There is an old adage that every modern horse owner knows to be true – “No hoof, no horse”. However, we often take this for granted, underestimating the importance of a fully functional foot and understanding the underlying biomechanical and anatomical functioning of the foot and lower limb.
Since the time horses have been used for domestic purposes, humans have deemed it necessary to provide protection for what appears to be a fragile hoof. This most likely began as a reed or hide covering and later evolved to the iron forged shoes that we know today. However, the horse in its natural, wild state did not require shoes to survive, nor is the equine essential to human survival any longer except in some remote parts of the world. Instead, the horse is mostly an athlete who must perform, as well as a source of peace and quiet – an escape from today’s technology inundated world. The tasks that we ask of our equine friends are different from centuries ago, and therefore the way we choose to care for them should be too.
Various therapies, treatments, supplements, diets and liveries reflect our desire to provide a higher quality of life for the horse. As KC La Pierre (RJF, MEP) notes in his book ‘The Chosen Road’: “Barefoot equine podiatry would affect every aspect of the horse and the duties we call upon it to perform in a positive and profound way. Instead of constantly trying to manage the hoof from the outside it has become apparent that we can improve the hoof, performance in the horse, and long-term welfare of the horse by observing and implementing theory and method dictated by nature and common sense.”
Barefoot podiatry is a science and art in itself that offers an alternative to traditional farriery. It is based on the foundational philosophy that the horse, under the correct circumstances, has the innate ability to heal itself. Irregularities and imbalances interfere with the horse’s ability, therefore barefoot podiatry works to achieve and maintain a balance within in the foot and thereby the whole horse. Barefoot trimming begins with a different way of thinking that evolves into a lifestyle for both horse and owner. Owners are encouraged to ask the question “how can I support my horse in his shod to barefoot transition?” or, “what else can I do for my barefoot horse?”.
A proper hoof structure and function assists the horse in dealing more effectively with shock absorption that may otherwise cause damage to soft tissue and lead to muscular-skeletal changes. It further assists the horse in regulating its nervous, circulatory and muscular systems and the links between them. A hoof that is well balanced and functional may help to dispel toxins and increase oxygenation in the body – think about the improved performance implications for sport horses!
“With a strong understanding of how nature intended the foot to work, Barefoot Equine Podiatry can re-establish physiological equilibrium. Once proper neurological and biomechanical function is achieved in the distorted or diseased foot, many lame horses return to soundness, both physically and mentally.” – KC La Pierre (RJF, MEP).
When barefoot podiatry is used in conjunction with complimentary therapies, it helps to establish a solid foundation that may otherwise be absent. Some important principles that are followed when employing this method include:
- Living tissue is not invaded
- The ultimate goal is to return proper function to the foot, but not at the expense of comfort
- Creating trauma to increase circulation is discouraged
- Removal of hoof material should be kept to a minimum – only enough to work towards an equilibrium
The goal is to create an environment in which the maintenance or restoration of whole health may be promoted, while considering the horse as a sentient being in its entirety.
Traditional methods vs barefoot methods
In the traditional trim hooves are generally trimmed every six weeks. Heels are left longer to prevent frog contact, and hooves may land toe first. Toe callus is trimmed away which can cause discomfort to the soles. One may find that the solar aspect of the hoof is rasped flat and the outer wall is left to weight bear with the bars either trimmed too short or not at all. The frog is also trimmed so that it does not make full contact with the ground, causing caudal discomfort which may encourage the frog become contracted in the absence of stimulus.
With the barefoot trim, hooves are trimmed anywhere between three to five weeks (depending on what the hoof needs). This allows us to stay on top of any corrections and prevents over growth that can possibly lead to white line separation, cracks in the hoof and frog contraction. This will all depend on how much your horse moves and the type of surfaces to which he or she is exposed. Heels are kept short enough for the frog to make contact with the ground – the frog along with other structures acts as a pump, circulating blood through the lower limb, and assists with grip. The aim is to enable the horse to land heel first over time (provided that their biomechanics allows for this). We prefer to leave toe callus to wear away naturally and the bars are only trimmed back so far as their ideal position.
The decision to go barefoot should not be taken lightly – commitment is crucial.
Soul Equine has more than 9 years of experience in barefoot trimming. The natural, balanced trim incorporates a variety of methods employed by well-known and respected barefoot trimmers such as Pete Ramey and KC La Pierre (RJF, MEP), amongst others. The trim balances the foot in a way that enables its natural function as well as high performance for your discipline.
References and Further Reading
La Pierre, KC., 2004. ‘The Chosen Road: Achieving high performance through applied equine podiatry’. USA: The Naked Greyhound Press. Website: www.thenaturalequine.com
Ramey, P., 2013. ‘Making natural hoof care work for you’. USA: Star Ridge Publishing.