On going barefoot

I have a track system, which works very well, and is inspired by paddock paradise models. These models are concerned with ways to optimise movement in a horse and minimize access to sugars in order to preserve barefoot hooves. Going barefoot was not an initial issue for me. There is no local expertise and it is not something I would attempt on my own. So my track system accomodated Ben in his shoes; and Rosie.

Rosie of course is barefoot of necessity. She came to us, hobbling, with poor topline and ugly bulges on her hooves. Two years later she is running around with a gleaming coat, a good topline and those bulges have grown out.

Of necessity too, Christophe Mouze on Clare Island transitioned his horses to barefoot. Clare Island lies off the coast of Co. Mayo and Christophe could not persuade a farrier to reliably cross that often stormy stretch of ocean to tend to his horses’ hooves. So he researched other ways and found Dermot McCourt, a farrier who now specialises in barefoot trimming and is a member of AANHCP. When Sandra and I saw that Dermot would be giving a course on going barefoot in Clare Island this September, we booked places.


We arrived by ferry on a gloriously sunny Friday evening having left our car on the mainland. We went for walks to explore this beautiful, if bleak island.



On Saturday of course the rains swept in. We met Dermot and his son John, listened to an enlightening talk on the structure of the hoof, together with bone samples and a scary hoof capsule with a clip from a horseshoe embedded in it. Then we all piled into the back of two vans and bounced around the island roads to visit ponies in need of trimming. Mostly they were Connemaras who had never had shoes, but on Sunday we saw two of Christophe’s horses who had worn shoes for quite a few years and were told of their very different transition issues.


We left the island with plenty to think about, greatly increased knowledge of the hoof, and, for me, a realisation of how fundamentally simple and logical barefoot is.


I’m convinced. We will ask Dermot to come down to take the shoes off our horses, look at what is underneath and trim accordingly. I really hope I can keep my own farrier on board with this and will invite him to meet with Dermot to discuss everything involved.

But I am convinced. Before this weekend my thought was “if”, now it is “when”.



Filed under hoof care, track system

8 responses to “On going barefoot

  1. June McIntosh

    Such a beautiful place. I’d take a class in anything to spend the weekend there!
    I’m hoping to get my hoof trimming certification later this year or next spring.
    Don’t be afraid to have a go at doing your own horses, if you’re interested. It might be easier for Dermot to train you than to re-train your regular farrier ….

  2. June McIntosh

    If you’re going to put in that little arena, you might want to consider substituting crushed stone for sand. Sometimes sand can be hard on their legs because of the lack of support. Crusher run has just the right amount of give, and it’s abrasive, which helps to naturally wear the horse’s feet.

    • June, I am interested in what you say about crusher run. Does it not impact quite hard after a while. I have something called crusher dust, which is quite fine, laid over some sections of our track, and in places it has gone very hard.

      Dermot showed us some trimming and we got some practice – my back is suffering since! He says he will show us what to do to keep up the trim between visits. We are very lucky to have him in Ireland. What we want to do is quite radical for this area, and I have heard some horror stories of people who have tried to go barefoot on their own.

  3. We went through this process with Keil Bay and Cody a couple of years ago. The pony has never had shoes on his feet and Salina had been barefoot for years when she came to us.

    I really wanted to address Keil Bay’s contracted heels – his frogs struggle to grow wide and healthy because of the contraction – and although we are not all the way there (he wore shoes for 15+ years!) there is improvement and he is sound barefoot.

    Cody was continually throwing shoes when he wore them, so we decided to opt out of that for him too.

    One of the things that was originally stressful for me about bare feet is that they are always responding to the environment and to the horse’s diet. I got very obsessed with monitoring every centimeter of every hoof, wanting them to be perfect all the time. My trimmer has taught me to use the hooves as barometers and instead of getting stressed about little blips, look deeper for what the hoof is actually saying – nothing mystical! Just that when the walls get too long, the hoof will “self-trim” and chip where it needs to – and which can be alleviated if I will use the rasp in between trims, or ride more.

    This summer we’ve seen some wonky stuff with the feet – they have had, frankly, too much grass to graze this year due to our regular rain, and if we have another year like this one I’m going to have to create a track like you have to keep things better controlled for them. They’ve also had more mud and muck – and with too much sugar and the wetness, we’ve struggled with some thrushiness. Right now it’s dried out and so things are looking much better.

    We use the crusher run in our arena and it’s wonderful – when it’s raining I’ll actually give them turns in the arena to move around and when they come out their hooves are clean and almost polished on the soles.

    Gorgeous location for your class!!

    • Billie, what encourages me is that Rosie has only improved since she came to us. She has only had our farrier’s pasture trim, but of course being laminitic I have monitored her grass intake closely and made sure she is on virtually sugar free feed. And the track has definitely suited her.

      I am not very sure what crusher run is. We have had two different types of quarry crushed stones in our paddock: a larger mix which was tamped down for our yard and the very fine ‘dust’ which has gone quite hard in the centre of the track where the ponies walk most. When that dust went down first and was loose, they loved rolling in it. But I could not see it retaining enough ‘give’ in an arena.

    • I need to correct myself – not sure what we have is “crusher run” – it is what it here called “chapel hill grit” – which is stone dust with little pieces of crushed stone mixed in – it can get compacted if it is very dry but we harrow after rain and it stays pretty good. We do have to add some in periodically – right now we could use a big load just to top things off again.

  4. That’s interesting. I will definitely check out something similar here.

  5. June McIntosh

    I think the crusher dust is finer than the crusher run, which has little bits in it still. Probably harrowing from time to time would be good.