I’ve had horses for most of my life and have found that the healthiest horses are those whose living conditions most closely replicate the wild state. Allowing the animals complete freedom of movement and choice about how they live when they are not serving humans keeps my horses fit and happy.
They have a run-in shelter just big enough to get them out of the weather when they want to use it. My horses are never blanketed, they wear shaggy winter hair coats. Their pasture is about ten acres, expanding to twice that size in summer. The water comes from a pond in their pasture, or in the deep winter when the pond freezes over, from a small spring in the pasture woods. They must walk for water every day. The horses eat their hay off the ground and receive three quarts each of crimped oats per day during the winter, no sweet feed. In summer my horses subsist entirely on grass grazing, no oats. I have always had strong animals with lustrous coats, free of the illnesses and problems that can plague stabled horses. I never shoe my horses. Wearing shoes is unnatural and unnecessary. My horses always go barefoot and are never picky about going over rocky or hard terrain because their feet are callused and tough.
When it comes to trimming their hooves, I look to what nature designed for the horse. Wild horses with unlimited movement tend to wear their hooves in a certain way. The heel is low so that the frog makes good contact with the ground. This provides a surefooted grip on any surface. The hoof itself is short and rolled smooth around the outer edges. Constant use, especially in dry conditions, causes slow and steady wear to the hoof. Wild horses do not have a lot of hoof.
In recent years more and more farriers have learned to provide a particular hoof cut called a barefoot trim. It is important to ascertain that a farrier uses this natural hoof care system and doesn’t just trim the hoof and leave it unshod, therefore calling it “barefoot.” Such a cut can lead to problems with hoof separation, cracking and lameness.
A barefoot trim brings the heel low so the frog, particularly at the back, has wide contact with the ground. The toe is cut to a certain angle and the sides of the hoof at ground contact are allowed to form a natural divot about one-quarter of the way along the length of the hoof from the back so the foot has a little flex as the horse moves. The sides are all rounded, (something called a mustang roll) leaving no sharp edge to crack. Much of the trim is done only with a rasp and the feet receive care about every seven weeks. The frog is rarely trimmed. The bars of the hoof are maintained and not pared back because they help provide support for the hoof. Very little sole needs to be removed once a horse has been on the barefoot trim for awhile. The sole forms a tough callus, much as human feet do when they go bare.
When a horse is given this trim for the first time, the difference in gait is noticeable. The animal seems happier, more free in its movement, like it is walking on air. My horses have had the barefoot trim for years and if they could talk I know they’d say it’s just what their feet need. My younger mare, Maddie has always been given a barefoot trim. When Vista got her first one, I saw a definite improvement in attitude. It was as though she suddenly could walk comfortably!
In the photos, Vista, a 26 year old three-quarter Saddlebred mare, is demonstrating how to be a good horse for a trim. The farrier is Liselle Batt, her service is called Western Maine Horseshoeing and Trimming. She does a great job and the horses love her!