Deshoeing and is it necessary to boot?

Yesterday, I spoke to the owner of a twelve year-old horse, shod for at least the past six years. She asked me particularly about the transition to barefoot (the conviction is there but the uncertainties about how and when remain…).

I won’t go into all the implications of transition here – suffice to say that a horse shod for fifteen years can make an imperceptible transition while another, shod for a short misinformed moment, goes through an absolute drama. There is nothing so unpredictable as the horse!

And so the question arose: what about hoof boots (EasyBoots® etc.)? Would that help?
The short of it is ‘No!’. People often justify their own use of hoof boots by recounting that their horse is more comfortable when riding out. The reality is the they are riding out before the horse is ready to be ridden. There is a consensus among many riders and so-called barefoot specialists, that the horse should transition from being shod to being a rock-cruncher in no time flat, and completely without difficulty. This is pure fantasy. And particularly if the horse has been shod for a longer period of time. We must not be tempted into believing that a horse, shod for five years or more, with five years or more of damage to its feet, is going to transition to rock-cruncher in 5 days…or even five months for that matter.

Mindset

Someone once joked that the most important piece of equipment in the trimmer’s armoury is an almost unlimited supply of whisky/gin/vodka to calm the worried owner. Transition requires the right mindset – without it, the owner/rider will be lost. So before we look at the problems of the hoof boot, let’s take a quick look at the problems of the wrong mindset:

  • A hoof with damaged internal structures –as a result of shoeing or laminitis, for example– needs time to heal. We know that the hoof takes about a year to grow from the coronet to the ground but if they are particularly badly affected, the internal structures around the coffin bone can take four years or more.
  • Even under favourable circumstances, the horse must be afforded time to get accustomed to its new situation. Jumping straight on and expecting the horse to perform is bound to disappoint. Taking time out with the horse, groundwork, walking in the hand and a gentle acclimatisation will be of benefit to all. 
  • An iron shoe renders the horse insensitive to irregular surfaces. This is often seen as an advantage by the rider because it means that he/she can steer the horse anywhere with impunity. However, the horse, unable to judge the viability of the surface over which it is travelling, is highly susceptible to injury –this in addition to the insidious damage to the joints and back in the long term.
  • The recurrence of abscesses is NOT as a result of going barefoot but the consequence of being shod. The presence of an abscess is in fact a sign that the damage in the foot, caused by shoeing, is starting to heal.
  • Despite tales to the contrary, horses are generally NOT rock-crunchers. Post-transition, the rider often complains that the horse is no longer ‘go-anywhere’. In fact, this is far from the truth –the horse is now more than ever capable of ‘going anywhere’ but will take more care in doing so. Just as we would prefer to walk on an even grassy track rather than on one scattered with stones –even wearing walking boots– so it is with the horse. But that makes neither of us incapable of using the stony track, with care, if there is no alternative.
So, why not use hoof boots?

First and foremost, the problem is not in the feet but in the mind of the owner/rider (see above). In order for the feet to heal/become accustomed to being unshod, they need to work, not to be protected. To reiterate, hoof boots provide the rider with the ability to ride the horse when the horse is in fact not ready to be ridden.

Renegade® hoofbootAlthough in itself, not living tissue, the hoof is growing constantly. This means that its size relative to a hoof boot is never constant –the boot will generally either be too large or too small even assuming we can trim the hoof exactly to the size of the boot. The length of the hoof wall will also determine how much contact the bottom of the hoof makes. It has now been long established that the hoof wall is not the part of the foot that carries the weight of the horse. By applying boots, we are often obliging the hoof wall to do just this, there not being a proper surface contact for the sole or the frog –just the very parts of the foot that need the maximum stimulation to develop into healthy structures. Some boot manufacturers provide inserts aimed at circumventing this problem but the essential hoof mechanism remains restricted and the hoof wall does not undergo any wear at all.
In addition, one of the reasons for removing horseshoes is their excess, damaging, weight – and yet, on average, a hoof boot weights upwards of 20% more than a horseshoe…

Thus, our aim of stimulating the sole and frog is actually being exasperated by our natural desire to help the horse recover in comfort. In fact, most of the time it is much less uncomfortable than we imagine. Very often, that which the rider perceives as ‘walking on eggs’ or ‘footy’ or any other version of ‘difficult’ we might like to apply, is in fact simply the horse getting used to new sensations and/or protecting its own well-being. Ironically, the moment when the horse will really profit from being barefoot is the moment when so many riders –who often claim to ride barefoot– actually apply what they feel to be protection. All they are doing is in fact at best prolonging the period of recovery, at worst, continuing the negative effects on the skeleton caused by shoeing.

 

Hot shoeing –despite what a farrier might tell you– damages the internal structures of the hoof. The effect of reapplying fairly intense heat at regular intervals, obviates the development of abscesses by the simple effect of cauterisation. This vicious cycle continues throughout the shod life of the horse until the day the abscesses are allowed to develop because the horse is no longer being shod.

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Houston Police-horses 100% Barefoot

Nice article on the Soul of a Horse blog about the Houston Police Department’s horses. They are all unshod and, no, they were not specifically selected for their hardness of hoof… They all went through some kind of transition, some harder than others, but this is only to be expected since they suddenly have ground under their feet and with lowered heels, their muscles are being stretched more.

Read the full article here.

Barefoot is Not Negotiable…

All horses’ hooves are healthier without shoes, and barefoot horses are
healthier than shod horses. They live longer, happier, less painful lives.
Barefoot is a requirement for health and should be accepted as a condition
for keeping a horse. Humane management is not just preferable, it is
nonnegotiable. The foot evolved to function unshod. Nature has developed
the perfect design for grip and slide in all conditions and provided for
unsurpassable shock absorption. The foot cannot expand and contract with
each step when clamped. Blood supply to the foot is impoverished and horn
production becomes deficient. When the foot is prevented from functioning
correctly, the pastern, fetlock, cannon, and knee are also placed at risk. This
leads to bone, joint, and soft tissue injuries.

Dr. Robert Cook, FRCVS, PhD, professor of surgery emeritus at
Tufts University

Transhumance

It’s the last week before Christmas and once again I am spending the week in the Pyrenees in the company of seventy-plus horses and a smattering of people. We are taking the horses from their summer grounds, some 1800 metres up in the Pyrenees to their winter grounds some 1400 metres lower in the Aude.
The horses are capable of surviving the temperatures of the mountains but the winter grounds afford them better access to food. They will have dry-grassland to feed off for the winter period but they will have no more shelter than nature herself provides. For four months they will be left to roam an area of more than 85 hectares.
Of course, “rough living” is only a part of the story: not one of the horses is shod. And yet they are quite capable of covering 150km in four days – with or without rider – with no detrimental effect on the hooves. The snow, ice, climbs and descents are all taken in their stride with little or no chance of injuring themselves. Last year we did a 10km trot downhill on snow and ice. This year promises to be as interesting – there is already a good layer of snow awaiting us on the other side of the Col de Puymorens (snow chains were obligatory this morning).
It should be a good week again.

Winter is here (on paper!)

So the winter has begun; well, according to the meteorological calendar, at least. Our weathermen mark the change of seasons on the first day of March, June, September and December – it makes it easier on the statistics than the infinitely variable 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd or 23rd of the month 😀

Our horses (were talking Northern hemisphere here) have long noticed the shortening days and the cooling off and have equipped themselves with all they need for the winter months – a thick coat. Of course, if you brought the winter blankets out early enough, then the winter coat may not be quite so thick, nevertheless, it is there. And to compensate, some people even go so far as to clip this wonderfully adequate coat so that our horse doesn’t sweat too much – and particularly not under that lovely winter blanket.

As you might guess, the idea of a winter blanket is not one much cherished by Sabots Libres: horses are designed with their own blanket – in fact, it’s a sort of All Weather Protection. The hairs lie in such a configuration as to insure good drainage of both rainwater and sweat. The oft heard cry of not putting your horse out to pasture (or into its stall) when it is still wet, is really a nonsense. Horses in the wild will exert themselves and then stand around, sweaty, in the wind, without a care in the world – and they don’t catch cold! And I dare you to try this one – put your horse out to pasture for 24 hours when there is a thick layer of snow on the ground and a cutting wind; make sure there is some shelter for the worst moments, but when you come back the next day, have a look where your horse has been in the past day (should be easy with the footprints in the snow) and the chances are that he has wandered around in the snow a bit and at some stage made a bed in it; chances are the shelter is unused.

And on the subject of cold – when we get to the final stages of hypothermia, we shiver (uncontrollably). A horse does not get that far: it shivers very early on not because it is getting too cold but to keep its temperature up. If it is not successful, then there is a whole barrage of tricks for keeping warm – not least of which, eating. But also by shutting off circulation to the legs, temporarily; closing down the surface capilary-structures for periods of time and simply by erecting the coat and thus trapping a layer of highly insulating air. This last solution is obviously seriously hampered by the use of a winter blanket and it is almost certain that a horse with winter blanket will be colder than one without.

Even if you are not (yet) convinced about blankets, now is a good time to seriously consider removing those horseshoes once and for all. Although the reports of doom are much overplayed (-23˚C could happen but not in the way nor with the certainty that the doommongers will have us believe), the chance of snow is still reasonably high. And snow combines badly with horseshoes.
Being metal (in most cases), the shoe will rapidly take on the temperature of its surroundings – the snow – and will become an ideal surface for ice to form. This ice then conglomerates to eventually become one large chunk of ice within the periphery of the shoe. As the horse continues to move over the snow, this chunk of ice grows even further but now also downwards creating a high unstable and dangerous surface for the horse to walk upon.

Additionally, with shoes, the horse is unable to properly feel and assess the surface upon which he is walking and although under some circumstances, he may appear to be afforded more traction, the net result is one of much increased chance of injury. It is therefore advisable to remove the shoes now, before the winter really sets in, and when the spring comes, leave the shoes off! Your horse really does not need them.

If you wish to know more about barefoot riding, please do not hesitate to contact us at info@sabots-libres.eu