Barefoot is a challenging way of keeping your horse and is neither a cheap option nor a quick fix for hoof problems.
The first week can be tough, there are not many horses who are immediately sound with no intervention coming out of shoes. Preparation relating to diet at least a month or two before removing the shoes will assist in the rehabilitation process.
Be prepared to use boots, pads or modify the horse’s environment so it can avoid surfaces that can cause problems in the early days, e.g. large stones, gravel, rough concrete. Arnica and Rescue Remedy can also be useful.
Pea gravel is a very supportive surface. It drains well, has the ability to stimulate the sole and frog and allows the horse to load the whole surface area of the hoof.
Above all else, you will require patience. Going barefoot is not a quick fix but is for the longer term health of your horse. Almost all horses can go barefoot but some owners cannot!
Listen to your horse. If he is coping well then that is great but if he is struggling a little, use verges where possible when hacking out or exercise in the field or ménage if you have one, always exercise within the horse's comfort level.
Your Horse's Diet
Diet is the most important aspect for maximising the performance of your barefoot horse. Dietary issues are often the cause of horses not coping barefoot. The healthy hoof requires a good diet (lots of fibre and little starch and sugar) with plenty of exercise. If your horse’s diet is not in balance, your horse will not be able to exercise correctly, which could have an impact on the way your horse moves.
The horse’s digestive system is designed for fibre based feeds and the basis of your horse’s diet must be forage, preferably hay fed ad lib, but not sugars and grains. Soaking and rinsing your hay reduces sugar levels if you need to.
I’ve listed a couple of websites and books that will help you with this.
Other key components:
- Regular Trim - Every six to eight weeks.
- Regular Exercise - Over all sorts of terrain.
- Natural Habitat - Kept with at least one other horse in a pasture.
If you are meeting the needs of your horse, rather than your own needs, there is no reason why your horse can’t go without shoes.