Today on our podcast, Horse Mysteries Solved, I invite you to listen to thoughts on barefoot vs. shoes.
You may well know something about this topic (or even be an expert!).
But I share the deep content on why barefoot is better for horses.
If you’ve been with me for a while, you know I am all about the WHY.
When one doesn’t understand the why, it is easy to get pushed around by others opinions. You know others: the farrier, the trainer, the vet, and every single person at your barn. lol
I hope you enjoy it.
As always, please email or comment if you have questions or want more details.
Best to you and your horse,
Renee Tucker, DVM
Hello, dear friends. This is Dr. Renee Tucker. Today I was going to talk to you about horse health, happiness number three, which is happy feet. That’s right.
Let me cut to the chase. Horses can only have happy feet if they’re barefoot. Now, you’re probably in one of two camps at the moment. Either you’ve already done barefoot and you’re happy, and then you’re just going to stop listening. But may I say, you can have a barefoot horse, and it can be poorly trimmed and you still have problems.
So there may be a few things you could learn from the podcast, potentially. And the other camp might be that you could think, hey, barefoot is pretty good, but my horse can’t do it. Well, I understand that you may have tried going barefoot and it didn’t work out because your horse got sore, but that’s actually a sign that your horse really needs some help. So may you please consider it again and feel free to comment on the podcast, and I try to answer those either right on my website, where does Myhorsehurt.com, or in another podcast. I try to answer those questions.
Okay, let me tell you what happened. I was learning some more stuff, right? I’m always trying to learn, particularly when I have got this really good body work thing know, I teach energetical body work, the Tucker biokinetic technique. So I got these great moving horses in their body, and they still have problems. I know, I’m shocked about it, but then I thought I started to look really more into the feet.
So I started studying and I look more at what a natural hoof looks like. And we’re talking generally the wild horses that are in what do they call that where the Bureau of Land Management in America. They’re in this great basin that’s across several states. And then there’s also some wildlife landings and other wild portions of horses that they study. The point is, I looked at the normal hoof, the normal wild, untrimmed hoof.
I was shocked. I’m looking at this hoof and I’m like, what? This is what normal is supposed to be. It really looked weird. You know why?
Because we almost never see it. We’ve been doing things for so long, we see what we think is normal is not actually normal. And I feel terrible. I’m supposed to be this educated veterinarian, and what we’re doing here is not working out. A normal, healthy hoof should have a short toe, a thick calloused sole.
It should have good concavity, which means an arch in the sole, not flat. It should have strong short bars and a strong functional frog. Now, I know this is a little hard on audio only, so I am putting some pictures of this normal hoof again on the website where the podcast is so you can see the pictures. If you’re on there, I know you can hear the podcast in many different ways, but if you go to where does my horse hurt? And look up this podcast.
That’s where the images will be. Okay, here’s the thing. What I’ve been taught and what fairies are taught in vet school, and to this day, we’ve been taught to trim the foot. You correct the hoof pastern coffin angles so that’s everything below the felt lock, it should be in this nice, beautiful straight line. And that’s okay.
And then you have the correct angle from the heel to the ground. That’s where your fairy will often pick up the hoof and measure it with some hoof calipers. And if that’s correct, according to the teachings, then you slap the shoe on and you’re good. Well, that’s what we’ve all been taught. And let me tell you what that gets you.
If you just go for those correct angles and put a shoe on, you’re going to get thrush contracted heels, navicular laminateic rotation, flat feet, thin soles and abscesses, just to name a few. This is pretty much guaranteed. I know this sounds a little bit harsh, particularly if you’re new to this topic, but this is really, really a problem. So I’m really thinking if you’re listening to this, you’re looking for solutions and the best way to keep your horse naturally holistically and the very best way is barefoot with the correct trim. Okay?
Why do we need barefoot? Let me tell you five reasons, okay? Obviously, horses don’t have shoes on in nature. That’s not a reason. It’s true.
But this is not one of my reasons. All right, here’s one. Did you know that the hoof wall grows in tubules? Now, tubules are little, teeny tiny tubes. There are thousands of tubules in the hoof wall.
They grow from the coronary band down to the ground, thousands of them, okay? And then those little tubules, cute as they are, they get feedback from the ground so they can feel as the horse is moving, whether or not they should grow more or they’re plenty long enough. And they don’t need to grow more. They have to have that feedback to know where to grow. Now, as soon as a hoof nail so I’m sorry I said that wrong, the horseshoe nail breaks one of the tubules.
It doesn’t get any more feedback. So everywhere there’s a nail, that nail has broken probably several tubules through the hoof, and there’s no more feedback. So that portion where the nail is, the hoof doesn’t know what to do. Do I grow? Do I not grow?
I’m not hearing anything. Okay? And that’s why the nail area in a hoof wall is always the weaker point. You probably noticed this. And if you have toe clips on, that’s even worse.
That’s just cut right across a whole bunch of hoof tubules. So the horse doesn’t even know what to do in that area at all. All right, that’s number one. That these hoof tubules, which tell the hoof where to grow, can’t hear anymore. Once they’re broken.
They’re broken. They just got to grow out. Okay. Number two is if you put shoes on, this always constricts the hoof. It literally makes the hoof smaller than it should be.
This is true. Even if you have glue on shoes, it’s going to constrict the hoof. Over time, you get contracted heels. These are bad. Contracted heels is definitely part and parcel with navicular problems.
Number three, with shoes on, this stops the natural compressive concussive forces from correctly distributing up the leg. In other words, with shoes on, it is more jarring to the leg. It’s more ouchy concussive. Instead of softly landing on a nice barefoot it jars it so that’s jarring all the joints of the leg. It’s pulling more on all the tendons and ligaments.
It’s not good. Number four, metal. It’s metal, whatever kind, aluminum, steel.
If it’s hot out, it’s going to add heat to the hoof wall more so than the natural ambient temperature. Now, if it’s like 70 degrees, okay, they may not notice a temperature change in the hoof shoe metal. But I live in Southern California. It’s 90 degrees a lot. While the horse’s body can cool itself, okay, with sweating and by changing the hair and letting more heat out, it’s constantly getting heat added through the metal shoes.
And similarly, when it’s too cold out again, the horse’s body can thermoregulate. But then we put these metal shoes on and it’s constantly generating more cold to the horse’s body. So it really does mess up temperature regulation and homeostasis. And then number five, with shoes on, all 4ft, the horse cannot ground. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term grounding.
That’s where in humans we have and horses, of course, but in humans we have what they call free radical electrons. They just run around. There’s just kind of like static electricity. If you ever just walk on a rug, I’m sure you know what static electricity is. You generate this extra electricity and it’s well, staticy in the case of static.
And it can just make you feel a little bit jittery. It’s too much electricity running around. So when humans go barefoot onto ground or dirt, all those free radical electrons just run right off. And it’s so funny. Well, I think it’s funny because they tried to do a test scientifically this was recently to measure how long does it take for these free radical electrons to run off the body into the ground.
It was so fascinating because, guys, it’s instantaneous. It doesn’t take any time at all. You step onto the ground barefoot and all the extra energy that you have, these silly electrons run right off. Boom. Split second.
Same with the horse. Now, if we don’t get rid of those free radical electrons, they’re blamed for lots of stuff. But to simplify it, they basically, over time, can add up and cause inflammation. And inflammation is bad because your body’s always trying to clear that out. But if it’s got nowhere to put it, what’s it going to do?
Right? So we need our horses to be able to touch the ground with their feet. I know that theoretically, they could touch the ground with their lips. I just don’t think that works as well. It’s a theory.
Someone could test that and let me know. But the point is, it’s a lot more difficult if you have shoes on for the horse to get rid of the free radicals that are causing inflammation. Okay, my last little item on here, and I just wanted to mention, we talk about remedial shoes in veterinary jargon, meaning the horse’s foot has a problem. So we are going to put Remedial shoes on to try to help fix it. And we do that for things like an navicular and laminitis and just support for heels that aren’t growing well or something.
Guys, remedial shoes is just not helping. It’s really just crap. It’s really just people not knowing how to trim correctly, not knowing how to do the correct trim with the correct diet and management of the horse. And then things go wrong, and then we think, well, let’s just change the shoe. Well, that’s not going to help.
It might temporarily seem like it’s helping, kind of like a bandaid, but it’s sure not fixing the underlying problem. All right, now, you may believe me about the shoes. Let me just tell you a little story about see, I thought if you just left your horse barefoot, all will be well. Don’t worry about it. Just pull the shoes off.
It’ll be fine. Well, it turns out that’s not true either. It turns out that the foot can actually be unbalanced. And if the horse is not out and moving enough, they will not be able to wear off any excess foot by themselves, particularly if no one is helping them get a good start in the first place. What do I mean by that?
Well, here’s a story about this horse I know. She is a big 1718 hand, probably percheron a gray mare. Her name is Manhattan. She’s 1515 or 16. Most people call her Maddie, even though her name is Manhattan.
You get it? Manhattan island. Big long horse. Okay. It’s cute.
Okay. Anyway, she’s very sweet, and she’s been barefoot her entire life. And she’s even had the same barefoot trim her entire life. And I thought, this is wonderful. These feet are going to be perfect.
Well, short story is the feet aren’t perfect. Unfortunately, the bars of the hoof wall case. So the hoof wall goes around, and then when it goes next to the frog, it’s called the bar. The bar is still hoof wall. It needs to be trimmed.
Many trimmers don’t know that or are maybe scared to do it. I don’t know. And they don’t trim it. Well, in Maddie’s case, with the same trimmer who never, ever trimmed that bar, the bar collapse. It’s literally laying over on her sole.
It gets really confusing when you look at her foot because you’re like, what the heck is that? And where is her soul? Because seems to be missing. And in fact, the bar of the foot is rolled over and flattened with her weight, she is now currently lame. Hopefully we’re going to get this straightened out because I keep telling them and the owner is saying, look, it’s been the same trimmer for 16 years and we haven’t had a problem, so how could it be the trimmer?
And honestly, I can totally follow that logic. Totally. But the thing is, the horse will compensate. The horse’s body is designed to fix itself and try to do anything it can. But at this point, her heel, particularly on one side, is totally compressed.
She’s walking on that bar. When that bar is folded over on top of the sole, what gets in there? Well, all kind of dirt and crap. And likely she has an abscess underneath the bar and underneath all that junk that’s in there. I’m kind of scared to know what’s under there, but hopefully we can get someone to help.
See, this is the clue here is that as the owner and we’re trying to take care of our beloved, beloved horses, no one likes confrontation. No one wants to talk to the ferrier or the trimmer and say, hey, I’ve learned this. What do you think? No one wants to do it. I mean, I don’t even want to do it, but I’m doing it more.
I’m showing it to you right now. Okay. I tell you when I started learning in depth what the trim should be and realizing the wrong things that I’ve been telling people, particularly in the early years of my veterinary career. And I’ve been telling people, hey, you have navicular because your horse’s heels are sore. And because I did a nerve block that said, your horse’s heels are sore.
Let’s put a shoe on, it’ll be fine. That’s just so wrong. And I’m horrified that I ever said that. That’s what I was taught to do. But you know what?
It never worked, not long term.
I’m really sorry to anybody who I ever told that to, if you’re listening, probably not. That was a really long time ago. But I am learning, and so I really encourage you guys to also learn. And also, as I’ve spoken about before, I used to expect we could just listen to the professionals. I have one client, I talked to her about the different things for her miniature, and she really understood, nodded, spoke it back to me.
And I totally know we were on the right page about what should be done with the feet. And she’s like, yeah, I totally get it. But you know what? I’m just going to let my fairy do what she wants to do. I was just dumb struck by this.
What are you talking about? We just discussed how this is not working for your little horse, and she said, well, when this fair year started out, she told me that I had to let her do what she wanted or she’s just going to quit me. I’m like, well, it’s about time to let her quit you. I didn’t always say that one, okay? But I was struck by it and how, guys, it’s time to just let them quit.
It’s just time. Trimming your own horse is actually not that difficult. Now you say, oh, my God, I’m not doing that. Okay, I totally get that part. All right, seriously, let me tell you what happened.
So I think I’ve spoken before about the people at Hoofingmarvelous. They’re in the UK. They’re Hoofingmarvelous.com. I took their three day online workshop, which is where you learn to trim your own horse and about the diet and the management, because it all goes together. Before I took this course, I would have said, oh, my gosh, there’s no way I’m trimming a horse.
I’m too scared. What if I ruin something? Right? And then now, just having watched this course, I’m like, oh, wait a minute. Now I get it.
Now this is not that hard. Now I actually could do this, and I don’t feel terrified anymore. I always just wanted to hand off that job, mostly because I just didn’t want to mess it up. But now I’m thinking we might be able to learn this fairly easily. So I do recommend you check out their three day online course.
It’s new. They just got it online. Used to be you had to go to England or Wales or wherever over there across the pond. And now it’s online. Now I don’t have any affiliation.
I just took the course. I got a lot out of it. So I do recommend it. They also have a lot of free videos, both on YouTube. And if you go to again, herfingmarvelous.com, you can get a really good idea about what to do.
But if you want the particulars and really get a good idea of whether you can do it yourself, that would be the three day course. Okay, what else? If you’re thinking, all right, maybe I’ll just do it. Maybe I’ll just rip off the Band Aid and pull these shoes off. Okay, don’t do that, don’t do that.
All right. Because it all goes together. Horse has got to be on the right nutrition, which is just mixed grass, hay. There’s a lot more to that. I had a previous podcast, so I don’t go more into that now.
But you want the diet, right? First, and ideally getting the horse moving more, which involves the Paddock Paradise track system of any kind, because you want the horse to move. This really helps with the hoofs. So don’t just rip the shoes off first. Get educated.
Watch some free videos. All right, I know you’re listening to this, and I appreciate it. But unfortunately, we can’t rely solely on a barefoot trimmer. Some I’m sure there are great ones out there, but some aren’t. I’m in Los Angeles, and I know a lot of horses and a lot of trimmers, and all are good people.
I’m not mad at anybody. We’re all doing what we’re taught. But out of all the ones I know, there’s one that’s doing it right. To my knowledge, I’m sure there’s more out there. Don’t get upset, okay?
But too many people are trimming to the frog because that’s what they’re taught. But the frog the frog is fat and water. Okay? It’s just like the outside of the digital cushion. It’s supposed to change.
It’s supposed to be squishy. You can’t trim an anatomical foot to something that’s squishy. Right? Okay, I’m totally off track right now, but that’s just the idea. A lot of fairies trim to the frog and that’s not a correct anatomical landmark to trim to.
Okay, what else? Common questions are what about rocks and bruising? First of all, as you get the correct trim and your horse gets moving, the feet get tougher. All right? They actually get a nice callous sole, so tough.
I mean Hock Crunching Tough. That’s how tough they can get. I know that takes a little bit of time, and that’s okay. So while you’re in that transition period, there’s plenty of different types, sizes of hoof, boots. They do differ whether you’re doing eventing type of things, athletic events versus walking.
So you need the right type for what you’re doing and the size and shape of your horse’s foot. But there’s so many now, you can easily find some. The other thing is people say, well, what about if it’s too slippery? Don’t shoes help with the foot slipping? I have not ever seen any evidence for that.
What I can tell you is that barefoot feet get feedback from the ground. So the feet, the hooves literally feel the ground much better than if they have shoes on, for example. If they’re just going along, their foot is going to feel that there is a loose, softer part of the terrain and acclimate to that instantaneously rather than just that extra second before the foot actually itself moves to accommodate that softness. I’m not sure if that part quite made sense. It did in my mind.
But the point is the barefoot hoof will feel the ground better than if it has shoes on. And then lastly, if you’re wondering about this, we now have Olympic winners. I think it was Olympic jumpers, international dressage champions who are barefoot. Barefoot is better. All right, I don’t want to stress you out.
I know it’s not easy. It’s not easy to learn new things and to deal with all the people at the barn who don’t know what you know. That’s probably the harder part. But may I invite you to start looking at some more videos and educate yourself? It doesn’t take that long.
All right, you can do it, people. You can do it. Just watch some more videos, maybe take a course, and you can take care of your beloved horse far better than you know you can. All right, guys, I will talk to you later. Hope you have a great day.
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