What To Expect When You Are Expecting…To Go Barefoot

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So, you want to go barefoot with your horse but you are a little scared to make that call to the local hoof trimmer. You don’t want to be scolded for having a shod horse and you are afraid of what the trimmer will find wrong with your horse’s feet.  Sounds kind of like a trip to the dentist. Well, let’s talk about what will likely happen when you do make that call and hopefully ease your anxiety.

So, you get the name of a great local trimmer and you finally get up the nerve to call, what should you expect? First off, I hope no trimmer ever scolds anyone for having a shod horse. If so, move on, find another trimmer. As trimmers, we are not here to judge, we are here to help you transition your lifestyle to barefoot. So, in the initial call you will likely just need to let the trimmer know your contact information, the location of the horse(s), if there will be shoes to pull, any major pathology such as Founder, if you currently have hoof boots and set a time and date. Also, if you have X-rays of the feet, now is a great time to offer to email or text them to the trimmer. But, keep this conversation brief, trimmers are busy and you will need to tell the complete story at your first meeting anyway. On your end, always ask for the cost of the setup trim (the first trim performed on your horse), if there is a charge to pull the shoes, the cost of the follow up or maintenance trims, and if the trimmer charges a mileage or ranch call fee. Most trimmers charge a higher fee for the initial or setup trim on your horse. This is due to the fact most horses require more work at this point, also the trimmer will usually spend more time with you discussing the individual condition of the horse, diet, living environment etc. Normally the cost of the follow up or maintenance trims is 20-50% cheaper than the setup trim.

Ok, you got through the phone call and it’s the day of your first appointment, now what?  Here’s a few things that will make the day go better: please be at the barn on time, with your horse caught and ready to go. Clean its feet or don’t clean its feet, I don’t care. I will clean them again anyway. Don’t fly spray your horse prior to the trimming, I end up wearing that fly spray the rest of the day and it’s not as appealing as you might think. Try to be as calm as possible and don’t use this time as “training time” or “feeding treats” time, this is the time for the horse to stand quietly as we get some work done. If the horse needs to see it’s buddy, have the other horse nearby. In the summer a little shade is always appreciated and in the winter can we please get out of the wind?

When I arrive we will have a few minutes of chit chat, then I will likely want to see your horse move at a walk, trot and make a few turns. We can discuss movement issues and pathology. If you have hay analysis results, great! We can review your horses current diet and your grazing practice. I will likely offer to run mineral balance calculations for his or her diet based on your current hay, pathologies and supplements. This is usually done for an additional fee. Also, if you have X-rays of the feet we can discuss what I saw and what you were told by your veterinarian.  We also need to discuss the daily living conditions of the horse, such as stall time, housekeeping, and terrain. Age of the horse also figures into the equation somewhat and for me, to a small extent, the breed of the horse. But, no, I don’t need to know how many ribbons he or she won at the local show last year.

Now, finally we get to the actual shoe pulling and trimming. First, I will pull the shoes from all the feet and then begin trimming. Goodbye shoes! At this point I will start telling you what issues I see in the feet, such as Founder, thrush/fungus in the frogs, thin soles, uneven loading, cracks etc. I will also tell you what I will do to treat such ailments and what your job will be in the treatment process. If I did pull shoes, I will likely do only a light clean up trim and ask that I return in a couple of weeks to do a complete trim. I prefer to let the horse get used to not having shoes on for a while before I do a complete trim. 

Now it’s time to measure the feet or fit your horse for boots. Yes, you will be buying boots. I will either sell you boots on the spot or get some on order. Likely, I will not have boots for your horse in my truck so we will be placing an order. If we do have to order boots, they will probably show up in a week or two and I will return to properly fit them and show you how to use them if you aren’t familiar. Most trimmers will charge to return and do this work. Their time and fuel is worth something, it’s only fair. One little secret is that your horse may need one size and style of boots at the start of the transition and a different size or style later. You can expect your horse’s feet to change in size and shape as pathologies grow out and the back of the foot develops. So, keep a little money in the budget for buying new boots in the future. This is actually great news as it shows your horse is responding to the new barefoot lifestyle. Also, let your trimmer know if you have any strength or hand issues that may limit your ability to use boots. Lots of types of boots are available and we can usually find a type that works for you.

So, for today, my hard work is done. You now have a barefoot horse and hopefully a new healthy lifestyle.  But, your job is just beginning. At this point your horse will very likely be quite tender footed and will need to be kept on soft footing or in boots.  Please, please, please do this!  Your horse needs this time to start the transition and get used to all the new sensations in its feet. And it’s time to begin making any dietary changes, getting hay testing completed, buying thrush meds, choosing supplements and getting X-rays or other veterinary or bodywork done. Remember, this is a lifestyle change for the better and your work will pay off.

Depending on the season, condition of the feet, etc. we will set a date and time for the next trim. Most barefoot horses are on a four to six week trim cycle but this may be as short as two weeks if pathology demands it or as long as eight to ten weeks if the horse is using its feet and shows the need for more infrequent trims. As I stated before, trimmers are busy and it’s best to set a date and time before it’s too late. Staying on a schedule is very important for the health of your horse and the sanity of your trimmer.  If you skip a trim or push the trim schedule out to try and save money you are likely compromising the barefoot process and will probably be charged for another setup trim. So you really aren’t gaining anything.

From this point forward we focus on correcting pathologies, tweaking the diet and supplements as needed and completing the transition to barefoot. The steps to completing the transition vary by horse but are of utmost importance in successfully going barefoot. Your trimmer should be able help you throughout this process. No trimmer should just leave you hanging without clear answers to what it will take to get your horse sound and comfortable being barefoot. I think I just found the topic for my next blog! Good luck with your new barefoot lifestyle!

Jay DeHart
Stevensville, Montana
Former Farrier...turned Barefoot Trimmer, Specializing in Hoof Rehab
After learning to shoe horses and not totally believing in the concept, I found the barefoot trimming method and never put shoes on another horse.

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