Transitioning your Horse:
The Best Time to Get the Shoes off and Go Barefoot
I’m often asked when the best time to transition a horse to barefoot is. Is the hard ground in Summer a challenge or is the mud in Winter more of a problem.
They say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second-best time is now. It’s somewhat similar when going barefoot. There’s no time like the present! That said, it’s worth making a plan first. You don’t have to rush out and get those shoes off right this instant. To use another well-known quote ‘if you fail to plan you are planning to fail’
There are advantages and disadvantages at any time of year when rehabilitating feet. What is best for you and your horse may not be the same for someone else and their horse
Summer or Winter?
I don’t really find any time of year better or worse than any other. Summer is more difficult as the grass has higher sugar levels. Chances are, if your horse is shod, you’re not as keenly aware how significant this is (yet). The ground may be harder, but I rarely find that an issue, and you have problems with hard ground in winter when it freezes anyway.
What is helpful in Summer is the longer days. This often means owners have more time and more energy to do things, which is great for rehabilitation, or bad if its interfering with the competition season.
In winter the ground is softer if it’s muddy, but not so when frozen. The grass is less sugary, which can be a bonus, however the shorter days and often increased chores in horrible weather can make it more difficult to find the time for hoof care. Even if you visit every day, many of us only ‘see’ our horses on the weekend!
It also depends what facilities you have in Winter vs Summer. Often horses are kept in different fields depending on the season, so you may find one or other set up is more suitable to a newly barefoot horse whose hooves need a little extra attention.
Some yards don’t allow turn out in winter which can make rehab difficult and generally be unhealthy for the horse. Often horses are given a period of rest in winter though, and that can be useful.
Like any difficult break-up... Let's do a pros and cons list 🙂
Not every plus or minus will carry the same weight, and how much each point matters will differ with each situation, but you can see it's fairly even stevens. Don't worry about the time of year too much. A good plan is more important.
Do it When you’re ready
Really, it’s not the ground, or the time of year that matters. The best time to go barefoot with your horse is when you’re ready with a plan of action and a team behind you who are focused on success.
When you know what to expect
Knowing what to expect can help a lot. Starting your search for answers while your horse is sore is a horrible position to be in. While it’s still horrible when your horse is sore, it’s a lot less stressful if you expected it and already know ways you can help.
Support of a knowledgeable professional that you trust.
It’s not enough for a hoof care practitioner to be ‘barefoot friendly’ they have to be barefoot knowledgeable. I don’t care whether they’re a trimmer or a farrier. What’s important is they can give you an assessment of the hoof problems that your horse has, an understanding of what’s caused them and a whole horse plan of action as to how to rehabilitate the hooves and the internal structures.
If their plan is ‘lets take the shoes off and give it some time’ then that’s no plan at all. Waiting isn’t a plan. Any plan will need time to work, but it needs more than just time. You need to set the environment up to promote healing and then give it time. Not just wait in the environment that caused the problems in the first place.
When you have some extra time available.
There will be some extra care needed in the rehab stage. You’re also likely to spend a lot more time looking at your horse’s hooves and wondering about every little thing you notice and what it might mean. You can see so much more of the hoof when the shoes are off, and once someone has explained what’s going on with your horses feet, and how they want them to change and develop, you going to notice loads more things.
When you’re able to give your horse some time off.
Most horses will need some time off work when the shoes come off. How much will depend on how much healing is needed and what remedial changes have been made to the environment.
Preparation is key.
Rehabilitating your horse’s hooves and getting them sound barefoot, often requires a change in diet, and you may find other health/body issues become apparent, so some bodywork, or environment changes may be required.
Some of these changes can be made before the shoes come off. For instance, if you’re going to need dietary changes for your horse to become sound barefoot, those changes can be made before the shoes come off. This will mean your horse suffers less discomfort upon shoe removal.
The downside is you won’t clearly see how your horse’s soundness improves as a result of the change in diet so it’s more difficult to understand just how significant it is.
6 weeks after the last shoeing (or thereabouts)
You don’t want to take shoes off a week or 2 after they were put on. It’s worth waiting 6 weeks or so, or however long your usual shoeing interval is. This allows some hoof to grow so the foot is a little longer when going barefoot. Shod feet tend to be a little shorter than bare hooves. Much of the transitioning time is growing this extra hoof through.
Whenever you decide to take your horses shoes off the most important thing is that you have a plan and people to turn to for advice. Those 2 things can make a huge difference to how easy or complicated the process can seem.
This is the first part of a 4 part series on transitioning your horse from shod to barefoot. In the next blog post we’ll cover what you can expect from the transitioning period when you’re rehabilitating your horse to sound healthy bare hooves.
If you've already transitioned your horse, I'd love to hear what your plan, challenges and solutions were in the comments below...
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