Although I'm not traveling hard, we have been trimming for barefoot performance on my barrel horses for 4-5 years. The current horses I'm competing on are 7 & 8, never have had shoes. In order to deal with standing at the trailer on rocks or other bad warm up spots, I've invested in hoof boots if I think they are really uncomfortable or at risk to hurt their feet. There are many types and varieties with much research having gone into them. Some are easy to slip on and off for standing on bad ground, and some that are better for loping and then just pull them off to make a run (http://www.easycareinc.com
). Proper, healthy, barefoot feet have good cushion and grip. If you are re-growing a bad foot, you may need to transition (rehab) from shoes to barefoot using boots in order for the feet to repair and regrow the quickest without causing further damage, but generally running in an arena, they won't be needed and you don't need to quit riding.
Some thoughts ...
-All barefoot trimmers/practitioners are not the same. Some are radical or inexperienced, others very well studied and experienced, some were farriers for years before becoming barefoot trimmers - ask questions and listen to their answers. So I believe it pays off to learn as much as you can yourself and let your intuition guide you. (Same goes with keeping horses shod and the farriers you use!)
-Mud conditions... at least you aren't pulling off shoes during a run if they are barefoot and I personally don't believe a shoe in those bad mud conditions lends any extra benefit? They will slip or get stuck with or without a shoe on. If it gets that bad, save your horse and don't run!
Hard conditions... if horses can't stand up running on hard ground without shoes on - maybe not a good/safe surface to be running barrels on?
-Rocks - a shoe is 1/4" thick(?), and covers a small surface area of the bottom of the foot. Still a good chance to get a stone bruise no matter shod or not. Unless you have pads on, the sole and frog are still exposed to bruising from rocks.
In general - you will have less heel bulb or over-reach damage risk on a barefoot horse.
-I never have to panic to find someone to tack a shoe back on. I have learned to rasp my own horses every 2-3 weeks to keep feet trimmed. It's hard work, yes, but I just do a couple feet a day if I get tired or it's hot or whatever. To keep a barefoot horse in optimal shape, rasping frequently is better in my opinion - you really shouldn't wait 6 weeks to trim if using your horses regularly - they probably will begin to chip some.
Yes a horse will be careful with his feet if he's going over gravel, etc. so if he's not living on that kind of environment daily, that's going to be normal. If you have to be on alot of it and they are tender, then use boots. Otherwise, most arenas are soft - rocks push away, and bare feet are no more at risk (for bruising) than shod ones. I have yet to not be able to find a nice patch of grass to warm up on or felt I couldn't warm up my horses properly at an event - I have rarely thrown on boots for this purpose.
Point to Ponder:
How many people have actually TRIED to take a horse barefoot for very long? As soon as a horse acts tender - on go the shoes again. If you want to try it, do it when you can give it a solid effort - maybe not in the middle of your season
. If you have a horse with foot problems find a reputable barefoot trimmer to help heal that foot back to the way nature intended and know that boots will likely be necessary, at least temporarily. x-rays may be required to ensure proper trimming to rehab the hoof. The way a hoof "looks" from the top down or side is deceiving. A horse should be at least the same level of soreness or BETTER after a trim. They should not get worse. If they do, then the trim was not correct - they should not get more sore after a shoeing or a trim. If pulling the shoes to go barefoot, don't trim them right away - let the foot relax for awhile and re-shape itself. Even a few days makes a difference - especially if the sole and/or frog has been repeatedly pared down by a farrier.
Every part of the bottom of the foot has a job to support a horse, wall, bars, frog and sole. The movement (expansion/contraction) of the hoof during motion also is important to keep blood flow to the hoof parts (just like oil in a motor). There are arguments either way and every person has to make a choice for them and their horses based on their own knowledge and experience. Shoeing has become part of competition for most people and no one even gives it a 2nd thought. Thinking of going barefoot is outside the box and most don't even consider it, so that means it must be "wrong" and so you have to be a bit brave to be different
Final note - I understand the need for shoes, and have great respect for some great farriers I've had the pleasure to deal with who have helped me and my horses over the years. The decision to go barefoot was for many reasons in our house. Ultimately it has to be a decision that sits well within you. This is not meant to be information that negates the farrier profession- it's only an alternative option that quite possibly has more viability/credibility for consideration than it's been given in recent years. Shoes don't have to be the only answer for competitive horses, but just like you need a good farrier and vet, you will need a good barefoot trimmer too (it's just easier to start doing more it yourself as time, learning and desire is there)!
P.S. Our mentor for barefoot trimming has been Pete Ramey, but there are others out there that are professionals and professional instructors also.