The Barefoot Horse – A Lifestyle Part 3


As mentioned in posts 1 and 2, “The Barefoot Horse” is not just a description of a horse without shoes, nor is it just a description of the hoof condition of a horse. Rather, it is a description of a lifestyle of a horse. The lifestyle of a barefoot horse includes:

  • A free choice, forage based diet which is low in sugar, low in starch, and balanced to have the correct amount and ratios of vitamins and minerals for type of hay being fed.
  • Living conditions and environment which allow for and encourage movement over several different types of terrain including grass, gravel, and rock.
  • Daily exercise that includes waling, trotting and galloping. Horses in open range situations will travel 15 miles or more a day.
  • A proper barefoot trim every 4 to 6 weeks. Some horses can go longer if the environment promotes some self trimming.

This is the third in a series of articles that will define ideal conditions listed above that are important for the development and maintenance of a healthy barefoot horse and give you some reasonable and practical options.

galloping horses on the open range

galloping horses on the open range

Daily exercise that includes walking, trotting, and galloping. Horses in open range situations will travel 15 or more miles a day. We have all heard the saying “Use it or lose it” and common sense tells us that to develop and maintain a healthy body, we have to use the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to keep them strong and working well. Weight bearing helps keep our bones strong and it is no different with the equine hoof. Science tells us that stress or pressure (impact, flexion, distortion) and release is the stimulus that causes growth of the hoof and also helps with circulation. Along with a proper diet and environment, the hoof needs exercise to develop and maintain health. The ideal situation would be for a horse to travel a minimum of 10 miles a day which would include approximately 30 minutes of trotting and galloping. The most successful rehabilitation protocols for hoof ailments are now including ways to keep the horse moving and the hoof active. Wild horses living in a herd with large open spaces on a variety of terrains encourages this kind of movement.

For those of us who do not live in a place like Big Sky, Montana where herds can move across a huge range of land, there are some acceptable options. Spend as much time as you can working or riding your horse. Track systems (like Paddock Paradise) can be used to encourage horses to move when you cannot ride every day. The most inexpensive (and portable) systems use electrical tape to create the track (maybe around the perimeter of a paddock) and then hay dropped around the track to encourage the horses to move. Personally, I follow the suggestions from an independent equine nutritionist and I exercise my horses by getting them moving together as a small herd at a combination of walk, trot, and gallop for 30 minutes almost every day. And just as a reminder here…be sure they have a little hay on their stomachs (not grain) before any exercise and always pick their hooves before you get them moving. As always make your changes slow and never force a lame horse to move. If your horse is not used to exercise like this, start out hand walking and use boots if they are tender footed.

This post was written by Susan Boyd and edited by Zachary Franklin, DVM

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