And How to Assess Barefoot Hooves for Soundness
Assessing hoof lameness and hoof soundness is a very important part of natural horsecare.
When we took all the shoes off we did not then appreciate what there was to learn with regard to assessing barefoot movement and barefoot soundness.
The difference here is that, assessing lameness/soundness in a shod horse is relatively known about and easy to see.
Assessing barefoot soundness/lameness can be much more subtle and many riders/horse owners/instructors would not necessarily spot lameness as we have learnt and discovered.
This page attempts to clarify and put into words how to assess hoof lameness and see when a horse has fully transitioned and their movement is as it should be:-
- in walk,
- and canter
over different surfaces, ridden and unridden. It also includes suggestions on what to do if your horse is still transitioning and is not totally sound.
With your hoof assessment through movement, ridden and in hand, you will them be able to decide:-
- the best natural hoof care treatment
- the most suitable form of exercise whether it be ridden barefoot, ridden booted, or just in hand or neither.
After the shoes have been removed and a barefoot trim has been done there
is then a ‘transition’ period. This is the period between taking the shoes off and the horse being able to walk on gravel and rocks without becoming lame and sore and the sole has regained its true concavity. I.e. the foot is as it was meant to be:-
- in form
- and shape
prior to being shod.
The information below is very relevant during this transition stage of natural hoof care, as it will help your assess the hoof lameness and hoof soundness of your horse and how well there hooves are developing.
(NB. Depending on the state of the horses hooves will depend how quickly they will transition. Some horses will be straight forward others will need much more time and care.)
To first assess your horses hoof health and see how their hooves are doing:-
- walk them in hand, preferably with someone else watching to help you.
- Once you have walked them, then trot them up in hand.
Make sure you trot them up straight, without the horse leaning on the lead rope into you, as this will detract from you seeing and feeling their movement fully.
It is much easier if you have someone helping you, so that you can look at their movement,
while the other person is trotting them up.
It can help if you have a schooling stick to hand and use it gently to tap him up from behind if he is unsure of what to do. This is better than dragging him along using the lead rope. When you are ‘trotting them up,’ look ahead and they will feel your sense of direction and focus, which will help you with your hoof health assessment. (Just as you would if a vet was examining and assessing them.)
You need to look at them being trotted away from you, (their hinds are then easier to see,) and then trotted to you (their front hooves are easier to see.)
If you are unsure then:-
- trot them up several times
and you eye will become sharper. You can also get the person helping
you to trot them past you; this is another way of comparing their striding and seeing if their front and hinds are stretching out, or if one of them is trailing more than another.
What You Are Looking For
If you compare their hinds with each other and their fronts with each other in walk and trot, you will be able to see if they are:-
- are level,
- are moving straight,
- are even,
- and striding out equally,
- or are short on one foot more than another.
- or if either foot is dishing (dishing is when one foot swings our more than another)
Depending how often you have done this, will depend how
quickly you will spot any slight hoof lameness, if it is present.
What You May See
This assessment of their movement is more subtle than with a shod horse. So although they may look level and sound and there is no head nod, they may still be short (footy) on one side or the other, indicating some hoof lameness/soreness.
You may also feel if they are willing, when trotting them up
Look at their ears, are they forward and looking enthusiastic, or lying back, which can be an indication of
All of this is important in order for you to decide the most appropriate form of exercise for your horses hoof health and care.
If you are still unsure then ride them and see how they feel.
When riding and assessing a barefoot horses hoof health for lameness/soundness, you may well find that they are better on some grounds than others.
This will steadily get better until they are fully transitioned
- Your ultimate goal.
When riding them first walk them and then trot them. Do this first up and down in a straight line, in a suitable area where you will not be disturbed.
If someone is observing the horse’s movement while you
are riding them like this, this can be extremely helpful.
From this hoof lameness assessment, it will be interesting for you to see if what you feel is what they see.
It is immensely helpful to compare thoughts with someone watching while another person is riding regarding hoof health, soundness and lameness.
Keep evaluating and find out what you are feeling. If they are a bit short or a bit sore try to evaluate which foot is sore from this you will then be able to decide and how to treat it if this is necessary. (See
Any hoof lameness or shortness of movement will nearly always show up more in trot than in walk or canter.
The Benefits of this Type of Hoof Lameness Assessment
All of this is important for natural hoof care, as if you over work and bruise their soles and hooves it would lengthen the transition period. i.e the length of time until they become fully sound.
If you are still unsure then walk and trot them on a circle in hand or ridden. Any hoof lameness will show up even more on a circle than on a
straight line. The smaller the circle, the more obvious the hoof lameness.
Remember when checking for any shortness try riding them on both reins. One rein may appear fine, whereas on the other, they may be un-level and sore. NB. The inside fore on a circle has more pressure on it than the outside fore.
If you suspect one of the hooves are sore, this circle work is a good way to evaluate and compare the their hooves. Any hoof lameness will normally show
up more in trot than in walk or canter on a tight circle.
What you Will See
(You will spot it because the hoof will not move quite the same way and will look more restricted/stuck.)
The ground you walk, trot and canter on can make quite a difference when assessing and looking for any footiness or hoof lameness.
With soft grassy fields and soft rubber school surfaces, your horse may look fine, but if you were to them take them onto a smooth tarmac road they may well be short, as the surface is obviously harder.
On a sand, or wax and sand school surface, this surface can show up a shortness or hoof lameness more than a tarmac road. This is possibly because of the pressure of the sand surface adhering to the sole of the horse’s hoof.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, as when this occurs you are stimulating the sole, frog and heels but if it is too strong and the foot and internal structures are not developed enough, you will then have to work them on these surfaces gradually. (This may be as little as a week or may end up being several weeks.)
If you are transitioning them find out which surfaces are better for them, that you have available. By becoming aware, you will then be able to trot in some places, but you may have to walk in other places until their hooves toughen up. Keep experimenting.
At the same time encourage them. Help them to walk on different terrains and surfaces. You still need to ride them positively but be aware and don’t ask too much of them.
This can sometimes be a fine balance in the early stages of natural hoof care, finding out how far you can take them and so strengthening their hooves but at the same time not over doing it and causing internal bruising.
Someone wrote to Jaime Jackson regarding natural hoof care saying that,
- “there should be an evaluation of soundness”
for natural hoof care when transitioning a horse from shod to barefoot.
- He suggested a scale from “one to ten.”
A very valuable suggestion as it helps one to appreciate the different levels that a horse may well go through in the transition period to reach complete soundness.
From your assessments in hand and ridden you will be able to determine how well their feet are doing and if all of your entire natural hoof care regime is working.
If you feel they are fine continue riding, if they feel a bit sore and footy you may need to give them a few days off, or just lead them in hand or lead them off another horse and boot them until their feet get tougher.
If you are able only to exercise in walk – no worry – this will help them. Movement is good, but it is then a matter of going at their pace and ability. You need to be continually feeling them and from what you feel, decide how much they can
If they are not level you can then look at the
Horse Ailments page and treat according to the recommendations there if needed.
You can also try using horse boots and seeing if they go better in them.
If you exercise and ride them according to what they are comfortable on this will be the surest way to help strengthen their hooves and the hooves internal structures and so help them develop and transition speedily.