[QUOTE=Alberta Horse Girl;7569392]Anyone have experience and advice on how to gradually start conditioning barefoot horses? (Both had been previously fit, and have wonderful barefoot feet but have been off work the last year and a half due to my own health issues.)
There is a complication however, my IR mare did founder mildly in both fronts the winter before last.
She is now sound and healthy and has been cleared by the vet to start conditioning for 25 mile LDs.
How do I go about conditioning both so as to gently strengthen their feet without causing soreness? We do have gravel roads that will be part of our conditioning route.
If your definition of barefoot is “no nailed on shoes, but boots and a naked hoof qualify”, then I would suggest you get the horse(s) comfortable boots (all four feet) designed for long stretches of trotting, and then pick an Endurance conditioning program that suits your time and needs. The boots will adequately protect the horse’s feet so that you can condition the rest of the body - yours and theirs - without downtime worry from sore or injured feet.
Foot protection protocol should always be the #1 concern of anyone conditioning for Endurance and LD. A true barefooted horse - as in “nothing on the feet beyond what Nature herself provided 100% all the time rain or shine” really doesn’t belong in a distance sport where a limit to the time and an ungroomed surface for 25 miles or more are the deciding factors.
If the entire distance will be on grass, and all you do is condition on 100% grass, then knock yourself out with the barefoot (totally naked all the time) scheme. If any other surface comes into play, even for conditioning, you’re being stupid - and risking downtime - for not protecting against soreness or injury.
My driving ponies are running around barefooted in their pastures, but for work they are booted on all four. One is shod in front and wears boots over the shoes because his front feet have never hardened up to the demands of gravel roads, even with Easyboots on.
The one pony I’m preparing for his first LD in the fall I started this Spring barefoot (no protection), simply to delay shoeing as long as possible and to see how well we could do without shoes. Unfortunately, he’s pure hell on boots - they just disintegrate within a mile or two from home, and those things are expensive to replace. I’m not kidding - I never met a horse that killed boots. He can…and does. And don’t think I haven’t tried with different makes and types. Nothing works, or stays alive for long. The stories I could tell you. Oy, vey! Shoes … not a problem.
Anyway, what I’m trying to impart is… I was in your boat at the start of the season, wanting to condition on naked winter soft hooves on Spring rain soaked gravel roads. It worked for … oh, I’d say about two weeks. I was very careful as we were mostly just walking the gravel roads to get his body used to the work. And then he stepped on a stone. Hey, it’s a gravel road, littered with stones. Limp, limp, ok I’m fine. Nope, not really. A few days later he abscessed. We both lost a whole two weeks until the foot adequately drained, the hole in his sole sealed, and he was good to go.
I promptly got out my farrier equipment, strapped on my apron, and nailed aluminum St. Croix eventers on all four hooves, with the addition of Durashock pads on his front hooves. He sailed down the road at a free trot, happy as a claim. Didn’t feel a single thing under his feet. Those shoes not only protected, but they made his job a piece of cake, and I no longer had to spend 90% of my time at a crawl, looking down to steer a path through the road rocks. With foot protection I could finally concentrate on the program, not every little thing on the ground. We’ve ready graduated to climbing the mountains, and are ready for the OD’s LD in mid-June (except I will be elsewhere at the time, so won’t be there).
In short, you do your horse no favor at all to do any Endurance, ride or condition, attempting it with a naked hoof. Trust me - it isn’t worth it, it isn’t fun, your horse won’t benefit one iota, and you won’t be looked upon favorably by any intelligent person in the sport.
Get your horse some good, well fitting boots first - if you’re that determined to avoid the farrier’s hammer - and THEN start planning your conditioning program.