Bringing tender-footed OTTB into work

My OTTB-with-good-feet luck has run out—I got one in about two weeks ago who came barefoot behind (but a little short) and with a terrible hack shoe job up front. At first glance, he was a bit footsore behind and “tracky,” but nothing out of the ordinary.

I planned to keep the front shoes on, but with such minimal foot to hang onto, that lasted about two days until he sprung a shoe. Farrier was nearby and pulled both front shoes but was horrified by the feet, and upon pulling one of them, several nail holes started bleeding. Cool. He guessed that about four of the nails were hot, was mortified that any farrier would’ve attempted tacking a shoe on that foot, to begin with, and was astounded that the horse was even remotely sound. (This horse is already incredibly special to me given his soundness and attitude through this incredibly painful ordeal. :face_with_head_bandage: ) Luckily, the bleeding stopped quickly, and we didn’t see the immediate need to do an X-ray. That was nine days ago. We packed his feet for a couple of days and started a daily Keratex routine.

Since then, he’s improved tremendously. The quality of the foot isn’t terrible—it’s solid, not shelly, but there isn’t much of it, and the sole is relatively thin—and he is sound at the walk on “normal” surfaces like our paddocks, our ring, the barn aisle, etc. I know there can be quite a transition period for horses growing foot and adjusting to barefoot life, so I’m wondering if it’s appropriate to bring him into light work, like very, very basic transitions on the lunge line, groundwork, and rudimentary under saddle skills (mounting block manners and so on) that I do with all my OTTBs. I don’t want to hinder any progress, but it seems to me like circulation and blood flow to his feet will be a positive thing within reason?

Here’s a (poor) video of him walking under tack on Sunday: (He was VERY offended that we came to a grass field to work and not eat grass. :joy: Is he not the most handsome bugger you’ve ever seen?) As I said, plenty accustomed to OTTB acclimatization, but have never dealt with feet quite this bad. TIA!

If he’s sound and the footing where you want to do that is softer and not abrasive, I think you can work on those basics. You could also put him in boots for a while for that work.


You could get him a pair of boots as IPEsq suggested. Or do glue on shoes; they are more expensive but can help grow sole and should make him more comfortable pretty much immediately.

As long as he’s sound on whatever surface you are riding on he can be ridden with no restrictions. You can ride in the boots too, just get ones designed for that.

Some horses transition to barefoot extremely easily, while others may need up to 8 weeks to be fully comfortable. So I’d definitely say get some boots or go with glue on shoes.

I personally wouldn’t work him without some protection on those feet. If he steps on something that causes a bruise that’s going to set him back considerably and you could end up with an abscess as well. I would put him in boots and pads until he can grow his own sole protection.


My thin soled guy absolutely hates the nailing part of being shod. I let him go barefoot and ride him in Easy Boot Gloves. The Soft ones. He especially loves me for adding pads inside. Just his front feet.

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I’ve had success packing Rebound into their feet and then taking a handful of clean shavings to create a cover.

Depending on the area you live in, adding a copper/zinc supplement may help but that’s a long game.

I have no experience with boots, but have several friends who love their Scoot Boots and Cavallos

I wouldn’t bring a horse with sore feet into work. One of my mares came off the track like this and it was 2 years of getting her healthy to get her feet to also get healthy. When she was fine I would ride/lunge her to build strength and she was turned out in a big field with varied terrain. But it took literal years for her feet to grow out be comfortable. She just got shoes on last month and is so sound and strong. I’m glad I waited and was patient because she is an incredible horse. Her feet were underdeveloped and not growing because she was severly malnourished for years on the track.

Sore feet causes back pain. Back pain then can cause many other issues in the body and under saddle.

Personally I would play the waiting game, get the feet strong and healthy and then consider starting back up under saddle.

This is a good podcast worth a listen, even though its focused on shivers it talks about the overall effect of foot soreness


Super-cute guy… will be fun to see what he blossoms into.

If it were me (and to be fair, you’ve done more of these projects than me, but I know a little) I would encourage some movement. I’d take the opportunity to work on some mental and training aspects where it fits in. BUT with everything aimed with doing it as comfortably as possible.

If he’s hobbling or even just mildly protecting his feet, it will have a cascade effect up into his body. You’ve already identified him as tight and tracky behind (yup), and he’s also that in front (look at the dip in front of the withers and bulging triceps for clues). Since you want to unwind that, if you’re going to train, you want to choose exercises that work towards that goal along with your training goal, rather than ones that put those two goals at odds with each other. For instance, from that little clip, it looks like he wants to fall in on that left shoulder, but that foot is also like “ow”. So, say you set out to teach w/t transitions on the lunge in a fairly standard way… well, it’s not unlikely that he’ll rush into that trot and fall in off the circle. That means extra pounding on the foot and not doing any favors to the body above it. Instead, you might be better off teaching transitions in a straight line on the wall, closer to the horse so you can have a little more influence. [Personally, I use a lot of what I call “long leading”. Long lead line, dressage whip, lungingesque position. The horse has space and needs to balance on their own, but you’re close by to help. It also allows me to observe the whole horse and all four legs better than leading.]

There are lots of slow, low impact exercises you can do that benefit the body without pounding the feet. Side effects include increased thinking (sometimes, lol). Stuff like the million and one variations on walk poles, hand walking over terrain, turns and baby lateral work in hand, etc.

And above all, observe what he’s telling you. If things start getting better, keep it up. But obviously, if he’s showing signs of pain and unwillingness, don’t just push through. Find a new solution with your vet/farrier/etc or change your plan back to what he can handle.

He’s so cute… I look forward to seeing the future glow up shots!


in your short video i see tender-footedness. Definitely. If it were me, i’d give him another two weeks before work on longe or riding… So, maybe he could use some mounting/dismounting practice? And, OH Yes, he’s cute!!

Thank you! This is exactly where my train of thought was headed as well. He got a massage and some laser yesterday (trying to stave off any soreness up high as the feet recover) and I’m having a glue-on shoe mastermind come take a look at him this weekend to develop a plan. :crossed_fingers:


Glad it made sense…I wrote that long reply late at night, lol.

I’ve always enjoyed and been a big believer in groundwork for training. But a few years ago I had a project who had a horrible, loooong-lingering abscess right after I got him. So not only was I forced to stay off his back, but I had to get creative with the low-impact groundwork. When I finally did get to riding him he went so unbelievably well. He was a nice horse who wasn’t overly sore or anything, but his movement was quite, uh, chaotic, when I bought him. That just went away after all that slow work. I became a believer!

Anyway, fingers crossed your shoer can give your boy some support. He looks like he’ll be worth it!

Without a foot you don’t have a horse. I would make him sound before working him at all. Fix his feet first.


No way would I make him do any work until he is comfortable 100% of the time. Let his feet grow out and ( hopefully) toughen up naturally and get him shod correctly and then proceed with work.