Transitioning your Horse from Shoes to Barefoot and Booted
Transitioning Your Horse from Shoes to Barefoot and Booted
Thinking about pulling your horse's shoes but not sure what to expect?
There is often more to it than just pulling shoes and hoping for the best! A horse that is turned out or ridden will likely be sore when first pulling shoes. Your horse may need time to adjust and hoof boots are often part of that transition process. Boot technology has improved to the point where boots are easier to use and maintain, and can be used for turnout as well as every type of riding including jumping, endurance, dressage, barrel racing, extreme trail riding, and more! This article discusses the why you might consider going barefoot, as well as the process to get your horse there without being uncomfortable.
Why Go Barefoot and Booted?
Taking your horse barefoot gives you FREEDOM! Freedom to trim as often as you want. Freedom to make small adjustments whenever needed. Freedom to trim the hoof for what it needs and not be forced into trimming a certain way to fit a shoe. We see many hoof issues resolved because of this freedom!
Proprioception is defined as the "perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body". This starts with the feet. It is important for balance and coordination. Barefoot obviously offers the most proprioception but not every horse can go barefoot over all terrain, especially upon shoes first being pulled. Boots provide protection from sharp rocks while still allowing the hoof to flex and for the horse to get "signals" from the ground.
Photo Credit: Rob Featonby
LESS PERIPHERAL LOADING
Peripheral loading is when the hoof wall is bearing most of the weight of the horse. This can be very damaging as all the internal structures of the hoof are "hanging" from the hoof wall connected by the soft lamina. Overgrown hoof walls and horse shoes increase peripheral loading. When a horse is barefoot or in flexible boots, the sole area shares the burden. More on peripheral loading in this article: https://equinewellnessmagazine.com/peripheral-loading-hoof-bad-horse/
Hooves seem pretty hard, but they actually flex as the horse moves, especially over uneven terrain. This flexion increases proprioception and frog stimulation. Frog stimulation builds a stronger frog and also can reduce the occurrence of thrush, although even barefoot horses can contract thrush. The hoof being able to flex easily also reduces strain on joints. Heels being able to spread as they grow reduces the chance of contracted (pinched) heels, a very common issue in shod horses, especially if shoes are left on too long.
In the vast majority of cases, boots save the horse owner a lot of money. Your horse is only wearing them out when using them. Many users are getting 600 miles or more out of a pair of hoof boots. This easily lasts a typical casual trail rider 2 or more years. Compare the cost of two years worth of shoeing to the cost of a set of boots and the savings is clear. Obviously a very high mileage rider may not get two years out of a set of boots, but even endurance riders typically save money going booted vs. shod.
Here are some factors for a successful transition to barefoot and booted:
1: Support during Transition to BarefootMost horses will need some kind of protection for riding when first pulling shoes. And some may need protection in turnout, at least at first. We don't advocate pulling shoes and letting a horse "tough it out" because if the horse is not moving correctly due to sore feet, this can lead to body soreness and other issues. This is where boots can make all the difference in your horse staying comfortable.
Scoot Boots are a good choice for turnout because they don't get soggy, they have no dangerous wires, and there are no bulky parts to get hung up on things. When first using any boots for turnout, it is best to gradually increase hours, and the horse should be checked a few times a day until you are confident the fit is good. Pads may be required as well.
Most people will pull all four shoes at once, but if you are feeling unsure, it's also fine to keep shoes on front at first and just boot the back feet.
If riding over rough terrain, we recommend hoof protection on all four feet (whether boots or shoes) rather than leaving back feet bare, as you want your horse driving from the back-end and not overcompensating with the front if back feet are tender. Once your horse fully transitions you may want to work in some barefoot riding over more moderate terrain. In this case boots can easily be carried along should you find they are needed.
2: A Good Trim
The first step after pulling shoes is to get the right trim. A good barefoot trim is not necessarily very different from a good shod trim, so chances are your farrier will have no problem doing barefoot trims for you. The main difference is that for shoes, the hoof has to be trimmed flat across the bottom to have good contact with the shoe, whereas with a barefoot trim you have a little more freedom, for example, a bevel or a mustang roll helps with breakover and hoof wall separation.
When booting (or shoeing! or barefoot!), for most horses the absolute maximum a horse should go between trims is 6 weeks. Beyond that you will start having problems with boots (or shoes) getting too tight. Hoof walls may get too long and chip when the horse is barefoot in pasture, and hooves will begin flaring.
We encourage horse owners that are willing, to get a rasp and do a little maintenance between farrier trims. Take advantage of that FREEDOM you now have, keep on top of flaring and chipping and maintain good breakover and superior boot fit.
You may even end up eventually doing trims yourself! This may be a necessity in some areas during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Here's a link to a great video from Scoot Boot on a basic trim (may need Instagram to view)
3: Tackle Thrush
Shoes, especially if left on too long, can aggravate thrush, but thrush can also be an issue with unshod hooves. It can cause pain in the back of the frog and prevent heel first landings. Contrary to popular opinion, thrush is not always gooey and smelly. If you see a deep crevice in the central sulcus you likely have thrush even without an odor. Sometimes the horse will signal pain if a hoof pick is poked into the crevice. Different thrush treatments work for different horses. Here is a helpful article by Pete Ramey on various potions that can be used to combat thrush:
Caution should be used with more caustic remedies. If using something like Thrush Buster to knock out a tough case of thrush, I recommend no more than one or two applications, followed up by one of the methods in the above article. Reapplying a caustic treatment too often can eat away at good frog material in addition to infected areas.
4: Good Diet
We aren’t horse nutritionists here at Timberline Tack but some principles are pretty universal:
Forage based diet is best
Some horses don’t do well on a lot of green grass
No sugar! Check labels.
Avoid supplements with iron.
Hooves need zinc and copper – not just biotin. Some good supplements are California Trace and Arizona Copper Complete
If hooves don’t look healthy consider having hay tested and getting minerals balanced to your horse’s needs.
Movement is key for horses just as it is for humans! Movement increases circulation in the entire body including the hooves. Movement over varied ground can toughen up the feet, but as mentioned earlier, boots may be needed at first for some horses.
Photo Credit: Rob Featonby
Not everyone has the option of turning their horse out on a large acreage. In this case there is a fun solution: ride that horse!! Try and get out once a week at the very minimum. If it's too cold to ride, take your horse for a leadline walk - this is a great way to bond with your horse too!
6 - Measuring, Fit Testing, and Trialing
Fit is crucial no matter the brand. Working with a fitting rep makes this so much easier!
Measuring: For most boots, measuring after a fresh trim is best. For most boots you will provide photos of a tape measure on the sole, one from toe to heel and the other across the widest part of the hoof. A photo of the front and side of the hoof should also be provided so your rep can check angles and heel height.
Fit Testing: Ideally your rep will be able to send you several sizes of boots to try on. Measurement photos only consider length and width of the hoof and not hoof angles, heel height or bulb size, all of which can affect fit. A qualified rep can evaluate the fit of the fitting boots with you and help you choose a size.
Trialing: A trial program is a huge bonus. Reps do the best they can with fitting, but the the proof is in how the boots perform while riding under your usual conditions.
Other things an experienced rep will consider are things like contracted heels or flares that might have been caused by too much time in shoes. Or flares caused by long trim cycles. These issues can be improved upon, which is a good thing but could cause the horse to need a different boot size as feet improve. For this reason a trade-in program is a nice bonus so you don't end up with boots that don't fit.
Although I am a rep for Scoot Boots I will be the first to tell you there is no boot brand that works for EVERY horse. I have used a lot of boot brands and can point you in the right direction if we determine Scoots are not a good match for your horse.
Where Scoots are typically NOT a good solution are mules, horses with upright hooves, horses with very high heels, horses with very underrun heels. And of course horses where the length to width proportions are notva good match. I have other reps that I refer people too when Scoot Boots are not the right fit.
Here is information on my fitting and trial program:
I have fit thousands of pairs of Scoot Boots and am always happy to answer ANY questions. Feel free to shoot me a message by clicking on the chat bubble at the lower right corner of your screen.
My Facebook user's group is also chock full of user experiences, info, and fun stuff! https://www.facebook.com/groups/191421184909626