Welcome to Allison Acres ~ Galt, CA ~ (209) 748-2658
This page was originally written on July 12, 2006. Much has been done in the world of barefoot hoof care since then. I strongly encourage everyone to read Pete Ramey's website hoofrehab.com, as well as The Horse's Hoof and Safer Grass websites. For a summary of some of the recent work by Pete Ramey and Dr. Robert Bowker, click here. And here is an awesome article that should be required reading on how hoof shape affects the ENTIRE horse, and how we need to give them the shape nature intended. We don't need to match the hoof to the shoulder and pastern angle; we need to make the hoof RIGHT and the shoulder and pastern angle will CHANGE. The two trimmers I am currently using with GREAT fabulous success are Linda Cowles and John Tucker.
I want to thank John Tucker for getting me started with barefoot trimming and for helping so many horses and saving the life of two of my own horses who were destined for euthanasia - they became sound and are in work to this day.
More links to barefoot hoof care are below!
Pay for anything
here (horses for sale, boarding, lessons, whatever!) using
Summaries of all the horses I can remember
who transitioned to barefoot here at Allison Acres
Now back to the old webpage:
Our horses no longer wear shoes. Most of our horses never did anyway, but we have several horses who had "bad feet" who were prescribed to wear shoes by the vet and traditional farriers. When they got to the point that they were just not getting better - when they were still lame despite weeks or months with a therapeutic shoeing schedule, we switched to a "barefoot trimmer."
I had been highly skeptical of the method, mainly because some of the methodologies call for a 30 degree hairline, regardless of breed or individual. I didn't think it could be possible that "one size fits all." I had also always been taught that if a horse had high heels and/or club feet, that couldn't be changed by simply cutting off heel. I had been taught that it would change the angles of the bony column and cause problems, some possible immediate problems such as bowed tendons, and some long-term chronic problems such as arthritis.
But high heels are bad in and of themselves and cause problems. Specifically in our horses' cases, they were causing "pedal osteitis", an inflammation and eventual demineralization of the coffin bone, and they were also causing "navicular syndrome", otherwise known as pain in the heel area. One of our horses with high heels had developed the high heels over the last year. The vet(s) and farrier(s) had said things like, "Well, that's just what's happening with her, there's nothing you can do about it" because to lower them would be to change her angles which would supposedly cause problems. However, the vets also said that eventually her high heels would cause her to need euthanisia. Her bony column was said to be sinking due to a faulty attachment to the hoof wall. She was lame.
We first tried the local equine specialty vet's prescription of shoes with pads with frog support. This vet's therapeutic farrier applied the shoes and pads and told me to leave them on for as long as possible - 10 to 12 weeks would be good. Well, logically I knew that after a week or so of growth, that frog support pad was not going to be touching the frog anymore. It was at this point that I started reading and trying to think about the equine foot and how its meant to function. Through my reading and my experiences with this horse and my other horses, I have come to believe that the foot is supposed to contact the ground at the back of the frog, back of the bars, some of the sole and the wall. When we shoe, or when we allow a horse's hoof wall to be the highest point such that the frog doesn't contact the ground, we cause the frog to stop functioning. The foot loses the benefits of proper circulation and begins to become unhealthy.
Also when we shoe a horse, we force their entire weight to be supported by their hoof wall alone, for the most part. It makes sense to me now that this can't be right - the attachment between the hoof wall and the coffin bone, the lamina, should not have to hold up the whole horse. I mean, ouch! No wonder it's so prone to dysfunction with all that constant stress.
Additionally, when we let the heels get long, the coffin bone is placed under tremendous stress. It doesn't remain in the proper position if the heels get high. It goes with the heels - up in the back. If you can, get your hands on a coffin bone and look at it. Some vets have them in their offices. Hold it such that it is ground parallel, and then shift the back of it up to simulate a horse with high heels. Which looks more comfortable? Would you rather walk on your whole coffin bone with it flat to the ground, or just on the tip of it, assuming you had one? It's almost the same thing as women wearing high heels - all the weight is shoved forward to the ball of the foot instead of the whole foot.
So, assuming you can see how it looks much more comfortable, functional, and just RIGHT to have the coffin bone ground parallel, you then have to think about how to obtain it. Here is where the one size all part comes into play. Numerous studies on horses, particularly horses in the wild, have shown that regardless of breed or individual, when the hairline is at 30 degrees, the coffin bone is ground parallel or very very close to it. So that is an easy and obvious landmark for us to use in our trimming.
Lots of folks object to the wild horse hoof studies, saying that we don't keep our horses in the same conditions as the wild horses, so how their feet look and function isn't applicable to domestic horses. Well, it should be! Particularly the more we use our horses for high performance events, the more we really need those feet to function properly. A jumper should not weight just his hoof wall upon landing. An endurance horse should not have to pound over varied terrain without being able to feel the ground and with a piece of metal holding his foot in a rigid position. A reined cowhorse taking a cow down the fence should be able to dig into the ground for traction, using his bars, frog, sole and hoof wall to support him during the turns and prevent overshooting his mark. Heck, even a reining horse can do the whole reining pattern without shoes; as for the sliding stop, it's only thru the artificial application of sliders on the hinds that we can get those long slides, and personally, who cares what can be done thru the nailing on of artificial aids?
The domestic hoof is made to function just like it does for a wild horse - low heels, constant self-trimming due to travel of many miles over varied terrain. Personally I try to provide as much of a natural environment as possible for my horses, but even if I had a horse confined to a stall, I'd want that foot as healthy and properly shaped for best function, maybe even more so on that poor horse than on a horse who gets to live outside. The frequent and proper trimming that a "barefoot horse" gets is meant to simulate the constant wear he'd be getting if kept in the proper natural environment. This is important for all horses. So don't look at your stall kept horse and think he needs all that extra hoof wall, or think he needs shoes since his feet are soft... Realize that he needs you to provide him with what nature intended, if he is to be as healthy as possible, and that is a foot that is worn down by use or by trimming.
Why do horses get shoes at all? Well, in my experience, a very big number of people just seem to assume their horse will need them. When he enters training at 2 or 3, or before summer for the trail rides, or whatever. So, they are shod. Then ten years or whatever down the line, maybe their owner at that point decides to try them unshod. Will they be able to walk off sound after their shoes are pulled and they have a proper trim? Probably not. Can you walk barefoot down your gravel road the first day of spring without wincing? I don't walk around barefoot much anymore but I sure did when I was a kid, and I remember very well how it took a while for my feet to toughen up each spring. It's the same for a horse.
Lots of people object to changing a horse over to barefoot because they will be sore in the beginning. Should a horse being sore without shoes be a reason to forgo the barefoot effort and put shoes back on? I don't think so. Now, keep in mind, I do NOT advocate keeping horribly foundered horses alive for years in tremendous pain just to see if one day the barefoot trim is going to work for them. I'm not talking about that kind of horse. I'm talking about a horse who's sore because he's been shod for years and not given a proper trim or proper management. Do I mind if those horses are sore for a while during their transition? No. I look at it this way: sometimes I sleep with my arm in a funny position and I wake up to it being asleep. It hurts when I move it and it wakes back up. Should I deal with that pain so that soon I'll have a properly functioning arm again? Of course! I wouldn't just keep it in that position so it stayed asleep to avoid the pain!
Have my horses been sore after this trimming method? You bet. Two in particular had extremely contracted heels. Previous vets/farriers said the famous "Oh, that's just how he is, there's nothing you can do about that!" But our barefoot trimmer of course says that's baloney, and it has turned out to be baloney for sure. With a proper trim, lowering the heels, these horses' feet have gotten larger and the heels have spread. They have not been completely comfortable during the transition, but they are better now than they were. Our young, expensive reining horse was on his way to "navicular syndrome". He's had a tough time due to having been stall-kept for his entire life until he came to us, and shod at a young age and kept shod year-round. He's never been sore enough to protest being ridden, but it has been obvious that he has experienced some soreness. However, 6 months into it with him, he is now sound and energetic and crossing obstacles that he used to be very hesitant about and performing in weekly ranch sortings and running reining patterns... A BIG change.
Another horse here has been sore after the trim, but she's been sore on and off the whole five years we've had her. Her feet are very flat with no concavity so on each step the coffin bone is getting a pounding. We tried shoes and for a long time they helped a lot. But last year they stopped helping. Now, after almost a year of the barefoot trim, her feet have some concavity and she is not "walking on eggshells" anymore. She is 17 and has had improper foot care her whole life, including, I'm ashamed to say, the first 4 years we owned her, before we knew any better. Will she ever be perfectly sound? I don't know. She has arthritis as well that complicates matters, but regardless, it is obvious now when she's ridden that her feet aren't hurting like they were. She does not mince around and walk on eggshells anymore.
Another problem a lot of our horses had was long overlaid or crushed bars. The bars are part of the hoof wall and should be trimmed, not allowed to get long and then get crushed into the sole. That causes pain! Several of our horses who had crushed bars were sore after their first few trims. But now that their bars are grown out properly, straight, not overlaid or crushing into the sole, and properly trimmed, they are all sound.
And one horse in particular is still sore after 8 months. He had laminitis when I took him in, and he has severe bruising in all feet. He hasn't been bad enough that I seriously considered putting him down - he never lies down and he moves around and seems perfectly happy and eats well. It's important to note that when I got him, he was in shoes and pads for his laminitis, yet he was VERY very lame and would not even walk more than a couple steps at a time. After his shoes were pulled and he received his first trim to give him a ground parallel coffin bone, he started being able to move around.
Now, with all that said, I should also be sure to mention that several of our horses have not been sore at all from this trimming method.
Starting your foals with this trimming method should allow them to remain barefoot their whole lives. We have several foals here now who were trimmed a few times by a traditional farrier and then switched to the barefoot trimmer. Two had been getting clubby, and one had cracks. After the first barefoot trim, those problems were gone, and they remain gone.
What about just taking down those high heels? Has that ever caused a horse here to be sore? I don't think so. We had two horses with really high heels - club feet - and one boarder with a clubby foot on a yearling. The first case that we started last year was on the horse my vets/farriers had all said would have to be euthanized eventually due to her bad feet that had started to get clubby over the previous year. Nobody knew what to do about those heels. Can't just make 'em lower, they said. Well, since she was apparently on the verge of death anyway, I let our barefoot trimmer do whatever he felt was best, and in his first visit he took her heels down about an inch and a half. This mare had not trotted at liberty for over a year, but she walked off from the trim sound, and was trotting in the pasture later that day, and cantering in the pasture the next day. You can read more details and see pictures of this mare here. The other two have been the same although much more recent. One has had two of these trims, and one has only had his first. Both heels were lowered over an inch. Both horses walked off sound and remain sound. Heels too high? Don't agonize - cut them off!
Now, please keep in mind there are things a properly trained barefoot trimmer will look for in deciding how radical to be during any given trim. I do not know all the details about this, and in some cases it seems like it's really more of a feeling he gets, more like art than science.
Also some of the barefoot folks believe that a foot that's not functioning properly will go thru a period of pain once it's trimmed properly and it starts working the way it should work again, pain similar to the "waking up" sensation we get when one of our body parts falls asleep and wakes up. This is called the restoration of hoof mechanism. Hoof mechanism is the hoof providing a pumping type action to aid circulation when it hits the ground. Some of the barefoot trimmers believe that you can give a horse too much hoof mechanism right off the bat and cause too much pain. So sometimes they will go slowly, yet sometimes they can be more radical. So there is a lot that the person trimming needs to know, and in consultation with the horse's owner, a plan can be devised to restore the horse to soundness and a properly functioning foot. I'm not advocating that any of you go out and start cutting down your own horses' heels! You (nor I) don't know what all to look for. But you can certainly learn to do maintenance trims, and if you are really dedicated you can learn to do the whole thing yourself, over time and with proper guidance and training. In the meantime, hire somebody who knows what he or she is doing. :-)
If our horses are too sore to go out on gravel, we use Old Macs hoof boots. I understand there are some newer, more easy to apply boots on the market. Old Macs are nice but I find them a bit time consuming to put on. If my tummy wasn't so fat and I could actually breathe when I bend over, they might be easier for me to put on! :-) But I believe it's important not to use the boots too much. If a horse is going to get used to walking on rocks, you have to have him walk on rocks. Stone bruises? They just don't happen in a healthy hoof. If your horse has very soft soles in the beginning, sure, be careful. But eventually with proper trimming those hooves will be rock crushing machines!
Oh, one more thing. Some owners are very concerned their horse won't grow enough foot to remain barefoot. We have found that, without exception, feet start growing like crazy with this trimming method. One of our boarders has an appendix QH with awful feet. He has been shod all his life due to the idea that his feet will wear down too quickly and he'll be sore. When he came here, he had practically no wall left to nail anything onto, and he threw his shoes for the last time. We decided to try him barefoot. His feet were extremely short, with broken wall all around, very flat soles, and atrophied frogs. This was about 8 months ago, and this horse is now SOUND! His feet don't grow as quickly as some of the other horses here, but they definitely grow enough, and faster than they ever have. The body responds - if the feet are not receiving any wear, due to lack of enough movement or having their wear slowed or stopped by the application of shoes, then the body will slow the growth process. But once the feet start wearing down, due to lots of use or frequent proper trims, the body says oh my gosh, better start growing some foot.
Now, for the management aspect: our horses are out almost 24/7, and when they are out, about half the time or more they are on ground that we've amended with rocks. We've done pea gravel so far, and it's working great. They self trim and their feet look fabulous. We also want to add 2 inch round rock to their feeding areas. In the summer we let them go on the irrigated pasture for a day or two before they are trimmed, otherwise their feet (the healthy ones at least) are too hard to trim! It has always been the case here that our unshod horses' feet looked better in winter than in summer, and I now know that's due to the moisture - it's a good thing, not a bad one, especially for healthy feet. So in the summer we try to be sure the horses feet get wet. We flood the areas by the water troughs, but it would be better to make soaking pools, so they get wet, not necessarily muddy.
Also, just being out isn't necessarily enough. They need to move! Some of our group never seem to move around much on their own, so I ensure they get some exercise by at least 3 times per week getting out there with the whip and free lunging the whole group. They also get ridden, as applicable, or ponied or lunged.
OK, so let's go over the basics of a barefoot trim - IN GENERAL!:
But don't take my word for it! I barely know what I'm talking about. Read the sites below!
Now for some more links: