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The Benefits of Going Barefoot

At our organization, we firmly believe that keeping horses barefoot is a highly advantageous practice for their overall health and well-being. Our conviction is based on years of experience observing the positive effects it has had on hundreds of horses with natural, rock-resistant hooves. We encourage all horse owners to consider this approach and to supplement it with high-quality hoof boots for added protection, if necessary. Our website provides valuable information on how to properly transition your horse to a barefoot lifestyle, ensuring success in promoting their optimal health.

Natural Horse NZ Going Barefoot Hoof

As prey animals, horses have evolved to run away from danger as a flight response. As a result, their feet have become one of the most efficient forms of locomotion on the planet. Initially, humans developed metal horseshoes around 400 BC to protect their hooves. However, our understanding of the hoof was not as advanced as it is today. Throughout the past 2000+ years, horses have been used for various purposes such as military campaigns, farming, and transportation. Unfortunately, we did not have a deeper understanding of how a horse's hooves work. 

Thanks to the latest advancements in veterinary research, such as utilizing thermal imaging, slow-motion cameras, pressure testing, shock testing, ultrasound, and X-rays, we've gained valuable insights into the harmful effects that some devices can have on our beloved horses. In particular, the use of metal shoes that limit the natural movement of hooves or falsely raise the sole above ground level can lead to various hoof problems.

Horse Shoe Loading Only The Periphery Prevents Frog Contact

Thanks to modern researchers and advocates like Jenny Lomas, Jaime Jackson, Pete Ramey, Nic Baker, and Thomas Teskey, there are now many thousands of successful barefoot horses worldwide across all disciplines. These numbers are growing every year due to the development of technology that supports alternative methods of hoof protection. Instead of using metal horse shoes, horses can now use flexible sneaker-type hoof boots. This is a safer option as it prevents shock and jarring to both the hoof and joints and maintains a natural feel for the horse as the contact is made within the boots themselves.

a perfect untouched wild hoof
mustang roll of a barefoot trim

These photos of real wild horse hooves show that they don't need metal shoes permanently attached to them to work well. Adding metal changes the way the hoof behaves and prevents it from making direct contact with the ground, which is essential for circulation and allowing the horse to feel the terrain and adjust their movement accordingly. 


The natural hoof capsule shapes itself perfectly to the individual terrain that the horse lives in, with a short toe and balanced heel. It's possible to replicate this in domestic horses by transitioning to barefoot in the right way. This involves feeding a species-appropriate diet, providing natural boarding, and trimming the hoof mindfully to mimic natural movement. Flexible hoof boots can also offer protection and cushioning. 


It's important to remember that the natural barefoot hoof has served the equine species well for 55 million years. Your horse's feet are already excellent at their job and don't need metal shoes, even when carrying a rider or travelling over harsh terrain.

cavallo HOOF BOOTS sport all-terrain at Natural Horse NZ

We strongly advocate for the barefoot approach in horse care because it promotes better overall health. When a horse's hooves have natural contact with the ground, such as when their frog touches the floor, it stimulates improved leg and hoof circulation. This happens because the frog acts as a small pump, which in turn enhances blood flow, leading to a healthier hoof.


However, metal shoes are often fixed in place with nails or glue. This prevents any flexing and suspends the sole from touching the ground, which is critical for maintaining a healthy hoof and essential ground contact.


As seen in this thermal image, when a shoe is nailed onto the living hoof, it compromises blood flow and circulation. This is evident in the blue leg, which clearly shows a lack of blood flow and impaired circulation.

thermal imaging showing barefoot and shod hoof circulation

Can you imagine what it's like to be pushed to your physical limits, such as what happens with horse racing, when the horse has numb legs and hooves, with pins and needles in your legs and feet like this? Just think on how much faster would a racehorse run if he was allowed to race without metal shoes?

We made the decision to go barefoot with our horses after discovering clear evidence of the harmful effects that horse shoes can have on their feet and legs. Since then, we have successfully transitioned all of our sanctuary horses to being successful barefoot horses, and have helped thousands of owners with their own barefoot journeys.


Our horses now ride on roads, gravel tracks, and treks without any shoes or issues, and have excellent traction. They are also extremely sure-footed because they can feel the ground beneath them.


Here is a before and after photo of my own horse, Gandalf, who was the first horse I went barefoot within 2005 when I personally adopted him.

before going barefoot-its not just about having no shoes for horses
Barefoot hooves after the correct barefoot trim-note the mustang roll

It's quite remarkable how Gandalf's feet have transformed into such strong and surefooted rock-crunching hooves that can traverse any terrain with ease.


It always brings a smile to my face when people comment on how lucky I am to have a horse with such great feet. However, it's important to note that this hasn't always been the case, as Gandalf's feet were once in terrible condition due to neglect and starvation. 

The good news is if we can transition a horse with crumbly weak and flat hooves like Gandalf to successfully go Barefoot . . . you definitely can do this with your horse too.


We've noted below what we have found as the Pro's and Con's To Going Barefoot to give owners a realistic idea of what to expect when taking a shod horse from wearing metal shoes to being barefoot. We hope this helps you to make a well-informed decision.

The Pros of Barefoot:

Here are some benefits of keeping your horse barefoot:


1. Saving money on shoes - hoof boots are more economical and can last for a couple of years.


2. Better balance for the horse, reducing the chance of falling and stumbling.


3. More robust hoof development due to constant contact with the ground, encouraging stronger internal structures.


4. Improved circulation in legs and hooves due to natural flexing.


5. Reduced chance of overreach as horses can feel their feet better.


6. No more lost shoes.


7. More natural for the horse as boots can be removed for barefoot paddock time.


8. Improved traction and adaption to different terrains.


9. Less shock and jarring to joints and fewer concussion injuries.


10. Healthier hoof growth without restrictions of nailed-on shoes.


11. Fewer hoof issues overall due to improved hoof health.


12. Healthier and happier horses due to a more species-appropriate lifestyle.


However, there are some cons to consider:


1. Your horse must eat the right food for optimum hoof health.


2. You must be patient during the transition period for the hooves to harden.


3. You may need to purchase hoof boots.


4. Some people may judge you for choosing to keep your horse barefoot.


5. There are no industry standards for barefoot trimming, so you must choose your trimmer carefully who you let trim your horse's feet.

Since switching to barefoot, we've saved a lot of money by trimming our horses' hooves ourselves. Even if you opt to pay for a trim, at $60-$80 per session, it's still far more affordable than the $125-$150 every 4-6 weeks for shoes. Additionally, our horses are happier and healthier without shoes. They carry themselves better because they mimic the Natural Hoof of their ancestors even with riders on their backs.


Poor quality horn and weak hooves are typically caused by an incorrect diet, often too rich in sugars due to an excess of grass and grain. We now know that shoes restrict circulation to both legs and feet, which can never be good. Shoes also prevent the hoof from making contact with the ground, which prevents it from toughening up naturally and staying weak. This is why we think we need to shoe our horses.


Your horse's DNA is the same as that of the first larger EQUUS animals that evolved with singular hooves over 35 million years ago. Therefore, your horse's feet will transition well if you give them the chance with the right diet and trim. Simply removing the shoe is not enough and rarely works because it doesn't copy the ancestry of the wild hoof. We need to follow the wild hoof model to achieve real success with this process!


To achieve barefoot success quickly, painlessly, and easily, all trimming needs to be done by replicating the wild horse trim. We recommend gradually shaping and balancing the hoof in a non-invasive way so the horse can adjust to the new, correct shape over time and harden their hooves gradually on a variety of surfaces, much like hardening your fingers when learning to play guitar.


In summary, barefoot is worth it in the end. You'll never need to shoe again, and your horse will be happier and healthier for it. However, please be cautious when choosing a trimmer. Not everyone is properly qualified or skilled in this complex work, so please get recommendations from friends and ask for qualifications and memberships of professional barefoot organizations before hiring a trimmer.


Remember: No hoof, no horse!


Happy Horsing!

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