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Emma Augustyn
Barefoot isnt Always Better
The push of naturalism has recently captivated our media:
natural foods, beauty products, and fashion trends. But the trend for
going all-natural is not just limited to us, but has carried over into the
equine scene also. The barefoot fad has been making waves all over
the world, and taking over social media. But what is the reasoning
behind this dedicated and opinionated group? For years farriers have
done their work untested, and in peace. Why now, is their workplace
changing, and their careful practiced work being referred to as abuse?
To start off, what exactly is a barefoot trimmer? Sometimes also
known as natural hoof care, this practice is exactly what it sounds like.
Instead of putting corrective, or preventative shoes on, the hooves are
simply just trimmed down. Most barefoot trimmers follow a uniform
process on every horse, They often follow the 4 point trim with a
mustang roll, which basically means they are trimming every hoof the
same. The mustang or cowboy roll is great on all horses, as it
provides increased break over. However, it is not feasible to assume
that every horse has the same hoof (Fox). The heel of the hoof is
lowered, and the toe of the hoof is cut back short, then rounded out to
make it stronger and less likely to chip and crack (Marinin). The
problem with this is that every horse is different. Some horses cannot
tolerate shoes, but those who need them could die without them.

According to professional farrier Dave Mathis, Shoeing horses is
situational. Where it works, it's a great thing(Born). When a horse can
be without shoes, its great. It costs less, and is much less of a hassle;
it also means that the horse has naturally good enough hooves that
there is no correction or protection needed. But to deny an animal the
option of something that it might desperately need, is inhumane.
Why do horses need shoes anyways? If you have ever felt a
horse hoof, you would know that it feels hard, and strong. But that isnt
always good enough. Constant use, and rough terrain can quickly wear
down a hoof faster than it can grow back. All throughout history we
have seen different methods of preventing wear, usually using what
they could find like plants and leather. It wasnt until about the 6th
century A.D. that we see metal shoes being used. For horses in
constant use, shoes prevent injury to the hoof, and slow the hoof from
wearing down (Ramey). Shoes can do more than just protect the hoof,
but can also aid in weight distribution, helping the animal in carrying
the weight of the rider, and tack (Born). Horses who are being used in
highly athletic, and demanding events are shod for more than just the
protection from wear on their hooves, but for traction, you will see
very few higher-level three-day event horses without shoes. A lot of
them have shoes partly just so they may apply studs for greater
traction(Fox). Weather or not to put shoes on a horse can rely on
many different variables, including their conformation, and discipline. It

is a farriers job to understand the horse, and anatomy well enough to
make an educated decision of weather or not a horse needs them.
So how did this group manage to convince horse owners to pull
their horses shoes, and find someone new to trim their horses feet?
When looked at objectively, it seems very practical that people would
make the switch. To become a barefoot trimmer, professional and
proper training is not needed. According to Doug Butler, from Butler
Farrier School, All that is necessary for a trimmer to start in business
today is to read someones article or book, create a clever (and
misleading) brochure, and advertise to often unsuspecting horse
owners. The promoters say anybody can do this. No qualifications or
experience are necessary(Butler). Because there is little to no cost at
starting up a barefoot practice, this also makes the cost of their trims
very cheap, as opposed to a professional farrier who rightfully charges
more. Another reason that barefoot trimmers are becoming as popular
and widespread as they are is because of the overall lack of knowledge
people have about horses. Throughout the last few generations horse
care, and knowledge of the animal have become something of the
past. People dont see horses as important as they used to. This is
another reason that barefoot trimmers were so easily able to infiltrate
the equine world. They are thriving off the lack of everyday knowledge
that people have about their animals, and are convincing them to do
some potentially dangerous things to their horses.

Shoes, however, are not a universal solution. Some horses
cannot stand having shoes on, just like some people. When a horse
doesnt have shoes, a lot of care and work is involved to keep their feet
in good condition. Horses hooves can become sore with to much use
on bare feet, and will typically need less riding than a shod horse. For
an example, at our barn, only 5 out of 35 horses are shod. This is a
therapeutic riding center, which is very low impact in regards to the
effect on the horse's hooves (Fox). When a horse isnt in heavy use,
and there are enough horses for a constant rotation, it creates a good
environment for bare feet. The problem that barefoot trimmers are
creating, is selling people an idea that in theory could work, but only
with a lot more care and scrutinizing than they dare say. Take rodeo
horse Annie Oakley for example. Annie Oakley was already in heavy
use before the age of 4. Soon after she began earning Cesar de la Cruz
money, she came up lame on three legs. Her lameness was due to her
right front hoof turning out a bit, therefore landing unevenly. With no
farriers able to fully correct the problem, she was taken to the Tuscan
Equestrian Center. Quickly after she arrived her shoes were pulled, and
she began therapy in a pool with an emery board bottom. By doing
this, Annie was able to correct her own hooves by wearing down the
parts that needed to be. Annie, now 12, lives her competition packed
life sound, and shoe free (Mankin). Annie is a good example of a horse
that cant be shod. She also shows that to be barefoot, it isnt as easy

as pulling the shoes off and trimming the hooves and being good to go.
Annie went through expensive treatments, and months of therapy. She
also is meticulously maintained. This is how non-shod horses need to
be taken care of. If they arent given the proper care and attention they
need, they can face irreversible damage.
Where there are barefoot, happy horses like Annie Oakley, there
are also horses like Tilly. Tilly is a 14-year-old breeding stock white
paint. At age 5, Tilly fell into the hands of her now current owner,
Shelly Fox. When she was purchased, her front hooves were cracked,
and split. Because of her improperly maintained bare feet, This also
resulted in an initial tear to her deep digital flexor tendon in her front
left hoof. Her hooves literally had to have a clamp screwed in to hold
them together (Fox). Tilly now wears thick shoes that are uniquely
created for her; they support her tendon and heel, and are shaped to
give her all around break over. The shoes that Tilly has not only
provide her with a pain free life, but they hold her delicate feet
together. Without the sharp mind of professional farrier Bo Smiley,
Tillys life very well could have been ended to prevent further pain and
injury. After a year of resting, and extensive farrier care, Tilly was able
to recover, and begin her competition life in 1st level dressage. Without
shoes, Tilly immediately returns to her life in pain, We have tried
barefoot several times to try and grow out the hoof more, and every
time Tilly has suffered in some way. She NEEDS shoes. Some horses

are okay without them but Tilly is not. It is only fair to give the horse
what they need (Fox). Annie Oakley, and Tilly are two horses with
polar opposite needs, these two stories go to show how very different,
and unique each horses needs are.
These stories are both good examples as to why farriers,
barefoot or not, need to have more training than most of them do. The
level of knowledge in the horse world is quickly going down, and being
limited to select individuals: when just a few generations prior, most
everyone knew how to maintain their equine companions. Barefoot
trimmers are simply thriving on lack of knowledge in horse owners
today. Barefoot trimmers eased their way into the horse world, and
took off compromising the integrity of professional farriers by
questioning their work, and spreading falsehoods. But like all fads, they
come and go, more studies are coming out negating some of the false
hype surrounding barefoot trimming. I think people are also finding,
that it isn't this magical cure all, that they had hoped it would be
(Fox). Hopefully, in short time, the barefoot fad will be gone with the
wind, and farriers can claim their professional reputations back once
again, working to erase the damage barefoot trimmers have created.

Works Cited
"Born to run: should horses be shod? Two professional farriers discuss the merits of
barefoot trimming and performance." American Cowboy Feb.-Mar. 2012: 22.
General OneFile. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
Butler, Doug. "The "Shoeless Experiment" Cripples Horses." Butler Professional Farrier
School. Butler Farrier School, 26 Mar. 2010. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.
Fox, Shelly M. Personal interview. 9 Apr. 2015.
Mankin, Julie. "Barefoot beauty: an expert farrier discusses the trim that helped bring back
Annie Oakley." Spin to Win Rodeo Oct. 2014: 62+. General OneFile. Web. 31
Mar. 2015.
Marinin, Christopher. "Farrier Trim vs.Barefoot Trim." CSM Hoofcare. MAfarrier.com,
2010. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.
Ramey, Dr. David W. "Barefoot Trimming." David Ramey, DVM. Horsesense to the Horse
World, 6 June 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.