Why can it sometimes take months for a horse to transition to barefoot?
Why is the horse that was “perfectly sound” in shoes tender-footed without them?
Why is shoeing so entrenched in our current equine management practices?
Conditioning the newly bare hoof can be compared 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 pounds. You must build up your strength and stamina over time, asking a little more of your body gradually, until you are strong enough to handle that feat.
The same is true with the horse’s hoof. Conditioning the hoof over time 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 traditional horseshoes allow horses to perform the same work without conditioning the foot? And why wouldn’t we continue to do that throughout our horses’ lives when it seems so much easier and more efficient than a slow conditioning process?
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-old horses about to go into training for the first time are routinely shod before they begin work. It’s just the way it has been done at countless training facilities for so long that there doesn’t seem to be a reason to question it.
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 chronic lameness issues in our horses.
Once that colt is shod with traditional horseshoes, the hoof is quite literally prevented from developing. In fact, it immediately begins to weaken. Vital structures in the hoof no longer have an active role in each stride, and like an unused muscle, they lose strength. It’s akin to wearing a brace or a splint after you sustain an injury. If the brace or splint is used continually thereafter, the weakness will only become more pronounced. Using the limb without the splint is the only way to re-strengthen the limb. Rebuilding that strength, which is often done in physical therapy, can be uncomfortable and 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 well just for now?
If transitioning to barefoot seems confusing, or just like a chore you can continually put off for another time, we’d like to help! EasyCare offers countless hoof care options to help your horse through every phase of his transition.
Check out this post if you’re thinking about going barefoot, which highlights using the Easyboot Trail to help your horse through his transition.
The Easyboot Glue-On is also a popular choice for transitioning to barefoot, as this post explains.
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