In 2018, we joined the growing equine barefoot movement and today, all our horse riding and carriage driving activities are now entirely barefoot. Put simply, all our horses are shoe-less and use only what nature intended- their hooves!
Going barefoot on our rocky terrain- with gluey clay mud in winter and hard baked ‘cement’ in the summer- isn’t as simple as removing the metal and riding off into the sunset. Ideally, tip-top equine bare-feet need to live as closely to nature as possible and we’ve tried, (well, as closely as possible), to replicate the conditions of horses in the wild.
Our systems are by no means perfect, we’re well aware of our limitations; our location, acreage, terrain, workload and availability of feed and fodder. However, we do feel we’re somewhere on the right path towards the ideal conditions required for great barefoot horses, and with future plans to expand and develop the principles further- we’re hoping it will only get better!
Feeding barefoot horses- To keep the gut active, horses need to eat a little and often. Upping the hours our horses grazed/ate hay was essential in our move to barefoot. We now try and slow feed our forage throughout the day, however, this can be tough with some of our bargy mares!
We keep three differing qualities of ‘forage,’ to ensure those who need additional nutrients are keeping well, while those who ‘live on air,’ (yes- you Marta- you fattie!) are also eating, but are not gaining too much weight.
Movement for barefoot horses- Healthy horses need to move. In the summer of 2018, we ditched the nightly stabling and set the herd free- day and night. We created a small track system, to encourage movement, leaving some rocky areas, and enclosing a small copse of pine trees for protection from the elements.
Shelter for barefoot horses- Bulgaria has some pretty extreme weather. In the winter it can go down to minus 15 or even 20, yet in the summer temperatures can rise up to 40 plus degrees. Clearly we needed something to keep the cold out and the sun off- yet not confine the ‘herd’ to a sedentary life indoors.
For this we built a field shelter- which the horses can enter and exit at will. Inside, hay is available via slow feeders day and night.
Trimming and management of the barefoot horse- We incredibly lucky to have regular hoof-maintenance from local trimmer, Vanya Lazarova. With many years experience and a rider and trainer herself, Vanya’s own competition compete up to, and beyond national level, all with bare-feet.
Self-trimming the barefoot horse- We’re pretty lucky in Srem, much of our roads are rough gravel others are tarred and some are literally cut through rock. This means with regular riding, most of our horses actually maintain their own feet. Riding regularly on these surfaces allows our horses feet to not only toughen up, but self-trim and exfoliate.
Born barefoot- One horse which will never have to make the transition from shoes to barefoot is our own foal- Athena. She has not only inherited the rock-solid feet of her mother Marta, but has, over the past three-years also developed broad supporting frogs and thick, tough hoof walls.
When they need support- Of course sometimes we do have the odd sore foot. For this we keep some Cavallo hoof boots handy.