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It's a Barefoot Horse's World

The results are in: you can take a 16 year old shod horse with ringbone barefoot!

Don’t ask me how long it took me to put together the collage above, but do feast your eyes on the amazing transformation that has taken place for Ike’s front hooves over the last year. The left hand photos showcase his feet the day his metal shoes were taken off, after he received his first “pasture trim” from my then-farrier. This was October 1st, 2021. The right hand photos were taken today, October 6th, 2022, following a trim from his barefoot trimmer this morning. Pictured is his right front hoof.

When Ike came to me in the summer of 2019, he was wearing shoes on all four feet. His hind shoes were removed immediately upon arrival at my farm, as he was going to be turned out with the herd in a field.

However, I kept him in his front shoes as I was advised that without the shoes on, he’d certainly be lame. Ike has clinically significant osteoarthritis in his left fore coffin joint, and bone spurs in all four of his fetlock joints. Ike was sound with his shoes on, so initially I took the advice I received from the professionals in my life at face value: shoes were beneficial to Ike’s well-being and his ability to continue his career as a riding horse. I was told that removing the shoes would never be a wise idea unless I was planning to give him extended time off or retire him, as he depended on the support of the shoe to keep his arthritis from acting up.

In the summer of 2021, I started researching transitioning a shod horse to barefoot. I was feeling frustrated because Ike had come up lame after his most recent reset appointment. Ike had developed a swelling at the position of the coffin joint that my vet confirmed as an arthritic flare-up, but he hadn’t been experiencing pain or lameness until his shoes were reset a few weeks later. When he went lame the day after the farrier’s visit, I was sure that the banging of the hammer on his feet had irritated the inflamed area. Around the same time, I had been learning about the role of the frog and digital cushion in distributing and absorbing concussive forces in the lower limb. This new knowledge combined with Ike’s lameness made me start to question why wearing shoes would be recommended in terms of reducing the effects of arthritis. If anything, I was becoming more and more aware of the possibility that wearing metal shoes was doing more harm than good for Ike’s long-term soundness. After all, his frog wasn’t even contacting the ground! All of the ground force was being sent up the bony column, the exact structure that needed the most protection from further degeneration. After reaching out and conversing with a variety of equine bodyworkers, barefoot specialists and Ike’s nutritionist, I could no longer ignore the urge that I needed, and wanted, to make a change for Ike. I will always remember a post I saw on trimmer David Landreville’s Facebook page that truly gave me the courage to take the leap of pulling Ike’s shoes. He wrote, ‘I hear farriers say all the time, “I’ve been shoeing for years and I have some horses that need shoes and some that don’t.” The ones that do need shoes wouldn’t be sound with out them. There’s the truth. They aren’t sound.’ You can read that awesome post here.

Looking back over the last year, over which time I have most definitely developed a (equine!) foot-fetish, all I can say is: man am I happy I took the leap! Watching Ike’s hooves change and grow has been hugely rewarding and honestly exciting, as I am consistently in awe of the body’s ability to restore balance and be adaptable. A true testament to my trimmer Ute — and the overall readiness of Ike’s body to embrace bare feet — he hasn’t had a single lame day in the last year.

In many ways, going on this barefoot journey with Ike has been the first instance in my life as a horsewoman where I took the risk to listen to myself, trusted the information at my disposal and the team of people who believed in this work, and made a decision for my horse’s health that went against the grain of how horse care has ‘always been done’. I am so thankful to Ike for his trust in me as his steward, and to the many incredible horse people who supported me on this beautiful path. I can’t wait to see what next year’s photos look like!

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