When transitioning to barefoot, there are some challenges you should be aware of:
1. When you first go barefoot, ignorance is most definitely not bliss for the people around you. Any disapproving looks and comments you will receive are from those who have no idea about the anatomy of the hoof, let alone the advantages of going barefoot. Many of them will not see the vision you have of your horse and will only see him ‘lame on gravel’, while not understanding the road to recovery. If you keep your horse in a livery barn or you compete or you ride out with others, be prepared for every reaction, from concern to disgust to polite silence. Of course this is the worst case scenario, you may be lucky and be swarmed by well-wishers!
2. There may be a period where your horse cannot walk on certain rough terrain while they transition from shoes to barefoot, but they should be sound after every trim. If they are regularly lame, they are being over-trimmed or they may have navicular disease.
3. When shoes first come off, there will be some hoof wall chipping, it is inevitable. The wall has to recover from the nail holes left behind and the hoof has to adapt to a new life directly touching the ground. These issues will dissipate.
4. It happens only occasionally, but some horses abscess after initial trims. This can be scary if never seen before as the horse will literally only walk on three legs, but abscesses are easily treated and the horse will recover.
5. Trimming will help stop cracks, holes, flares and other deformities over time. It is best if the owner can do maintenance trims in between regular professional trims to keep these issues to a minimum. But remember, trimming alone will not grow perfect hooves – diet and environment must also be considered.
6. Horses should land on the back part of their hooves (perhaps landing flat during walk). This builds a callused frog, a robust digital cushion inside and strong lateral cartilages on either side. A shod horse does not use these structures so a newly barefoot horse will have to retrain their hooves to use the correct structures again and build up their strength.
But please keep it up – don’t let a couple of disapproving looks or a few chips turn you back to shoes. Considerate, regular trims, lots of movement and good diet will make the hooves strong over time. Rehabilitation takes time but while you wait, do consider Cavallo hoof boots to avoid any soreness in your horse and keep you riding.