Making the decision to go the barefoot route is the first step. This will mean removing steel shoes for some and this in itself can present some problems - see transition period. For others it may be making the decision to not have that first set of steel shoes applied to their young horse. After all, our horses are born with four perfectly good hooves to stand on.
Perhaps your horse is already shoeless, your farrier is trimming regularly and your horse is doing well. Maybe your horse is barefoot but the feet don’t look good or simply don’t perform. Or as in many cases, maybe you have a lame horse that you would like to help recover using the natural method of barefoot. Perhaps conventional medical practice hasn’t been a success for your horse’s lameness issue.
Whatever situation you have, we recommend you do some homework prior to taking those first steps to barefoot, particularly if your horse or pony is currently shod.
Checking out web sites like this one is an excellent first step. There are many great barefoot web sites around the world and you can find more of them on our "Links" page.
Reading books and articles is also highly recommended as is viewing videos and DVDs, though these generally focus on the how-to-trim-your-own-horse side of barefoot education. This is not always helpful (and may even be very confusing) when you’re still at the stage of weighing up the pros and cons.
Things to consider:
- Your horse may be mildly or severely uncomfortable, particularly on gravel surfaces, when the steel shoes are first removed.
- If the hooves are greatly deformed and/or the horse is lame, you may need to go through a period of rehabilitation that may not include riding, at least for a little while.
- Your horse may need help with body issues created by hoof problems over the years, i.e., equine massage, chiropractic treatments or other therapies.
- Also your horse may need metabolic support (Herbal & Homoeopathic) prior to taking off the shoes or during the transition phase
- You may need to purchase hoof boots.
- You may need to consider lifestyle changes for your horse.
- Commit to providing your horse/pony with regular hoofcare by a trained professional.
- Educate yourself about what constitutes a healthy hoof (form & function), that way you will know when things are going well or badly with the hoof care.
- Learn about what your horse truly requires for optimum health, which may be quite different to what you have been led to believe.
- When dealing with a sick and/or lame horse, understand that rehabilitation takes time, and help from a number of equine therapists may be necessary.
Without doubt, to succeed with the change to a more natural lifestyle and sound bare feet for your horse, there are a number of considerations and responsibilities. But it’s worth it; the rewards are many!
Who will trim?
Step One is to talk to the farrier or hoof carer you are presently using. You may find that your hoof care provider is well skilled in caring for the ‘natural’ hoof and understands what is required to produce ‘high performance’ bare feet.
But if your hoof care provider starts making a strange face and grumbles something about ‘weird barefooters’ or lecturing you about how horses cannot perform barefoot then it’s probably time to start searching for a professional who is able to provide expert bare hoof care for your horse/s.
Owners can and do learn to trim and take care of their horses’ feet but we do recommend that you use a trained professional wherever possible, at least to begin with. Once things are going well, and you think that physically you can manage the task of trimming - then you can attend workshops or seminars for horse owners. This is the time also to consider purchasing videos and books that give trimming instruction. Some good hoofcare professionals teach their clients to trim or at least maintain their horses’ feet between visits: often these teaching sessions are part of the normal trim visit and have no extra cost.
Choosing a Hoof Care Provider or Bare Hoof Trimmer for your horse/s
Note: HCP – Hoof Care provider - will be used in this article as a general non method specific term.
The AEBM is committed to provide our members and horse owners in general with some sound basic knowledge of bare hoof care so they can make their own decisions about choosing a hoof care provider (HCP) with confidence - regardless of the barefoot method they choose to use.
Owners do need to be aware that few bare hoof care methods are backed up by systematic research and data. The onus is on the horse owner to educate themselves about the different styles/methods and to satisfy themselves about the qualifications of any HCP prior to engaging them.
Whilst there can be enormous improvements in the whole horse just by shaving off a sliver of overgrown bar, trimming regularly or by balancing the hoof a little better, committing to regular quality hoof care i.e. 2 – 6 weekly by a well trained HCP is highly recommended.
Alternatively, learning to care for your horse’s hooves is possible through a number of hoof care instructors/educators, but this is not always practical for the horse owner.
Also note that stories and pictures of dramatic recoveries pictured in books and on web sites can make a big impression on the uninitiated, but the informed know very well that for the ongoing good health of your horse, it takes more than simply trimming the feet!
Providing a natural herd lifestyle, lots of movement, good nutrition and physiologically correct trimming will aid in the prevention of sickness & lameness helping to assure a happy and healthy horse, something every caring horse owner desires.
When choosing a HCP, it is quite normal to find that most trimmers’ methods are developed through a combination of their experience and other people's teachings and/or ideas.
The AEBM recommends that when looking for someone to trim your horse, you first interview any potential HCP to discuss not only their training and experience but also your needs and expectations as a horse owner. After all, as the horse owner, you are the one that will be doing the most to assure a successful existence for your barefoot horse.
- The following is a suggested list of questions you could ask prior to engaging a hoof care provider (HCP):
- What method of hoofcare/trimming or mixture of methods do they use?
- What level of training do they have i.e., have they read books and attended seminars or have they completed a certification course?
- If they have a Certification/Qualification can they provide details of the course and qualification obtained?
- How long have they been qualified or practicing as a trimmer/hoofcare provider?
- Do they classify themselves as Bare Hoof Trimmers or as Hoof Care Specialists providing care & rehabilitation of acute and/or chronically lame horses?
- Can they supply any case studies, photos and testimonials from clients?
- Can they provide advice and/or education about natural lifestyle and how to create the best lifestyle for your bare hoof horses?
- Do they teach or provide education to enable you to learn to trim or maintain your own horse/s and if so, what teaching/training qualifications do they have?
- How much do they charge and how much time do they normally need for each appointment?
- Are they available to work weekends or weekdays. Will they be able to fit into your schedule & you with theirs?
- Do they keep photographic or other records of each horse and if so, can you view them (highly recommended)?
The AEBM would like to make the following suggestions:
- Do interview the HCP and ask a lot of questions prior to allowing anyone to trim your horse.
- If you don’t understand something, ask the HCP for further clarification and/or ask to see pictures, drawings or models that will help you understand.
- Request or organise photographs prior to a first trim and keep a photographic record at least over the first year.
- Determine the cost of the first appointment prior to the first trim.
- Provide any and all relevant history/medical information about your horse, including any X-rays to your HCP at the first appointment.
- Be wary if your HCP cannot provide any proof of education, any testimonials or any before/after trim photos and case studies.
- If the HCP is offering to provide rehabilitation trimming for your lame horse e.g. navicular or founder, it is probably prudent to insist on seeing some of their rehabilitation case studies.
- Where possible the AEBM highly recommends you have your vet, and other health care practitioners work together with the HCP for the best possible outcome in cases of serious lameness.
- Educate yourself about what constitutes a healthy bare hoof and how to provide the best care of your bare foot horse. Read books, visit web sites and/or join chat lists. Become an active, involved and educated horse owner
The AEBM understands that there are some HCP’s who are very capable and experienced but may not have attended any formal education just as there is bound to be HCP’s who have attended formal education that may not turn out to be successful trimmers.
The onus is on you the horse owner to do your homework and hopefully with the help of these guidelines and other information available on this site and elsewhere, you will be successful in your search for quality hoof care for your horse/s.
Whilst hoof trimming is a service that has always been provided by farriers, the “Natural Trim” is recognised by the AEBM and other organisations as being possibly different in its application and outcome from that of generally accepted farriery.
Owner trimming – tools and accessories
Whether you are just going to maintain your horse’s feet between the professional’s visits or whether you are going to do all the hoofcare, you will need tools to accomplish this task.
A pair of gloves
Leather give great protection but it can be more difficult to get good feel and grip on a knife. Gardening gloves, particularly those with the rubber coating are frequently used.
While you can generally purchase a cheap rasp from most saddlery shops, we recommend you go to a farriers’ supply shop and spend the extra money (up to AUD$40) for a good one like the Heller Legend.
Professional farriers and hoof trimmers would never bother with cheap nippers. A good pair of nippers will cost you a lot of money (over AUD$200), but it is money very well spent if you don’t want to be struggling for hours trying to trim one hoof.
If you are only trimming one or two of your own horses and you keep them trimmed regularly then you may never even need nippers. A rasp will generally be more than adequate to take care of any excess growth.
Good quality nippers will last you a long time and generally stay sharp. I prefer the Mustad brand nippers with 12 inch handle as they are a good size for a ‘lady’s’ hand and are great to use.
For cleaning up overgrowth on soles, bars and even trimming walls, a good hoof knife is essential. I like the F.Dick, German hoof knife (about AUD$35-40). Most professionals will have both left and right handed knives but home trimmers will generally get away with one.
Hoof knife sharpener
A must if you are going to use hoof knives. There are a number on the market and all probably do a good job. I use the Swiss sharpener, usually available at hardware stores.
Hoof pick and brush
Most people with horses will own a hoof pick and it is an important tool for trimming. But almost as important is a good stiff hoof brush. The brush is very useful for cleaning up the hoof when you need to trim in muddy conditions.
My hoof stand is the ‘Hoof Jack’, which is ideal for professional use. It is made of hard plastic and comes with interchangeable metal accessories for standing the hoof forward and a sling for supporting the hoof to access underneath. The home trimmer can purchase a standard farrier hoof stand or make one.
Farrier’s leather apron
You can purchase these from farrier supply stores and also from some saddlery stores. The cost will depend on the type and quality but can range from AUD$40 +. Whilst the apron is pretty optional, I highly recommend you wear some type of protective clothing when trimming. Hoof tools are sharp and can be dangerous! Good sturdy foot wear is also a good idea. I wear steel-cap boots and they have saved my toes on many occasions.
Hoof tools can become damaged and rusty so keep them clean, dry and in a safe container like a plastic tool box.
Handy hint: keep your knives dry and well sharpened and they will make your trimming easier and last you for years.
Julie Leitl – Hoofcare Specialist
Barefoot, boots or both?
In an ideal world, your barefoot horse will have what is known as ‘high performance’ hooves. What does that mean? It means that your horse can work on or travel over any terrain, be it mud, sand, gravel or rock. And not just travel over, but do so without so much as a shortened step.
Most horses, if given the hoof and lifestyle care mixed with the conditioning and movement can attain high performance bare feet. The reality for most horse owners, though, is that there is not the ability, due to time or finances, to give the horse/hooves everything they require for this. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have great healthy hooves. It may simply mean that your horse may need some help with hoof protection like hoof boots from time to time.
The wonderful thing about hoof boots is that you can put them on when they are needed and then take them off when they are not. Most horses can live a healthy barefoot lifestyle; you can simply slip on a pair (or pairs) of boots when your horse needs that extra protection.
Boots are also invaluable for horses suffering a number of hoof maladies. They are ideal, particularly when padded to give extra cushioning, for extra shock absorption and protection from rough ground.
Many founder and navicular horses around the world have been kept comfortable and successfully rehabilitated through the use of hoof boots. For more information see our "Hoof Boot" page.
From steel shoes to barefoot - Transition Period
The transition period refers to the time that any particular horse needs to go from being shod with metal shoes to having sound, healthy bare hooves. This period varies from horse to horse depending on many factors.
Some things to consider are:
- How old the horse is
- How long the horse been shod
- What age the horse first shod
- What type of lifestyle the horse has i.e., freedom of movement or stable
- What terrain the horse lives on, i.e., soft, wet or dry, rocky etc.
- What terrain the horse works on, i.e., bitumen roads or soft arena
- How much movement, free or ridden, the horse gets each day
- If there are conformation problems that interfere with hoof balance
- If there are mild or severe pathological changes to the hoof capsule or hoof bones
- If there is any history of hoof disease, i.e., founder
As a general rule, the younger the horse was when first shod and the longer it was in steel shoes, the longer the transition period. In other words, a young horse that only wore shoes for a year or two is more likely to make a faster transition to healthy bare feet. Horses shod prior to the age of five may have damage/remodelling of the coffin bone as this bone does not complete its full growth until this age.
A hoof capsule in a healthy state will generally grow from coronet to ground within six to nine months. Horses with little hoof capsule deformation/damage should grow out a good sound hoof within this period, assuming hoofcare, movement and nutrition are correct. Long term damaged hooves may need to grow out several times before regaining healthy form and function. Horses with long term hoof disease with internal bone and external capsule damage may never return to full health but may live a happy and/or useful life with the use of hoof boots or if working on soft surfaces.
"...Whether shoeing is the means by which hooves can be kept sound is a question which can therefore be answered in the negative; because experience has taught that, the longer a horse is shod, and also the earlier an animal is shod, the greater the detrimental influence exerted on the hoof."
- From the "Textbook of the Art of Shoeing" written by J.C. Gross, teacher of theory and practical horseshoeing at the Royal Veterinary College in Stuttgart, Germany 1861.
Types of Barefoot Trims
(Reproduced with permission from The Horse's Hoof.)
The Strasser Method
Dr. Hiltrud Strasser, German Veterinarian
Official website: www.strasserhoofcare.com
The Strasser Method was developed by Dr. Hiltrud Strasser, a licensed German veterinarian who has been researching the causes and cures of equine lameness for over 20 years. She has discovered the simple truth: the overwhelming majority of our horses' problems are due to their unnatural lifestyle and unnatural hoof shape! And by restoring proper lifestyle and a natural hoof form (that is based on both wild equine hoof form and a mathematical model of hoof function), most lameness can be prevented and even cured. This new method was introduced into the United States in 1998 with the publication of her book, "A Lifetime of Soundness," and the graduation of the 1st Hoofcare Specialist in North America, Sabine Kells of B.C., Canada. The first full class of North American Hoofcare Specialists graduated in 2001 and within Australia in 2003.
Strasser's method is carried out officially by Strasser Hoofcare Professionals (SHP) who have graduated from her one to two year Certification Course. Strasser Certified The Strasser Method is advanced and technical, hence the extensive training required to become a professional. The trimming techniques, based on the creation of hoof mechanism and rapid change of hoof form, are very advanced and powerful -- and should not be attempted without extensive training. However, pathological hooves can be quickly restored to health in a strict, hoof clinic setting: trims are performed by an SHP weekly or twice weekly, the horse is hand-walked and soaked in water extensively every day, and kept living in a large area on rubber flooring. Horses are trimmed to have ground parallel coffin bones, 30 degree coronet slopes, very low heels and short bars.
This method is very controvesial! To understand why, please read The Horse's Hoof article: The Strasser Controversy, A Guide for Newcomers to Barefoot.
The most important message of this method is that we can improve our horse's health by improving their living conditions -- and so there have been many owners who, desperate to save their own horse and having no other choice, have very successfully applied the basic ideas of this method all on their own. Strasser's books and videos are all available in The Horse's Hoof Store.
The Whole Horse Trim™
Martha Olivo, United Horsemanship
Official website: www.marthaolivo.com
Martha Olivo, founder of United Horsemanship, was a farrier for 25 years before hanging up her hammer and committing herself to natural hoofcare. Her work is based on a physiologically correct hoof trim that approximates the parameters found in feral equine hooves. As an accomplished hoof care clinician, Martha currently tours the U.S. holding clinics that help horse owners, farriers and veterinarians understand the benefits of High Performance Barefootedness. Martha graduated in 2001 from Dr. Strasser's Certification Course, and then developed her own system that is based on Strasser's principles of natural living conditions and trimming to create a healthy hoof. Martha's Hoof Groom Certification Course teaches students how to correctly trim a healthy hoof. There are now Certified Hoof Grooms all over the U.S., who can help horse owners with non-pathological hooves.
Martha has developed some unique approaches to helping others learn to trim and care for their barefoot horses, including Hoof Mapping, a system of plotting out the hoof for trimming, and the Infinity Environment, a design for barefoot horse living areas. More information about her method will be available in her upcoming book, The Hoof Care Book: A Guide to Humane Hoof Trimming, by Martha Olivo, which you can purchase soon in The Horse's Hoof Store.
Natural Balance Hoofcare
Gene Ovnicek, farrier
Official website: www.hopeforsoundness.com
Gene Ovnicek is nationally and internationally recognized as a farrier, researcher and clinician. He has been a farrier for over 35 years, and is known for his research data compiled from wild horse studies done in 1986 and 1987. He does supports shoeing, with a wide range of specialty shoeing products, including plastic shoes. Many people find his guidelines very useful for trimming barefooted horses, such as balancing the hoof by using landmarks. There are Natural Balance trained farriers across the U.S. and around the world. Healthy horses seem to do very well with this trim, although for hoof problems, shoeing is often recommended. Gene offers an excellent video/DVD, Natural Balance Hoof Trimming.
Lyle "Bergy" Bergeleen, farrier
Official website: www.hooftalk.com
Bergeleen studied the hooves of the Pryor Mountain wild mustangs in Montana and Wyoming, and noted that the hooves naturally stay short in the heels and toes, contributing to their durability and soundness. From his findings, he developed the revolutionary "natural hoof" concept detailed in his books and videos. He has developed a mathematical formula for finding the point of breakover, the "critical 1/3 measurement," that many people have found easy to implement. Bergy-trained Hooftalk Certified Technicians (farriers) are located throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia. Bergy does advocate shoeing as needed, but seems very supportive of barefoot.
Applied Equine Podiatry and the HPT Method
K.C. La Pierre, farrier
Official website: www.equinepodiatry.net
K.C. offers his method as Applied Equine Podiatry: A treatment alternative to the traditional farrier practice. HPT stands for "high performance trim," and it is based in part on his "Suspension Theory of Hoof Dynamics." His hoof model is not based on the wild horse's, but rather on desire to correct hoof deformities in the domestic horse. He offers workshops for horseowners, as well as a certification program for professionals. Many people have found his method easy to understand and implement. KC now offers many books and videos on the details of his method.
Jaime Jackson & AANHCP (Wild Horse Trim)
Jaime Jackson is the author of the much acclaimed works on natural hoof care, "The Natural Horse", "Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care", "Paddock Paradise" and many other books and videos. He was the pioneer of our modern natural hoof care/ barefoot hoof care movement in America. Through clinics and consultations, he teaches horse owners and professionals a trimming system based on the shape of the wild horse's hoof. He is the founder of the American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners (AANHCP) which provides training and certification for professionals in the wild horse model of trimming, as well as research, clinics, and support groups.
Pete Ramey, Hoof Rehabilitation Specialist (Wild horse Trim)
Official website: www.hoofrehab.com
Pete Ramey is the author of Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You, and was an instructor for the American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners (AANHCP). He uses the wild horse model of trimming. His practical approach has appealed to countless horseowners, and he gives them knowledge that they can easily apply to their real life situations.
Marjorie Smith, Barefoot for Soundness (Wild horse Trim)
Official website: www.barefoothorse.com
Majorie incorporates some of the above methods into an online instructional format for amateurs. Excellent and safe trimming advice for the novice do-it-yourself trimmer/owner. She uses the wild horse model of trimming. A wealth of information.
Trimming Methods Comparison Chart:
|Method||Developer||Credentials||Hoof Model||Barefoot only||Method requires natural care*?||Trained Professionals Available||Videos Available||Books Available|
|The Strasser Method||Dr. Hiltrud Strasser||Veterinarian (35+ years)||Mathematical model + wild horse||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Martha Olivo||Martha Olivo||Former farrier (25 years), graduate of Strasser CSHS course 2001||Mathematical model + wild horse||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Natural Balance Hoofcare||Gene Ovnicek||Farrier (35+ years)||Wild horse studies||No, shoes also||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Hooftalk||Lyle "Bergy" Bergeleen||Farrier (30+ years)||Wild horse studies||No, shoes also||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|The HPT Method||K.C. La Pierre||Farrier (18+ years)||Based on his "Suspension Theory"||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Wild Horse Trim
Jaime Jackson, Pete Ramey
|Jaime Jackson||Former Farrier (25+ years)||Wild horse studies||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
*Natural care means natural living conditions (minimal or no stalling) and other care procedures that will help promote hoof health (exercise, soaking, diet changes, terrain changes for living areas). Even if the method does not require natural care, following the general guidelines (as laid out in Strasser's and Jackson's books) will create better results and healthier feet.