By, Georgette Topakas www.ZephyrsGarden.com
Here I go again preaching about going barefoot (it’s a mission for me!), but I wanted to share an experience from several weekends ago. My daughter and I were in San Juan Capistrano, CA showing at The Oaks. She was showing in the grass ring, and I was the nervous mother on the rail, watching and counting strides. Before she and Zephyr (show name Tall, Dark, & Handsome) set foot in the ring, there was some extra attention surrounding the two of them. Zephyr was the only horse showing on the grass without studs. In fact, he is completely shoeless, front and back. Several trainers thought it was impossible (and one thought against the rules for safety issues) to jump without studs, but Zephyr was as sure-footed as always, contrary to the many horses I saw tripping over their feet. I’ve never had a horse in studs, but I imagine it can take a bit of getting used to. Not only was he as sure-footed as a mountain goat, but they won their division, probably causing some trainers to scratch their heads in wonder.
Big, Bold & Barefoot! Zephyr (Tall, Dark & Handsome) at the Oaks
Now that I’ve bragged a bit, I need to ask, “Why is going barefoot so shocking to horse people?” I have yet to see a downside; my expenses for hoof care are less, my horses both move soundly, both have become more balanced and better muscled, my life has been simplified since I never worry about a lost shoe or a hot nail, and by being able to understand hoof health I have a better “picture” of my horses’ overall well-being. At the show, several trainers approached me to inquire how such a large horse (Zephyr is 17.1 hands) could be barefoot and have good feet. There’s a myth that only ponies with dark hooves can go shoeless. One trainer said, “My horse eats an apple fritter every morning and has horrid feet, do you think that may be the reason?” Sugar, sugar, sugar!! That’s one major cause for bad hooves. I’m not a hoof expert, but my “secret” to good hooves is pretty simple – no alfalfa, minimal sweets, minimal grains, grass hay, some good herbs and that’s it. I don’t use prepackaged hoof supplements or dressings, and I keep their feet as dry as possible. I feel my approach is just a more simple way of taking care of our horses, though many view it as labor intensive.
First, the sugars. My horses’ love apples, in fact, we have 5 apple trees at our house. They’ll get a few apples a week, but not by the bucket full. Same with carrots. A carrot now then, not 5 lbs a day. People equate sugary treats (and yes carrots are full of sugar) with love. I also treat with fresh dandelion leaves, Swiss Chard, and melon rinds. In addition, I’ve told our trainer that no one else can “treat” the horses except us. I don’t want some well- meaning person giving them a dozen carrots or a handful of molasses sweetened cookies. Of course, no sweet feed either.
No alfalfa. My trimmer once told me that he’s never seen a horse with good hooves that eats alfalfa. Even just a little one winter to keep weight on made Zephyrs’ feet go downhill. Good grass hay, and plenty of it, should be your dietary foundation. If we had pasture, I’m sure that would be even better.
For their buckets, both horses get Triple Crown Lite. It’s been a terrific feed for us and has helped keep both horses healthy. Whenever I’ve tried to change feed (and don’t ask me why I did this) Zephyr’s feet have had flaking and fungal issues due to excessive sugar and/or grains.
I love using herbs for the horses. All my knowledge has been through reading books and by subscribing to Horse Journal. There are lots of great horse herbal books on the market and I’ve tried to read them all. If there was a horse herbalist in my area, I might have gone that route, but it’s been fun to learn along the way. My “core” herbs are Bladderwrack Kelp, Dandelion Leaf, Rosehips, and Cleavers. I also pour on the raw apple cider vinegar and grind flax seed daily. I mix all this in with the Triple Crown Lite, add some water, some Olive Oil (being Greek I’m partial to this healthy oil), and stir. I’m also a big fan of garlic and Spirulina during the fly season.
Lastly, and here’s the one that no one realizes is important – DRY FEET. Wet feet can turn soft, mushy, tender, and for Zephyr, attracts fungus. We keep his bedding as dry as possible and I rarely hose him off. I save the baths for the shows and, when in training, let him air dry. Once the sweat is dry, it curries off easily. After we ride, we hand walk/graze the horses, let the sun dry the sweat and curry away. I have to confess, I love to curry! Their coats are soft, full of natural oils and shine, and their feet are dry. It’s really win/win but it takes a bit longer then putting your horse in the cross-ties and hosing them off. I also try to never put a damp horse back in his stall, that’s just begging for a good case of fungus. One item I do put on their hooves is Zephyr’s Garden Hoof Growth Salve. I created it for Zephyr and still rub it on his coronary bands once every week or so to keep growth strong. I also use it at shows instead of hoof oil. I let it warm in the sun and paint it on with a brush. It’s Olive Oil based, so his feet have a show shine and are healthy.
So, aside from taking the time to research some herbs, groom a little longer, and regulate my horses’ sweets, caring for a barefoot horse is not that much different then ones with shoes. I love sharing my barefoot experience, but for some reason, other horse people are very hesitant to follow suit. I hear all sorts of excuses, “Your horses’ must have really good feet, my horses’ feet are horrible” or “My trainer would never allow it, it’s against the barn rules”. My favorite is, “My farrier said my horses’ feet would crumble with the pounding they take in the sand ring and over jumps.” Yes, there are a million excuses, but truly, if I can do it anyone can!