There are times, many times, when a ‘non barefoot enthusiast’ utters the disgruntled and immortal words ‘booted isn’t barefoot!’. To this I sigh and smile politely before I deliberate whether or not I should enter into the often lengthy and emotive subject of the difference between bare, booted and shod.
Well, as barefoot ‘enthusios’ we know, that there’s nothing healthier and indeed more beautiful than a bare hoof on a horse. Owners often marvel with me, some many months down the line after taking their horse’s shoes off, at just how amazingly different their horse’s feet look ‘now’ compared to ‘then’. But going barefoot is way, way more than just aesthetics.
During transition or rehab, on the road to the ‘healthy hoof’, completely going bare may not be possible at that time. This is where the boot comes into its own. Also, in the realms of tough equine sports, such as endurance, where you would think barefoot would be least likely to take off, it’s growing rapidly, aided and abetted by the advent of the boot. Endurance horses often cover great distances far exceeding what they would be apt to do in a natural wild environment and therefore further protection is often needed, take the gruelling Tevis Cup in the US for example, with barefoot & booted competitors year on year taking the tops spots.
So boots are a reality. A well fitted boot never impedes the natural hoof mechanism. It is neither invasive nor constrictive. It offers support and protection and affordability. In the UK, a full set of shoes ranges on average from £65-£150 (depending upon your location in the country) every 5-6 weeks. In one year alone that can mean a shoeing bill of well over £1200. Boots range from approximately £85-£250 per pair, depending on the make and size and there is also a thriving second hand market too. It doesn’t take a genius therefore to see that booting your horse is way more cost effective than shoeing, with boots lasting many times longer than shoes….years in lots of cases!
This brings me to one of the points of this post. One of the major differences between boots and shoes is that boots can easily be removed, put back on and removed again by the owner whenever they need to. When the horse returns from a ride the boots come off and the hoof is bare. I see so many horses who ride out or work less than 15 hours per week. That means that a vast majority of horses spend 153 hours a week lounging, resting & eating, not being ‘used’ by the human. For barefoot horses that’s 153 hours more contact with the ground than a shod horse in the same amount of work!
So this really brings us on to the third option for our horses feet – shoeing. If we further explore the previous calculations of 153 hours a week for bare horses in contact with the ground, most shod horses spend 100% of their ‘useful’ lives in shoes, changing them for a new set or reset every 5-6 weeks. So that’s 168 hours a week no matter whether they are doing work or not…that equates to 8,736 hours a year with absolutely no natural contact with the ground. The owner of course has no control over taking them on or off, they have to wait until the next visit from the farrier (if they happen to stay on that long and not all owners are conscientious enough to change them as often as they should!).
Nowadays an even more disturbing statistic is starting to arise. Many more horses now than ever before are spending 24/7, 365, year on year out shod…no rest or recuperation for the hoof. Most people who have been around horses for a long time will tell you that they remember a time when shoes used to be removed at least once a year for a significant amount of time to let the horse’s feet recover. Most farriers encouraged this practice and everyone involved agreed it helped the horse ‘last just that little bit longer’ in shoes.
Horses in today’s modern world are often subjected to shoes way before they have fully matured (maturity is approximately around 7 years of age) and are shod ‘back to back’ on just the fronts or increasingly on all four for the rest of their lives, whether they are in work, injured or retired. Even more worryingly now, is the big trend to using remedial shoeing techniques such as heart bar shoes as a ‘preventative’ to problems later on in life…this of course is unfounded and is symptomatic of the backlash to pathology which is wreaking havoc amongst our equines throughout the world. Shoeing ‘back to back’ is something which has become so common that owners are now becoming increasingly afraid of removing their horses shoes for fear of further damage purported by professionals with vested interests and for fear of reprisals from the tongues & prying eyes of their peers!
No-one wants to see a ‘footy’ horse tip-toeing across a yard, especially in front of those criticising eyes. But here is where questions need to be asked. Why is the horse ‘footy’? It is often a complete revelation to owners when they are told that their horse’s temporarily uncomfortable state is not just because they have had their shoes removed but because they have actually worn shoes and had a diet and management regime in the past which has caused the problem and deterioration of the hoof health in the first place (not to mention a myriad of other biomechanical issues – but that’s for another post!).
So, believe it or not, the future is looking brighter now than has ever been before for our equines. Yes there is huge political controversy surrounding barefoot vs shoeing, not least because there is a great deal of money invested in the shoeing industry and all the subsidiary businesses that support it. Yes horses are going lame earlier and are exhibiting more pathology than ever before…BUT and there is a big BUT… those of us committed to the barefoot healthier horse know that we are amongst some of the most forward thinking and innovative members of the equine community today. We are now able more than ever before, to educate ourselves on the whole health of the horse, instead of relying on tradition and convention to ‘see us through’. Barefoot owners are using their new found knowledge to propel the equine industry kicking and screaming into the 21st century and beyond. Turning their backs on old traditions and conventions which are now finally being scrutinised and questioned and gradually eroded.
Mark my words…with barefoot increasing at the rate it is doing today, in the next 10-15 years (or maybe even before) the world will witness a massive swing towards barefoot and booted horses and this will then be seen as the ‘norm’. The shoe, it’s nails and it’s detrimental toll it takes on the hoof and the horse, will be pushed into the annals of history as an interesting stop gap before the world caught up with innovation and educated themselves on the healthy barefoot horse.
Happy exciting barefoot & booted times!