The answer to every question you have about how your horse will do out of shoes is…
What was his early life like – was he barefoot until he was at least 4 or 5 years old, allowed space and varied terrain to move and develop his hooves and their internal structures? Or was he stalled, shod and started under saddle at a tender age? What is his diet like? Is it low in carbs and high in fiber, with a balanced vitamin and mineral profile? How long was he in shoes? What actual condition are his feet in – does he have any hoof deformities or pathologies such as under run heels, contraction, thrush, founder, navicular, club feet, cracks, bullnosing, etc.? What kind of terrain does he live on, and what kind of terrain will you be riding him on? How much time and energy do you have to devote to your horse’s transition? The answers to the above questions, plus many more, will factor into how quickly and how well your horse will do when their shoes are removed.
But – no matter what issues your horse has, there are ways we can make things go as smoothly and comfortably for everyone involved as possible.
First, we try to wait until the horse is due for a reset before removing the shoes in the first place, allowing the horse a little more hoof growth to work with. When we do remove the shoes, we make every effort to remove the individual nails from the shoe so that it essentially just pops off. This is because the torque on the lamina and soles of the hoof from prying a shoe off CAN make a horse uncomfortable. We will usually also leave any dirt in the sole to provide some cushioning effect as well. It’s usually not an issue if the hoof would have a shoe reapplied, but when you are working with the intention of leaving the horse bare, we want to set him up for success in every way possible. I do a very conservative trim when the shoes are removed, usually as simple as a light balancing and a roll to the outer walls. I prefer to do a 2 week check up trim if schedules allow, and then a more typical trim at about 4 weeks from the initial shoe removal. After that, we will discuss what your horse’s trim schedule will be going forward.
Your horse’s hoof walls have been perforated by the nails, so they are weaker in these areas. The mustang roll and smoothing of the holes with the rasp can help reduce chipping, but it’s very common for the walls to chip at the nail holes when they reach the ground. It’s almost always just cosmetic and your horse won’t be bothered by them even though they may look unsightly. The hooves in the photos at the top of the page were taken 30 minutes and 2 weeks after shoe removal. You can see how quickly the nail holes are growing down. It only takes a couple of trim cycles for the nail holes to be gone… try not to worry about them, just keep the hooves clean and remember that once the thicker wall grows down, chips will be a thing of the past.
Next, we recommend hoof boots! Yes, your horses feet need to ‘toughen up’, but by pushing things too fast you can cause more harm than good through compensative movement. Obvious signs of your horse’s comfort include walking with their body relaxed, ears and eyes alert and interested in the surroundings, no signs of stumbling or concern for the footing. More subtle until you’ve learned to look for it, is a comfortable hoof landing – flat or ideally heel first at a brisk walk or trot is the goal. Excessively slowed gait, stumbling, head lowered, worried eyes and toe stubbing are definite undesirable ways of moving. Some horses will move comfortably right out of shoes on all terrain, but others will not. Listen to your horse. Boots are a simple investment in your horse’s soundness. They cost around the same as a full set of shoes, but will last much longer. Many people get around 500 miles from their boots before they need replacing! And even if your horse ends up needing boots for rocky terrain "for always", for example, that should not be considered a failure. The horse is still getting the benefit of being barefoot the other 23 or so hours of the day, plus even in the boots you can be confident that the horse is getting therapeudic movement because their feet are not uncomfortable or unprotected, and yet still able to flex and obtain good circulation. I will sell you boots – either directly from my stock or I will order them in the size/color your horse needs if you have special preferences. I’ll go over boot installation and removal with you, fit your horse for pads if needed, and watch him move in the boots to make sure we’re getting comfortable, therapeutic movement. If there are any issues we’ll work at it with different options – padding, casting, glue ons, modifications, etc. until we have things right for you and your horse.
I ask that you read the flyers on nutrition and thrush, so that any issues there are resolved. The quicker we address those enormous elements to barefoot soundness, the better for everyone, especially your horse! :) I can’t stress that enough, but I’m leaving it to a short paragraph here because it’s already been discussed elsewhere in depth…
Many people ask if I have a preference or recommendation on hoof dressings, and the answer is no - I don’t like to use them. Studies have shown that hoof dressings don’t help healthy hooves, and can cause further damage to unhealthy ones! (article #3840, The Horse). Hoof walls do a great job of keeping moisture in the hoof, and excess moisture out of the hoof as well. Just like with us, health and hydration comes from within through a good diet, plenty of water, and exercise.
That said, studies have shown that pea gravel is a great conditioner for bare hooves. The conformable surface that about 4” of pea gravel provides increases blood perfusion in the hoof and stimulates the frog, soles, walls and bars. It helps toughen and condition the hoof while being extremely comfortable for them to stand in. Plus, urine drains down through it and manure picks out fairly easily like litter.
Think of your horses’ transition like a balanced exercise program. Push too hard and cause soreness, progress is delayed, or don’t push enough and nothing improves so progress is delayed! Some people are afraid to work their horses at all out of shoes, but MOVEMENT is natural and essential to horses. It’s a rare horse that was sound in shoes that is not totally comfortable riding in good arena footing barefoot. Ride them on the trails in their boots, or at least bring their boots so if you need them, you have them. Turn them out, lunge them, keep them moving (comfortably!) – remember that heel first landings are therapeutic, each one is helping to develop the hoof and it’s internal structures, improving circulation and shock absorbing qualities to the horse’s limbs.
Everyone wants to know how long it will take for their horse to become a sound barefoot horse on most or all terrain. The real answer, as you know, is – it depends! But generally speaking, most horses take 3 months to a year. Progress is not usually linear. It often goes something like this… ouchy on gravel, but moving very well on softer footing, then a “set back” period, then doing even better on varied terrain, etc. Don’t get frustrated, things are changing, much of it internally so that we can’t see it… decontraction, digital cushion and lateral cartilage development, sole growth, new boney column orientation, etc. It will take as long as long as it takes, and we’ll work to facilitate a happy horse and healthy hoof throughout the entire process!
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