Ever since the awareness of the benefits to a horse of going barefoot has become more widespread, an increasing number of horse owners are beginning to ask themselves if their horse could go barefoot.

Oft-times, this question poses itself only when the condition worsens, when hooves are so damaged that the shoes can no longer stay on, or when the horse is lame even with shoes.

Fortunately hoof horn material is constantly being produced, so a healthy barefoot hoof is possible regardless of the age of a horse is or how long its hooves were shod.

In many cases because of a lack of knowledge and/or competent assessment a horse’s hooves are unfortunately shod with little thought or consideration going into the process because they are “simply being used for riding and similar activities.”

Shoeing a horse should be considered carefully because the disadvantages of shod hooves greatly outweigh the advantage of protecting the hoof from abrasion. Shoeing in many cases is essentially unnecessary because in today’s world a large number of horses do not need protection from excessive abrasion on their hooves.

Effective and regular hoof care should be a priority especially with older horses so that the horses can have the best possible quality of life via best possible hoof condition especially considering they may already have age related problems such as arthritis. There is no such thing as a horse being too old to go barefoot since as stated earlier the production of hoof horn material does not alter with age.

Many horse owners have tried and failed to change from shoes to barefoot with their horse. Consequently and understandably they are discouraged and are convinced that their horse cannot go barefoot.

Please do not let previous experiences discourage you!

The reasons for not being successful often stem from a lack of knowledge and a lack of awareness of the important factors in transitioning:

As soon as a hoof is shod it suffers from a lack of stimulation from being fixated on the stiff iron. As a result the hoof produces horn of inferior quality. The laminae are not stimulated sufficiently to produce hard, abrasion resistant horn. If one were to remove the iron shoes and just keep riding as usual a disparity between the abrasion and the amount of hoof horn that is produced would rapidly develop. In addition the hoof wall is perforated by the nail holes and often marked by cracks and fissures. This can lead to breaking off of larger parts of horn. As a result the horse may instinctively walk on the sole exclusively for a while but the sole is not suited to carry the weight of the horse by itself therefore there must be a transitional period where the hoof can recover and better quality material can grow back.

Furthermore the ground the horse moves around on forms and stimulates the hoof consistently. An unshod horse will react and adapt to this stimuli because it feels the ground and it will use its limbs accordingly and with instinctive caution. The distinct mechanics of the hoof enable the hoof to level out uneven ground and soften blows. This is capability is especially important for older horses who often suffer from osteoarthritis. As long as the hoof is attached to the stiff iron shoe the natural hoof mechanics are not working correctly and this is damaging since there is no softening of blows to the joints.

After the shoes are removed, the horse may have to get used to this “new” feeling of walking and may walk very sensitively. This can be misunderstood as an expression of painful sensitivity when it is simply the horse’s way to take care of its bones and limbs. The solution lies in a little bit of patience and regard of the horse’s needs. As the transitional period for adaptation goes on the horse will show the barefoot horse’s normal way of feeling the ground, it should be noted that this may vary from horse to horse.

Whether there is a serious sensitivity such as an inflammation in the sole can be clarified through a thorough examination by your hoof orthopaedist.

The successful way from iron shoes to barefoot:

The changeover is considered to be successful whenever it is suited to your horse’s individual needs.

Your DIfHO hoof orthopaedist will gladly advise you on everything you need to know

but it is crucial to take the following factors into consideration:

  • What is the overall condition of the hoof?
  • Are there any diseases?
  • How is the horse kept? e.g stall conditions etc.
  • What is the terrain the horse moves around on like?
  • What is the horse used for?
  • When is a good time to start the transition?

The duration of the transitional period depends on the condition of the hooves at the time when the shoes are removed. It can be rather short or take longer and can be accompanied with further temporary problems.

Cooperation and communication between the hoof orthopaedist and the horse’s owner is essential. The commitment of the horse’s owner is also crucial.

Shorter trimming intervals may be recommended in the beginning. The hoof is worked on in such a way that as little as possible horn is removed and so that the hoof can be restored into a healthy shape. In any individual case, it must be decided from one appointment to the next whether enough good hoof horn has been produced and the horse is already fit to be used for riding.

Initial problems such as breakouts in the hoof wall and poor quality sole material will lessen as better quality horn material is formed.

Many horse owners only take a removal of shoes into consideration when there seem to be no more alternatives. Of course, it would be great if it did not have to come to this, yet hoof orthopaedics as practised by Jochen Biernat has shown that it is possible to restore hooves which were once deemed hopeless back to a physiological sound and more pleasant condition for the horse.

By a combination of your decision to change to barefoot and with our help, your horse will walk its hooves back into a healthy and resilient state.