Why is There An Obsession with Nutrition for Barefoot Horses?

Ask anyone, if you’re going barefoot with your horse, you’re going to need to look into the diet.  But why is that?  Why is diet more important for barefoot horses than shod ones?

While it often looks that way, in my opinion, it’s really not any different.  The nutritional needs for a barefoot horse are the same as the nutritional needs for a horse with an external application of an inert material to the hoof.

Do you see what I mean – what possible difference would a shoe make to the nutritional requirements of the body?  Yes, I know that shoes affect the body in many different ways, I’m not saying they don’t.  I’m just saying they’re not so powerful as to change the basic diet a horse needs.

So why do barefooters keep banging on about nutrition all the time?

In short, nutrition is important.

I am one of those irritating people who bangs on about nutrition all the time, not because I like being irritating (though my big sister might disagree on that one) but because – and I might have said this already – nutrition is really important!!

The body is always regenerating and replacing cells.  All the time, every second of every day.  Muscle, bone, internal organs, connective tissue, hormones, enzymes, fluids – everything.  All of it is always being replaced.  The hoof is always growing, that’s the same thing regenerating and replacing cells (also the same thing as healing – slow growth also means slow healing!).

Those cells need to be made from something.  They’re made from the raw materials you put into the body in the form of food, drink and air.

We tend to forget about the fluid and air, and focus on the food part of nutrition, which I’m about to do for the rest of this article, but lets all remember that what you drink and breathe also counts as nutrition.

Have I made nutrition sound important yet?  It really is life or death stuff for the cells in a body.  And the body is made up entirely of cells.

Nutrition is the raw material the whole body is built from

Providing the body with good nutrition is essential.  The cells can only be built from the nutrition you provide it.  Give good quality raw materials in the right quantities and ratios and you get a good quality body with the right quantities and ratios.  That’s balance.

Give poor quality raw materials or incorrect quantities or ratios and you’re going to end up with a poor quality body with incorrect quantities or ratios. That’s imbalance

Things like too much fat, not enough muscle or weak tendons and ligaments.  Maybe too much lymphatic fluid all backed up due to the body becoming overwhelmed by toxins.  Or fat pads developing as the body tries to store those toxins until it’s able to deal with them.

Maybe you get poor quality enzymes made as you’re simply missing what’s needed to build them, so the body can’t break down food properly, further perpetuating the problem.

Maybe you get poor quality hormones so the messages sent around the body aren’t properly received.

Basically you get a body made of parts that break down, clog up, and don’t communicate properly.

Every single thing your body does, every message sent, every movement made, every thought thunk has at it’s very basis a biochemical reaction, and the source of those chemicals that make the reaction is nutrition.

So yes, Nutrition is important for barefoot horses.

Really important, fundamental in fact.

Many people remove their horse’s shoes to try and fix a hoof problem, or maybe a problem in the body. It takes far more than just the removal of the shoe to correct this issue though.

It requires healing.  Healing is essentially replacing weak or broken cells with healthy ones.  Growth and healing are basically the same thing, and both depend on strong cells being produced – which you know by now requires good quality nutrition going into the body.

Once you’ve been through this process, particularly with a barefoot horse, you tend to develop a very healthy respect for the importance of nutrition.

Never again will you underestimate it, or be fooled by fancy marketing. The big words on the front of the packet become irrelevant (or maybe a source of amusement) and it’s the teeny tiny print on the back of the packet which is the only place you look.

Why does diet affect barefoot horses more than shod ones?

Well… it doesn’t.  It affects them both in exactly the same way.  One is a horse, the other is a horse with something inert attached externally to the bottom.

It seems like it affects the barefoot horse more frequently because you can see the effects more clearly.  When the diet of a barefoot horse is wrong, they tend to show a slight soreness over certain surfaces.

This change can be seen in days – sometimes hours.  It’s worth remembering the improvements can be seen in days also!

When the diet of a shod horse is wrong, the shoe protects them from showing that soreness.  You may see napping, sluggishness, jumpiness, stressy behaviour, overreactions, obstinacy, reluctance, poor stamina or anything like that.

The horse is affected in just the same way.  The shoes protect you from seeing it, so you have no idea that there’s a problem.  Most of the problems I listed are considered training problems, not nutritional ones.

If you can’t see the problem clearly, you don’t know to fix it.  And even if you did, you wouldn’t be sure the ‘fix’ worked because if you can’t see the problem clearly, neither can you see when it’s gone.

What is The Barefoot Diet?

I’m never going to like the term ‘barefoot diet’, but I have accepted that it’s likely here to stay.  There really isn’t a (singular) barefoot diet, just as there isn’t a (singular) barefoot trim or a (singular) farrier trim.

I’d much prefer we use the term ‘healthy diet’ as that not only applies to all horses, but also allows for the individual needs of each horse.  Whatever term is used, it amounts to the same thing.

  • Good quality food
  • Chemical free
  • Low sugar
  • Good nutritional balance
  • Unprocessed

Simple isn’t it!  Not necessarily easy when you look at the mainstream feeds available, but it is simple.

Good nutrition isn’t a one size fits all solution – if it were, none of us would ever have any problems or questions about it!  The way to find the best solution for your horse, is to have an understanding of how that nutrition is utilised in the body, and specifically how it gets to the hooves.

It’s not a small subject though, so I’ve split it up across a number of blog posts. Watch this space or join mailing list to be kept updated

If you’re not sure whether your horse is getting the correct nutrition, you can find  a simple Nutrition Health Check in the Academy Resources.

Part 2 The Importance of Digestion for Barefoot Horses
Part 3 The Importance of Circulation for Barefoot Horses
Part 4 What to Feed You Barefoot Horse

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below

The Healthy Horse: Feeding and Nutrition

We Are What We Eat

It's easy to see why diet is so important. The body is always regenerating, it needs good nutrition to be able to build healthy cells. Nutrition is such a confusing subject though!

There's so much advice, and so many different choices, how are you ever supposed to figure out what's right for your horse?

About the author

Debs is a practicing Equine Podiatrist with over 15 years experience, author, and educator.

She’s here to show you how to simplify your horse’s management painlessly so you feel in control and have a straightforward system that works for you.

When she’s not working you can find her playing with her own horses, watching geeky sci-fi or baking epic cakes.

  • Three equines, one 17.2 TB ex chaser, one 16h Apaloosa, both aged, one rescue aged moorland pony, all barefoot, quite healthy happy hackers, thanks to your input and our wonderful Lindsay Setchell, BF trimmer. I love to read your blogs about keeping them all barefoot. Since moving to Bodmin moor, their feet have changed shape radically. Their easyboot gloves didn’t fit anymore, fusion joggers revolved, so no use. Scoot boots seem to be just the ticket so far. They get a little thunderbrook base mix with their organic meadow chaff, mag chloride in a water source, many other rain water troughs, a track with wrapped hay in feeders 24/7 and free access to concrete yard, gravel drives, rubber matted stables with open doors. Hay is hard to find in Cornwall, the grass just doesn’t dry enough to make good hay, but the wrapped, kind of haylage really, seems to be acceptable, though they waste lots of long gingery fine grasses, don’t know what it is but obviously isn’t very tasty to them. Roll on summer. Thanks so much for all your help, I read every word, but the science is a mystery to me – in 1950s the only science we were taught was domestic science!

    • Hey Barbara!

      I was just doing an email inventory today and was wondering how you and your lot were getting on. I’m so glad it’s going well now! Well Done!

      Never underestimate domestic science!!! 🙂

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