The Benefits of Going Barefoot, By Pete Ramey


Are there any disadvantages to keeping your horse barefoot? 

Yes. All things considered, it may be less convenient than having the farrier come by every six weeks and reset shoes. So you have convenience vs. your horse's health and comfort. One other thought about convenience:  when your horse throws a shoe 20 miles from camp or 30 minutes before a  competition, you may find yourself wishing he'd been barefoot, or that  the "shoe" had been a boot you could easily throw back on yourself. You've  said that keeping your barefoot horse turned out or otherwise as active  as he can be is important to the success of a barefoot lifestyle...
Yes. Movement is critical, not only to growing healthy hooves, but to  every aspect of overall health. The horse evolved to move, on average,  20 miles a day, and every part of him will generally function better if  we can provide as much movement as possible. The best way I've seen to maximize  the movement of a turned-out horse is being popularized by natural hoof  care practitioner Jaime Jackson, who describes his method in his book Paddock Paradise.  Basically, you use fencing to create 30-foot-wide "tracks" around the  perimeter of your property or pasture/paddock area. Each day (or twice a  day) you scatter hay around the track, which encourages the horses to  make numerous laps. It really works, and horses seem motivated to move  along the track even without the enticement of food. Horses that  normally stand around in the paddock pasture all day will radically  increase their movement. This aids metabolism, increases health,  strength and endurance, helps process excess sugars and of course  creates very tough, healthy feet One of the most important rules of  thumb with hooves and equine health in general is, "Use it or lose it."  These track systems can and will revolutionize the way we board horses.  They're cheap and easy to set up, and they really work to the horse's  benefit. What about nutrition--that's a key part of the picture, too, isn't it?
Yes. Nutrition is critical to growing healthy hooves. Mineral imbalances  or shortages, or anything lacking in the diet dramatically affects hoof  quality.  Of  greatest concern is excess sugar in the diet. Modern grasses and hays  can fluctuate to over 30 percent sugar. Feeds are usually over 50  percent sugar, with raw grains varying from 50 to 80 percent sugar. In  contrast, native grasses from the sparse rangelands of wild horse  country usually peak at 12 percent sugar, and are usually closer to 8  percent. (For more information on this, see Kathryn Watts'  Add this to the "less than natural" amount of movement domestic horses  tend to get, and we have a tremendous "sugar plague" in the domestic  horse world. As in humans, the horse's body  produces more insulin to deal with the excess sugar. Recent research  published by K.E. Asplin, et. al., in The Veterinary Journal  indicates that high insulin levels constantly destroy the attachment of  hoof to horse. This is why laminitis is on the rise, and also why it's  so common to see a groove where the white line is supposed to be on most  domestic horses. In summary, what are the most  important new developments in the field of natural hoof care since '06,  when we first visited this topic?
Booted horses continue to take over the endurance racing world, and barefoot horses are showing up in competitions everywhere. New research continues to back up  what the horses have already shown us. Asplin's laminitis/insulin study;  Dr. Bowker's studies on blood flow, energy dissipation, foot  development and peripheral loading; and Kathryn Watts' studies on grass,  feed and forage all point to the fact that it is time for change in  feeding, boarding and hoof care. Also of great importance, the boot  manufacturers are really stepping up to the challenge, and hoof-boot  quality has come a long way in just the last year. These folks want to  provide the "21st Century Horseshoe," and if they, as an industry,  continue improving boot models and providing professionals and horse  owners with better and better tools to work with, they'll accomplish  that goal.