Thursday, January 3, 2013

"How Can I Transition to Barefoot?"

Howdy Folks,

Yesterday I shared a few thoughts on the healthy reasons to go barefoot. Of course in one blog post, even a long one, not everything could be covered, but I hope I hit the most important reasons; Nutrients and blood flow, Shape of the hoof, Horses see with their feet, Shock absorption and Traction.

Diablo & Dutch

As I said yesterday I owe my understanding of the health benefits to the horse by going barefoot to my mentor, Diane Sept. And folks she'll tell you, I was not an easy convert. But she's patient, kind and really very knowledgeable. I think back now of a few of the horses in my past and wonder if they may have fared better, had she won that battle with me sooner. One magnificent horse in particular, my Diablo. A Spotted Saddle horse who began his career long before I met him, in the show ring dealing with those horrible shoeing and other practices designed to "Make A Gaited Horse Gait."  That's a topic for another day ... But Diablo was a tremendous horse who developed such bad arthritis in his front ankles that a month before his tenth birthday he was unable to even stand ... I wonder often, had I allowed him to go barefoot from the day we met, would he have had a longer life?

Is it easy to transition a horse from shoes to barefoot?  I say YES! We have any number of safe, easy to put on, and suitable for anything you want to do with your horse, hoof boots. Hoof boots have made much progress, are available everywhere and not only hold up well, but will save you money compared to shoeing.  Many Endurance riders use boots on 100 mile rides.

How do you go about the transition? I say jump right in, the water's lovely.  You horse will think so too. Today there are great resources and folks out there to help you. If you've not found a barefoot trimmer you can even search the web for "Certified Barefoot Trimmer." Aside from my mentor Diane, the main resource for me were the books of Jamie Jackson, whom I credit with really being the fellow who first shined the light on the benefits of going barefoot, and Pete Ramey .  Pete has on his website much valuable information and a link to help you find a trimmer. Another wonderful resource is, Joe Camp Joe has on his website a link to help you find a trimmer and a list of 10 EXCELLENT QUESTIONS to ask before hiring a trimmer. Our "Feature Friday" tomorrow will be Megan Hensley of Holistic Hooves, she too is a wealth of information. A great magazine by Yvonne Welz -THE HORSE'S HOOF will guide to many more resources.

First know it is natural to take some time. Depending on the horse it could take 6 months, a year, or no time at all. Please don't let that stop you. From the moment you pull those shoes your horse will begin to enjoy the benefits of better health. And you could be going along smoothly right from the start, even as the hooves change. The first hoof to grow out takes about a year. The second re-growth will come in with a greater density. And of course during this time, use hoofboots as you need them. As I said earlier there are a good number of quality hoofboots to choose from. The most important thing with the boots is to size them correctly and every manufacturer I've seen has easy to follow directions for that. But you can, and should be riding all along, and don't use the boots all the time. I've transitioned horses without the use of boots at all. Trimming a barefoot hoof is different than a farrier just pulling shoes and letting a bare hoof hit the ground. Be sure to find a barefoot practioner who understands this. 

When the shoes are first pulled and your horse seems to be, "Ouchy." What is happening is blood is flowing into the hoof and awakening nerves that had been shut down. Too many times folks mistake this for thinking their horse cannot go without shoes, so they put them back. With shoes back, they appear to be sound again when really all that's happened is the nerves have been blood starved again so the foot has lost the ability to feel again. It's not sound, it's numb. Give it time, in a few days it'll work out.

Put your horse out in the yard or pasture. Make sure she has plenty of room to move about, pump that blood. That's very important! If you see her picking her way along a soft route at first, keep an eye on it, but that is perfectly natural. She knows what she's doing and she's beginning to see with her feet again. There is a lot going on. Allow it to happen. Remember her feet are just beginning to wake up. It may not hurt as much as just feel strange to her. Put her hay at several different locations so she's encouraged to walk about. 

Don't be afraid to ride. Riding is important to the transition. Use boots at first if you must. But here I'd like to say as you go down the trail, let her select the path she feels best about. If she wants to go along the edge where there is grass or soft earth, let her. As time goes on and her feet harden, that'll change.

I hope I've encouraged you if you're thinking about giving your horse the health and freedom of going barefoot. I realize I did not give a grand outline. There isn't one. Just surround yourself, and your horse with supporters, not doubters, check out the websites I've listed here, and others you will find, and listen to your horse ... Perhaps I could have listened to Diablo.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry
Please also read "Why Barefoot"


  1. We are definitely two birds of a feather, Dutch. Great minds do think alike! I'm sharing this with all my afraid-to-go-barefoot friends :) Thank you for such vital information.

  2. I too Dutch was one of those who had always been told you had to have shoes if you were going to trail ride your horse.
    I was also told a white horses hooves could not stand up to barefoot riding. And to complicate matters my gelding had a permanent quarter crack from an injury. Time and again I was told he'd be ruined if I didn't keep shoes on because of that hoof.
    We are entering our 3rd year of total barefoot here and we are riding everywhere, on all types of surfaces. We have boots and have used them on a few occasions, but barely have wear marks on the bottoms.
    The transition was pretty easy, doing like you said, allowing him to pick and choose his path, we really never stopped riding. We transitioned 4 horses at one time and kept them all under saddle riding many miles also.
    I am so happy I met the ladies that hooked me up with a wonderful barefoot trimmer, that also fitted my boots for my horses, this is a must. In order to use the boots and for them to be effective they MUST fit properly. The wide assortment of boots available now can cover any type riding you choose.
    Once again a very informative and educational post.

    1. That's wonderful, Cashzig! ... Kessy & I a THRILLED you are all barefoot! & THANKS for being a coffee clutcher!

  3. Very enlightening and explained in a simple way! This is great and so helpful for people who don't have all the technical language but do want to learn! 😊