales of horses who also competed barefoot! Some people cannot understand that you can compete barefoot, they believe that shoes belong to a horse's tack as does the bridle and saddle, but this is not so. Here are some of those tales:

I ride a 17.2hh warmblood who wore shoes for a year and has been barefoot now for about 6 months. He took several months to transition, but last weekend went foxhunting and even walked down a gravel road with no problem. My half arabian mare has been barefoot most of her life, and just completed her first novice horse trials. The ground was muddy and many competitors used studs, but I had no traction problems whatsoever. Of course, I'm fortunate to have an expert trimmer in the family and not just anyone can keep performance horses barefoot and sound, but I don't want to hear anymore excuses! Barefoot horses can do dressage, foxhunting, eventing, jumpers ... whatever! I know this because I am doing all of these sports on barefoot horses!

and here is another success story:

It works wonder on my mare and foal too. She is 11 and was more and more ouchy with shoes, her hoofgrowth almost stopped. When the shoes were removed end of March, the wall broke because there were 3 sets of nails at the same height! The shoer warned me the feet might collapse. She was completely flat footed. She was pregnant at the time but her rears were not shod and were growing.

She had her first Strasser trim in june (by CHCS). I trimmed her myself since, after one clinic and a lot of reading and watching other horses being trimmed. Her new wall is now almost at ground level of nice regular smooth growth. The flares on the side will probably disappear within a month. I didn't trim her sole as thin as the Chcs because I was afraid. She shed the sole (twice) and I have been trimming more and more to the dirtline. She now holds (natural) concavity. Her very underslung heel is much more upright and her higher foot that developped cracks in the old growth doesn't on the new growth (after lowering the heel). She flies, carries her head and neck more upright, her eye is happy and shiny. Her hind fetlocks used to be swollen for a long time before putting her barefoot and especially trimming her. They are now completely firm. My foal who was over at the knee with heels too high is now perfect after lowering them. This trim is the best thing I ever did. Just anecdotal evidence that makes me a firm believer for life.

And one more:

Last week we spent 4 days at Lindum riding vet controlled endurance rides with a 20 yo TB and a 12 yo Arab both ridden barefoot. The Arab completed 179k or 110 miles (including an 80k at 12kph) and the TB 99k or 60 miles both past the vet inspections on all 4 days. The Arab actually got the high milage award for the full 4 day event! All distances are independently verified on ride sheets. The going included road and track with a lot of stone in places as well and nice grass and stubble.
I think this is first for the UK!
So it can be done. Taken 3 years for the TB and 1.5 years for the Arab.
Hope to do more through the season - see how it goes.
The TB's competative activites over the last three weeks has been a moorland training ride, a level 2 TREC at the English Champs and last weeks endurance event. Will go to the British TREC Champs next weekend.

Horses have competed jumping too, landing safer on the other side of the jump, I do not believe that we need more evidence that going barefoot is the best thing for our horses! Farriers still do their jobs by trimming correctly, so no job is taken away from them unless, of course, you do your own trimming.

Give life back to your horse, let it use its own feet and save him from unnecessary pain.



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