Moxie’s Barefoot Transition

I have been asked for more info on barefoot hoof care and transitioning to barefoot. I now have the perfect case to share as we make progress! Most of my horses came to me with bad feet, but I haven’t always been good with documenting their progress. Well, I have a brand new project with awful feet, so here you go!

My new horse, Moxie, recieved generally good care from her previous race trainer and was treated well.  However, I don’t think proper hoof care was a high priority, or perhaps they just didn’t know any better.  I am sort of obsessed with hoof care.  I learned to do my own trimming years ago, wanting to have more control over subtle changes and the big impact they can have.  My horses’ hooves have improved dramatically since transitioning to barefoot and since I took over their trimming, keeping them on a tight schedule with touch up trims approximately every 3-4 weeks, before any flares or pathology can develop. 

Moxie arrived recently shod in aluminum racing plates, her first set of the season.  Her trainer told me she had pulled shoes for the winter and turned her out until a couple weeks prior when she was reshod and resumed training.  Great!  However, it appeared that she had not recieved regular routine trimming during her shoeless time over the winter.  Her heels were severely under run and it was apparent that flare on the toe and quarters had just been rasped off.  Worst of all, she was “short shod”, meaning that the heels of the shoe did not extend all the way back to where her heels should have been, thus not supporting the heels and causing them to become even more under run.  This is sometimes done for horses who over reach and pull their front shoes off by stepping on them with their hind hoof.  While it may help with shoe retention, it is catastrophic to the health and structure of the hoof.  I really wish I would have taken a “before” picture with the shoes on, but I was so eager to get them off that I didn’t even think of it until they were already removed. 

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BEFORE. Just after pulling shoes, before first trim. Check out those under run heels! Notic where the weight bearing surface on the ground starts... waaaaay too far forward!

Moxie had the worst case of under run heels I’ve ever trimmed.  She has very flat feet, and was foot sore after pulling shoes.  She had literally NO bars present.  The one good thing she has going is nice frog development, probably due to being shoeless all winter, and the under run heels allowed plenty of frog contact on the ground.  I needed to keep her comfortable during the transition though.  She was even sore walking around on the smooth stone dust footing in the paddock.  I ordered some EasyCare Cloud therapeutic boots.  These are a fairly new unique design, featuring an EVA foam pad that conforms to and supports the hoof.  As soon as I put them on, Moxie was immediately comfortable, moving out in a long striding free swinging walk around the paddock, so much so that she was over reaching and clicking the boots with her hind hooves.  As suspected; I’m guessing that is why she was short shod.  Not a problem, we will work around that and I actually quite like that nice long stride!

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Moxie's new therapy boots

We also needed hoof protection for riding.  Since Moxie had flare that was being removed and growing out and those under run heels, she was not yet a good candidate for the EasyBoot Gloves that I prefer.  Gloves really need to fit like a glove to stay on, and they are shaped for a healthy barefoot hoof, which we do not have yet.  Moxie has very round hooves, similar width and length measurements, so the old standby EasyBoot Epics wouldn’t work well, as they are very oval.  I ordered a pair of EasyBoot Glove Back Country boots to try out. They are basically a Glove with a more secure upper, which allows them to be a half size too big and still stay on.  They do not require the perfect seamless fit that the Gloves need.  They will also tolerate minor hoof distortions and changes while she transitions.  Perfect.  I also added pads to the inside of the boots for added comfort.

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Moxie's new riding boots

I haven’t put any significant miles on the Back Country boots yet to comment on them much, other than that they are easy to apply and Moxie seems to like them.  The Cloud boots are amazing though.  What a great design, and so useful for so many applications!  Moxie’s hooves have changed for the better incredibly quickly.  I think the Clouds keeping her comfortable and gently stimulating the bottom of the foot with each step has really sped up the transition process.  After only 2 weeks, she is already comfortable walking around barefoot now, without any boots.  I still use the Clouds when the ground is really dry and hard if I won’t be home to reapply fly spray to her legs during the day. All the stomping of the feet due to flies really increases soreness. Otherwise, she is already moving around her track paddock and stonedust dry lot very comfortably.

After pulling her shoes, I couldn’t do much trimming since the feet had just been trimmed a couple weeks prior.  Instead, I just brought the heels back a bit and brought the toe back a bit more, and added a nice beveled edge aka mustang roll.  That was it.  After 1 week I couldn’t believe the difference.  It was like the heels had exploded downward after being jammed forward.  There was a couple millimeters of heel growth downward already!  She also had the beginnings of bars appearing.  Amazing, after only a week.  I’ve been doing weekly touch ups, not really taking off any length at all, just refreshing the beveled edge and bringing back those heels ever so slightly each time. After only 2 weeks, you can see there is already dramatic improvement. I attribute this to not only appropriate trimming, but mostly movement over varied footing to stimulate the bottom of the hoof. Her feet are still very flat, and I suspect they always will be to some extent, though she will develop at least some concavity with proper trimming and stimulation. She likely has permanent damage and will never have a perfect barefoot hoof, but it will certainly be much more healthy than it was when she arrived. She may be a horse who benefits from shoeing, but for now I want to grow a really nice strong healthy hoof, then when training intensity increases we can always add a shoe for more support and protection if hoof boots aren’t working well. I was very happy with the EasyShoes last year on Ink, so may try that with Moxie when the time comes. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I am thrilled with the rapid progress that she is making for now though!

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While the drastic improvement in such a short time suggests drastic trimming was done, this is not the case. I haven’t used nippers at all, just light rasping to improve the shape, but not really to take any significant length off, as there hasn’t been enough new growth yet.

So, if anyone out there has been wanting to pull shoes and transition their horse to barefoot, but has been told that the horse doesn’t have good enough feet, or that it will be too sore… Here’s proof that if you do it right, you CAN transition awful feet and there ARE ways to keep them comfortable during the transition.

* Disclaimer: I am not trying to convince everyone to pull shoes, I do not think barefoot is the best choice for every horse/owner team, and I do not think shoes are the devil! ;) Good hoofcare IS one of the most important aspects of horse management though, especially for equine athletes. I hope that all owners educate themselves at least enough to know if their hoof care provider is doing a good job.

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