Submitted by David Landreville, Guest HCP
Transitioning horses from shoes or neglected bare feet into properly shaped, fully functional, and comfortable bare feet can be challenging. If you don't care for a good challenge, you're not likely to be successful...save for luck. You will really have to pay attention, listening to your horse, and being mindful. I tend to have an all or nothing mind set, so when I became convinced that shoes were a bad idea for our navicular horse, Santo, I pulled them off, and I also took them off of Cloud 9 and Marie (our 2 mares). The other gelding (Dante) was already barefoot. He was only two and not being ridden yet. Prevention made so much sense to me that I decided to go all out.
Cloud 9 had no trouble with the change, except for the rainy season in the 1st year. Marie had her own opinions about things. I bought her a pair of Easyboot Epics with 1/2" comfort pads. The first time we went out on the trail to try out her boots we made it about 200 yards and she came to a stop. I urged her on but she gave me her "pay close attention to what I'm about to tell you" look. She's an Arab...I dismounted, took her boots off, and checked for rubbing or pebbles. I didn't find anything. I left the boots off, mounted and off she went, with a little encouragement, for about 50 feet. She came to a stop and refused to move forward again. I looked at her eye again and said, out loud, "you don't like that either, do you"? I took her home and we got our exercise in the soft sand of the round pen. We did that for the next month, until she was comfortable on the hard dirt road. At our place, in order to get to the soft, sandy trails along the wash, we first have to travel down a hard packed dirt road with one inch gravel sparsely strewn and accumulated mostly at the edges and down the middle ( it's distributed this way from cars using the road ). I always try to stay between the gravelly parts. After a half mile of this there's a patch of the road that gets really rocky with golf ball to basketball sized rocks halfway submerged and very little earth in between. After that it's smooth sailing down the almost rock free trail. After Marie was comfortable enough to go out on the road again, without boots (I think it was the rubbing that bothered her) we routinely rode out and I got off and hand walked her through the really rocky part. I remounted when we ran out of rocks and did the same on the way home. I did this for over a year. I never minded it and I knew she appreciated it by the look in those extremely expressive eyes of hers. One day on our way back I dismounted at the rocky spot, as usual, and began to walk off leading her. She took a few steps and stopped. I urged her on and she wouldn't budge. I checked her feet for rocks and they all came up empty. I urged her again and she remained frozen in her tracks. I asked her what the problem was and she just stood there with a patient look on her face. I mounted up and asked her to move off and she walked right off. I went a few feet and dismounted so she didn't have to carry me through the rocks. Again she wouldn't budge. I looked at her and asked again what it was that she was trying to say. All of a sudden it dawned on me. She didn't need me to get off anymore. I mounted and we crossed the rocks and we've crossed them for several years now. She never complained again...about that.
Over the years, I always got the feeling that Marie wasn't all that wild about trail rides. She always went out the gate willingly, but she took every opportunity to tell me she would rather be home with the other horses. The further away we got, the more she let me know. She prefers the arena, especially if people are taking pictures of her. She will also pose for the occasional tourist hiker. On the way home, she usually tells me which routes are shorter. We have had many arguments about this. When ever she loses she "mad walks" home. I don't care, as long as it's a walk. That's the compromise. She usually forgets by the time we get home anyway. When the Easyboot Gloves came out a few years ago I liked the design and wanted to try them out. I put them on Marie and we headed down the trail. She was in a particularly forward mood this time so we went for a longer ride. I realized something else was different. She was more adventurous than usual. This time I was the one that said, "OK, far enough." On the way home, she argued at the forks in the trail, because she wanted to stay out on the trail. She had so much extra energy. By this time it was clear to me that she loved her new boots.
Marie is 15 here.
In the beginning, when she first came out of shoes, her feet weren't the proper shape yet. There's a big difference between a farrier trim and a physiologically correct barefoot trim. As I learned the difference, her feet became more properly shaped and fit more comfortably in the boots. I've become accustomed to riding Marie, as well as our other horses, in Gloves, Glue-ons, and EasyShoes regardless of how good I think their feet are. I keep their feet trimmed frequently and balanced properly. Even if they are sound with out boots, I prefer riding and not wondering about their comfort and knowing that every step is building a better foot and protecting their feet as well as their joints from future problems.