A "Barn Visit Day" for Barefoot Horses
By Marjorie Smith

This is a typical sole view; we saw lots like this during the day.

On Saturday January 26, 2002 three hoofcare specialists - Joan Adams, Heike Bean, and Marjorie Smith - held a "barn visit day" in Rhode Island. Claudia Cordeiro made the arrangements and figured out the routes from one place to the next. There are a number of horse owners in this area who are trimming their own barefoot horses now. They wanted feedback on how they were doing, and to see others' work. So the whole group went around to see everyone's horses. Some about-to-go-barefoot people came along too, and learned a lot.

It was encouraging to everyone to see how well each is doing with the trimming. Some of the people had researched and taught themselves how to trim, and others had learned from one or another of the hoof care specialists. Many of the horses had dramatic improvements in their feet, with as much as an inch of width gained as they de-contracted over the past year or two. All of the trimming was high quality with only minor suggestions made on a few horses. We were so pleased with each other!

There was quite a variety in the terrain the horses live on, and the type of footing they work on, and we got some new ideas when we looked at the feet in relation to the footing. There was a big difference in the shape of the feet, depending on the terrain.

Most noticeably, one warmblood does dressage work in sand arena (3 to 4 inch/7.5 to 9 cm depth). His heels had de-contracted a full inch (2.5 cm) since last year and he now has fine, wide warmblood feet with straight bars and massive frogs. Yet he had rather long heels, even though two of the hoofcare specialists had explained about and suggested to the owner she might try trimming the heels shorter. She reported that when he worked in the sand footing with short heels, he got very sore muscles from the heel sinking down in the sand. Finally she let his heels grow out to where he no longer got sore muscles. We figured out together that when working in sand, the heels sink in and strain the tendons, and the horse tries to keep his feet level by over-using his muscles. When the heels were left long enough to make up for the sinking into the sand, he no longer had to "hold himself level" and was able to move comfortably.

Another interesting case was a mare with rather poor conformation. Among other things, she has extremely upright shoulders. The owner found that when she shortened the heels to the "correct" length, the mare moved with great difficulty and stood in obvious postural discomfort. The discomfort went away and movement improved when she let the heels grow somewhat longer.

So, although most horses move better with shorter heels, there are cases where a longer heel is correct for that horse. This means we all have to be careful observers, and do what is right for the horse's conformation and the terrain he works and lives on, rather than trimming to a rigid formula.

Some input from the day's participants:

This is the horse that was working in deep sand. His heels look "too long" but they are right for the conditions he works in. It's a big foot, he's a warmblood and the foot was nearly as big as a draft horse, with lovely wide frog, etc.

Betsy Moorhouse comments, "I started learning about the barefoot trimming following introduction and encouragement from a local member of the "Strasser group". My 16-year old brood mare's shod feet were small, round, long and tall, and to make matters worse, my very well-respected farrier would have nothing to do with the barefoot philosophy. Without his blessings, but with encouragement from one member of the group, I started going to meetings, watching, listening and trying to understand the basic philosophy. Much of the discussion and terminology was over my head, but I gradually became slightly comfortable with it all, and experimenting with a knife and rasp using the dead horse legs. Just looking at those legs was tough at first, and still is! Handling a rasp was marginally do-able, but the knife wasn't, and I gained a deep appreciation for those who could use it!

A year later I know a little more, but have a local farrier, who fortunately is part of the group, trim my horses monthly. Hopefully shortly my confidence level, biceps and back muscles will accept weekly rasping.

This transition to comfortable barefoot broodmares has been exciting. My mare's once long tube shaped hooves are looking beautiful, something I had not dreamed would happen so quickly. This week the farrier and I decided to bring her heels down closer to where they should be, and unlike other times that we tried, she walked off confidently. What an adrenalin rush!

My mares are well bred and loved, and hopefully they will work comfortably well into very old age. Learning why correctly trimmed and self-exercised horses can be far healthier than shod/stalled horses has been fascinating.

Heike Bean shared her knowledge of hoof physiology and function and introduced us to the damaging effects of decreased blood circulation and hoof function as a result of nails and incorrectly trimmed feet. This has been an eye opener, and I feel indebted to the group. I am a convert!

Hopefully traditional shoeing will change, and if it does, it may be due in part to many small groups like ours."

Joan Adams adds,

"It was a fine day for visiting new barns and examining horses' feet. Some of these horses I had known from last year when we were doing our studies with Dr. Strasser, and the improvement is marked. The owners are really applying their skills, and, I must say, all because we have stayed together as a group, communicating and visiting and trimming cadavers together. I do appreciate the anatomy that I have learned, and to be able to apply this knowledge when observing a horse's foot is a real skill and one that grows continually. The issue of terrain and a modified trim are paramount, and to observe anatomy and movement must be included, especially on some tricky cases. Most of all, these horses are all working and sound, and the owners are enjoying them. What more can one ask? Thank you, Heike, for being on top of everything and helping us through, and Marjorie, for joining me with many trimming sessions as we learn on and on."

The Rhode Island "barn visit day" was a great success. Clearly, horse owners can become excellent trimmers for their horses, and can figure out how to deal with the various problems that horse feet present us with. We encourage barefoot horse owners in other areas to visit with each other. You might be surprised at what you see and what you learn!

About the author:
Once a teenage horse-story addict, Marjorie Smith 'rediscovered' horses at the age of 45. Soon she had her very own first horse and discovered some of the new thinking about horse training and health. A friend showed her how to look at horses' legs and hooves for balance, which led to her eventually pulling the shoes off her present two horses "because they were in my way." After a year of trimming on her own and two years of studying and practicing different methods, she now helps others understand trimming. She developed the website "Barefoot for Soundness" at www.barefoothorse.com which presents the idea that horses are better off without shoes.