Well thats what we are led to believe. The truth is, with the right trim, diet and excercise there is no reason why virtually any horse cannot enjoy the benefits of an iron-free lifestyle. The biggest obstacle most horses have to going barefoot is the attitude of their owner. Barefoot (particularly in the beginning) can be tough if the horse has less than ideal hooves to start with, but I’m sure you will agree the rewards of a healthier, happier longer lived horse are worth the little extra work in those first couple of months.

This is the story of Miss Bronte, sent to us by one of our dealers in the North. Angela has helped many horses to enjoy being shoe free. As well as trimming she can supply and fit any of the hoof boots in the Easycare range as well as advising on diet and management of the barefoot horse.

Miss Bronte’s Story So Far
Miss Bronte – Bronte to her friends – is a five year old thoroughbred mare. She has had a very typical thoroughbred life… so far. Raced as a two and three year old, she ran six times, her claim to fame being ridden a couple of times by leading lady jockey Hayley Turner. Bronte just wasn’t fast enough to race and after coming last in her final race she was ‘retired’. Retired meant being chucked in a field and forgotten about, until she ended up at the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre in spring 2010. She was under weight and lame when she arrived and was immediately shod. The TRC worked with her and got her into a good enough condition to put her up for adoption.

This is where Paula Smith came into Bronte’s life. Paula has had horses for years and recently returned from living in Australia. She wanted a youngster to bring on and event, eventually. Being a friend of mine I had already convinced her of the benefits of going barefoot though it was not something she’d ever thought of doing with any of her previous horses. We had the very common discussion about thoroughbreds, especially ex-racehorses, not being suitable for barefoot because ‘thoroughbreds have bad feet’, but I convinced her to give it a try.

We gave Bronte a couple of days to settle in before removing her shoes. Underneath the shoes her feet were pretty typical of a horse shod too young – small, wider than longer, underun heels, poor horn quality. Shoes off, first trim done and then it’s that first walk across the yard. Paula’s yard surface is quite challenging in places for a newly barefoot horse, gravelly in parts. Bronte was tentative as she walked away but sound.

Paula is the perfect client – she does every thing I tell her to the letter. So Bronte got walked in hand round the roads in the village and her diet was adjusted to that of a barefoot horse, low sugar/starch, poor grazing. Paula built up the work slowly, never doing more than Bronte was comfortable with. Soon Paula was hacking out round the village – again just at walk and Bronte was sound at every step. We had a couple of slight backwards moments, when Bronte came slightly footy. Both these times coincided with her being in season – a very common thing we’ve been finding… mares going footy when in season. It’s almost certainly related to hormonal changes and a client of mine has found that supplementing with Agnus Castus powder has solved the problem.

Due to the shape of Bronte’s front feet – much wider than they are long – I fitted her with Old Mac Originals. In time the shape of Bronte’s feet will improve and we hope to get her into Easyboot Gloves. However for the time being and the stage of Bronte’s work the Old Mac Original’s work perfectly. Once fitted with these front boots Paula started hacking off road. Our local tracks are mostly very stony and pretty challenging for the transitioning barefoot horse. But with Old Macs in front and nothing behind Bronte has been exploring the countryside with ears pricked and a long stride.

Paula alternates riding out with and without the boots on at the front. When being schooled Bronte doesn’t wear boots. I have trimmed her three times now and the nail  holes are almost grown out. Her feet have improved hugely even in the short space of time I’ve been working with her. The Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre were dubious about taking her barefoot – convinced she would be dog lame without shoes. They were very impressed when they came to see her – and could hardly believe it as they saw her walk over the stones and gravel without shoes or boots.

Watching the mare being schooled or just powering round in the field is wonderful – she has a huge elevated trot and in time, with lots of schooling, will produce a pretty spectacular dressage test.

When she first arrived I was worried about her conformation. She had marked toe first landing when she first arrived and her pasterns, which are on the long side, were very low to the ground – not a good combination for long term soundness. Since the shoes have been removed and the feet have strengthened up her whole posture has altered. She now has a beautiful heel first landing. Her pasterns now sit at a more natural angle underneath her and no longer looks so prone to injury. This will only improve further as her feet develop. The great benefit of having bare feet is that the horse can grow exactly the foot it needs to suit it’s own conformation, unlike with shoes were the farrier will try to get the feet to conform to the text book ideal.  Shod hooves are almost always weak at the heel causing all sorts of injuries long term.

Bronte’s story shows what can be achieved with a thoroughbred ex-racehorse in the short space of time. Credit has to go to Bronte’s owner Paula. Simply removing the shoes is not enough. It is essential to get the diet right and to do the transitioning work. Together Bronte and Paula make the perfect partnership and hopefully will go far together. Without shoes of course!