"Goes barefoot"

So I bought my mare probably about 5 weeks ago and in her sale ad it stated that she “goes barefoot.” We do 100% flatwork, usually in a sand arena or grass field. However we’re moving to a barn with great trails soon and I’d like to be able to take her out. When someone says a horse can go barefoot, to what extent should they be expected to “go”? I don’t have a picture right now (I can get one in the morning) but her feet don’t look that great to me. They’re a bit cracked and split in some places. I wasn’t at home the last time the farrier came but am going to discuss it some more with him when he comes next time, which should be soon, but I was wondering what y’all think.

Does anyone have experience with barefoot horses? If you do, do you feed any supplements?

Thanks in advance! :slight_smile:

My guy (well, it’s actually my Mother’s horse that she has graciously allowed me to use as my dressage mount) is 13 and has only had front shoes once in his entire life…that was only because my mom was going to be taking him trail riding on the battlefields of Gettysburg and one trail (Little Round Top) was super-rocky.

Since then, he has been barefoot. It has worked for us so far and as long as he isn’t sore, I figure I will keep him that way. We ride in a pasture grass arena, trail ride on dirt logging trails, hayfields, and on pavement to get to those trails.

The only time he is ever tentative is on gravely/stoney surfaces (like the one creek-crossing we have…I always bring him to a walk and let him pick his way through).

As far as the feet “don’t look good to me”…that will depend upon when her last farrier visit is. My guy only keeps a nice smooth edge for a few weeks and then little chips tend to appear. Nothing serious though. Big chips only happen when I’m a bad horsewoman and let his feet get too long before calling the farrier.

Oh, and he is naturally-blessed with big ole Appy feet so he doesn’t get hoof supplements. If the ground is particularly hard and dry, I will put on some Farrier’s Fix hoof oil to help take any “ouches” away. Love that stuff!

IMO it very much depends on the horse. My old QH is barefoot and has amazing feet in that they are hard as hell and do not crack or chip ever. However, he is flat footed and so the rocks do bother him. I put fronts on him back when I still rode him because he was more comfortable that way. If your mare is sure footed and doesn’t get ouchy on the trails there is no reason to put shoes on. If she’s ouchy, put some fronts on. If she’s just got small little chips I wouldn’t worry about it but if her feet are getting big chips and cracks I’d put some shoes on. I believe in making things as simple as they can be - if a horse is sound and happy barefoot that’s fantastic, if not you’re better off popping some shoes on.

The answer… it “depends”

It depends on your horse’s hoof quality

It depends on the skills of your farrier and frequency of trims

It depends on the type of environment and footing the horse lives on

It depends on what you feed your horse

It depends on how often you ride or exercise the horse

It depends on the terrain of your trails

It depends on the time of year.

My horse “goes barefoot”, she kept on mixed terrain (including hard ground and gravel, not just a bedded stall), is trimmed very frequently (touch ups every 3 weeks), toes kept back, and heels kept in check, gets ridden on a variety of terrain often (5+ days a week), is fed a low sugar diet. She does best mid summer when our trails are hard and dry - and her feet are hard and dry. Transition periods, wet spring to dry summer etc take special care.

1 Like

As far as the feet “don’t look good to me”…that will depend upon when her last farrier visit is. My guy only keeps a nice smooth edge for a few weeks and then little chips tend to appear. Nothing serious though. Big chips only happen when I’m a bad horsewoman and let his feet get too long before calling the farrier.

She’s not overdue for a trimming and I noticed it right after her trim. I think I’ll just see how she does on the trail first though because I don’t want to shoe her if it’s not necessary. I just know some people swear by barefoot horses and was curious as to why/what the benefits are.

Just shoe the dang horse and get on with riding!!!

1 Like

Why shoe if you don’t have to, Wirt?

My mare’s coming up to 7 months of work in bare feet and isn’t yet showing signs she needs Jimmy Choos. Why would I want to get her something she doesn’t need? It’s awesome having a barefoot horse. I have always been quick to slap shoes on when needed, but not needing them is suiting me just fine, tyvm. My farrier’s pretty happy about it too. Easy peasy, trim her up and done once every 6 weeks. Yes, 6 weeks. I am lucky beyond words with this horse!

1 Like

My 21 year old thoroughbred gelding has been barefoot for the past year. His shoes were pulled as he was having soundness issues and I was going to retire him. He’s sound again and is getting ridden 3 times per week. Obviously that isn’t hard use but he’s doing great barefoot and is not on any hoof supplements. I have the cavallo sport boots and they have worked great for me when I want to take him out on gravel trails (usually once a week). They are easy to put on/take off, and my horse is totally comfortable in them.

3 Likes

All three of mine are barefoot and their feet are rock solid. They do arena flat work, trails, little bit of jumping. Ground in our area is hard and slightly rocks. Not a problem.

Two of them have never had a shoe. The other is an OTTB who was badly shod for many years and now has great feet.

No issues with chips, cracks, soreness, etc.

IMO the single factor that your success barefoot depends upon in the knowledge and skill level of the trimmer. As with any other trade, they’re not all born equal!

Side note, if chipping is an issue then 1) are the toes rolled? 2) does the horse have flares?

Fix the trim, fix the diet, if either need fixing (and keep in mind that many owners, as well as vets, don’t know a good trim when they see one, simply due to lack of education), and either work on footing the horse can work on, or put boots or shoes in if you’re going to work where he can’t.

It really is that simple :slight_smile: Many many people have barefoot horses. Some put boots on for tougher terrain, some don’t. Some don’t end up riding places their horse can’t work.

Supplements are for when the forage, and concentrated portion of the diet (if there is one) are not meeting the nutritional needs of the horse. They cannot make a foot better than its genetics. So, some horses get supplements, some don’t, and that goes for shod or barefoot.

Don’t expect a barefoot horse to live and mostly work on sandy grassy surfaces, and be able to negotiate rocky trails. Don’t expect a horse stalled 23 hours a day to have feet that can handle a variety of terrain. Don’t expect a horse eating a high sugar diet to be have great feet.

Feet are living, breathing structures that are affected by what goes into the horse and what is done to them.

Don’t think that feet are only overdue for a trim because of the calendar - they are overdue when they have not been properly trimmed, either ever, or in a while :wink:

1 Like

My guy is barefoot. Feet like rocks!

Paula

I would agree with JB, your horse will tell you what his feet can and cannot handle. My mare cannot handle the rocky ground of MA but would be fine barefoot in NC where there are only rocks where you want them. Because I didn’t want to have to keep my horse booted on 24/7 turnout, I got her shod.

So if your horse’s hooves are cracking/pealing/etc: address the diet, trimming schedule, and if the feet just aren’t holding up to what you want to do then put shoes on. Diet effects take a while to show up, though; you can’t just start feeding a hoof supplement and expect a change in the hoof at the next trimming.

The other option is to get boots for trail riding and keep her barefoot the rest of the time. That way you protect her feet on rough terrain but don’t have the maintenance of shoes and give her a chance to develop better barefoot feet. All my horses are better off barefoot, but I do know that some horses really do need them, I would discuss this with your farrier. Good luck.

1 Like

I also agree with JB.

Mine are barefoot event horses. :eek: Everyone is shocked that we can live - survive even - without corks. Yup, lack of corks doesn’t seem to slow them down at all when all the geldings are galloping with reckless abandon in the field.

My theory? Let your horse be the judge. If they can’t do the work because they need the “support” or padding from shoes, then put them on. But otherwise - as long as they are happy and healthy barefoot is perfectly fine.

My dressage horse is barefoot, actually my second dressage horse that never wore shoes. I don’t have a strong attachment to this or particular agenda to uphold… but its not necessary for my horses so I never did it. I have a farrier who will do what the horse needs.

I like saving the money, not needing to deal with slippery shoes or nail holes, and its easier. My horse interferes a lot, too.

I suspect you don’t understand when overdue is, or else she’s not getting an appropriate trim.

How did her feet look when you got her?

Some chipping in the non-supportive areas of the hoof isn’t a big deal anyway, of course, and some horses can go on a very long trim cycle. My mom’s mare has ridiculously hardy hooves and gets infrequent trims because she wears her hooves evenly and well on our gravel footing. Keeping aware of how her hooves are handling everything tells us when she needs trimmed.

On the other hand, my TB is barefoot because of how frequently he needs trimmed. He grows much more toe than heel, and it has taken a 2 week trim cycle to trim tiny bits of toe to re-shape his hoof. No way he would hold shoes trimmed that frequently, and while his hooves are doing far better and he will be fine at shows barefoot, I wouldn’t just proclaim him as a horse who “goes barefoot” based on current progress because I’m not sure he’ll ever be the type of horse who can trail ride barefoot. My mom’s horse is a total off-road superstar through rocky trails with no shoes - and that’s what I think of when I read a horse “goes barefoot.”

Fix the trim, fix the diet, if either need fixing (and keep in mind that many owners, as well as vets, don’t know a good trim when they see one, simply due to lack of education), and either work on footing the horse can work on, or put boots or shoes in if you’re going to work where he can’t.

I probably don’t know a good trim when I see one! We’ve only ever had trail horses, appys and QH’s who have had really great feet. I will do some research on what they “should” look like and go from there. Thanks! :slight_smile:

I suspect you don’t understand when overdue is, or else she’s not getting an appropriate trim.

How did her feet look when you got her?

She was due for a trim when I got her, so we actually had it done while she was here on trial. We’re sort of “between” farriers right now as ours had back surgery a few months ago and we’ve been shuffling around ever since, trying to find someone new. I’ll admit 100% I don’t know exactly what to look for as far as expectations for a “good trim.” In general I would consider overdue to be after 6 weeks, however I do know it could be different for her, but I haven’t had her long enough to quite figure it out and to be honest after her last trim I probably didn’t pay enough attention. I’ll have her trimmed soon and then see how it goes. My vet recently recommended a newer farrier in our area so I may give him a call.

I think it means the horse goes barefoot and stays sound the way previous owner was using her. She may not hold up on uneven rocky hard ground if she was going barefoot in a sand based grass ring like Ocala. Keep her up to date with her farrier appointments and see what happens. You can always shoe her if she gets foot sore or her feet start chipping and cracking.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! BUT! Should the horse have problems under the new regime, then quick, fix it, it’s broke.