Well it’s not really about barefoot is it?

Going barefoot is about so much more, that at times, the ‘barefoot’ part of it all isn’t what’s important.

I mean, yes, when you take a horse’s shoes off you get a really clear picture of exactly where you are.  And that’s very important.  To know where you’re starting from.  To know where you’re at now is essential if you’re looking for the right path to get you where you want to go.  But taking a horse’s shoes off does only that.

Taking the shoes off will only solve all your problems if:

All your problems = that your horse has shoes on


You have the same problems with the foot

A horse who has hoof wall growth problems when shod, is still going to have hoof wall growth problems when the shoe is removed.  While a shoe does stimulate a slightly different kind of wall growth than a barefoot does, it’s not so dramatically different that shoe removal alone will fix everything.

You’re probably going to need a diet change, possibly a change of how your horse moves, either through some sort of bodywork therapy or by changing the exercise the horse is currently receiving.  And you can do those things with or without a shoe on the bottom.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that in most cases, healing neuromusculoskeletal problems happens faster without the concussion of a shoe involved.  And barefoot hooves tend to grow slightly faster and with stronger inner wall than shod ones.  But diet and physical problems can be addressed in shod horses too!


It’s Terminology Really

For me it’s all about horse health.  When you have a healthy horse it grows healthy hooves.  When you have healthy hooves, the shoe isn’t nearly so important.  I mean, there’s less need for a shoe, yes, but also when you have a shoe, it’s not going to cause the breakdown in the hoof that shoes are so often accused of.

If that’s the case – then it’s not the shoe or being barefoot that’s the important part.  It’s the health of the horse.  I hear people talking about a ‘barefoot diet’ and I don’t get it because it gives the impression that barefoot horses have different dietary requirements than shod horses, and I don’t think they do.


It’s All About Lifestyle

Most people who have working barefoot horses understand that it’s not just about being barefoot, it’s about a whole lifestyle change.  People who are new to barefoot, often don’t realise this.  They expect ‘barefoot’ results from having barefoot horse.  Who can blame them…

They take the shoes off their horse, see that it’s not comfortable and put the shoes back on saying ‘barefoot doesn’t work’.  They’re right –just taking the shoes off doesn’t change much.

On occasions they struggle on with a lame horse for weeks causing distress to both the horse and owner before putting the shoes back on.  I find that a real shame, as some changes to the lifestyle could have improved their quality of life greatly.

What’s more, if a horse is lame without his shoes on:  Then he’s lame.  The shoes may make him comfortable and useable.  But he essentially has the same foot regardless of whether or not a shoe has been applied.  He’s the same lame horse but with a shoe on.

If you’ve broken your leg and can’t walk, you can get a plaster cast put on.  This makes you dramatically more comfortable and can make it possible for you to walk around on the leg.  You wouldn’t claim it had fixed your leg though, only helped you out while the healing is happening.  The leg, is in fact, still broken.

Most of the lifestyle change barefoot horses go through, however, is possible with shoes still being on the horse.

If it’s the lifestyle change that makes the difference between the horse being sound or not, then couldn’t this change be applied to the horse while shod?  If you knew there was a problem of course.  Because shoes are such a good support structure not only is it more difficult to see the problem with shoes on it would be more difficult to see the improvements too.


What About the Trim

What’s so special about a barefoot trim?  Good question.  Well it’s not so much about the trim.  A balanced hoof is a balanced hoof.  Hopefully a hoof is being balanced correctly regardless of whether a shoe is applied or not.  What we’re talking about there is static balance.

But when I’m thinking about balance I’m not really thinking about balance.  If I were to be pedantic about it (which I can be – ask anyone!) then I’d say I’m actually interested in equilibrium.  A dynamic balance.

Is the growth in equilibrium with the wear?

Is the heel structure, by which I’m talking about the whole back of the foot (heels, bars, digital cushion, lateral cartilages all of it) not just the heel height, in balance with the toe?

Is the strength of the wall in equilibrium with the strength of the internal structures?

Is the movement of the horse in equilibrium?

Is the posture of the horse in equilibrium?

And finally, is the hoof in balance, and if it’s not, why not and can it be corrected by trimming or would it be better corrected by improving the growth/regeneration in all or part of the foot?

All of that applies regardless of the bit of metal on the bottom.  The really interesting bit about all of this for me though, is this: If it’s not about the shoe or barefoot, then why are so many lamenesses being treated with shoeing?  (I’m going to cop out of answering that one right now and move on like nothing happened…)


Barefoot – a rose by any other name…

Inspite of all my objections to the term barefoot I’m going to carry on using it.  There’s a few reasons for this.  Primarily because it’s the name everyone uses.  People who have barefoot horses use it, people who have shod horses use it.  Erm…  I think that covers everyone!

If I were to not use the term barefoot – well there wouldn’t be anyone reading this blog, because that’s the word people are using in searches.  Sadly, not many people search ‘hoof health’ when they’re looking for fix their horses hoof problems.

There’s many things in this world I’d like to influence, but it takes time and effort to do that.  I can’t help feeling that my time and effort would be better spent helping people get healthy horses, rather than arguing about the name ‘barefoot’.


What do you think?
Put your 2 cents in and tell me in the comments below.


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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.

  • My horse gets more tender in the spring/summer does great all winter long.. is it the grass or the wet grass making the hoof softer?

  • I love your posts but unfortunately I live in Northern Ireland and can’t find anybody who has your knowledge or qualifications. There are a few of my friends in the same position. Any advice would be welcome.

  • I couldn’t have said this any better, your right on the money, I am a “Natural BALANCE” farrier for over 20 years now and it’s all about hoof and horse health!
    I rehab the horses back to their natural neutral balance and people do confuse me with “barefoot” trimmer … which I am NOT! I also shoe horses that have good natural healthy hooves. GREAT ARTICLE. Thank you for sharing.
    Happy Trails

  • Nice one, but not gluing your hand onto your own shoe-love your sense of humor! My bane here is also the lack of good hoof people! And all now insist on barefoot which is fine with me if they know what they are doing. It got so bad that I had to let a guy go when I found out he was on bad drugs, passing his shaking hands and red eyes off on Diabetes, so naturally being the trusting person I am, I always had a sandwich and a cup of tea handy! But many make appointments, don’t show up and with no phone call either, so my area here is bad for trying to get good hoof work done. Also, I believe I know about the low fat diet some are speaking of-the grain is way cheap and every horse I’ve seen on this diet look like they need to gain 50-100 pounds!

    Great article as always!

  • Back when I first bought a horse twenty years ago this guy called a “farrier” came and fitted steel shoes. Being inexperienced I thought that I was paying him to take responsibility for everything to do with soundness and serviceability of the feet. Probably a lot of horse owners think like that. It’s a simple approach after all, a bit like how one pays a mechanic to service a car and make sure that it’s safe and reliable until next year.

    Then, if one is perceptive or has a good mentor, one discovers that life isn’t quite like that.

    I agree that much of the “barefoot” knowledge base could be applied to shod horses. The reason I took my horses barefoot was simply the toxic mix of limited skill, complacency and arrogance characterising many farriers in my area. If I’d have met a farrier who knew as much about the equine organism as you, Debbie, I might not have moved to barefoot.

    The other thing is that it’s really awkward losing a shoe. Barefoot eliminates that issue. Back when I ran a string of trail horses lost shoes were a bane of my life. In the end I trained my barn staff to in basic shoeing skills. This was abroad so the ridiculously restrictive UK legislation didn’t apply.

    It’s surprising how easy the basic mechanical shoeing skills are to learn. I met one chap abroad who taught himself to shoe horses beginning with a wooden replica of a hoof mounted in a vice for learning nailing. His horses were all sound for work. I guess you could deduce from this that many horses are both robust and stoic.

    • The last time I was trying to put a picture hook up I took a minute to stop and take thanks I wasn’t a farrier. If you want shoes on your horse, I’m ok with that, but I strongly suggest I’m not the person on the other end of the hammer.

      I probably shouldn’t tell you about the time I glued my hand to my own shoe while trying to fix something either.

      I am however safe with velcro and buckles 😉

    • Farriers like myself are supposed to consider the whole horse not just nail on a shoe. I also use a mustang or field roll on barefoot horses to prevent the outside hoof wall from chipping.

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