Back to the Future with Barefoot Endurance
by Shari Cartee

On the left is Shari Cartee and her horse Finali. At right is her friend Audrey Salisbury on her “Blue Star” stallion, NS Rahsil Royel-T (otherwise known as Smokey), who is 16 years old and has never been shod!

Admittedly, the decision to “go barefoot” is not an easy one. Horses evolved barefoot and are born barefoot—yet how do you take them back to barefoot? I wrestled with it for a year, after one of my friends made the leap with her horse. I was nudged into it when my horse, Finali, tore a check ligament, one month after completing our first 50-mile ride at the Old Dominion, in 2001 (shod all around and pads on the front). It seemed the opportune time, since he was going to be out of commission for at least six months. So I had his shoes pulled, and he’s been barefoot ever since.

Probably the greatest obstacle to going barefoot is finding someone who knows how to do the proper trim, i.e., patterned after the Mustang hoof and called by various names: Wild Horse Trim, Barefoot Trim, Natural Trim. Those who couldn’t find a local, certified professional used to be left to self-education, via books, tapes, and the Internet. The Internet IS a great resource, but nothing beats hands-on by a professional. Fortunately, the barefoot movement is gaining great momentum, and, nowadays, help is easier to obtain.

I, personally, have taken Jaime Jackson and the AANHCP (American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners) to heart. In July, I am hosting a clinic conducted by his top Field Instructor, who has traveled the world educating owners and helping horses in need. You will discover that, through Natural Hoof Care, even your foundered or navicular horse can survive and become sound again, without stall rest or reversed shoes and pads—all of which only makes him more miserable, and continue to suffer.

There’s no question, making this transition is not without its difficulties. Ideally, one would never put shoes on their horse to begin with, and then you wouldn’t have to deal with the issues. I will have a new foal next year, and it will never have a nail in its hooves, which brings up the point that natural hoof care starts at birth, literally. Recognize that a wild foal may have to run 15 or 20 miles the day it is born, and then keep that pace for most of its life. That’s the foundation for the perfect hoof, but, unfortunately, our pampered domestic equines don’t get that advantage.

Natural Hoof Care is meant to emulate that perfect foot, but it’s not just trimming the foot—it’s a lifestyle. Just like the secret to weight control in humans is changing one’s lifestyle, developing a sound, barefoot horse is changing HIS lifestyle. Along with the proper trim, the horse needs movement to keep the hoof pumping blood through it and keeping it healthy, so 24/7 turnout is highly recommended. And the more you can ride them, the better.

I live in the Piedmont of North Carolina, which means I’m right between the rocky, mountain trails of North Carolina, and the sandhills of South Carolina. All in all, a great place to be—because I can ride and condition in the mountains all summer, and then continue the pace all winter, in the sand.

During the three years that my horse has been barefoot, we have competed in 16 rides, and completed 15 of them—that one pull being saddle-related. The point is, barefoot Endurance riding is quite feasible, but the owner has to understand that it’s going to take time and commitment. And the truth is, those of us here in the soggy southeast have a harder time of it. What, you say? Surely, those out West, where it’s all rocks, face the greatest challenge. Not so. The perfect foot that we strive to obtain on our horses is modeled after the wild Mustang, who comes by it naturally.

Once the natural trim is established, and the horse is ridden regularly, there is very little to be done. I maintain my Endurance horse with an occasional rasping about once a week, and visits from a Natural Hoof Specialist every six weeks. He really comes to trim my pasture horse, who doesn’t get enough work to wear his feet down by himself. While he’s there, he checks my maintenance. That’s it!

For the horse in transition, hoof boots are highly recommended. I don’t think there is a horse that has been shod that can just make the leap to barefoot without some help. At some clinics, if you bring a horse with shoes to be pulled, you are required to either have hoof boots, or purchase them at the clinic. This is so that you can continue to exercise and enjoy your horse during the transition period, and he is not going to be uncomfortable.

Up until a couple of years ago, there were very few choices in hoof boots, but thanks to the demand, competition is taking hold. Newer and better boots are making the scene every few months. I have tried them all, and find the Boa Horse Boots and the Marquis Supergrip Horse Boots to be the best for ease of use and for staying on. Nothing is more aggravating than having to get off your horse every 1/2 mile to retrieve a boot!

Losing hoof boots is, no doubt, one of the reasons that many people give up on attempting to take their horses barefoot—but most people give up simply because they have their horse’s shoes pulled and then expect to carry on as before. That won’t happen, so be prepared to give your horse a break. He will take to the side of the trail, he will avoid rocks as best he can, he will watch where he puts his feet—and that’s a good thing!

I have found that my horse will gallop a rocky trail much easier than he will trot on it, and he will find the shoulder on a gravel road. But that’s okay with me, because he will always be “iron free.” A barefoot horse stops forging, moves more freely, endures less stress, and has beautiful feet. We also don’t have to worry about slipping on rocks or pulling shoes on a mud-sucking ride! I haven’t had any boots on him in the past 9 months, and have completed 8 rides totally barefoot, 4 of those rides in the mountains of North Carolina.

I am encountering more and more people who recognize the benefits to their horse as a result of going barefoot. As more of us get out there riding and competing, more and more horseowners will see the results and benefits. This is not a passing fad—this is the future—and there are thousands of horses out there that can’t wait to go Back to the Future!

About the author: Shari writes, “I have had a life-long passion for horses, but only discovered Endurance competition 5 years ago. I live the single life on 8.5 acres in North Carolina, near Charlotte, with six cats, two Arabs & one on the way. The foal is by the stallion (photo above), and eagerly awaited. Needless to say, it will enjoy the luxury of bare feet, like its parents, neither of whom have ever been shod. This sire has 6 or 7 offspring competing in Endurance in the SE, so I am looking forward to raising another (barefoot) one.”—Shari Cartee, Windswept Farm, NC

Article published in The Horse's Hoof Magazine Issue 19, Spring 2005

Note: Photos are provided for reference and educational purposes only, and are not meant to indicate guidelines for trimming. Every horse should be trimmed as an individual. Opinions vary as to what constitutes "correct" but keep in mind - there are NO PERFECT FEET, not even in the wild. Owners are cautioned to seek professional help for the trimming of their own horse's feet. Owner trimming of pathological feet is not advised. Photos may not be reproduced, copied, or distributed in any way.

©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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