What is Barefoot Trimming?

To put it very simply - barefoot trimming is about simulating and stimulating. First we are simulating the wear horses' feet would get if they were free to get all the exercise they needed to keep their feet self-trimmed. Secondly we are trimming the foot to stimulate it to grow healthy and in the proper form for each individual foot.

In other words we are helping nature - key word "helping". We are not trying to impose our idea of perfect form on the foot. On the contrary, we read each foot to see what IT is trying to tell us it needs.

Is a Natural Barefoot Trim different than just leaving my horse barefoot, or having a normal farrier trim?

Absolutely! The exception would be if your horse lives on the type of terrain and gets adequate exercise to facilitate self-trimming. (And some horses do!). Most horses do not get enough exercise to wear their hooves sufficiently to give them the short, tight feet they would have in the wild.

The hoof wall grows continually. If growth exceeds wear (this is the most common scenario) then the feet become too long and the hoof capsule starts to deform. Our goal is to keep the feet at the optimal length for each horse. And that length may well change as the horse's foot becomes more healthy. There is no perfect length. A barefoot horse left untrimmed can be just as bad off as a horse with shoes on, or a horse who is trimmed badly.

In addition to keeping the length under control, we also use a "mustang roll" to keep the toes from running away (a common problem) and the breakover where it belongs. If you have seen horses with shoes, then you've probably noticed that the shoes have been worn in such a way that the front is rounded. This is how horses try to wear their feet. The roll is important, it not only saves the horse the work of doing it themselves, it keeps the foot from chipping.

How often should my horse be trimmed?

The best thing is to trim every 5-6 weeks. In some cases, due to hoof problems, more frequent trimming may be necessary. After being trimmed a few times the feet may begin to self regulate. That means that the growth will start to balance with the wear. When this happens many horses can go 8 weeks or longer between trims.

My horse normally goes 8 weeks (or more) between shoeing/trims. Why should he be trimmed more often?

The goal with natural trimming is to encourage and maintain hoof health, and to have the horse be able to be ridden comfortably over all terrain. If we allow the foot to go too long between trims the hoof capsule deforms and the hoof is never allowed to stabilize at its optimum form and length. Basically, if the horse is not trimmed often enough the hoof is always in some stage of deformity and we are fighting a constant battle - two steps forward and one step back. Regular, frequent trimming is necessary to correct and maintain proper hoof form.

What are the benefits of a horse being barefoot?

With the proper barefoot trim horses can actually live longer, healthier lives. A great many problems that appear to be from aging (stiffness, arthritis, grumpiness, etc.) are actually caused by poor hoof health - be it due to shoeing, poor trimming, or neglect. Conditions such as Navicular are not only curable by going barefoot, but will most likely not even occur if the barefoot lifestyle is started early.

Not only the horse's health is affected - the following is a partial list of the benefits of barefoot:

There is less chance of missing out on a ride or competition due to shoe loss. There are no shoes to lose!

Injuries from kicks (to horses and people) are much less severe when horses are not wearing shoes. Think of shoes as brass knuckles.

Horses have better traction (especially on concrete and asphalt) without shoes on.

What goes on inside the hoof during motion is important to the circulation of blood in the horse. It has been proven that shoes reduce that circulation. A natural barefoot horse has warm legs (the same temperature as the rest of the body). A shod horse will have cold legs. A clear sign of impaired circulation.

Trimming is cheaper than shoes. Cost of shoes at 8 week intervals is a minimum of $600 and probably a good bit more. Cost of trimming your horse every 6 weeks at $40 is $360.

Why is my horse ouchy on rocks and gravel?

Being ouchy is a sign that the internal structures of the hoof are not healthy. Most commonly the horse will toe walk on those surfaces, indicating heel pain. The origin of that heel pain is frequently the digital cushion and lateral cartilages. Years of neglect or shoeing - and even lack of exercise - cause the digital cushion and lateral cartilages to lose mass and become weak. When that happens, as the horse puts weight on the back part of the foot, there is not enough support and they will feel pain. This is similar to you walking barefoot on gravel when you don't normally do it.

Over time, with sufficient exercise, the digital cushion and lateral cartilages rehabilitate and grow strong and tough. Just as your feet will callous and become tough if you go barefoot regularly.

How long will it take for the digital cushion/lateral cartilages to rehabilitate?

It depends. There is no hard and fast rule. It depends on the individual horse - and even the individual feet on each horse. On how weak the digital cushion is, and on how much exercise the horse gets. The more the better. But keep the horse comfortable. While the digital cushion is weak ride in boots when the terrain warrants it.

I tried to go barefoot but my horse was ouchy. He was fine as soon as his shoes were put back on. Doesn't that mean he needs shoes?

Absolutely not!!! What it means is that your horse is not sound and damage is occurring inside the foot. The reason shoes appear - and the key word is APPEAR - to make the horse go sound the minute they're put on is simple. The shoe prevents the full weight of the horse from coming down on the digital cushion - so he doesn't feel pain when shod. The digital cushion is still unhealthy, and eventually this will result in the horse being off even with shoes on. The diagnosis will most likely be "navicular syndrome".

Let me explain what's happening. When the horse moves he's supported by the bony column (his leg). As the leg is loaded the pastern flexes to absorb some of the shock. But inside the foot the coffin bone descends and presses on the digital cushion. That action presses down on the frog and the back of the hoof actually spreads outward under the weight. As the hoof comes off the ground, the weight is relieved and the hoof contracts the amount that it spread when weighted as the coffin bone moves up again. That action - in a barefoot horse - is what keeps the digital cushion tough and healthy. In a shod horse, the shoe is placed on the foot while it's in it's contracted phase. Due to the strength and rigidity of the shoe, when the horse's leg is loaded during motion, the hoof cannot spread and the digital cushion never bears the amount of weight it should. Since in nature the rule is "use it or lose it" the digital cushion begins to lose mass and become weak.

Now, if you take the shoes off, the horse's foot can function normally again. But since it's gotten soft and has shrunk, the digital cushion doesn't offer the thick pad of support it should. When the horse's weight comes down on it, he feels pain in varying degrees - depending on much it has deteriorated. The good news is that the digital cushion will rehabilitate and become healthy.

You might ask - why not put shoes on then? The answer is that shoes only mask the problem. Over time the digital cushion will continue to weaken and eventually the shoes will no longer mask the problem. Now the horse will be diagnosed with "navicular". He will be put in "therapeutic" shoes which will mask the problem again - but do nothing to reverse or prevent further damage. At that point the horse will continue to go downhill and become unrideable and unhappy. Well before his time. Instead of remaining active and young into his 30's, he will be old at 20.

Correct barefoot trimming will interrupt that cycle and restore the digital cushion to health, allowing the horse to be happy and healthy much longer.

The really good news? Navicular is curable. A good barefoot trim and proper lifestyle can reverse the effects. Your horse can again become pain free.




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