WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #81
by Nicole Kitchener
The barefoot or natural hoof trim has become synonymous with an
overall movement in "natural" horse care, spawning a culture of
equine management that includes targeted boarding facilities,
equine diets, books and an ever-growing faction of devotees.
There are a number of barefoot schools of thought but amongst
them the common denominator is the principle that the feet of
domestic horses should be trimmed to simulate the wear of wild
horses' hooves ....
It has been established that wild horses succumb far less to
various lame nesses and foot ailments, including navicular and
laminitis, than do their domestic counterparts. Barefoot
proponents believe healthy hooves and the barefoot lifestyle are
integral to healthy immune system function. The ultimate state is
when the hooves are able to "self-trim" - when wear keeps up with
Therefore, barefoot horses are to be kept in a natural
environment that facilitates growth of strong hooves and
replicates as much as possible the existence of wild horses.
Not too many people would disagree the best option for hoof
health in a sound horse with good conformation is to go unshod,
as horseshoes can:
* Reduce traction.
* Decrease blood circulation to the hoof.
* Decrease the hoof's ability to provide shock absorbtion.
* Cause damage from nails.
* Contract the hoof.
* Prevent natural wear of the hoof wall.
Horses can have their shoes pulled for various reasons - in the
competitive off-season, over winter and retirement, for example.
This unshod state is known as a conventional "farrier" or
"pasture" trim, which leaves the hoof wall flat and usually is
not used for horses competing or working on hard or rocky ground.
A barefoot trim, however, is intended for those horses that will
be ridden. Yet, there are a number of reasons why a barefoot
lifestyle might not be appropriate.
* The stress put on the hoofs of domesticated horses are
different than wild horses (i.e. the activities we ask them to
* The hooves are not exposed to the same environment as they
would be in the wild.
* Selective breeding has resulted in some breeds developing
hooves unsuited to a barefoot lifestyle.
* Shoeing might be required to correct conformational faults.
Ultimately, you need to consider every horse as an individual.
Follow the path that best promotes his or her soundness and
THE GREAT DEBATE
One of the key controversies surrounding the barefoot trim
relates to the "Strasser Method" developed by German
veterinarian, Dr. Hiltrud Strasser, as a highly surgical
technique for use in lame and laminitic horses.
Strasser and her claims have come under fire from critics,
including her adamant stance that horseshoes are detrimental to
the whole health of the horse (calling them an "anesthetizing
crutch") and declaring the practices of shoeing and stalling
horses as cruelty. Another opinion she holds is that every foot
can eventually be trimmed to the same angle and shape no matter
what the horse's size, conformation or breed.
Some criticism has come from the fact that individuals who have
participated in short educational sessions, read Strasser's three
books on the subject and found information on the internet, have
attempted to use her aggressive techniques improperly, causing
undue pain and bleeding.
Since 2001, Strasser has provided a two-year specialist
certification course on her methods and stresses lay people
should only use her trim on healthy horses, under direct
supervision of a certified "Strasser Hoofcare Professional".
In 2006, two British horse owners were separately convicted for
causing unnecessary suffering after using the Strasser method on
their laminitic horses - one woman was Strasser certified, the
other a student.
BAREFOOT IN BOOTS
After a horse is first given a barefoot trim, a "transition
period" usually takes place that can range from days to up to a
year in which the horse may be sore on hard or rocky footing
while the hoof's structures rebuild and callouses are built up.
During this process of switching a horse to a barefoot trim, or
to facilitate healing of hoof conditions such as laminitis,
navicular, cracks and white line disease, many practitioners
advise using well-fitting hoof boots.
And, due at least in part to the growing numbers of barefoot
fans, boots have become increasingly popular over the past few
years, encouraging development of new and innovative designs.
INTERNATIONAL BAREFOOT NOTES
* Britain is investigating establishing a training and
certification program for natural hoof trimmers, who would join
equine dental technicians as "paraprofessionals." British
farriers are regulated under the Farriers Registration Act that
prohibits horseshoeing by non-recognized individuals. Natural
hoof trimmers legally have been able to receive remuneration for
their work, because, they are not, in fact, shoeing.
* Also in Britain, the National Equine Welfare Council earlier
this year released for stakeholder consultation a code of
practice for equine hoofcare. The document stresses the
importance of "painfree trimming".
* Fran Jurga, publisher of the farrier trade publication,
Hoofcare and Lameness Journal, reported online late last year
that the German agriculture ministry is considering altering or
eliminating legislation that stipulates anyone involved in
hoofcare of any type would be classified as a single group with
education under one system that would include traditional shoeing
techniques as well as alternatives. (As is the case in Britain,
farriery is legally defined as application of metal shoes with
nails.) Individuals involved in natural trimming and other
non-farriers using shoeing alternatives sued the government
stating the legislation was unconstitutional because it forced
them to learn forgeing.
* In 2006, results were published in the Equine Veterinary
Journal of a four-month study of a semi-feral herd of ponies
maintained by the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary
college. The research provided quantitative evidence that hooves
of horses in natural conditions do not remain static but undergo
cycles of growth and wear depending on environmental conditions
and behaviour patterns.
* An agricultural college in Tasmania has set up a one-year
course in natural hoof care.
* The Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care
Practices (AANHCP) provides certification in the following:
'Natural Hoof Care Practitioner', 'Boot Specialist' and 'Natural
Boarding Consultant'. The AANHCP was founded former farrier Jaime
Jackson, a leader in the barefoot movement.
From a horse magazine of July/August 2008
The first horse I ever bought and owned was when I was 18 in
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The horse was a Thoroughbred
mare, 6 years old. She had never been shod. The trails we used at
the Riding School I worked for, were all dirt trails, and they
never got hard like cement that some trails in Western Canada can
become in the hot summer months. My horse was very healthy and
had super good strong feet. I never had to shoe her. That was
under those conditions. Most of the horses in that Riding Stable
never had to be shod, they were nearly all able to function
nicely with bare feet. But remember the conditions of the trails
Now today at some riding ranches it is another ball game - many of
the trails are stoney and many parts of the trails dry in the hot
summer like cement. Our horses would have trouble going through
the summer if we did not at least shoe their front feet. That is just a
fact, regardless of what the "barefoot only" people would argue.
We simply know the facts of it from experience. The horses on this
stoney and/or very hard ground are only shod from late Spring to the
early Fall - their shoes are removed for the rest of the year usually.
Not much public riding is done here in the winter months, and for
January and February just about no one comes out to ride.
So indeed the Riding Stable horse is often not in the same
situation as the wild horse as pointed out in the above article.
Roy Rogers used Trigger in all his 90 or so full length movies
and in all the 100 or so of the TV series "The Roy Rogers Show."
There was much flat out running over all kinds of ground for
Trigger to do in those movies. I cannot imagine Trigger could
have done all that without being shod - that life for Trigger was
not the life that wild horses have, so you really cannot compare.
I would find it rediculous and silly to suggest Trigger could
have gone barefoot.
To be continued