Barefoot Horses


Through much of my horse-owning life, I was spoiled by having a superb horse-shoer, the late Bob Ward. He kept my horses sound year after year. After Bob passed away, I had several shoers work on the horses, and they were nice, nice people, but gradually my horses began to have problems. Guy Doc began to be gimpy and stilted in his gaits (heel pain) and Baby began to have what the shoer thought was a tight tendon which evolved to a dragging lameness on his right hind.

In 2005, I decided that I would take the shoes off all four horses and start trimming their feet myself. A barefoot trimmer showed me how to trim. I did okay, but without really understanding what the hooves were telling me, it was monkey see, monkey do. The horses were not getting worse but they were not getting significantly better. Finally, I got fed up with not knowing enough and embarked on a quest to better understand what I was seeing and to learn how to effectively do what the horses needed to achieve healthy bare feet..

As a result of what I learned, I was able to get Guy Doc, the quarter horse, moving comfortably for the first time in almost three years. Most remarkably, I was able to make almost miraculous improvements for Guy in a matter of a day by padding his frogs with triangular pieces of foam (as I learned from Pete Ramey’s website). Eventually, Guy Doc’s comfort and soundness improved to the point that I saw this true, beautiful natural gaits. He looked like a little dressage horse.

Baby (16 hand Andalusian cross) was a lot more challenging because he had a hind leg problem that was so painful for an extended period of time. Eventually, I figured out that he had a probable, negative plane coffin bone situation on the right hind that was crushing and flaring the heels and causing a lameness that caused pain all the way up through the back leg and actually pulled his back down. I hadn’t had success using a vet/farrier to deal with a previous, 8 month lameness on this foot, so I decided to figure it out myself. (I’m not always right with my do it yourself attitude, and I try to keep in mind that if I can’t quickly reduce pain and disability, I should get help). However, I was eventually able to control the flare at the heels and eliminate the pain in this foot. Baby is 30 years old now and has some arthritis in his knees, but his right hind leg has not bothered him at all since this episode.

It is clear that trimming alone cannot remedy the disastrous effects of diet (and lack of exercise). The guy at the feed store said, “we didn’t see these problems with feet years ago. I think it’s the feed. Even old-timers who never had problems with horse’s feet before, are having bad problems now.” And he’s right. Now I know that much of the feed that is sold now makes nice, fat shiny horses with sick, sick feet. The feed is grown on over-fertilized, under-mineralized soils.

2014 Emphasis******* I wrote the about the above events in 2005. I’m going to skip to the chase with what I know now, that might help someone who is currently facing hoof problems now to compare the various hoof trimming methodologies and be able to save themselves time and grief, and most of all, to address or avoid commmon hoof problems causing pain and suffering for their horse.


1. Read Maureen Tierney’s book, The Hoof Guided Method (HGM), and try it on your horses. It is a brilliant book by a very experienced, observant barefoot hoofcare professional and dedicated teacher. Maureen has an online course which is exceedingly reasonable in price. As you work through the weekly quizzes, it forces you to hone your skills of observation of the hoof so you can read the hoof signs as though they are in braille. But you are not looking for pathology, you are looking for those signs the hoof gives as to what it needs at this point in time, to make progress towards healing. The guidance in the methodology tells you what to do, when to stop, and when to do nothing at all. You will not be making the foot look pretty and you will not be sculpting it to look like a wild horse’s foot. You will be creating the conditions conducive to that foot healing itself. How do I know this method is different from everything else I have tried? Because, until I began using HGM, my horses were sound enough in their yard, but routinely ouchy and needing boots, on the trail and especially on “gravel over hard ground” (what I consider the litmus test). I had begun to think that maybe the climate here in wet, windward Hawaii ruled out the possibility of achieving the barefoot dream of rock crunching hooves. When I began to use Maureen’s method and finally saw my humid tropics horses moving comfortably barefoot over gravel on hard ground, I realized the power and sophistication of this deceptively simple methodology. And it is so much less work to do the trim then leave it alone for 4 weeks, than to fiddle with the hooves all the time. The online training also gives you the knowledge to be able to recognize a truly healthy foot when you see one and the realization that many of the hooves pictured online as examples of healthy feet, are distinctly less than ideal, and that many of the practices used cause injury, over and over again.
Much respect and kudos to Maureen.

2. Read Feet First – Barefoot Horse Performance and Hoof Rehabilitation by Nic Barker and Sarah Braithwaite. This book, and Nic and Sarah’s web sites are showing the the world that barefoot horses can engage in performance sports and go toe to toe with shod horses. Imagine horses that are ridden 15 miles in the morning and have the energy to be playing horsey games in the paddock in the afternoon. In their in their book, Nic and Sarah depict a healthy horse pyramid, which assigns the importance of diet at 65%, environment/exercise at 25% and trimming, as the icing on the cake, at 10%. One could argue the percentages, but one thing is certain, if the nutrition is not there for good hooves, you won’t get them.
I have gotten so much out of reviewing Sarah Braithwaite’s and Nic Barker’s web sites. They are continuing to refine their understanding of roles of nutrition and exercise in developing incredible, athletic, sound, barefoot horses. They are noticing that for sensitive horses, even short intervals of exposure to pastures can cause what they call “footieness.” They also have amazing videos of barefoot horses in eventing and even galloping and doing road work beside shod horses in full on hunts. Check out the video at the bottom of Paddy’s page on Sarah’s site – as Sarah rides barefoot Paddy in a “drag hunt”! (

3. Take Dr. Eleanor Kellon’s NRC Plus, online eqine nutrition course. You learn how to get your feeds analysed and how to calculate what nutrients are unbalanced or missing and what strategic nutrients to add, instead of using a shotgun approach with expensive supplement formulations that may be harming your horse. At the end of the course you join the graduates group. Every day, I monitor the discussion that goes on between grads world-wide, as new graduates reach out to the forum for help. Dr. Kellon follows the discussions and periodically inserts comments or clarifications.
As a result of taking the course, I confirmed that I needed to address the excess iron and copper-zinc deficiency issue with my feeds (a very common problem, world-wide). I supplement with copper, zinc since early 2011, based on analysis levels of these minerals in the feeds I use. Supplementation with these minerals had a huge effect in reversing the laminitis triggered by excess iron and insufficient copper and zinc that occurred for insulin resistant Baby in late 2010.
I am now using a fodder machine to produce fresh barley sprouts which now make up a major part of my horses’ ration. The mineral balancing issues still have to be addressed. I am also learning how to ensure that that the balance of essential amino acids is optimal.

4. Get a Heller Black Legend hoof rasp. It’s a beautiful thing.

5. Learn About Arthritis

ARTHRITIS – This is important and could spare you or your horse a lot of pain
I learned something in the last few weeks. About 6 months ago, my hip became very painful. I thought it was an injury that would heal, so I limped around until my husband insisted I see the doctor. I ended up in a surgeon’s office. Then I learned that my hip joint is arthritic (osteo arthritis). It’s bone on bone with the cartilage having gone and I need a new hip joint. There’s a waiting list for the surgery, so I can’t get it till February. The good news is that I will be able to ride with the new hip.
What the surgeon didn’t tell me – and it does not seem to be well known yet, is that there is new knowledge about osteo arthritis. I found this out by myself by cruising the internet looking for ways to heal and regenerate cartilage. I haven’t found out how to do that yet but what I did find out pertains to horses and dogs, as well as humans, and you should know about it.
Previously, it has been thought that osteo arthritis was due to joints simply wearing out with age. Now it has been established that osteo arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis, is an auto-immune condition. With age, the cartilage in the joint tends to be less well hydrated and more easily injured. Even a slight injury causes a release of microscopic cartilage particles which enter the blood stream and which the body’s immune system identifies and attacks as foreign. The immune system then also attacks the cartilage in the injured joint and the erosion continues. BUT, it has been discovered that a daily oral supplementation with an un-denatured collagen made from chicken cartilage, UC-II, somehow teaches the body’s immune cells to stop attacking the joint collagen and protects the joint. Read more about this at the Life Extension Foundation’s web site at
It appears that the U.K. is ahead of the U.S. with regard to getting the word out and getting products which contain UC-II, to market for dogs and horses. It is starting to be available in U.S. for dogs. UC-II products are now available for dogs on Amazon. Yea!
I found Flexadin for horses at but I haven’t figured out how to buy it yet.
I found out about UC-II accidentally, reading the web site of Newport Natural Health. I thought it sounded interesting and not too expensive so I bought and tried their UC-II product. Just to illustrate how effective this stuff is, within days, my pain level from my bone on bone hip was dramatically reduced. By the time I was able to get a steroid shot into my hip joint, the pain level was down so low, that the steroid shot didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference. This realization sent me back to the internet to see if there were other products containing UC-II. I checked LEF and found out that their Arthromax product, which I previously purchased a couple of years ago, now contains UC-II as well as a Boswellia pain relief component.
So now I am looking to start 30 year old Baby on UC-II. I’m looking for an economical product – it is chicken cartilage – it should possible to buy it in bulk, yes?


GMO Feed Concerns
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Feeds Advisory…. The nutritive value of feeds will get lower. Roundup Ready alfalfa has was approved by the FDA for 2011. Per Professor Emeritas of Plant
Pathology, Dr. Don Huber of Purdue University, there are a number of reasons to be concerned about GMO feeds.
1. Roundup Ready alfalfa, means that the farmer can spray the growing GMO alfalfa crop and the weeds together and only the weeds die, because the genetic modification of the crop prevents it from being killed by the glyphosate (Roundup). The mechanism by which Roundup (glyphosate) works, is to reduce the uptake of minerals in plants to which it is applied. So the crop doesn’t die, but it is less nutritive. That is a pretty scary prospect

Below are some of the other web sites where I have learned and continue to learn about hooves.

Pete Ramey’s site, Pete Ramey puts things together from a myriad of sources in a way that I can understand. Pete goes from the theoretical to the practical. Pete is a barefoot trimmer and the theories have to measure up to what he sees with real hooves. When you see how horses that are living lives of excruciating hoof pain can be brought back to ride-able, happy animal, it will surely give you hope if your horse is having hoof problems. For instance, it was on Pete’s web site that I learned that ouchiness and toe-first landings signaled heel pain and to duct tape some foam on Guy Doc’s frogs. Guy took his first ouchless steps in three years and with my trimming according to what I’ve learned and what the hooves are telling me, Guy Doc has not looked back. Pete also explains how hoof boots may be needed for some horses to get them comfortable immediately while their hooves are healing. Probably you should buy Pete’s book first, Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You. I did it the other way around. Inow have Pete’s 10 DVD series, Under the Horse and I think it is terrific. I took the DVDs with me when I went to stay at Selket Arabians in Michigan to get to know Sygnet and see if she was right for me. Jim Andreson, Ron Hevener and I would sit in the living room feeding the wood stove (it was snowing outside) and watching the DVDs. Between DVDs we would practice saying terminology such as, “lamellar wedge.” Jim
said, now I understand why I see a degradation in older horses in the movement that they had as youngsters.

The power of applying these basic truths to the actual physical act of trimming seems so magical that for a long time I got scared that I might make a mistake. Yet three months after I taped those foam pieces on Guy Docs frogs, his feet were tough enough that even though I had him in hoof boots, when one came off on the trail, Guy Doc kept going and never flinched or broke stride. I was totally surprised to look down and see the bare hoof. We ran back and found the boot, but it demonstrated to me that if Guy Doc is doing this well in three months, he would surely be incredible when he had grown a whole new hoof. Years ago, when he was in metal shoes and supposedly comfortable, I would have described Guy Doc as a log with legs. Three months into his rehab from chronic laminitis and rotated coffin bones, Guy Doc had suspension like a stocky, little European warm blood. I said, Whoa, Guy Doc, don’t you know you are not a youngster? But I’m digressing again. (Sadly, we lost Guy Doc to a mysterious, neurological problem in his hind legs in 2008 – I was in Australia at the time, but I was on the phone to Dr. Mannie at the last and agreed that letting my dear friend go was the kindest thing to do.)

I attended a basic barefoot trim workshop with Andrew Bowe when I was in Australia. I got to work with a cadaver hoof. Not as bad as it sounds. What you learn will help the living. I love their newsletter. It is exuberantly enthusiastic and reflects the progress of natural hoofcare movement in Australia. With a very active thoroughbred horse racing industry there, they have a lot of thoroughbreds who are shod early and soon broken down. I saw a beautiful, intelligent, willing horse who had sold for a million as a yearling and who was footsore as a five year old, but definitely savable with barefoot care and effective nutrition. It breaks your heart, but that’s why we are spreading the word, isn’t it?

Priority ***** Learn about feeds at You may well be killing your horse with kindness through feeds which are destroying him. Learn about how even the grasses are being bred to make cattle fatter, faster – not to maintain healthy horses. Learn the symptoms that will tell you if your horse is in trouble diet-wise.

If you are thinking of continuing having your horse shod, challenge yourself by reading . It is a particularly powerful, moving and significant piece written by a veterinarian. Every horse owner should read it before they ever let another shoe be put on their horse. If, in spite of everything, you decide to continue having your horse shod, at least get familiar with the natural balance method,

I’ve used Easycare boots for a long time. I used to like the Glove with the gaiter and they served me well for a long time. These days, I use boots primarily as paddock care boots if a horse has an abscess. I still use Easyboot Gloves or Back Country boots for Baby, but I use Renegade Vipers for the other three horses because they seem to hold up better and I can adjust them to stay on . .

Learning all this stuff is painful for you. You are the responsible party for your horse. Turning the responsibility over to a vet or farrier may give you some emotional relief, but if they don’t help your horse to attain and maintain consistently healthy, pain-free feet, you made the wrong choices. I agonize over my horses when they are not well, and it hurts my head to try to figure out what a particular article or expert is saying and how it applies to my horses. It is a horrible feeling when one realizes that some of one’s past care decisions actually harmed the horses one loves. One moves past that and makes up for it by applying the learned knowledge for the betterment of the horses in one’s charge now. I am now at the point where I am more comfortable about what I am doing with my horses’ feet and their diet, environment and exercise. I know I’m not an expert, but I’ve made my horses more comfortable and we’re headed towards greater hoof health so I have the luxury of time to continue learning.

BABY BACK ON THE TRAIL 6/2/2006 I thought it would take eight months to get Baby and his broken back (negative plane coffin bone) right hind to the point where I could ride him. You should have seen him three months ago at his worst. His back was hollow and pulled down. To drag his right hind leg forward, he would have to throw his head and neck forward and down. Then he would bring his left hind leg forward in a short stilted step, in a low arc to minimize the weight bearing time on the other leg. Picking up the hind feet had to be done carefully because the pain would make it necessary for him to put the feet down frequently. I have been working on him now with diet change and a trimming strategy based on real insight on this foot problem for only about 2 months. He is not healed by any means, but he is able to go out and ride at a walk, trot and even a tiny canter, and come home without limping. His back is much improved and doesn’t look pulled down. He has wonderful suspension in his gaits already, more than I remember him having when he wore shoes. I am thrilled and inspired, and moved to tears! He doesn’t seem to know that his right hind foot looks completely weird, but he is comfortable in an Easyboot Bare.

YOYOs. 6/11/2006 New hazard to horses identified! Walking home from the trail , Baby stepped with his good bare RH, on, of all things, a broken half of a yoyo. The metal spline of the yoyo drove up into his foot by the front of the frog. I looked down to see what was going on. He danced around in a strange way for a moment, then settled down and calmly walked the 300 ft to our gate. I couldn’t see anything wrong with his leg so I picked up the foot and there was the half yoyo. I pried it out and it bled copiously. I doctored him up and put a boot on the foot to protect it. He healed without any complications. Watch out for yoyos!

Update 4/21/2011 Excess Iron and Insufficient Copper- Zinc-Manganese Last year, Baby, the grand old man who is 26 now, started having renewed problems with his front feet. He was basically heading toward founder in spite of everything I did. His feet started to take on that canoe look as the heels grew and the toes didn’t. He seemed to be in chronic laminitis and uncomfortable on his front feet. I put him in Easyboot Bare glue-ons to give him some comfort as I tried to trim to relieve discomfort from leverage on the walls. Applying the glue-ons is not difficult but Baby had become very protective of his front feet and not cooperative about picking them up or holding them up for me. He typically resisted picking up the foot, then leaned and backed up while I had the foot up. Alternatively he would shift his 1200 lbs and push into me, so I had to put the foot down and get out of the way. I realized these behaviors were due to his fear of being hurt, not his left brain extrovert aggressive tendency (well, maybe some of his punk LBE is in there too). I used the natural horsemanship friendly game and approach and retreat to work with him. Initially it took two to three hours to get the boots off, hooves trimmed and boots re-glued. With patience, I got it down to about an hour. (He is still cautious but workable with his front feet and very cooperative with his hinds.)

Update 10/2011 – The Babe gives me hassle now only on the RF foot. I take him out in the yard and play with him at liberty, driving game on yielding the front and hindquarters, then circling, and some yoyo game. When he gets annoyed with me, he makes little aggressive feints at me, ducking his head down as though to bite me. I act to block his feints. He doesn’t bite me, and he always stops and backs off when I ask, but he is clearly aggressive as he has always been. He doesn’t try to use his hind end on me but I use 80% trust and 20% caution. He actually loves these games and will try to initiate them with me and will not run off to end the games, even though he is at liberty.

Continuation of main thread… I also started researching what might be going on. On Pete Ramey’s page at I got a clue/answer with respect to the importance of copper, zinc and manganese. The salt block I had given the horses was one of those big, expensive, brown ones with iron in it. We get imported hay here, so it is impossible to know the iron content, but I assumed that I had been providing too much iron and too little copper, zinc and manganese. I went out early the next morning to throw the big salt blocks out of the stalls, and off to the feed store to see what Copper-Zinc-Manganese supplements were available. I read all the labels and Millenium Gold seemed to be the best, even though there is iron in that too. I started the horses on Millenium Gold in addition to the Source I always give. Three weeks later during a period of very wet weather, I had Baby and Dolcezza out on our very wet lawn. Baby started cavorting around, sliding and showing off. Then he lay down and rolled on the grass and when he jumped up, he popped off both of the glueons that were due for resetting. He trotted comfortably up the gravel driveway that would have been ouchy to him a few weeks earlier. It is hard to believe that his feet felt so much better in just three weeks, but I was impressed and left the glueons off just to see what would happen. Baby stayed comfortable even though his feet looked dreadful with his toes long and low in front and his heels trying to contract and roll under. With fear and trepidation, I cut back into the lamellar wedge at the toe as I had seen Pete Ramey do on the DVDs and cut a sloping angle on the heels without trying to level from heel to toe. Baby stayed comfortable on the feet no matter what I did.

As of April, 2011, I am still working to restore hoof angles to normal, keep the toes cut back and understand what the hooves are telling me.

10/2011 After Baby’s founder attempt, I ended up give Source, plus measured amounts of Uckele Copper, Zinc and Manganese. I have since amended to Uckele’s Equi-VM supplement, Source and garlic flavored brewers’ yeast. Currently, all four horses seem to be totally comfortable barefoot on the gravel in the yard, even Baby on his not yet fully recovered feet. I want to up Baby’s exercise to increase the hoof growth rate, but his fronts got out of lateral balance during the founder attempt and he developed some bumps on the front of his knees. I have the left front almost back in balance, but the right is not balanced yet. I don’t want to exercise him too much and possibly exacerbate the situation with the knee bumps. Fortunately, the bumps don’t seem to bother him. I am also trying a magnetic knee pad on him to help with the bumps. A natural horse care contact wrote me that she had had success with the magnets in reduce a bony protruberance that had developed duing a laminitis attack. I’m concentrating on the right side, and I have the sense that the bump on that side is getting softer and reducing slightly in size. It’s wait and see, at the moment. This horse is coming up to 28, so I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to keep him on his feet. With hindsight, I think the answers are hoof balance and healing trims per the Hoof Guided Method, correct mineral balances in the feed, and supplementation with a UC-II product to protect the joints from immune system attack.