Performance Feats of Bare Hooves
By Ann Marie Larson, Natural Barefoot Farrier
For years competing with horses has meant shoeing your horses. It has been an accepted idea that horses need this
protection to do any hard work or training. However, horses have been quite capable of performing many grueling
tasks for thousands of years without the benefit of nailed on shoes. The growing barefoot movement has renewed
questions of the necessity of shoeing and many people are choosing to train and compete completely barefoot or
when protection is indeed needed using hoof boots. There are horses competing and winning at all levels and all
disciplines all over the world.
Champion endurance rider Darolyn Butler transitioned her horses to barefoot beginning in 2000. Now all of her
horses, around 50, are barefoot. She has continues to compete and win many national championships.
British dressage rider Emma Hindle competed at FEI level on her horses Diamond Hit and Wie Weltmeyer in 2005.
She has noticed a dramatic difference in their movement and suppleness. Another British dressage rider and trainer
Lucinda McAlpine has taken her interest in alternative health from her own life to her horses. Optimizing not only the
condition of the horses hoof but also creating natural living conditions for her horses. She gives clinics for riding and
now has added talks on the benefits of going barefoot.
British racing trainer Simon Earle fully believes in the benefits of keeping horses barefoot and has found a marked
improvement in stride length as well as a significant decrease in injuries. Clinical studies he sights also suggest that
barefoot horses have much better shock absorption than shod horses. Race facility ‘Horses First Racing’ employ a
full time barefoot trimmer that maintains horses in training.
Police department’s mounted patrols in large cities such as Houston, TX, Las Vegas, NV, and Tampa, FL have begun
to be transition their horses to barefoot. Many of the horses came with unresolved lameness issues and
physiological problems that improved once they became barefoot. Not only do these horses work many hours a day
they are on many hard terrains from concrete and asphalt and even construction zones. Hoof boots are used to
initially transition horses to barefoot as well as at times where the horses may be exposed to debris that could injure
All horses have the ability to adapt to the footing they live on, and over time can adapt to many other terrains. But for
those worried about protection for their horse’s feet there are now options readily available. Temporary hoof boots
have been around for many years and they keep getting better thanks to feedback from riders such as Karen Chaton
and her horse Chief who won the AERC Mileage Championship by riding more than 2,000 miles in one year. Chief
was the first to win this honor without having nailed-on shoes. Karen trains both barefoot and with boots but generally
competes with boots. Karen has given invaluable feedback to Easy Care Inc, which makes many of the most popular
boots such as Easyboots, Old Mac’s and Boa’s, on how to improve their product by making them easier to put on,
make them stay on better, and last longer. Easycare has worked to create boots to handle different types of terrain
such as mud and have the ability to add studs for extra traction in loose footing.
However, the ability of a horse to maintain a healthy foot may not be the only aspect that can concern an owner who
wants to compete. While there are many shows that do not have a special requirements many upper level sport horse
competitions such as endurance riding or combined training may have rules pertaining to whether a horse can
compete without shoes.
A good example is Tyler DeRoo and his horse Royal Code. In 2003 they were the top choice for the North American
Young Riders Championships team. However the selectors would only have them on the team if the horse was shod,
Tyler refused. Tyler continues to compete and in 2005 Royal Code was the tenth rated horse at Intermediate level.
Darolyn Butler does compete in many competitions that require shoes. She will put shoes on the horse just for those
competitions but will immediately pull them as soon as it is over. Horse racing is another example where horses may
train barefoot but in several states there are laws that make it mandatory for any horse to be shod in order to race at
tracks within that state.
These laws or rules within bylaws of competition associations can be changed but only when enough people demand
the changes to be made. As the popularity of being barefoot grows we may see these changes being instigated in
more and more disciplines.
The bottom line is that all horses have the ability to have healthy bare feet. Horses across the country are working
and competing successfully at all levels without shoes and on terrains that make shod horses cringe. Proving that all
horses are capable of obtaining highly functioning healthy hooves. It is only a matter of time before the majority of the
horses winning at large competitions are barefoot.