“Barefoot” or “Natural” hoof care is a burgeoning philosophy and practice that I am proud to offer as just one of your many equine care options, though it can be a source of mean-spirited divide among hoof care professionals, with fanatics on both ends. My expectation of you as a horse owner is that you be educated about hoof structures and the care that is needed based on boarding conditions, genetic pedigree, and each individual animal’s tasks or lifestyle (Please also read about the traditional shoeing process here). My commitment to you is be well versed in these issues and options, so that I can answer your questions and provide the best care for your equine companion or workmate.
–Carl Stephens III
From Yvonne Welz’ excellent writings at thehorsehoof.com:
“Natural Hoof care” or “Barefoot Hoof care” are generic terms being used to describe the care and use of barefooted horses in all disciplines. Natural Hoofcare is not only a trimming method designed specifically for barefoot horses, but includes a daily care system that allows a horse to remain barefoot throughout its entire working life. This same system can be used to rehabilitate horses from many degenerative lamenesses.
Natural Hoofcare applies specialized trimming techniques along with improved living conditions to aid in the development of total hoof health. Horses that were previously unable to perform barefoot using traditional trimming/shoeing methods, are now able to fully function without any hoof protection at all! This is true high-performance barefootedness, with horses used in endurance, rocky trail-riding, competitive driving, jumping, roping, barrel racing, dressage, polo, flat racing, and more.
Horses with founder, navicular, ringbone and other ossifications, contracted hooves, “heel pain syndrome”, and a host of other chronic illnesses and lamenesses are finding improved health and a genuine return to soundness with Natural Hoofcare.
What is unique in this “new” approach to hoof care is that it now extends to the complete lifestyle of the horse. From this lifestyle, the barefoot hooves become strong, healthy, and fully functioning, and the entire immune system of the horse is strengthened naturally. Many hoof conditions such as laminitis, navicular, and poor hoof quality can be completely healed, and other systemic problems (such as allergies and metabolic problems) can disappear. There are basically 3 main parts to Natural Hoofcare, each an integral part of the whole system.
1. Natural Living Conditions: This means freedom of movement (no box-stall confinement) – optimally living in a pasture or paddock for 24 hours a day/7 days a week in the company of other horses. Horse clothing (bandages, wraps, blankets, etc) is generally to be avoided.
2. Exercise: Very important! Hand-walk or ride the horse (depending on situation) as much as possible, aiming for the natural amount of movement of 10 miles per day. For horses in transition, spreading hay out in little piles, taking him for frequent short walks on non-concussive ground or in hoof boots, and keeping him in the company of many other horses will all go a long way to encouraging movement. Set up a “Paddock Paradise” of your own, to encourage natural movement.
3. Proper trimming of the barefoot hoof: Hooves must be trimmed to their natural and proper physiological form. They must be trimmed by someone with the knowledge and training to perform this trim. The main emphasis will be on improving hoof form, which is the key to hoof and horse health. This natural trim is often different from what has been considered “normal” in our modern era, yet it is the correct shape for the horse’s hoof, based on decades of studies of natural equines.