Before anyone gets the wrong idea I am not a barefoot nazi. At times, for very specific reasons, we have recommended that shoes be put back on one of our residents for anywhere from one to a few shoeing/trim cycles. However they have all managed to transition to being barefoot and comfortable while living on a soft grass pasture and doing only self directed movement. If any of them were asked to return to work many would need shoes, although some I think would be just fine without.
We've learned a few things about this through the years. One, when you do pull the shoes, it is best to stretch the cycle out before pulling the shoes if you can. The extra growth will be very handy as it is inevitable that the hooves will chip off up to the nail holes. It doesn't matter how beautifully you roll and beval the edges, the chipping is going to happen sooner or later.
Two, for those that do get really sore at first boots are your friend. We have found through the years that when a horse needs boots they need boots with pads in them. We have quite a collection of easyboot epics in all sizes and we have pads that we cut to fit the boots (yoga mats work great for this). I really like using the easyboot glue-ons with a pour-in pad even better than the epics. Most of the time the horses that need this extra help only need it for one cycle so the extra expense for the owner is short-lived.
a hoof outfitted with an easyboot glue-on with a pour-in pad
Finally, our goal is not a pretty hoof, our goal is a functional hoof. Sometimes you get both in the same foot, but most of the time you don't. I find a lot of horse people really do not have any idea how to evaluate a hoof. They can see if the hoof wall has cracks or if the edges of the wall are ragged and need a trim. Other than that they often do not have any other criteria to judge a hoof, and as they are making their statements don't even bother to pick up the hoof in question and look at it from the bottom. I used to be squarely in this category myself, and looking back I now realize in the early years I made the transition out of shoes more complicated than it had to be for many of our retirees. I was determined to make the hooves pretty instead of simply allowing them to be functional.
Although we do have some very pretty and functional hooves walking around the farm, we have more that are varying degrees of ugly but highly functional. I've heard many times "his hoof wall looks dry and shelly" or "her hoof has a crack." Yes, you will see a lot of dry and shelly at our farm and what I call sand cracks (cracks that do not go all the way through the hoof wall). Since most of the horses live outside24/7, and the stall boarders spend more time out than in, the hooves on our farm constantly go through the wet/dry cycle and we can do absolutely nothing about that. This summer has made for some particularly unattractive feet since we seem to be in a permanent wet cycle and the hooves are very soft. It is what it is and there is not a thing we can do about the weather and ground conditions except complain (and for those of you wondering Jason has that part well covered).
I could care less about shelly looking walls or little cracks. Without fail when you pick up that same hoof an owner is worried about and look at it from the bottom you see a very functional hoof. The vast majority of the horses have very weak hooves in the caudal (heel) area when they arrive and the shoes are removed. It is amazing to see how much stronger the hooves look after being barefoot for awhile. Not to mention the hoof in question is attached to a horse that used to be crippled at the mere thought of not having a shoe on it, and the horse is now galloping around the pasture with confidence. To me that should speak for itself - the hoof may not be pretty from the top but it is clearly much more functional than it has been in years. However I cannot be too hard on anyone when it comes to pretty vs. functional hooves since it took me a long time and a lot of horses to finally have the lightbulb moment. My only defense is that sometimes I am simply a slow learner . . .
There is so much more I could talk about on this topic, I could easily write a novel, so I've tried to just hit some of the high notes. Hooves are fascinating to me, they are so vital to a horse and are constantly changing with their environment. I wonder what lightbulb moments I will have in the next several years when it comes to hooves, and horses in general. It is eye opening to realize I did not know how much I did not know, and I imagine in a few more years I'll be writing a similar type of post and wondering why I did not realize sooner all the things I will have finally learned. Horses tend to be very humbling like that. Or maybe I should say life tends to be very humbling like that.
Donovan, Toledo and Kennedy having a group nap; Oskar and Stormy are grazing in the background
Clayton and Stormy on the move
Bergie clearly had a very good roll
George and Gibson grazing during one of our many rain showers
Lily and Maisie grooming while waiting for their turn with the farrier
Merlin, Fabrizzio and Walden
Lucky, Lightening and Thor
Hemi, Baby and Thomas