In-Hand Harmony

Going Barefoot: Getting Educated

Pete Ramey Making Natural Hoof Care Work For YouWhat I believe now about hoof health is that (1) diet, (2) movement and (3) a good trim are the foundations that can often be even more important than genetics.

As you can imagine, I’ve been reading up about going barefoot, hoof health, barefoot trimming… One of the best resources I’ve found so far is Pete Ramey’s Making Natural Hoofcare Work For You. What I’m learning is that, like most things related to horses, whether or not a horse can comfortably go barefoot is not a black and white answer.

Back in 2005, after trying for two years for Tobias to comfortably go barefoot I was told, under no uncertain terms, not to try again…


During that two-year trial, Tobias was being fed Alfalfa hay, which was the main diet of the Friesian and Gypsy Vanner breeding farm where we were boarding. Tobias always had greenish, squirting manure and we couldn’t figure out why, even though one of the owners of the farm was a veterinarian.

Nearly ten years later, after getting Tobias allergy tested (summer of 2012 — and another story) we learned that in addition to being allergic to Alfalfa and flaxseed, Tobias is also allergic to a number of environmental allergens. As anyone with a lot of allergies knows, food and/or environmental allergies can really compromise your immune system, affect your attitude, energy and productivity. So now Tobias has been on allergy shots for over two years and we feed him Timothy grass hay along with a small amount of oats, soybean meal, salt, a joint supplement and a vitamin/mineral supplement (which do not contain Alfalfa or flax).

Winter on Orcas Island, 2005

Winter on Orcas Island, 2005


While boarding on Orcas Island in Washington State, Tobias had 24/7 turnout with access to shelter. He had plenty of room to romp over uneven and hilly terrain, but the footing was rocky and frequently muddy. Now, Tobias has a large, sandy paddock, has pasture access only an hour or two a day (that’s Colorado for you!), and is ridden more frequently. I’d say there are pro’s and con’s to each situation. For those of you who are interested in providing more continuous movement on a limited acreage, you may want to read Jamie Jackson’s Paddock Paradise: A Guide To Natural Horse Boarding, another on my list.


While we were boarding Tobias and trying to get him comfortably barefoot, the farrier came to trim him, along with the other horses at the farm, every eight to ten weeks. The farrier was attendant to angles being correct and taking away any old sole so that the hoof looked beautiful when he was finished. But afterwards, Tobias always walked away sore-footed.

I’d like to note here that when Tobias was barefoot in the early go, I used Old Mac boots (original and then G2’s) whenever I rode him in order for him to be comfortable. Since Tobias’ hind shoes were removed on November 13, 2015 — three and a half weeks ago — Tobias has not been tender-footed, even when riding, unless walking over gravel, which is also the case with our mare. So I have yet to pull out the horse boots. But that might change when we pull the front shoes in a few weeks, we’ll see.

Now that we are trying barefoot again, our farrier is scheduled every six weeks (instead of our usual seven to eight weeks) with me rounding the edges each week, and the farrier leaves as much sole as is healthy in order to provide Tobias with a good callus. Tobias has yet to be uncomfortable before or after the farrier visits.

Jaime Jackson's Radius Rasp

Jaime Jackson’s “radius rasp” is much easier to handle than a regular farrier’s rasp. I bought both versions: one has a less aggressive file than the other.

Back then, my mentor pointed out some flaring, especially in Tobias’ hind feet, for me to focus on filing in between trims. I would prop his hoof up on my stand and use my rasp on the outside wall of his hoof in an attempt to make his feet look more uniform from the outside. Now, instead of looking at the exterior shape, I look to the underside of the hoof to tell me what shape the hoof should be and work toward a uniform thickness in the hoof wall on the bottom edge, dealing with flares from that perspective and leaving the rest for our farrier to deal with.

A Note On Abscesses

I was told by Tobias’ original owner that he usually abscessed every spring after a winter without shoes. And, indeed, Tobias had several abscesses during those two years we had his shoes off. The first one, the farrier trimmed out, leaving a hole about a half-inch in diameter and in depth in his exterior hoof wall, about an inch from the coronet. The next one, the onsite vet/owner trimmed out of Tobias’ hoof sole. Both of these were done without any washing, soaking or bandaging and left open to heal “naturally”. The last time Tobias had an abscess, he wouldn’t let the onsite vet touch his foot and his wife (very generously!) and I loaded him into their trailer and took him to a clinic on the mainland. There, he was radiographed, washed up, the abscesses opened up from the soles of both his left hind and left front feet and he was wrapped. The vet gave him antibiotics and I was instructed to soak his hooves every day and wrap them every day until two days after the holes no longer oozed. This was also the vet who, when I asked about Tobias going barefoot again, said very sternly as if talking to an idiot,  “You’ve already tried that, haven’t you.”

The barefoot trimmer we met with recently suggested that abscesses can be a natural process of going barefoot, that when circulation is returned to the foot it is allowed to clear intrusions from the hoof in a healing process. That’s an interesting perspective. I am hoping that Tobias doesn’t have to endure the discomfort of abscesses again, but we will see.

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My life with horses has been a constant education. What I believe now about hoof health is that (1) diet, (2) movement and (3) a good trim are the foundations that can often be even more important than genetics. Time will tell if this is true for Tobias.


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