I meet a lot of people who are earnestly trying to keep their horse barefoot. I have no problem with a horse being barefoot and believe that it can be highly beneficial. BUT, if you are going to keep your horse barefoot you really do need to commit to it in every respect. Having a farrier trim, which prepares a horse's foot to wear a shoe, is not the same thing as a barefoot trim at all. Proper barefoot requires careful (and not prolonged for years) transitioning, appropriate and regular trimming, a carefully balanced diet, attention to pasture type and management, appropriate exercise on carefully chosen surfaces. Some horses will need to wear boots in order to be able to comfortable when ridden and consideration needs to be given to all round boots, not just fronts.
I meet a lot of horses and ponies, including natives and Arabs, that are sore all round when ridden barefoot without full commitment. Because all four feet are affected, the effects may be masked but soreness equals lameness and therefore, unnecessary suffering. If a horse has taken two years to 'transition' to barefoot and is still not there yet, it should be remembered that this is about 10% of his whole life even if he is only ridden for a few hours a week.
Signs that a horse is not coping with being barefoot are as follows:
- Reluctance to go out riding
- Nappiness out riding
- Actively seeking out soft surfaces and verges
- Not wanting to cross gravelly tracks or streams
- A slower than normal gait especially downhill
All of this signs can be really subtle - for example a horse that happily goes out with another, or speeds up with company, may be thought to be a horse with separation anxiety or unwilling to go out alone; he could just be more able to forget about his feet, or have more adrenalin, when he is with another horse.
While we were doing early starting work with Bella, and not riding her all that often or all that far, Tracey kept her without shoes. She seemed to be an incredibly steady youngster. When she had front shoes put on, she grew more confident and seemed to walk a bit quicker, keeping up most of the time. Now she has a full set on and she is happily leading the ride, keeping up, transitioning into higher paces. Tracey could have decided to commit to barefoot instead. The point is at some time, you have to make your mind up to do it properly or not at all.