The hoof is unquestionably the single most important part of an equine. The horse was designed to be mobile. Historically speaking, horses that could not run to escape predation did not survive. Even today, few horses can survive very long in a supine position. The animal needs to stand on all four legs in order to achieve normal blood pressure and circulation, and the hoof plays a major role. The old adage, “No hoof, no horse” certainly rings true.
More and more horsemen and veterinarians are realizing the benefits of allowing their horses to “go barefoot.” A foot unfettered by permanent devices may, in fact, be much healthier not only for the feet, but for the animal’s overall health, as well.
Take into consideration the design and natural construction of the hoof. The outside is tough and resilient, much like toenails of humans. The hoof wall might seem hard and static, but in reality, it is elastic. The inside of the hoof, however, is alive, with bone and soft tissue.
On the bottom of the hoof is the tough, yet resilient frog. It’s rubber-like in consistency and functions not only as a shock absorber, but also as a “blood pump.” When the horse places pressure on the frog, blood is forced back up the leg, helping complete the normal circulatory cycle.
All the parts of the hoof work together to absorb impact. When the horse puts weight on a foot, the hoof expands naturally. When the weight shifts to another foot, the unused foot lifts, and the hoof contracts.
Horsemen who follow the barefoot theory maintain that the best way to ensure the health of the foot and related overall health is to allow the horse to go barefoot. According to them, these equines suffer far fewer instances of founder, laminitis, and navicular disease, along with fewer injuries to tendons, ligaments, and joints.
Natural horsemen are at the forefront of the “barefoot revolution.” They cite many reasons why barefoot is better. For one thing, proper circulation and warmth return to the feet. For another, the horse has better traction and is often more surefooted because it can better feel its feet. With the added shock absorbing ability of the bare feet, both the horse and rider are more comfortable. Another reason for “barefooting”? It’s cheaper!
Many horses are now being kept barefoot, including performance horses. Even disciplines like jumping, eventing, dressage, and endurance riding are seeing more and more horses with bare feet.
If you decide to pull the metal shoes, don’t expect your horse to be ready immediately for a long trail ride. The animal will have to get used to going barefoot. In time, your horse’s frogs will toughen and grow calluses, enabling it to cover even rocky terrain and gravel easily and without pain.
Your barefoot horse will also need a special trim. There are several different barefoot trims available, but most try to mimic the shape of a feral horse’s hoof. You’ll also have to keep the hoof in top condition with regular riding and allowing the horse plenty of pasture time.