1. Too much sugar and starch in the diet.
Horses did not evolve to eat the lush green grass or the high-starch feeds that many consume today. They evolved to eat sparse, dry grasses that were low in sugar in starch. Most of us know that a sudden overload in sugar/ starches can cause laminitis, but even steady, lesser amounts of these two components in your horse’s diet can cause hoof sensitivity. A diet comprised of mostly low-sugar grass hay (12% NSC or less) is the best way to support healthy barefoot hooves.
2. Not enough movement.
If your horse is in a stall or small pen all day, he’s not getting enough movement (unless you happen to be riding several miles every single day.) In order to promote circulation and toughen barefoot hooves, movement is crucial. Allowing your horse to live with a herd in a pasture or a Paddock Paradise will increase natural movement.
3. Mineral deficiencies or imbalances.
Zinc and copper are deficient in most horses’ diets, and these happen to be two very important minerals for the hoof. Another common issue is that of too much iron, which can block the absorption of whatever zinc and copper the horse may be getting. It’s also important to provide both major and trace minerals in the correct ratios (see this post for more information on mineral balance).
4. Your horse is pastured on soft or wet ground.
We can’t expect our horses to fare well on rocky or rough terrain when riding if they are only exposed to soft ground at home. It’s just not going to happen. The only solution here is to add some varied terrain into your pasture or loafing areas (pea gravel is a great way to do this) and/or gradually increase your riding time on rough terrain on a consistent basis.
5. Not trimming frequently enough.
The whole idea of the barefoot trim is getting a tough and functional sole and back of the foot. If the hoof walls and/or heels are consistently allowed to overgrow, this just isn’t possible. Most horses aren’t going to get the wear that they need to keep the walls in check on their own so trimming on a frequent and consistent basis is CRUCIAL! I trim my own horses at least every four weeks.
6. Your horse has been in shoes for too long.
There’s a chance that if your horse has been shod back-to-back for most of his life, he may not ever be completely comfortable barefoot. I have one like this. Kady wore shoes year-round for about eighteen years before she came to me. She’s also insulin resistant. Although she is barefoot now and okay in the pasture, she needs boots when she’s ridden anywhere besides the arena.