A compromise between barefoot and shodfoot.
If horses need their feet protected when being worked because their feet are simply not up to the task of being ridden barefoot, the best option is rubber boots with foam pads. There is something about putting a yielding layer between the horse and the hard Australian ground that is surely one of the greatest advancements in our endeavours to keep horses sound in the long term. It just makes sense!
However, there are scenarios when hoof boots are not an option (whether that is due to legislation, practicalities or even safety issues). So what can we do? Just ‘slip’ a pair of shoes on? And get back in the same old rut!
There have been quite a few horses over the last few years that have gone back to shoes, despite the attempts of their owners who have tried to keep them barefoot, particularly in the dressage and eventing world. These horses have mostly failed as barefoot performers because the soles beneath their pedal bones are just not thick enough.
However, horse owners are more aware than ever of the long term implications of horseshoeing. The science underpinning barehoofcare is sound, but the practicalities in our domestic horse world are often challenging – people have horses to ride.
People want to be able to ride but they don’t necessarily want to have their horses shod.
What about a compromise?
A compromise that protects the foot where it most needs protecting (at the toe) without taking away the all important functions (at the heel); a compromise that works in situations that hoof boots can’t.
Introducing the humble Barefoot Tip ™:
Barefoot Tips are a modern reincarnation of a much older idea; the humble grass tip that many racing horses wore prior to the development of aluminum plates. Barefoot Tips are a compromise between barefoot and shod, offering partial protection where it is needed, without affecting vital hoof function. Unlike shoeing, tips appear to improve the foot with each successive refit.
When do Barefoot Tips work well?
Tips work well on any horses that have thin or sensitive soles.
Tips can provide a rigid short breakover (as well as extra support) to feet that are run forward in the toe and need to be significantly ‘backed up’.
Tips are useful as an aid to transitioning a horse out of shoes.
Tips seem to be especially useful for that first month when shoes come off feet that are too deformed to dress back to the correct shape for boots.
Tips can be used as a short term option for horses that need a bit of extra protection for a hard ride (eg a few days of mustering or trail riding). Tips can provide improved grip.
What about nails?
There is a widespread misconception that nails being driven through the hoof wall is very damaging; one of the main problems with horseshoeing. When used minimally, nails are benign. They are simply passing through non-living keratin and only in the front half of the hoof where there is limited hoof capsule flexing due to the pedal bone within.
However, the increase in a horse’s total workload that is made possible by having its soft toes protected far outweighs any perceived problem of nailing. Nails are irrelevant. There is proof enough in the results of using Barefoot Tips over the last few years when horses have been showing continual improvement with subsequent fittings.
As with anything horsey there are limitations and even some contra-indications that need to be noted. Unfortunately, tips are not a cure all.
Tips are probably not going to work in situations where there is poor anterior/posterior balance (ie long toes and low heels, particularly on hind feet). Such feet may need to have tip application delayed until enough heel height has grown to rectify any hoof pastern axis problems (there is a 3mm thick version of Barefoot Tip that may help to better balance such feet).
Tips may not be adequate in some highly abrasive situations.
If a foot is sensitive in the frog, then a tip may not help. Unfortunately some horses have permanently damaged feet and should always be ridden in padded hoof boots.
If you are from the school that thinks a good shoeing job is one that lasts for four months, then tips are probably not for you! Tips need to be refitted every 4 – 6 weeks (no different to how often shoes should be refitted).
Do not use Barefoot Tips if you suspect a horse has acute laminitis.
What about hoof boots?
If you still require the full protection offered by hoof boots on long hard rides, they can be successfully worn over the top of Barefoot Tips (even though hoof boots aren’t damaged by doing this, such use would probably void the boot manufacturer’s warranty).
What’s in a name?
I have already heard these tips called by several names – tap shoes, nudie shoes, even poverty shoes! Maybe these are the mythical barefoot shoes?!