Barefoot horses at Campbell Hills Guest Ranch

The horse is a creature of wide-open, dry plains and mountain slopes (except for the wide-footed breeds of northern Europe, which are adapted to living in soft, wet footing).

The horse’s native environment includes extremes of heat and cold. The ground is dry, hard, and often rocky. Rivers or water holes are scarce. The wild horse’s food is the dry, sparse bunch-grasses of low-rainfall areas, and a variety of herbs, shrubs, roots, and bark.

Wild horses walk a daily loop of about 20 miles (30 km.) to find food, water, and other daily needs such as minerals, herbs, shelter from storms, and safe places to sleep. All this walking wears and shapes their feet to perfection.

Why Barefoot Horses

The horse is exactly designed to live well in that environment. Every part of his body, and the social life of the herd, are fashioned for a strenuous life – and he requires extreme conditions to stay in peak health. Horses have lived this way for millions of years, far longer than human beings have existed. The horse is a successful species – the design works!

The horse’s hoof is a masterpiece of living design, built to handle awesome mechanical requirements. We can sustain it by providing what it needs. We can set up “natural boarding” for our horses, to promote their health in captivity, so that they can have an environment similar to what they were designed for. See ‘Paddock Paradise’ by Jaime Jackson.

When you decide to “go barefoot” with a previously shod horse, your success will depend about equally on arranging for changes in the horse’s lifestyle especially nutrition and movement and on trimming the hooves
to the wild-horse shape.

The hoof is not like a solid block of wood. It is an exquisitely designed, flexible, shock-absorbing, living organ. It is made up of:

  • a crescent-shaped bone, at the bottom of the column of leg bones
  • fully covered by soft tissue (called the corium) with a LOT of blood supply
  • entirely covered by a tough outside layer (wall and sole) to protect the inside from hard knocks and abrasion

The REASON for keeping a horse barefoot is: 

  •  Allowing the hooves to flex at every step,
  • Getting the most possible blood circulation inside the hoof
  • to have the most possible shock absorption for the leg joints
barefoot horses

Hoof boots are a standard and recommended tool for the transition from shod to barefoot. For the first several months after pulling the shoes, horses should use front hoof boots for riding. Some will need boots during the entire “transition” year, especially those that work on paved or gravel roads, rocky trails, or frozen ground, to protect sensitive internal tissues while they heal.

Many of us live in “horse-unfriendly” climates. Horses that live on soft footing, or are insulin resistant (IR), may always need hoof boots for riding on rough or hard surfaces. Horses that work on paved roads should use boots on all four feet, to prevent excess wear of their hooves; pavement is very abrasive.

We are proud to say that all our 26 horses are barefoot at Campbell Hills Guest Ranch and wear boots when the terrain gets too dry and rocky in the hot summer months.