When I was 14 I had three horses. I lived a long way from a farrier so unless I was planning a long road ride (like the 30km trek along the road then up the beach and through the forest to Pony Club) and called the farrier for shoes, I'd tie them in a row and file all 12 feet myself.
My guide? I honestly think it was like most horse obsessed teens I had drawn 5000 horses and had a deeply ingrained feeling for what a hoof should look like.
But my three horses (one was a paint with four white hooves, one was a thoroughbred) never had any hoof issues beyond the odd stone bruise from a random piece of gravel. No seedy toe, no descended soles, no contracted heels, no thinned sole creating sensitive hooves. It could have been genetic luck, for sure, but I still think that instinctively understanding the angles and length and overall 'shape' that a hoof needs to be stood my younger self in good stead.
Today things are a little different! I've read so much about bars and soles and coffin bones my brain is bursting a little with too much information. I've also been through stages of trying different strategies (more rolled toe, trim the bars back to create a stronger inner wall, more off the heel, less off the heel...) some of which were way more successful than others.
Hoof health can be affected by where you live
In New Zealand we have some pretty tricky environmental factors for horses hooves - I recently asked my vet if she had any miracle cures for thrush and she said 'move out of the Auckland region'... I do get super envious seeing the dry ground that many horses live on when ours stand in mud for 8 months a year!
A note on horses living in wetter regions: Three things I have found that really help are:
- Paying for lime standing patches to be placed in every field at the gate where the horses like to rest so that they are on firm hygienic ground for at least a few hours every day
- Building a shelter also floored with lime so they can stand in the dry for a few hours a day when it's raining heavily for days
- Eco Horse zinc-based hoof clay with eucalyptus oil is amazing for clearing thrush. And unlike almost every other thrush-medication it is not toxic! It's made in New Zealand and is all natural. If you check it out, grab the Hoof Gloss too as it is a moisturising hoof balm that can be used on the wall and sole in dry OR very wet conditions to help the hoof remain nourished and protected. For seedy toe or old abscess holes the copper sulphate infused Hoof Wax creates a great 'filler' for spaces that would otherwise be prone to bacteria.
Genetics and nutrition matter in going barefoot
Some horses are just 'born that way' and much more likely to be comfortable and easy to maintain barefoot. Some youngsters get balanced nutrition and develop healthier hooves in their formative years. As mature horses, the levels of sugars and fructans in their diets can have a short or lasting effect on hoof health.
I'm dealing with two very different sets of hooves.
Genetically, Trinny hit the lottery. Her Friesian dad gave her hard, strong, upright hooves with a densely callused sole and wide healthy frogs. Her hinds tend to a very slight flare (like most carthorses) which is something to watch but her hoof walls are glossy and dark and strong. She can trot on gravel without thinking about it at all. Her thoroughbred mum had pretty great feet too, and as a foal and yearling Trinny got great nutrition with mineral and vitamin supplements.
Juno has lovely glossy hoof walls, but her hooves are far more sensitive. I bought her at 18 months, and the farrier who trimmed her before that said "F*@k that thing was feral, we had to rope her to the ground"... so I'm guessing there weren't any trims 'just to fine-tune things', and that she found trimming a traumatic experience. When I bought her she wouldn't lift her hooves and although we can now trim at liberty and she's fully relaxed, and has great nutrition, trimming Juno's hooves is still a lot more complicated than trimming Trinny. Her hooves also need to be trimmed more often as they grow very fast and are so sensitive.
Like most things with horses, barefoot trimming is an ongoing journey, I'm far from perfect, and I don't think I will ever stop learning!
Useful barefoot trimming resources
I often get asked about barefoot trimming resources, so I've gathered my favourites here. At the end of the day you need to decide what's right for your horse and what they do... from trimming their hooves yourself to using an expert barefoot farrier, and choosing shoeing or barefoot. Regardless which way you go, understanding the structure of hooves is always a great benefit.
My absolute go to is:
David creates hooves to dream of and has an Instagram account where you can see before and afters, a Facebook page with lots of free videos, and a Video Library where you can sign up for USD$10 or USD$15 month plans and get different levels of access and (with the $15 plan) personal guidance. David also does clinics across the USA, Australia and even New Zealand - I was lucky enough to attend in Nov 23 and highly recommend this!
Hoof Rehab with Pete Ramsey
This website hoofrehab.com is just choc-full of great articles!
In particular I found these really useful:
Pete has a book you can buy too, Care and Rehab of the Equine Foot.
Kristi Luehr at OKHNSC
Kristi has a lot of great Youtube videos - in particular the 'Bringing the Hoof Back Not Down' and 'Setting Breakover in a Barefoot Trim based on Solar Concavity' ones are really useful. She offers online training through her website Okanagan School of Natural Hoof Care.
Equine Lameness Prevention Organisation