Barefoot and booted

Written by Tamzin Renfew

Years ago we had problems with one of our horse's feet. He had 'side bone' - a cartilage in his hoof had ossified, and this caused it to lose some of its shock absorbing abilities. The vet recommended Jacqueline Stensrod - a barefoot trimmer (not a shoeless farrier!). Jackie is a fantastic lady who's also extremely well qualified and experienced – and she performed a minor miracle on Chico's feet, slowly returning them to his natural shape. And within just three short months he was showing no sign of lameness.

Sunny - my big bay Irish draught x thoroughbred – still had shoes though, and a while later I started to notice he was tripping a bit and he just didn't feel right. The vet came and looked at him - but couldn't pinpoint anything. I knew Sunny wasn't happy, and after talking it over with Jacqueline, she suggested we take his shoes off. She'd previously mentioned we could try Sunny barefoot, but at the time I was still stuck in my old ways; I couldn't imagine how I would be able to ride Sunny normally without him having shoes on. One of the many things I respect Jacqueline for is she never pushes any of her views, is there when you need her but never preaches.

So, shoes off. Thankfully Sunny's feet were already in great shape and the angles, length of heels, toes etc didn't have to be changed much. All we had to do was wait as he got used to having no shoes on and for any internal damage in the hoof caused by shoeing to be repaired - and the biggest difference - getting feeling back in his feet. If you touch a shod hoof, then touch an unshod one, you'll be amazed at the difference in temperature. Having shoes on reduces the blood flow and feeling to the feet, whereas an unshod horse feels the ground, knows when to skip over a rock and has much better circulation in their hooves – hence they're warm to the touch.

Sunny adapted extremely well - he knows where his feet are going as he can feel them, and places them with care and thought. We do need to keep an eye on their shape, as they tend to be quite flat. One option for barefooted horses are boots. These just get used when needed, and it means that when you aren't riding, the horses are in the field as nature intended - unshod. My quest to find big boots for my 750 kilo bay beauty (with feet like dinner plates) was made easy by going straight to an expert: Liz Hapgood at She's wonderful and extremely patient, and with both measurements and some photos of Sunny's feet to hand, she then recommended the best boots for him. You can hire before you buy if you wish - a great option to make sure you have the right ones. And Sunny is now the proud owner of some very smart Renegade boots, and Liz has been on hand by phone and email to help with fitting and answering my many questions.

Going barefoot has been one of the best decisions I've made for my horses. Some make the transition easily and some find it a little more difficult, but with experts like Liz and Jacqueline, there is always help, advice, support and a solution on hand. I love knowing my horses feet are in excellent shape and the famous phrase "no foot no horse" now seems so much more relevant.

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