Barefoot - the road to good hooves

+44(0)1833 640855 Skype Les Spark, Barnard Castle


We plan to gradually expand the content on these pages so we can share our experiences in the management of our horses' hooves.

We also sell various items of hoof tools, especially the HoofJack, and these will also appear on the site. We have just started selling Equitech's Hoof Hardening Gel - it contains a crossing agent far superior to formaldehyde which stays linked in wet conditions so keeping water out. Go to our Shop to view products.

For the time being you may like to read a short article on how Jasper, our main endurance horse, has fared barefoot over the last few years. Jasper and I were placed 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd in 50 miles, 50 miles, 75 miles and 100 miles and I was awarded the national EGB Top Man Trophy for 2004! Not bad I recon.

We are very proud of our horse's bare hooves. So we have an open invitation to interested, owners, vets, farriers or trimmers who would like to visit us at Low Selset to see our horses and discuss our approach to trimming and horse management.

Keeping hoof measurement records

Keeping a record of hoof angle and dorsal wall length is an imperative for intelligent hoof management, whether barefoot or shod. In science and engineering the plain fact that 'if you cannot measure it - you cannot analyse it' is fully accepted. Without measurement science and engineering would not exist at all.

An example may be checking and inflating your car tyres. If your check consisted in kicking the tyres with your foot and inflating them until the kick felt different, then the pressures are probably wrong and might even be dangerous. If this was your garage technicians's method of checking tyre pressures and you had an accident as a result, what would be your opinion of that garage technician? For getting the tyre pressures correct we need to know the correct pressure for the car and tyre type and use a pressure gauge to measure and then inflate or deflate until the correct pressure is obtained. Doing this optimises tyre wear, fuel consumption, road grip, driving comfort and safety. Similarly measuring and recording hoof angles and lengths helps you to optimise the overall performance of your horse.

There are numerous everyday, engineering and scientific examples like the one above. Why is it that so many hoof care specialists do no measuring at all? Perhaps their eye is as sensitive as the unprofessional garage technician's foot in the example above, and like the garage technician's confidence in his foot for measuring tyre pressures they have total confidence in their eye for measuring hoof angles! If no recordable measurements are taken, how do you or they know if the hoof is improving or deteriorating? This failure to measure strikes me as a strange practice among a group who aspire to be 'professionals'.

So as we are applying science and engineering to our horse's hooves let's keep measurement records. Click here for an A4 sample record sheet . Get a clip-board with pen holder and keep the record sheet handy. If you have more than one horse write the horse's name on the bottom of the sheet.

To make the measurements use the Jamie Jackson "Hoof Meter Reader" but you will have to look for it under 'tools and equipment' on Jamie's Star Ridge web site. We sell this Hoof Meter Reader (I prefer to call it a "Hoof Gauge"), so e-mail FnE if you want one. The hoof length is marked off in inches by 1/8th of an inch intervals and the dorsal wall angle against the ground in degrees by intervals of one degree. The measurement error in a stable, yard or barn is no better than 1/8th of an inch or one degree so only record in steps of 1/8th of an inch for dorsal wall length or one degree in angle for the dorsal wall angle. It is also a good idea to train your horse to stand on a flat board (for example - a piece of kitchen worktop 1ft square) to make the measuring easier and more accurate, as it takes out the unevenness of gravel, concrete and rubber matting. If the dorsal wall is straight from coronary band to ground then the Hoof Gauge works well. If there is toe flare, then rasping this off in line with the upper straight portion of the dorsal wall will give a more correct reading of hoof angle.

A very good and well researched discussion by Henry Heymering RJF CJF of the Proper Hoof Angle will help you understand why getting it right will have consequences for the health and performance of your horse. If you measure and keep a record then you can catch hoof deterioration before you notice performance failure, sore muscles or lameness. For example recovering from 'long toe/low heel' or better described as 'shallow hoof angle with long toe, with very low or nonexistent, under-run heels, having heel-quarter flairs from the resulting bar flairs', will take months or even years to fix. As another example: if your horse has a foot length, without shoes, greater than 33/4" AND thin soles then the coffin bone has probably descended within the hoof capsule. Again this can take months or years to fix.

Measuring allows you to take action before disaster strikes. It also helps to assess what's gone wrong when disaster does strike or has already struck!

Trimming for correct hoof angle

It's important to understand that the hoof angle is NOT improved by rasping horn away on the toe and toe-quarters, often called dumping the toe. The balance that matters is the relationship of the coffin bone (or distal phalanx, or PIII, or pedal-bone) to the ground and to the other bones in the leg.

Our experience riding competitively

We have been riding and competing our horses barefoot for 5 years, and our main endurance horse, Jasper (Magica's Minstrel), has done more barefoot distance at speed, over varied terrain in all weather conditions than any other horse in the UK and never been retired or vetted out for reasons of lameness.

In all we have experienced over 100 barefoot-hoof-years with our five horses so I guess we can blow some myths and validate some truths.

Unshod hooves are prone to cracking - FALSE

They are not at all prone to cracking or chipping! We have never had a crack and only the slightest chips even after rides in hard, dry and sometimes stony conditions. The skeptics have even exclaimed "but the hooves look the same as they did at the start!"

What's the secret? There is no secret! Just the correct hoof angle (about 53 front and 58 hind) which gives a tight white line and of course the rolled edge or mustang roll. If a hoof is flaired or has an angle less than 50 front and 55 hind then cracks are likely as the ground forces peel the horn away from the hoof. Caudial third lameness is also likely as the heels will be overloaded at the lower angles.

Unshod hooves 'suck' and hold on ice - COMPLETE RUBBISH

If your horse's hooves are soft enough to act like rubber 'suckers' on a window-pane then the horse should not be ridden. A good quality resilient barefoot hoof with a reasonable heel will always have a connection, via the lateral and central frog grooves, between the centre of the sole and the air outside the hoof. In consequence it can never suck, as the outer air will flow under the hoof as soon as any suction occurs. So don't even try riding on ice barefoot - you need shoes with three sharp studs.

I have found barefoot to be very good, with lots of grip, on roads and on ground which just gives under the hoof. Deep mud is of course no problem at all! On short wet grass on top of hard ground they are about as slick as you can get especially as the hoof wear increases with the distance travelled.

All the movement loads are meant to be carried by the hoof wall - A SHOEING MYTH

Convince me that horses spent 20,000,000 years evolving on paved roads and this becomes believable. A shoe on the hoof wall does of course put all the movement forces through the wall - hence the frequent distal descent of the coffin bone and thin soles in shod horses.

Horses have all the evolved characteristics of a specialist high altitude dry land browser, for example teeth arrangement, superior water retention, gut organisation, the ability to withstand extreme heat and cold; also a Spleen which stores so many red cells that altitude training is not necessary. The horses fly up the mountain while the riders collapse from altitude sickness, as some Tevis Cup riders will testify.

This dry high mountain land which formed the horse will be strewn with gravel and stone. All the hoof must have been involved in transmitting ground forces to the horse's leg. In my view, I have no proof, the hoof wall is mainly protective against the sideways knocks and bashes which must occur, as the horse moves at speed over rough country.

Barefoot horses don't get mud fever - FALSE

Barefooting is no guard against mud fever. In 2004 every one of our 5 barefoot horses had mud fever in 2005 none had mud fever. Jasper has developed mud fever after certain rides - the Red Dragon in particular - just as many other shod horses at the same ride also developed the infection. Ground micro-organisims, weather conditions and competative stress on the legs seem to be the deciding factors here.

Once barefoot, horses will automatically correct their hoof balance - COMPLETE RUBBISH
The coffin bone will be 'sucked up' into the hoof capsule in a barefoot horse - A GRAVITY DEFYING IDEA
Once the hoof has a tight white line its at the correct angle - FALSE

Achieving a tight white line is one of the first steps towards getting a well balanced foot. It usually indicates that the outside of the hoof wall is well attached to the coffin bone so giving an external indictor of the coffin bone angle relative to the ground. Keeping a regular record of the dorsal wall angle on this tight white line hoof will keep the trimmer informed on how the hoof is wearing from front to back.

Even hoof wear is the best indicator of hoof balance and hence the correct angle for that hoof. For example all 'club feet' will have tight white lines but they are not at the correct angle. With this foot type the heels are not getting enough wear whereas the toe is being worn too much. If you always have the impression that the toes are growing more quickly than the heels then the hoof is in fact wearing the heels more than the toe. If from trim to trim the dorsal wall angle has remained the same and there is the need to take an even amount of horn off around the whole of the hoof then the foot is wearing evenly. This is a FORCE BALANCED hoof. Better still of course is the case where hoof angle and hoof lenght remain the same from trim to tirm as there is so much less work to do or imbalance to worry about!


Last Modified:Tuesday 12-Jan-10 17:03:22 GMT
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