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Is barefoot best for all horses?

What if the environment doesn't support keeping a horse barefoot?

What if the owner isn't aware the horse doesn't have healthy barefoot hooves and the horse suffers as a consequence?

We are PRO-horse, not pro or anti anything! We don’t follow a trim method, we follow the horse and our intuition. While we fully accept that people naturally don't ever want to consciously hurt horses, they are suffering, often silently... Is this acceptable? Can we all help create positive change?...

Maintaining or creating healthy hoof and posture ideals requires proper care and attention to the horses needs. Selecting the most appropriate intervention helps achieve this and common interventions include:

• Trimming • Booting/padding • Shoeing • Diet • Management • Training and Exercise • Dentistry • Therapy • Medication and other vet interventions

Trimming for barefoot horses is a popular intervention thought to help promote healthy hooves – you simply cannot beat millions of years of evolution! However, domestication can be harsh and the environment is wildly different to the domestic horses wild cousins.

If the environment of the horse promotes a return of health to the hooves and maintenance of healthy ideals, we are fully supportive of keeping horses barefoot and are experts in this field. However, where a hoof score does not match what the horse is required to do in terms of performance, or if the living and exercise environment does not support healthy ideals, we will recommend other interventions during consultation with owners.

It is important to understand that trimming is a reductive process with obvious limitations (one can only remove hoof tissue, one cannot add it on). On occasion, after assessment of the horse and hooves, and after appreciating the horse’s history, the horses environment and learning what the owner or carer might be able to provide, the use of a more creative and supportive intervention such as a modern horse shoe is sometimes deemed more appropriate.

From our study and experience, we feel traditional open heeled shoes tend not to offer PRO-Active support to weak footed horses and maybe even contribute to unhealthy ideals and caudal heel failure. As such we tend to recommend forward thinking farriers who can provide a more stable base of support and ideally 50:50 heel:toe ratios. Shoes need not be a permanent intervention or feature of your horse’s life but sometimes they are necessary for the horse’s immediate welfare, to break a cycle, reduce the risk of trauma, injury and disease and to help stimulate the return of healthy ideals.

In our experience, nearly all horses can live and work barefoot given a healthy, supportive environment, however not all owners can provide this and sometimes a horses needs greater assistance as a result of past care and management or rarely, due to genetic or health limitations.

Caring for a barefoot or booted horse is simply not the same as caring for or working a horse barefoot and without due diligence and appropriate knowledge, horses suffer.

Ignorance is no excuse for unnecessary suffering and prevention is always better than cure. Our aim is to promote well-being and resilience (and therefore reduce the incidence of suffering) in horses by supporting and educating horse owners (and equine professionals) and helping evolve the equine industry through promotion of good practices which are proven to help create and maintain healthy ideals.

In the photos, we feature a working example of an environment promoting health in one equine (a donkey in this instance), and causing a loss of health in another, (in an overweight shetland pony called William who was adopted by his owner and has low palmar and plantar P3 angles). The abrasive tarmac recently laid in their dry lot/turnout area caused even lower angles to the pedal bone at the back of the hoof - placing him at almost immediate and increased risk of injury, trauma, disease and infection.

Once we assessed the pony, the donkey and the environment, we recommended William the pony wear Flex Hoof Boots, and supportive pads to help correct the low palmar angles, support the bony column, safely reduce breakover using the trim and provide immediate comfort.

This way the donkey is safely self trimming and William the Shetland is no longer wearing his heels faster than they can grow PLUS he is now also able to walk out in hand as part of his weight loss regime!

In this example, positive interventions recommended and applied for William the pony were the trim, the boots, the pads, and exercise! For Barney the donkey, the physical environment acts as a positive intervention and he can safely live and walk out with William barefoot. Shoes were not deemed necessary and Barney and Williams owner is committed to learning more about how to care for her wards proactively and is attending our PRO-Active hoof care course next month!

Barney and William are lucky, but thousands aren't - mostly through ignorance.

Please help us help more horses and their owners by sharing our posts and supporting our aims at Holistic Reflections CIC.

If, like our clients, you want to learn a PRO-Active approach to hoof care and wish to prevent lameness in your horse, consider booking us for an Integrative Podiatry Consult, Educational Event, On-line Course or join our new VIP membership where you can learn top tips straight from an expert!


We take an integrative and holistic approach to whole horse hoof and body health. We appreciate the relationship between body, limb and hoof and seek to address imbalances while positively influencing appropriate static and dynamic hoof balance and biomechanics.

Beccy Smith BSc DAEP EBW – Independent Equine Podiatrist and CEO of Holistic Reflections CIC

Holistic Reflections CIC – a 100% non-profit organisation promoting wellbeing and resilience in people, horses and the environment - for the benefit of all.


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