Is Going Barefoot Really All That?

When we decided to buy the property and build literally from the dirt up, I decided to give my horses a break while we were building and let them sit. I couldn’t justify the cost of monthly shoeing on a horse that wasn’t doing anything, and I couldn’t justify the cost of running barrels when my horses didn’t even have a roof over their head. So I took a deep breath and pulled Fireman’s shoes.The other two were already barefoot and I had trimmed them for years, but Fireman was different – he had issues with thin soles and low heels. He was a classic case of what is ideal doesn’t always work, and what works isn’t always ideal. We tried everything from pour in pads and rim pads to rocker shoes. The shoes and pads that kept him sound didn’t stay on in turnout and often encouraged his heel to become under-slung, but what kept him upright didn’t keep him comfortable. So, pulling shoes and starting from scratch, especially since we were sitting anyhow seemed like a good option.

firemanshoes.jpg

When I first pulled Fireman’s shoes, even though he was long he was definitely sore. Fortunately, although our ground at the new place has a lot of rocks, the ground itself is soft. I studied different theories online and the first year I focused on trim and attempting to get the toe shorter and moving the heels back where they should be. I was always conservative with trimming, trimming less more frequently.At first, I listened to the (bad) advice that I needed to trim the heel in order to help the heel to come back. Needless to say, he didn’t improve. Only later after I read Pete Ramey’s theory about when you shorten the toe, the heel moves back on their own, did I realize taking heel wasn’t the answer in Fireman’s case.Not to be deterred, I started researching nutrition and learned that a deficiency of copper – usually caused by an overload of iron – kept them from growing much needed heel. So, I began tweaking Fireman’s nutrition and trying supplements. Again, another lesson in what’s ideal doesn’t always work, and what works isn’t always ideal. What works best for weight and for your budget doesn’t always work for feet, and vice versa!My budget was already maxed out between building the house and trying to figure all of this out when one of the horses I had re-homed due to the divorce returned to me after a severe case of laminitis. Now I had TWO horses with issues to figure out and work on!

With the extreme wet weather resulting in record rains and continuous mud, and trying to stay within a budget, and meet nutritional requirements to grow feet and avoid starch, it’s been a lot to figure out. I’m still tweaking the diet – learning what works and what doesn’t – and learning where my limits are with the trims. Even with the failures, there have been small stretches when Fireman was sound enough to ride, and I’ve been able to maintain the other horse Cool without shoes when he was too sore to eat without shoes, so I don’t feel like it’s a total loss.

“Is your horse really sound if he is tender without shoes?”

That question really resonated with me and makes sense, which is one reason why I have stayed the course this long. I know in the end if I can figure out what works for these two I’ll have a healthier horse.

Fireman was always a little tender right after trims, but other than that there weren’t any blatant signs that concerned the vets. I had one of the best farriers in the country that has worked on top horses and good vets to go with it. It wasn’t their fault. Looking back and knowing what I know now, I believe Fireman was borderline laminitic but we didn’t know that at the time.Fireman was on a low amount of the best low starch feed, good grass hay (from Kamps Farms) but it wasn’t enough. He was still getting too much starch and iron from the feed, and not enough copper and zinc. I’ve had to totally revamp the mineral portion of his diet, and although progress has been slow it’s still progress.

As I often say, you can’t out trim bad nutrition and you can’t out nutrition a bad trim – it takes a whole approach. It’s not as simple as feeding a good feed and adding a great hoof supplement. It takes a whole lot more than that. It takes figuring out the right balance for your horse, and all the while working with your supply, your budget, and your storage set up. At the same time, it takes the right trim and aiming for a heel first landing to get the circulation needed to heel the hoof and grow sole depth.Truthfully, in the end, it all comes down to what you’re willing and able to do, and what works for your horse.Since we’re still building, I’ve got time to still give this whole barefoot thing a try. By the way, if you run barrels barefoot with a horse that used to have issues with shoes, contact me — I’d love to hear from you! In the meantime, if you’re looking to do some research, Pete Ramey is a great resource, as is Dr. Kellon .

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