Barefoot and Trimming
What is the difference between barefoot trimming and a trim that the farrier does?
Farriers and horse owners have been trimming horse's hooves since the horse was first domesticated. However if you are to believe the rhetoric published by some barefoot trimmers you would think that it is a recent advent. While it is true that farriers trim the hoof with the aim of fitting a shoe this is not always the case. Most professional farrier's have a client base made up of about a quarter to a third of owners who only want their horse trimmed. Regardless of who trims your horse the most important objective is to end up with a sound balanced hoof. Lameness or soreness should always be regarded as unacceptable and the farrier should be questioned about this outcome immediately. Generally the horse that presents as sound before the trim will remain sound after the trim if the job is done correctly. Occasionally trimming may expose or reveal an abscess that was not causing the horse any problems before the excess hoof was removed. However the owner should be informed and the abscess should be treated right away. Treatment includes draining, poulticing and protecting the hoof with a shoe and pad, boot or bandage until healed.
Is there a transition period from shoeing to bare footing a horse?
Not usually although some horses are not well suited to go barefoot. Thoroughbreds are a good example. Humans have bred the TB for speed and this has necessitated the hoof being made as light as possible. As a result most TB horses have weak hoof walls and souls. There are exceptions but typically the TB struggles to remain sound when ridden on gravel roads or abrasive surfaces without being shod. Most horses however can have the shoes removed if their work load is to be reduced or they are turned out, without any ill effect. Sometimes you may hear that a horse is being transitioned from shoes to barefoot and that they are moderately lame or in extreme cases severely lame. This is typically due to over trimming or abscessing and should not be tolerated. Lameness caused by farriers or barefoot trimmers is always unacceptable.
Isn't barefoot trimming more natural and therefore better for my horse?
If you're suggesting that there are no farriers in the wild then yes you are quite right to think that farriers are not a natural part of the wild horse's life but equally neither are the barefoot trimmers. (Wild horses rarely jump, never do a dressage test and don't take leisurely strolls along forest tracks or country roads.)
Domesticated horses are distant relatives of the truly wild horse. Over the years horses have had to adapt to our changing needs.
As a result breeders have chosen horses with significantly different characteristics than the wild horses of the Mongolian steppe or the brumbies of the Australian outback or even the wild mustangs of the Americas. Some are bred for speed, Quarter Horse, TB and Standardbred while others are better suited for strength, notably the draughts and shires.
Some need to jump 1.6m or more while others need cover 160km in a single race, all while carrying a person on their back. There is very little of the wild horse left in our equine friends these days.
The wild horse is not big enough, strong enough nor fast enough to compete with the modern equine athlete. Therefore it is inconsistent to reason that we should try to model our horse on its wild ancestors especially where the hoof is concerned.
The wild horse model is helpful only in showing us what a hoof looks like when the feral horse has adapted to its environment. However if that same horse was taken to the lush pastures of Cambridge or Matamata it may well find that its hard boxy hoof changes to resemble something akin to that found on a neglected hack. No longer would it be able to wear the hoof at the same rate as it grows and eventually it too would require some farriery assistance.