Why is being barefoot healthier for my horse?
Dr. Bowker explains:
Robert Bowker, VMD, PhD, director of the Equine Foot Laboratory at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University has studied the various components (the frog, sole, blood flow, etc.) of the equine foot and has determined the role they play together to make a “good” equine foot.
"Our research has shown that the equine foot is constantly adapting and responding to environmental conditions. Most feet are sculpted by their environment, rather than only by genetic influences. We have found that from a neuroanatomical point of view, the equine foot is designed to hit the ground heel-first. This concept of hitting the ground heel-first is seen in virtually all feral horses and the majority of sound domestic horses. We have also determined that the back part of the foot should be the largest surface, area-wise, for ground impact.”
"This is very much like a human being wearing high-heeled shoes as opposed to sneakers. The more comfortable sneakers distribute the load over a larger surface area, versus the smaller area of a high-heeled shoe. An impact load distributed over a large surface area can be better supported with minimal stress by the foot tissues....the horse has the additional energy dissipation mechanisms of the large blood flow through this same region.
Together this large surface area—coupled with the frog and the blood flow—is what dissipates the energy."
"When the back part of the foot and frog do not touch the ground, this impact energy is not dissipated but instead is transmitted to the bones and other tissues of the foot. These tissues do not dissipate the impact energy well.
The long-term result of insufficient energy dissipation is chronic foot problems and lameness."
How long does the transition to barefoot take?
It depends on your horse, his history and health, and on what terrain you want your horse to be able to work on comfortably. The broad answer is 3-12 months, assuming the proper diet, environment and timely trimmings.
If your horse has spent many years wearing shoes, his first steps barefoot may be ginger and uneasy. Once the shoes are removed and the feet are given a good barefoot trim by a qualified barefoot trimmer the hoof will begin a healthy expansion. The transition is complete when the hoof regains proper function and concavity, and when your horse walks on gravel as though it were grass.
With time, the proper diet and hoof conditioning environment, and appropriate and timely barefoot trimmings, your horse will be able to crunch rocks under his tough, solid, healthy hooves.