What can nature teach us about hoof care?

So, you've decided to pull your horse's shoes
Ahhhhhhhhhh, you've decided to pull your horses shoes. Does nature REALLY know best when it comes to hoof care?  'Cause it seems that as soon as you pull the shoes, the hoof starts to break away, chip and maybe even crack a bit. 
Let me first assure you - no, the horse's hoof is NOT going to fall off!
On the contrary, once shoes are pulled, the hoof can begin to heal and strengthen and become that resilient protection for the foot inside.

Playing on fear, and bias
You see, shoes cause several negative effects for hooves. To add insult to injury, most trim the hooves to fit the shoes which can cause all sorts of wonky things to happen!  But, being told that the horse HAS to have shoes if one wants to ride or compete, horse owners tend to become a bit biased. Biased and ... fearful.
"Oh my gosh! My farrier said it was absolutely essential that my horse wear shoes. He never grows heels! He needs that protection!" 
"Oh my gosh! My farrier told me my horse has this, that or the other and HAS to wear shoes or I can't ride him!" 
"Oh my gosh! My farrier said if I want to do the kind of trail riding I do then my horse HAS to wear shoes! Otherwise the hooves will just deteriorate and break apart!"
Oh my gosh!  Oh my gosh!  Oh my gosh! 

Well, people, stop and think! Horses are not born with shoes on their feet!  (Yes, I know the rebuttal to that -- horses aren't born with riders on their backs!) 
Have you ever seen what a brand new foals hooves look like? 
"Nature" is truly a marvel ...  take a look at this!
Do you see all those weird looking, soft and squishy things attached to the bottom of the hoof?  Also referred to as “golden slippers,” “fairy fingers” or eponychium, the soft hoof capsule with its "fairy fingers" protects the mother's uterus and birth canal from the sharp edges of the foal's hooves during pregnancy and birth. Those weird things are there to protect the womb of the mare while carrying the foal. 

Nature at its best - the perfect hoof
Once the foal is born and on the ground, as soon as the foal begins to get up and wiggles around, those 'tentacles' wear off and a PERFECT LITTLE HOOF is revealed!
Just take a good look at these adorable, PERFECT little hooves! 

Alamy Stock Photo
Perfect little shape, perfect walls, perfect concavity, perfect wall length, perfect toe length, healthy frog, perfect heel length ... just perfect little hooves.
Granted, yes, there are sad exceptions but these are rare.
So what happens between the time a foal is on the ground with perfect little hooves to riding age and wearing shoes? The answer is, a lot!
Think of the diet of the common domestic horse, the husbandry, the exercise (or lack of), the discipline of training, the terrain on which the horse lives, the terrain on which the horse is ridden and the hoof care that is given.

Adobe Stock Photo
The natural horse lives according to nature's laws
Think, now, of the 'natural horse' and how he is living ... diet, terrain, social, emotional, stress levels, etc. etc., all of which have paramount effects on the hooves of the horse.
The 'natural horse' lives according to nature's laws.

Adobe Stock Photo

The hooves grow and they wear, grow and wear, grow and wear - all according to the movement and the terrain of that horse.
How does it wear? It chips, it breaks off, it smooths off or is sanded off or in less abrasive environments, it grows and breaks off in chunks, grows again and breaks off some more.
That, my friend, is nature's way.
So when taking the shoes off your horse, if the hooves are not correctly trimmed 'as nature would trim' then you're likely to see chips and breaks and chunks coming off the hoof wall.
All I can say is, the hooves are not falling of the horse and no, your horse is not going to be rendered lame/unsound for the rest of its life and no, you DO NOT have to put shoes back on your horse!
Breathe and stop and think. The hooves are simply responding to NATURE as they are created to do.

Adobe Stock Photo
Find a trimmer who is knowledgeable and experienced in helping to transition horses from shod to barefoot
My advice?  Find a trimmer who is knowledgeable and experienced in helping to transition horses from shod to barefoot and become best friends!
Call on that person to help your horse and to help you understand what, exactly, is going on with your horse's hooves. Don't panic and jump right back into having your horse shod.
Give your horse some time to acclimate.

Life without shoes
Without shoes his proprioceptors are able to return to full function.
The hooves can naturally respond as they need to according to the horse's diet and environment. They will shape themselves and grow as nature intended - being able to expand and contract on weight loading as they were created to do. They'll be getting the enriching, nourishing blood flow to the hooves as the hooves will no longer be restricted by shoes. Heck, you'll find your horse probably strides out more fully, tracks up straighter, perhaps will stop winging or paddling if he was doing so, the hocks will stop twisting with every step ... and more!

Get some hoof boots
If your horse is a bit tender-footed after the shoes are removed then get some hoof boots to help protect the sole while the hooves are transitioning and put them on when riding. It takes 8 months to a full year for a new hoof to grow from the coronary band down to the ground. That equates to approximately 1/4" a month. It will take a couple to a few months for the sole to thicken up and callus in order to fully protect the inner foot and allow that horse to go rock crunching down the rocky trails without flinching.

Take your time
Sometimes TIME is all that is needed, so breathe deep, and don't panic!
Let your horse enjoy his new hooves.
He's going to feel really, really good! 
And, so will you knowing that you're doing the best you can for your horse.
Nature DOES know best ... best to listen closely to her.


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Gwen Santagate is the author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" . For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She keeps a small herd of her own equines and continues to offer consults for horses in need.


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