I’ve never written much about my choice of hoof care for Abbey but it is something I am passionate about.

Abbey is barefoot and will stay that way for as long as she is with me. Why? Because I firmly believe that it is healthier for her; without shoes she’ll be less prone to injuries and there will be less wear and tear on her joints, ligaments, tendons and bones.

The walls of horses hooves did not evolve to bear a horse’s full body weight.  In an unshod horse, parts of the sole and the frog all come into contact with the ground and it pushes blood back up the horses leg (increased bloodflow has got to be a good thing!). Metal shoes also increase concussion -the vibrations of metal hitting hard ground rattle up the horses leg putting unnecessary wear and tear on all the internal structures.

These are just three reasons why Abbey is barefoot.

Being barefoot doesn’t stop us doing anything – we hack, we jump, we stressage, we do all the things we want to on all sorts of ground conditions.

I’ve been on fun rides where we had to go down a steep slopes made up of wet slippery stones. Where the other horses were having to pick their way down, slipping and sliding all over the place, Abbey trotted down as if she was in her summer paddock.

Likewise on icy roads – with hoof rather than metal (and more hoof surface area in contact with the ground) we’re able to hack out in winter when others can’t risk it (obviously we don’t go out when there are sheets of ice!). And on wet grass – her grip is as good if not better than her shod counterparts (yes, even those with studs in). I also don’t worry about loosing shoes in thick mud.

It’t not the easy option though. Without shoes Abbey’s hooves have to be healthy in order to do their job and with increased bloodflow, they are more sensitive to  aliments.

The couple of times Abbey has had thrush I can tell just by the way she walks on the cobbles outside her stable.  Her strides gets a little short and she’s a little careful about where she places her feet. For most shod horses, a little thrush in the cracks either side of their frog wouldn’t be noticeable but for a barefoot horse it is.

I think that the heighten sensitivity is a good thing.  I’d much prefer to know about a problem before it becomes more serious.

Many of the most common issues associated with hooves are sugar based – thrush and laminitus are good examples. Horses haven’t evolved to consume the sugar-rich diets we now commonly feed them. They’d also have to travel for miles to find the food that contains the calories we can now provide in a hard feed.

As a result Abbey hard feed is chaff plus a general mineral supplement, her hay is soaked and her turn area is relatively small.

I also have to keep an eye on our exercise and ensure that her feet are exposed to all sort of surfaces. I can’t expect her hooves to cope with gravel and rocks out and about, if she’s not regularly ridden on gravel and rocks at home.

It’s just like our feet – having spent all winter in shoes and boots my feet are soft and it’s a bit painful to walk outside without shoes at the beginning of summer.  By the end of the season, though, the skin on my feet have toughened up and I don’t think twice about popping to the shed to get something.

The only time being barefoot prevents us from doing something is the first couple of days after a trim when a 2-3 hour hack on the roads will make her sore.

So that’s it – my reasons, the pros and the cons.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the benefits of barefoot or are thinking about making the transition check out Linda Chamberlain’s blog – she’s a bit of a expert on barefoot!