I thoroughly appreciate this article. I see it as a platform to help increase awareness of the benefits of barefoot hoof care, even for the highest levels of equine athletes. I hope that you take the time to read it. ~ Geary
This is a very good article about high level dressage horses that are going barefoot. I am so happy to see that the value of horses going barefoot is being recognized in these high performance horses. This is something that I have been advocating for years and teaching at my school. Why do I teach about the importance of keeping horses barefoot in my massage school? I look at the horse as I do people, and it has taught me a lot over the years. I look at form, function, and design. Horses were born without shoes; they function great as intended without them; and shoes go contrary to form, function, and design.
The horse’s foot is not flat and that is what we end up with when we put shoes on horses. They do not let people into the military if they walk flat-footed because of all the back problems that it causes, and it is the same for horses. Shoes also elevate the frog so it is not on the ground, severely impeding its true function as a support mechanism for the coffin bone.
I look at the horse as having five hearts. Each foot is a manual blood pump, and the main heart is an electrical blood pump. The shoes disable the manual pumps significantly – the other four hearts. Since shoes severely restrict the pumping action of the hoof, this makes the main heart work overtime, which can also potentially affect other organs. It is my personal feeling that this can lead to heart attack in horses.
Shoes alter the natural shape of the hoof and causes stress to the joints. The horse’s natural foot has an arch on the side and, without shoes and with proper barefoot hoof care, the break-over is correct. With shoes, the break-over is too far forward. Therefore, when shoes are used, the concussion factor is increased by 60 to 80%, which can increase ossification in the joints as well as in the atlas of the neck. In cold weather there is an additional damaging factor that occurs because the shoe transfers the cold up into the horse’s joints.
I have been challenged time after time when talking with people about this. They are stuck in the culture that shoes are the best. They also argue that their horses do very well with shoes. The problem is that each horse is built differently, just like people. We all know that horses move differently, some are toed, in, some toed out, and there are classes and books all about conformation. How the horse is built will affect how their feet wear. For example, base wide and base narrow horses will wear their feet differently. Proper foot maintenance should be based on bony structure, not on how the “standard hoof” is supposed to appear.
Unfortunately, there are many farriers that do not often consider the bone structure of the horse as a part of their shoeing program. So, a horse can be shod incorrectly for years and they eventually break down with all sorts of hoof health and joint-related problems (medial-lateral balance.) Why does this happen when the horse seems to do very well with shoes? People and animals can adapt to what is wrong and make it feel like it is right, but it creates underlying problems that surface later. Performance problems and joint degeneration occurs because medial lateral balance is off. Leaving the horse’s foot alone will show the wear pattern where it is supposed to be. Putting shoes on makes it hard to match the horse’s structure for many.
The only thing I do not agree with in this article is that some horses cannot ever go barefoot. We do not know that is true because we put shoes on them in the first place! Why not let the horse tell us whether or not they can go with or without shoes? What would happen if we never disabled the foot and just left it alone?
Why do some people feel that there are some horses that cannot go barefoot? Is it because they are not prepared to take the time to allow the hoof to return to its natural state? The further you are away from the natural state, the longer it will take for you to get back. If the horse’s hoof has been trapped in shoes for years, it is likely that the hoof has been extremely altered. Therefore, the journey back can be difficult requiring a lot of time for the body to reverse the damage and to allow the hoof to return to its natural state. I have experienced that with my own horses, where it took about three years in some of the more serious situations, but we did it with success!
I believe the ideal is to never put shoes on in the first place. If you leave horses barefoot you have the best chance of having a horse with a sound foot for life. Remember, the horse is born without shoes. When the foal’s feet experience different surfaces, their body adjusts and toughens up the feet. The frog supports the coffin bone, and shoes interfere with that support. The coffin bone is not developed until the horse is 4 ½ to 5 years of age. So, when shoes are put on young horses, before the coffin bone is developed, and the coffin bone does not receive the support that it needs, damage starts to occur. This is one of the reasons why we have health problems and horses breaking down. As mentioned earlier shoes go contrary to form, function, and design because horses were born without shoes, and they function great without them. This is about prevention. Being barefoot has everything to do with performance and not destroying the horse.
Also, shoes create a disconnect – horses can’t feel the ground with shoes on, so, they are set up for problems and injuries. When you have that disconnect, you have something missing. When you are grounded, you feel at peace, and it is the same for horses. If you want to see what the horse is missing, take your shoes off and see how you feel. Think about going to the beach and taking your shoes off and walking in the sand, and see how connected you are to the earth, something most people have never considered. Humans create real problems when they put shoes on horses; so, my suggestion would be to never put the shoe on in the first place.
If you are going to have a barefoot horse, good nutrition is essential so that the horse can grow a proper hoof. Not all nutritional programs are equal. In fairness many people are doing the best they can, and due to lack of education they do not realize that the program they are following is lacking. Because the subject of nutrition is so important, I cover this extensively in my school.
I work on some of the highest classes of equine athletes, and I do know we apply shoes for our sports with horses. For example, reining and working cow horses that need to slide in their stops. Shoes are used to help achieve the slide, but shoes should be removed whenever possible. The body knows what it needs. When you take the shoes off, you allow the pumps to start working again and allow the frog to do its job of supporting the coffin bone. Essentially, even by allowing the top equine athletes to go barefoot for periods of time, we are helping to restore their health.
Because of my experience with world class athletes, both human and equine, there is absolutely nothing traditional about the program at my school. It is very advanced. Things that I teach are not being taught by other equine massage schools. I believe and know from the experiences of my students that I provide a life-changing program to both my students and the horses they help. That is what makes my school unique.