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Dare to go bare

There are still many horses that wear horseshoes at least on their fore hooves, some even on their back hooves. If the owner then decides to change to bare hooves, the success depends on several circumstances.

Why should horseshoes be removed?

Most horse owners decide to try out bare hooves when it is nearly too late because the horse already has severe problems like laminitis or some other unbearable hoof condition. But there are enough arguments to give a horse with healthy hooves a chance of an iron free time:

  • A horse shoe provides a fundamental protection against too much abrasion, but many horses do not need that protection.
  • A protection against abrasion is useful only for horses that are used for long distance rides or coach trips.
  • But in these cases, one can fall back on the alternative hoof shoe. For example, if an owner who goes on long distance rides during the summer decides in favour of horseshoes, one can go back to bare hooves in wintertime, so that the hooves can be corrected without irons.
  • A hoof correction is impossible with horseshoes. The condition of a hoof can only be changed and improved when it is bare. The hoof orthopaedist works with factors like abrasion and ground pressure, but these factors cannot be controlled while wearing horseshoes.
  • An "unarmed" (i. e., unshod) horse does not present a danger to his fellow horses.
  • Most hooves develop heel trouble under horseshoes because abrasion only takes place in the heel area, whereas the rest of the hoof keeps growing.
  • The hoof becomes flat, the toe becomes longer.
  • The quality of the horn decreases and the development of hoof abscesses is facilitated.
  • Hoof mechanics are impeded by the rigid iron, so that the hoof cannot adjust to the ground when in movement, shocks cannot be absorbed and make themselves immediately felt in the joints.
  • Furthermore, horseshoes cause the blood circulation to lessen because of the elimination of hoof mechanics.
  • The negative effects are various and not only affect the extremities but also the whole organism.
  • A horse shoe has bad grip on slippery ground.

Who should remove the horse shoes?

Is the horse to be worked on by a hoof orthopaedist, he or she should remove the irons. The hoof orthopaedist will take care to remove them carefully and the first treatment should only be carried out by a hoof orthopaedist.

How will the hoof be treated?

During the first treatment the hoof orthopaedist will make sure that the condition of the hooves improve and will try to make the change as comfortable as possible for the horse. For example, leverages on the diagonal walls of the hooves will be minimized to build up the wall again and to take away the horse's pains which are caused by the leverages. Therefore it is important that a hoof orthopaedist should take care of the hooves right after the irons have been removed. Initially, treatments should be in short intervals so that the hooves and the horse can recover quickly. Appointments should be made with the hoof orthopaedist from treatment to treatment.

How do the hooves react?

One cannot give a universally valid prognosis and even in given case it is impossible to say how the hooves will develop. Horseshoes cause the quality of the horn to become poor. The horn of a shod horse is mostly soft and crumbly because of a lack of stimulation. Bare hooves produce high quality horn because they are stimulated by the different grounds so that an appropriate horn may develop.

After removing the shoes, most hooves will break out at the nail holes; the severity of these break-outs also depends on the hoof condition, where slanting parts of the walls will break out more easily than relatively steep walls. In many cases the complete bearing edge will break away after a short period of time and the sole and frog will have to take over the bearing function. This can lead to such a severe irritation of the sole corium that it becomes inflamed. In this case, a veterinarian should be consulted and the hoof orthopaedist can relieve the horse with special hoof padding.

Sensitivity when walking on stony ground is common after changing over to bare hooves because through the removal of the irons and the re-establishment of the hoof mechanics, the horse starts to feel the ground under his feet again. Therefore stones and gravel are found to be unpleasant.

Actually, one should be glad about a horse that walks carefully on stony ground. In contrast to his fellows with horseshoes, this horse takes care off his extremities by not running recklessly up and down hill and dale, ruining his joints and sinews in the long run.

Wether or not the horse adjusts well to bare hooves depends on the treatment and condition of the hooves, but also largely on the cooperation of the horse's owner.

What should the horse owner do?

Every horse owner who thinks about removing horse shoes should be aware that his or her horse will go through a period of rehabilitation during the change.

This means that much consideration has to be taken for the horse, and personal wishes such as riding should be put aside.

In the beginning, the horse should not be ridden at all to observe how he horse without horseshoes. Rocky ground should be avoided at first or, when this is not possible, the horse should wear horse boots. Otherwise it is helpful when the horse can move freely in the paddock without being chased by other horses and thus forced to gallop.

The horse owner has to be patient because if the horse is ridden too early, the success of the change is hindered or delayed.

One should decide beforehand wether one can do without riding for some time. If you are not ready to forego this you may have to put up with a horse with bad hooves or perhaps be forced to delay your private pleasure for a few weeks in favour the horse.

Of course people who love horses do not like to see their horses walk around carefully, but the duration of this phase is foreseeable and in the end the horse will have healthy hooves. In contrast, a seemingly happy galloping horse with horseshoes far too often ends up with a never ending story of laminitis.