If you are anything like me, your newsfeed has switched from one of pretty ponies to wrinkly politicians.  The riders and horse owners who had previously been so united by their love of equids are suddenly divided.  And what once had been a discussion of whether to buy a pale pink or baby blue airvest has been over shadowed by whether you voted red or blue.

And if you are like me, you are trying to find any distraction from the name calling and horrendous images.  So, for the rest of you who are exhausted after this week, I have decided to become the distraction.

I will replace one controversy with another.

And what topic might just be as divisive as the presidential election?  Well, shoeing horses of course.

This morning I met my farrier as the sun was rising to pull my horses shoes.  We had been discussing this possibility for quite some time, and had come to the agreement that it was both plausible, and a good time to do it.

Nixon had come off of the racetrack in May of 2015, and we had slowly and carefully transitioned his feet to those of a sport horse.  It wasn’t easy at first – as we went through cycles of glue on’s, to transitioning him from side clips to front – but at the root of all of this, Gage Morgan and I agreed that he had exceptional feet.  With good angles, a thick sole, and a strong wall – he was doing better than most.


A healthy hoof.  On a thoroughbred no less!

I decided to wait until after his last competition of the season, as I had kept him drilled and tapped in case we were ever cross country schooling and I felt he needed the addition of studs – although in retrospect, I never used them.  Being quite the balanced horse, in addition to the level he is at in his training, combined with the footing with which we schooled in, we never needed the additional traction.

So with November rolling in, and the event season in Kentucky grinding to a halt – I called my farrier, and off they went.

Attempting to distract my fellow horsemen from the surge of negativity on social media, I posted this to my status and was met with shock, awe, horror, and a high five.  And as I listened to some of the most intelligent horsewomen discuss this transition, and their own experiences with this topic, I felt as though a blog was needed.  To give them a voice, and to educate the readers.

And more importantly – to allow everyone to realize that just like Cinderella, one shoe (strategy) does not fit all.


This morning, I was bombarded with the comments of both celebration as well as astonishment.

A thoroughbred going barefoot?  The reactions were pretty scary, and they read something like this:

  • “Oh my gosh, that is amazing!  I shall immediately pull my rarely sound thoroughbred shoes tomorrow!”
  • “Oh wow.  No thoroughbred should ever be barefoot. He will immediately go lame – you just watch.”
  • “How dare you have put nails into a horses hooves!  Here, let me connect you with my barefoot trimmer – he will do a better job than your podiatrist”
  • “Every horse should have their shoes pulled in the fall.  When the weather reaches exactly 42 degrees and the frost has begun. They shall only be replaced when the moon is gradually passing the sun during the vernal equinox. My animal psychic told me so.”

And with the help of two fellow eventers – both fantastic horse women – I have a response.  One of which is Dr. Kristen Brennan, and the other being Melissa DeCarlo Recknor.  All three of us have two thoroughbreds – one barefoot, one shod. And we all agreed on the same thing.

 Some horses can be barefoot, some horses need to be barefoot, and some horses need shoes.

Melissa’s first story was that of Shooter, aka Nixon’s little brother.  They are so similar on so many levels, but where they verge apart is in their feet.  While Nixon went barefoot because he could, Shooter went barefoot because he had to.  Melissa had known this horse for years through her work as a trainer at the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, and knew that he had previously had perfectly fine feet.  But a few years of separation, different management, and a transition in geography had brought Shooter back into her life, and with feet that crumbled.


Shooter’s feet May 26th, 2016.

Melissa had tried to keep shoes on in an attempt to progress his training from that of maverick freak (did I say he reminded me of Nixon) to that of well behaved show pony, but his feet were the main setback.  So after relocating to North Carolina and fighting lost shoe after lost shoe, she, alongside her farrier, decided to pull them.

But she was lucky.  Because her trainer advised her to reach out to Hawthorne not only for their products, but for their guidance and support.

So with the additional support of both a fantastic farrier and a team of professionals advising her, Melissa sacrificed her summer show season in order to better her horses hoof health.  Painting his feet with S-Pak, packing his soles with their medicated sole-pack, and painting with the paste, she saw results within a month.  And within just a few months, Shooter was walking soundly on hard surfaces and back to being rideable.

The thoroughbred with the “horrible feet” was officially barefoot – and Melissa was going to try to keep him that way for as long as possible.

Shooter September 26th, 2016

But Melissa was quick to add that her other eventer would most likely never be barefoot, in addition to the fact that she wouldn’t even go without hinds.  Fly has severe arthritis in her hocks, and the hind shoes have helped support this – keeping her sound, happy, and able to be ridden.  Coming up into her later teens, Melissa has had Fly as a partner for years, and knows her inside and out.  Alongside her veterinarian and farrier, they have agreed that it is better to leave her shoes on.

One owner, two thoroughbreds, and two very different decisions regarding their shoeing practices.

Kristen was quick to agree with almost everything that Melissa had to state, and had surrounded herself with similar minds.  But she had one addition – nutrition.  As an equine researcher herself with a doctorate in animal science, she now leads the team at Alltech’s equine nutrition program, and had a ton of great advice for those intrigued by the idea of hoof health.

While her horse Frankie was what you would call an “easy keeper” by all means in regards to his weight, she strategized a feed plan that would enhance both hoof growth as well as strength and overall health.  Kristen immediately made sure that he got a combination of a 10% protein textured feed, but with the addition of a ration balancer that includes an organic TM.  As a true scientist, she was quick to point out that this addition of organic TM’s (trace minerals) provided the horse with a more bioavailable form of Zinc and Copper – both elements that are extremely important in keratin, which is the primary constituent of the equine hoof. She also added the supplement Farrier’s Formula to add additional biotin.

Kristen was quick to point out two things – that all horses need a balanced diet, but that you can add additional proteins and elements that may help your horse transition to that of barefoot. But with that in mind, just like Melissa and I, she was quick to point out that while this was working for Frankie (along with the guidance of Kim from Hawthorne Products that Melissa was also using), her other thoroughbred Marcus was different.


Frankie’s hoof with the Hawthorne Sole-Freeze Hoof Hardener

Marcus was on the same feeding program, received the same level of care, and yet he was fully shod.  Just like my horse Mak, Marcus needed to stay on a strict shoeing schedule of a full set of steel shoes every 6 weeks.  And just like Mak, Kristen had attempted every alteration to this cycle, without luck.  What had worked for one horse did not, and would not, work for all. It came right back down to educating yourself with great professionals, but also listening to your horse.

So those are our stories.  And these are our responses.  Our opinions.

Should every horse go barefoot?  Heck no.  But can a thoroughbred go barefoot?  Why, of course.  But more importantly, should you have to make these decisions on your own?  No.

Surround yourself with a great team of professionals – from your farrier, to your veterinarian, and then add a nutritionist. Talk to your trainer, and even your local tack or feed store.

Educate yourself on what this is involves, and the management practices that will potentially need to change.  Examine yourself internally as a horse owner to conclude whether or not you have the time, money, and patience invested for either of the outcomes. And more importantly, listen to your horse.  He will be your best advisor.


2 Comments on “The Cinderella Strategy: One shoe (strategy) does not fit all.

  1. Yeah Carleigh! SO nice to read something that doesn’t have only ONE winner at the end 😉 I have an OTTB, barefoot in New Mexico (single digit humidity a good portion of the year) and he does great. Farrier’s Formula? Yup. Platinum Performance Equine? Yup. But most importantly, ALLTECH products for his gut…and, LOL, I guess mine too as mine gets tied in knots when his is!
    Thanks for the diversion…hack on!

  2. Well said! My horse is not an OTTB but goes barefoot behind in the winter/non competition months. I agree that there definitely isn’t a “one size fits all” strategy

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