Going Barefoot

I often get asked when is the best time to remove a horse’s shoes. The truth is in the U.K. I do not think that summer is better than winter or that winter could be better than summer. Each season has its own challenges. The right time is when it is best for you. As a horse owner I know how we worry about our horses. I know that taking the shoes off your horse is a big step and you need to be happy that you are making the best decisions for your horse

How a horse copes when first having his shoes off depends on many things. The most obvious is the overall health of the foot. I find that most horses that I take the shoes off have something that  makes their feet unhealthy. Going barefoot from shod isn’t just a matter of taking the shoes off, having a pretty trim and away you go. Having said that every now and then I get horse that transitions from shod to barefoot without taking a single faulty step. Most horses take a little time for their feet to start to work as they were intended to do.


One of the first things I will talk about with any client is correct movement. The importance of correct movement is often glossed over as obvious.  However, defining correct movement can confuse many professionals. I like to keep it simple. Correct movement starts with a heel first landing in walk on a flat surface. Sometimes the foot placement will look flat, however if you look at the foot in slow motion it will be heel first.

It’s often easier to spot incorrect movement such as the foot placement being toe first. There are other areas of foot placement that I look for such as loading, and reach, but I can not stress enough that heel first is correct, toe first is wrong.



How will my horse cope?

Most horses cope quite well with transitioning to barefoot. Sometimes their work load will need to be managed and common sense applied. I wouldn’t recommend going for a 12 mile fun ride the day after having the shoes     removed. I would recommend slow and careful exercise, paying close attention to foot placement. If we are unable to get correct foot placement I will recommend the use of boots for exercise.  


Boots have come along way in recent years and there is now quite a  confusing choice. However all boots are manufactured with a healthy foot shape in mind. Now, not all horses that require boots to transition have   correct shaped feet to start with so I don’t recommend buying boots unless they are needed as the fit will change as the foot changes.


In most cases, the majority of the changes happen in the first 6 to 12 months, although small changes will still be happening to some horses anything up to and over 3 years later. Some conditions like high heels, where the foot has a clubbed appearance can take at least 12 months to start to change the shape of the foot and how it works. The reason is quite simple, when you change anything about the foot you change everything above the foot as well, tendon, ligament and muscles. All these structures need time to adjust.


Diet is such an important part of owning a healthy horse that I will go into  detail elsewhere in other pages. Here I will just say that low level laminitis is the number one cause of sore feet in transitioned horses. Being barefoot doesn't mean your horse is more prone to laminitis. It does mean, however, that your horse will often show signs early, which is a good thing as early   intervention is very important. Also it is quite common to become more aware of how your horse moves. Also being aware of what can cause your horse to be short striding or reluctant to move, and knowing how to stop it, means you pick up on when your horse isn’t quite right.