Barefoot Dressage?

Okay, before you all get off half-cocked, LOL!

How many here have their HORSES barefoot?

How many have previously had shoes and went natural?

Asking because my TB is not a happy camper. Thin soled and yucky feet due to bad nutrition in his previous life…UGH!

So I am wondering what works and what doesn’t?

My OTTB was barefoot for the first six months or so of us transitioning to being a dressage horse.

However, as we progressed, his feet needed some more support. He’s now been in front shoes for the last 4 years. There was one particularly dry summer where he needed hind shoes as well because the ground was so hard, but for the most part he does well with just front shoes.

I will say that we are in that 1st/2nd level area so not doing anything super high level. We ride in the grass, arenas, and along the gravel road.

His feet were shelly and chipped easily when I first had him, but now they’re fairly solid. However, he has crazy thin soles that he will always have. I do use Keratex which seems to help?

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I have been putting Keratex on the bottom of his feet. His old farrier told me to use it twice a week at most. The new farrier has told me to just put it on his soles from here on out. Poor guy is pretty sore, he has been like that since before I got him and no one was paying attention.
I won’t be riding him for the rest of this week, if he looks less sore by the weekend I may take him into the arena and just walk.

My young mare is currently barefoot and always has been. She has a great hoof wall but tends to run a bit thin in the sole so I don’t expect her to stay barefoot as her workload increases.

As long as she’s comfortable she’ll be barefoot but as soon as that changes I’ll do what’s needed to make her comfortable again!

No advice on how to get there with a horse who has crappy feet though…I just got lucky in that department!

Eta: I do use horseshoers secret supplement with her as her feet were getting a bit soft with all the wet weather we had last spring/summer. The farrier was so impressed with her feet after several weeks on it that I’ve never taken her off. But it hasn’t done wonders for her sole - so isn’t a complete miracle worker.

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OP, you may wish to consider boots to help your horse’s comfort as you try out a barefoot lifestyle. Although my mare is barefoot and does well, I accept that it does not work for all horses or situations.


My late mare was barefoot for six years and my current mare is also barefoot. A friend got her mare through second level but then started having some issues with concavity and sole tenderness. She opted for shoes as a bandaid and then is going to take them off in the fall to try and address sole concavity over the winter with the goal of continuing forward barefoot.

It takes time to grow out a hoof from poor nutrition but it also takes a good farrier. If the farrier is allowing flares to continue, the healthier wall is going to be mechanically pulled by old flares.

If I was having issues with tender soles I’d look at hoof armor. It isn’t as simple as keratex but it is supposed to be very effective.


I have one of my five horses in shoes up front, and she will continue to be due to a stall injury which damaged cartilage in her coffin joint. My others are all barefoot.

My OTTB went in Easyshoes for quite a while, and good trims plus those shoes really helped thicken up his soles. His problem is qt the growth point of his soles - with hoof testers, his sole feels loose - you can see the sole move with almost no pressure applied. We thought he was retiring two years ago because his hooves couldn’t handle work. The vet recommended Platinum Hoof for him, and because the problem is qt the growth point it helped in fewer than 2 weeks. He is now half retired because we don’t want to push that and I have no goals for him but to keep him as healthy as possible, but he has been sound since, knock wood. He was schooling the I-1 except for changes (not showing him and he’s a bucker… we intentionally didn’t go down that path), and at a quality above that of the horse my trainer was showing and scored mid/high 60s on at I-1. Barefoot. He actually became more comfortable barefoot, because he does better on a short trim cycle with very little taken off.

I will use shoes if necessary for any horse, and frequently spring means most of the horses at my trainer’s end up in shoes as spring hormones hit (most of the horses there are mares) and every time we have a wet winter followed by dry, hot spring, the horses get sore as their hooves don’t adapt instantly. So the ones who get sore get shoes to avoid soreness happening. We take them off as soon as possible, for the ones who don’t need to live in shoes.

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I trained my prior mare to 3rd barefoot with no issues, but she had hooves of steel.

My current ride is barefoot (training 2nd, and hoping to show 2nd when things open again). She’s been barefoot her entire life, but is tender on hard packed gravel.

I think this is a decision you come to with your farrier and vet based on the specific horse and the work load. It’s not something generic internet people can tell you what to do.


Boots are pretty much necessary to make a transition to barefoot on most horses.


My FEI horse was barefoot his whole competitive life, and still is. I have another horse who is currently barefoot and likely to remain so as we navigate the lower levels. But my other horse is shod all around and would never hold up to being barefoot for a variety of reasons. My old TB could never be ridden unless he had shoes thanks to flat, thin, sensitive soles and crappy hoofwalls. He was never comfortable. I’ve had 2 that had only front shoes for the lower levels, and needed the hind foot support as we asked for more carry.

There’s no magic in a horse being barefoot. Some of them do great that way, and don’t need shoes. Some just need the support. Others only need fronts until they start carrying and then do better with shoes all around. If your horse is really uncomfortable barefoot, then put him in shoes recommended by your farrier.


I am all about doing the minimum unless the horse is uncomfortable. However, it sounds like your horse needs more support than going barefoot provides. I would suggest adding shoes and consider pads until more sole depth is grown and he is not foot sore. I am not okay with the horse being in pain when something could be done to stop it. Plus, you run the risk of it turning into laminitis.

When my last horse was showing discomfort from thin soles, I had front shoes with pads put on. They made a huge difference in his comfort. The pads were only needed during the wet season.

My current horse was barefoot until he was sensitive walking on gravel. He now has front shoes.


My horse is barefoot and has been his whole life (he’s 7). We are schooling 3rd and he does fine in the arena and on even paths, but gets sore on the gravelly parts of the trails, so I’ve been debating getting him boots for trail rides. We have tried applying Hoof Armor the last two trims, and didn’t see much difference on the gravel.

Works great for some horses, works ok for some horses, doesn’t work at all for others. One of my trainers shows a horse at GP barefoot, but I’d say 3/4 of the horses in the barn wear shoes because they do better that way.

Some are in shoes by the time they’re 4 because they aren’t comfortable barefoot. Some do well barefoot until 3rd/4th when they need the extra support behind to shift weight back. Some do fine until you change footing or move barns and can’t cope with certain types of ground.


If he’s uncomfortable please get him in some boots.


I have all of mine barefoot. My old GP dressage horse was 32 when he passed and performed well and walked on a shale-strewn path to the pasture every day. My show jumper is barefoot. My current dressage horse is schooling 4th and is still barefoot. I have used keratex in the past, on each of the three mentioned.

I have had some horses in the past that that had corrective shoeing (a TB and a shetland) and a barefoot all-arounder that needed Easy Boots for any trail ride on rocky surfaces.

My barefoot luck was enhanced by choice of horses with good basic conformation, but it also takes a certified, educated farrier who is great at knowing what each individual horse needs. I never use just any old farrier. I pay twice as much as most people in my area, but my horses don’t suffer from hoof-related body strains, so I consider it an insurance investment.

Nutrition and genetics play a big role. But nutrition and mechanical condition take patience because the results don’t show up overnight.

The short answer is to consult with a very good farrier first, a good equine nutritionist second, and then your vet 3rd. Between the three, you will find an individual program for hoof care that fits each horse.

Use professionals, not your riding buddies. Money spent up front on sound professional advice will save you tons on gimmicks and vet bills later.


First, could you please not ride a horse who has sore feet.

Second, how long will you leave this horse suffering from sore feet?

You just can’t know if it’s nutritional or not.

At the very least, you should have its feet xrayed to make sure nothing else than this sole is at play.

Then fork the price for boots or shoes.

Horses who have crappy sore feet in the wild, aka the natural world, don’t last long. There is nothing wrong with putting shoes on if the horse needs it. And if you are against shoes, there are alternative.

It’s just beyond me that someone is intentionally making their horse suffer…

This has nothing to do with dressage… No horse who’s feet sore should do dressage…


All four of my geldings have been barefoot for the past four years. All were previously shod. All do lower level dressage, light/low jumping, hunter paces, and trails. The TB is the only one who needs boots when being ridden outside the arena, in case we encounter rough ground. He is otherwise sound and very comfortable on pasture and arena surfaces. What worked for me was finding the right professional - Pete Ramey - and following his advice about nutrition, trim, environment and exercise to develop healthy, functional feet. Loads of Free “How to” articles on his website:


My Arabian gelding who I have earned both bronze and silver medals on is barefoot. He has great hoof quality so barefoot has been perfect for him. If I trail ride on rocky terrain I do put Renegade hoof boots on him. I’m a big fan of barefoot, but it takes a commitment from the owner to make it work long term. I have known people who never make it past the transition phase because of the inconvenience of having to use boots.


My 12-year old gelding has been barefoot his entire life. I showed him lightly when he was younger, just in local hunter shows and a couple of dressage schooling shows, and he was fine barefoot. But I had him at home and rode him on nothing but grass. Now that we’re at the new boarding barn, he’s fine on grass, but struggles a bit in the rings…seems a little tender and hesitant to really move out and use himself like he does on grass.

He doesn’t have the best feet anyway, but I’ve ordered him a biotin supplement to help. I think I’m going to pull the trigger and try front shoes on him the next time my farrier comes. He seems fine behind, it’s just the fronts he gets ouchy on.

He tries his heart out, and he’s not necessarily lame or off in the ring (sometimes he is, right after a trim), he’s just reluctant to move out. At first I thought it was just because he found the ring uninspiring, but we rarely ride in there, so it’s not like he’s tired of it. I think it’s uncomfortable.

It’ll be interesting to see how he does in shoes since he’s gone this long without them.

My two late geldings (RIP, boys) had shoes as show horses and then I pulled them when they retired. It took some time for them to be comfortable, even as pasture puffs, but they finally were. Neither one of them would have stood up to much riding or showing barefoot though.

agree with those that have said there’s no magic in being barefoot. You should do what the horse needs in order to do the job you’re asking of him/her.

Both of mine are barefoot, but that’s because both of them have rock hard feet. My mare has feet that grow so fast that keeping shoes on her would also be very difficult. But, if at some point my horses start showing signs that barefoot is not working for them, I will adjust accordingly.

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