Endurance riders have embraced natural hoof care. This wasn't easy at first as the regulations in Australia required that horses be shod. In February 2003 new rules were passed to allow horses to compete barefoot or with boots, and this is now a common sight. The results at the last two Tevis Cups, of the of the worlds most gruelling rides, have shown that riders are more likely to have a successful finish if their horse is not conventionally shod.
Dunc and Lady safely climb Cougar Rock as they complete the 2009 Tevis cup. Lady is wearing the latest fashion in endurance hoof wear - the easyboot glue on shell.
Eventing is a sport which requires high levels of strength and fitness in order to carry a rider at speed over 25 - 30 obstacles. As with endurance, eventing horses have to put in a lot of kms to build up their fitness. While competition surfaces are generally fine, boots are an excellent option when doing fitness training on hard roads and tracks.
When galloping on hard surfaces, it is reassuring to know that your horse's feet are functioning normally and allowing the anti-concussion mechanisms to work as they are designed to.
Argie and Frances leap the Werribee ditch competing one* in 2009. photo: Angie Rickard
There are barefoot horses competing in dressage from pony club to FEI. Dressage training and competition surfaces are usually kind and make barefoot an easy choice. You don't see shoes on the Spanish Riding School horses! The long term soundness benefits of the bare foot lifestyle will give you more years of fun with your sporting partner.
This photo shows Argie and Frances competing at Melbourne International 3DE 2009.
photo: Derek O'leary
There are many factors that determine how your horse's feet will bear up on the trails: terrain, hoof care, diet and genetics. Some horses are born with rock crunching hooves, some develop them through care and conditioning. Some horses will need boots on some terrains, so they are a handy item to have in your wardrobe. And the best thing is, at the end of the day, you can whip them off and let your horse dance naked in the paddock!
Picture right shows colleague Geoff Brookman who trims 60 horses for a Victorian High Country trail riding business.
The advantages of bare hooves for showjumping include: improved proprioception and agility, decreased likelihood of injury due to improved hoof balance, and increased sensitivity of the feet and therefore motivation not to touch those poles. You can see Argie tucking his feet up nicely in the picture at left. A challenge for any showjumper is grip on slippery or muddy surfaces, so even bare feet need to be prepared according to the terrain. A performance trim can be applied according to the conditions.
photo: Derek O'leary
Depending upon your sport you may have concerns about traction. In disciplines such as eventing, showjumping, and even dressage it is common to apply studs to shod horses in order to improve their grip.
Some barefoot horses are amazingly sure footed - particularly the pony types, Arabians and Australian Stock Horses.
Others may benefit from some careful preparation prior to competition. Growing a bit of extra wall and rasping in some notches or 'tread' just prior to competing provides that extra traction that some horses need.
Horses managed with a natural trimming program have healthy and robust feet, the perfect finish to a polished show horse.
Flowergum Ferrero, pictured here, shows that shoes are not the only way as he wins Champion Arabian Warmblood Gelding 5 years and over at the 2009 Australian National Arabian Championships in March 2009.
Ferrero is trimmed by Jade Meademore and the photo was taken by the owner Elissea Schroen.