Maria Siebrand from The Thoughtful Horseman writes:
I am always searching for analogies to help owners understand the barefoot transition: why it sometimes takes months, why the horse that was “sound” in shoes is tender-footed without them, why shoeing is so entrenched in our equine management. I’ve often compared conditioning the newly bare hoof to strength training or endurance training: you don’t simply wake up one day, walk into a gym for the first time in your life, and bench press 300 lbs. You build your muscles, or your stamina, over time, asking a little more of your body gradually, until you are strong enough. Same with the horse’s hoof: conditioning the hoof to the type of terrain the horse will be working on, and the type of work the horse will be expected to do, is the only way to develop a healthy hoof capable of performing the job required of it.
Why, then, do horseshoes allow horses to perform the same work without conditioning the foot? And why is it a bad thing? Most of the time, the hoof simply is not given a chance to acclimate to the work before a shoe is nailed on. Two year olds about to go into training are routinely shod before they begin work. It’s just the way it has been done for hundreds of years. It stands to reason that, if the colt were left barefoot and then began training, his feet would have the opportunity to develop along with his muscles and endurance. This is, of course, an oversimplification, because the colt’s stabling environment and diet, and the quality of the barefoot trimming he receives, not only during his training, but up until that time, play a critical role. Just for the sake of argument, suppose that those things were as they should be. We could finally reverse the shoeing trend; we could raise horses with truly healthy, sound feet; and we could reduce the incidence of navicular problems, reported to occur in up to 86% of shod horses, dramatically.
Once the horse is shod, the hoof is quite literally prevented from developing at all. In fact, it immediately begins to become weaker. Vital structures are lifted out of an active role, and like an unused muscle, lose strength. It’s akin to wearing a brace or a splint (although the damaging effects of the nailed on shoe actually cause pathologies, as well); while a splint supports a weakness, the weakness will only become more pronounced if the splint is used continually. Physical therapy – using the limb without the splint – is the only way to strengthen the limb. Physical therapy can be uncomfortable – even painful – but it is the only way to regain use of a weakened or injured limb. The same is true for rehabilitating a hoof that has been shod for any period of time.
Would you take any other "shortcut" in preparing your horse physically for the demands of the job you have in mind for him, if you knew that the ultimate result of the shortcut would completely rob him of the very strength you wanted him to have? Isn’t it worth the time it takes to build a really, truly healthy hoof, instead of a hoof that works for now?
Do you have any stories you would like to share with us in your experiences with barefoot transitioning?
You will find me at the front desk if you visit the EasyCare corporate headquarters. I am in charge of the web orders and I manage the Hoof Boot Upgrade program which offers discount pricing on boots.