There was a good article in the September issue of ‘The Horse’ magazine on the ‘The Facts on Bare Feet’.
The article is built around “the scientific knowledge” of several experts in the industry. There is some good info here but some things are misleading. The article was good to note that the mustang foot is not a good model for the domestic barefoot horse as the mustang has a different living environment and work load.
Here’s my take on the barefoot thing: A horse was designed to live barefooted just like a goat or a cow. If he had good genetics and a living environment that balanced hoof wear to hoof growth he was able to survive, if he didn’t he died, end of story. If we would start riding more cows and goats we would have to develop a myriad of ideas of how to shoe them and maintain their feet. This would develop into associations, clinics, books, videos, blogs, certifications and experts in the field to manage these feet. Then when nobody could figure out how to exactly manage the distortion process from human involvement the “Barefoot Cow and Goat” people would come about to reinvent the wheel, “The Natural Cow and Goat Trim”.
I hate to poop on everybody’s parade but there is no such thing as a natural trim. A trim is physically correct for a horse going barefoot or not. You can’t trim a physically correct foot if the horse doesn’t have enough foot in the first place. There is all this talk about how a foot needs a big wide frog to be healthy. We need to be thinking about frog-digital cushion depth, this is what supports the back of the foot from caudally rotating when the fetlock descends during the load phase of the stride. Remember the angle of the foot is made up of the bone angle of P3 plus the palmar angle (the angle between the bottom of P3 and the ground). Then you combine this with how much lift or suspension there is from the deep flexor tendon and just how much palmar angle is needed to align the hoof-pastern axis. A foot with a low bone angle of 42° may need 11° to 13 ° to balance the lower limb, combine that with a tight deep flexor tendon and the back part of that hoof is going to be way up in the air, narrow heels and a narrow frog, but that works for this horse, you have to consider the whole mechanics of the limb that your dealt with. I see a lot of big wide flat frogs on feet that are digitally compressed, these are not healthy feet.
Another good point from the article is that wet feet are more pliable and this can cause over expansion of the feet. When the feet over expand this tensions the laminar attachments and reduces blood flow, the wall is not able to hold in the epidermal dead sole so this exfoliates which reduces surface area to the bottom of the foot and the load goes to the perimeter wall which creates more flaring and wall distortion. The best feet I see are dry and hard which the article agrees with. One misleading note in the article is that hard ground stimulates growth. You can not put a poor footed horse on hard ground and expect him to grow foot. A foot that is physiologically correct with ample depth will grow foot. This may require the use of prosthetic intervention through plastic, shoes pads etc. to create the mechanical formula.