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Why I would never choose a barefoot trimmer

Scottie's hoof with and without shoe

Scottie had the farrier this morning and it’s only when I see his front feet without his shoes on that I really appreaciate just how flat Scottie’s feet are. He has absolutely no heels and very long toes. It is always a fighting battle to keep his toes as short as we can without making him uncomfortable, especially since his tendon injury. It find it amazing how just putting a shoe on instantly improves his hoof & pastern angles.

We were talking about how much of a difference shoes make for Scottie’s confirmation. One thing what always concerns me is that die hard barefoot fans would believe that he is better with awful angles and barefoot than better angles and in shoes. It worries me that people can’t see how letting the horse have awful angles for months, if not years, while you try to transition them to being comfortable barefoot could cause long term damage to their legs. I’m not anti barefoot, far from it. I think there are horses out there who don’t need shoes and may even benefit from being barefoot. But I also believe that you have far many more options to keep your horse sound and comfortable with shoes.

I also have a bit of an issue with barefoot trimmers. I am sure there are some great barefoot trimmers out there. My farrier has worked with horses after the horse’s usual barefoot trimmer recommended the owner put shoes back on. I believe that most trimmers do have the horse’s best interest in mind and understand that barefoot isn’t always the right answer.

But barefoot trimmers don’t NEED to have any qualifications. Yes, there are qualifications barefoot trimmers can have and you can check if your barefoot trimmer has these qualifications. But what value do these qualifications have? Who is running these courses? What experience do they have? Do they even have any training or understanding of hoof balance and biomechanics? Who is challenging what they are teaching? We don’t really know the answers to these questions a lot of the time. Without this training, how do they know enough to make sure they put the horse’s best interests first?

So I always come back to the question of Why would you choose a barefoot trimmer with unknown education over a farrier who has had to follow a strict training regime & regularly attend courses to keep them up to date?

Whenever I say I would never personally choose a barefoot trimmer, I get the response of “you get bad farriers too.” I do and don’t agree with this. I have never known or heard of a farrier, no matter their experience or reputation, not able to do a good job of a well behaved horse with decent feet. So there is a good chance that these “bad farriers” are actually farriers who are struggling to work with naughty/difficult horses or working with some difficult hoof problems, many of which the horse’s owners don’t really understand.

I have heard of farriers who haven’t been able to improve a horse with a specific problem. After a vet recommendation, the owners has swapped to a more specialist farrier and seen an improvement. I don’t think that makes the first farrier a bad farrier, they just weren’t as good as the new farrier at dealing with that problem. I think these types of farrier could easily get labelled as “bad farriers” by horse owners.

For me, saying that there are also bad farriers isn’t a good reason to use a barefoot trimmer. Especially when the next argument for choosing a barefoot trimmer is by “doing your research.” Why not do your research to find a good farrier?

I just think that until Barefoot Trimmers have stricter regulations and more organised training, it is too hard for the average owner to really understand if a barefoot trimmer is right for them. How many horse owners can honestly say they have a good understanding of what their horse’s hoof should look like for them to be in the best balance? If you don’t know what this should be, how can you research barefoot trimmers to find a good one for your horse? At least with farriers you know they have been trained in this. Even if your barefoot trimmer has qualifications, these qualifications might not be worth the paper they are written on. When I worked in the farrier industry I read some of the barefoot articles and the hoof balance they preached… that is not something I would ever want done to my horse!

Last Updated on 06/09/2022

4 thoughts on “Why I would never choose a barefoot trimmer”

  1. Hi! Barefoot vs shoeing is such a contentious issue and it was interesting to read your POV.

    You’re right about anyone being able to call themselves a ‘barefoot trimmer’ and owners do need to be aware. I wondered whether you’d heard of the Equine Podiatrists Association? It’s an organisation which is doing exactly what you’re looking for…their members have to undergo extensive training and assessments (which has been recognised by Lantra and OFQUAL), continued professional development, and adhere to the organisation’s standards. It’s a professional body with everything that you’d expect…formal complaints procedures, insurance etc etc.

    With growing evidence that shoes increase concussive forces and hamper blood flow, there’s no doubt in my mind that barefoot is generally better. I do agree that there are circumstances when transitioning is not fair on the horse. My question is why we’re continuing to shoe youngsters by default? Surely if they are not physically capable of the work we’re asking, then we are asking too much too soon, or breeding horses with poor hooves? Or is there another explanation?

    It’s a fascinating subject, and one which I wish we could discuss more calmly and reasonably! Thanks for the interesting read. 🙂

    1. Oh do you have a link to their website? Would be good to read more about it.

      I think its a mixture of things. I think many sports horses genetically have poorer quality feet. As young horses they often don’t need shoeing. But as they progress, there are benefits of shoes. Very few horses have perfect conformation. When horses are working at higher levels they are putting more strain on the lower limbs and hoof balance becomes more important. There is still more that can be done with shoeing to improve this balance than with barefoot alone. There is also the impact of different surfaces. Rough surfaces increase the wear on barefoot. The amount of grip and slip is also different for shoes and barefoot on different surfaces meaning one is better than the other on different surfaces.

      It really is a complex topic with so many factors. I would also be really interested in a study comparing the negative impact of shoes (more concussion, lower blood supply) to the limitations of barefoot (impact of footsore, leg strain ect)

      I always believed Scottie could go barefoot as he isn’t foot sore when he loses shoes. Until I saw his xrays! With virtually no space between his pedal bone and the floor he could quickly run into trouble! Feet are fascinating

      1. They certainly are! It’s a subject I could discuss for hours!

        The association’s website is: https://www.epauk.org/. For more info about the underlying training, this is the site to visit: https://www.eptrain.co.uk/. Interestingly it looks like they are making moves to stop anyone being able to call themselves a barefoot trimmer (thank goodness!)

        Agreed! I’d love to see more (scientific and independent!) research into the subject. It does seem to be happening. I’m looking forward to finding out the results of Sweden’s Agricultural University’s research on how sport horses are affected by being ridden with and without shoes (https://www.agria.se/hast/artiklar/forskning/sporthastar-med-och-utan-skor–sa-gar-forskningsstudien-till/ …will need google translate turned on!).

        You’re right about the variables – it makes it very hard to isolate impact of one thing over another.

        Given how important hoof conformation is, I do feel breeders ought to consider it more when selecting mares and stallions for breeding. And while I agree shoeing in some respects gives more options more quickly, on the other hand some of the changes (re-balancing) various EPs have achieved through trimming has been astounding.

        Hooves have evolved to flex and provide valuable proprioception, potentially increasing horses’ ability to balance better in a wide variety of situations. I’m sure I read somewhere about the frog shape (when allowed to do what it does without being unhindered by shoes), being a much better shape and texture for grip in comparison with shoes (no shoes with studs, obviously!). And where slipping does occur, it’s an important mechanism in diffusing the energy before it travels up the legs to structures that haven’t evolved to deal with those forces.

        I guess I am in a different place to you when it comes to barefoot. I feel (and it is harsh) that the overwhelming majority of horses do not need shoes and more often than not, we use them because it more convenient for us…it means we don’t have to address the root causes of pathologies, and can push horses harder and faster.

        I understand that there is a very commercial world, where money makes this a necessity but most horses are now for pleasure and potentially have the time to go slower, to give hooves the time they need to adapt to the work (and surfaces) we’re asking them to cope with.

        To make the debate even more complicated…another aspect to bring in to the equation is how we keep horses… so many of the pathologies are a result of nutrition and environment…evidence is growing that the grasses bred for optimum livestock production aren’t optimal for horse health (not enough fibre and too high in proteins & sugars). But when you’re a livery you can hardly ask the yard owner/farmer to reseed pasture for what is really a short term arrangement! Likewise with track systems that offer different surfaces for the conditioning of barefoot hooves and encourage more movement…it’s a great idea and there have been many rehabilitative successes but how realistic it is for the majority of horse owners? It’s a massive investment and stops the land from being easily turned to another use. Most of these track systems use herd behaviour to enhance movement of individual animals. Making this workable where you’ve lots of different owner is extremely difficult and there are safety risks to humans when trying to catch on horse from a herd.

        So even if, long term, barefoot is proven to be ‘best’ (however we decide to determine that!), these sorts of considerations make it even more difficult to transition successfully. Does that mean that only those would can provide these environments should be able to keep horses? That doesn’t sound right, and what would happen to all the horses we’ve got now (another ethical issue)?

        And like you said, how ethical is it to put (some) horses through that transition period? That decision has to be made on individual basis, bearing in mind all those additional factors.

        If shoeing is compromising some aspects of horse health, we at least need to know it and be conscious of it when balancing the pros and cons in the decisions we make. Suspect like many things, it’s not going to be black and white. The important thing is keeping an open mind (both sides of the debate) and trying to look at the whole picture. If we are all trying to do the best we can, surely that’s a good thing?

        1. Yes it is very interesting and I feel a big part of the problem (and solution) is that neither barefoot nor shoeing are wrong or right. I agree that most horses could be comfortable barefoot. But I also think most horses would benefit from the options shoes gives them. I also don’t think that shoeing or barefoot are bad as ideas. As long as the horse is comfortable, I don’t think it matters if they are shod or not. Like you mentioned, there are so many other factors in our horses life and we all have to make comprimises based on what we have available in terms of grazing, terain etc. It will be great to see more research so everyone can make more informed decisions. But I will be surprised if we ever get to the point where we think that one is categorically bad for horses and should be avoided.

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