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Barefoot horses...naturally

  • Ethology

(18th February 2012)

Thanks to the barefoot movement, the management of barefoot horses is a practice that is becoming increasingly popular, with the aim of developing the natural qualities of the hoof and eliminating the need for shoes.

Many people today believe that horseshoes are indispensable, forgetting that horses were not born with shoes and that in the past horses were ridden unshod. Horseshoes, it seems, were first used during the Middle Ages. Their main purpose was to protect the hooves of horses that were kept in stables for long periods of time. Their use became generalized with the increased paving of roads and when horses began to be used in equestrian sports.

Thanks to the study of the anatomy and physiology of the hooves of wild Mustang horses, we can now consider barefoot as a valid alternative to traditional shoeing, which is deemed unnecessary and often harmful.

Shoeing often causes problems such as a distorted shape of the hoof or damage to the internal tissue. Consequently, when it is decided to remove the shoes, it might take up to nine months before the hoof is strong enough to allow the horse to be used in specific ways without any kind of protection ( this phase is know as the ’transition period’ and can be dealt with by utilizing horse boots).

The barefoot movement first developed in the U.S. thanks mainly to Jamie Jackson’s ideas.
Jackson started out as a blacksmith. Between 1982 and 1986 he observed and studied the conformation of the hooves of herds of wild mustangs in the Great Basin. In 1990 he stopped altogether using horseshoes and has been teaching and practicing natural hoof care, along with a natural overall management of the domesticated horse.
The followers of the barefoot movement have observed that hooves are sounder when horses are allowed to live in herds and can move about continuously as wild horses do, resulting in better circulation of the blood.

Another important factor is correct diet, which helps prevent and cure diseases such as laminitis (a violent inflammation of the hoof that can have serious consequences).
In the state of nature, the horse eats grass from poor pastures, supplementing it with shrubs, bark and roots. For the domestic horse this kind of diet can be provided utilizing top quality hay, rich in fiber. Alfalfa and legumes, which are rich in carbohydrates, should instead be avoided, as should grains. Adding minerals and oligominerals can also be useful.

All of the equines at IHP are barefoot, live in herds and are free to roam in very large pastures. They are fed almost exclusively high quality mixed hay and, occasionally, during the short period when it is available, green grass.
Many of our horses arrive here having been kept in a conventional way, stabled and shod. Even worse, some had been badly neglected or mistreated.
With time and with the help of natural, ethologically correct management we have noticed a very rapid improvement in their general wellbeing.

Thanks to Dario Arcamone for his advice.

For further information on barefoot:




Foto del piede di Jerez, gentilmente concessa dalla sua proprietaria Susan Carol Garvin (www.esserecavallo.com)

Foto del piede di Jerez, gentilmente concessa dalla sua proprietaria Susan Carol Garvin (www.esserecavallo.com)

Foto del piede di Jerez, gentilmente concessa dalla sua proprietaria Susan Carol Garvin (www.esserecavallo.com)