Your Horse's Hooves May Be The Source of Your Training Problems
By Gordon Adair

Are your horse's hooves inhibiting progress and performance?

In our quest to find a faster, easier, and gentler way to train our horse companions, we often overlook the most obvious. Many of us have found answers in "the natural way", which God intended for horses, and creating the most natural learning environment can certainly make training easier. But how many of us have considered that training can be affected by the lack of a natural living environment? We all know that a lack of well-being will negatively affect training; a horse who is ill, injured, has a non-functioning body part, or is otherwise compromised will not learn readily. Discomfort and pain interfere with learning and physical growth. A natural living environment promotes health and well-being for the horse, and without it, learning and performance (and the horse) will suffer.

One huge aspect of a natural living environment is allowing the horse to exercise - the freedom to run, play, use his body and discover his capabilities and limits. These activities promote health, well-being, and maximum function in every part of the body. This freedom to exercise and function should also include the hooves - the horse being barefoot and properly trimmed enables maximum hoof function, which promotes overall function. The hooves play a big part in the health, well-being, and function of the entire horse, and shoes minimize hoof function. It only makes sense, therefore, that an important part of training is to allow the horse to be barefoot. (How many of us considered that in training? Most horses have shoes put ON for training - they should be taken OFF.)

For understanding the benefits of going barefoot, it seems logical for us to research and copy the wild horse's hooves, who are doing just fine without shoes while many of our shod, domesticated horses are lame today. The layman's knowledge of the hoof consists of the understanding that it is merely a hard "fingernail". Many feel the hoof is so hard and insensitive that a nail can be driven through it to secure a shoe. Unfortunately this is far from true. The hoof is very much alive and more complex than you may realize! The hoof is a continuous, growing "expansion mechanism" used for pumping blood as well as gripping and feeling the ground. Placing shoes on a hoof limits the expansion mechanism of the hoof and blood flow, and will also cause unnatural growth. Prolonged deficiencies in the hoof will eventually result in pain with every step. This is more evident with neglected hooves that have not received regular maintenance care. Just pulling shoes and allowing your horse to go barefoot does not always work.

The job of the farrier is to clean out the unneeded growth of bars, sole, and frog, which will allow the hoof to flex and expand thus aiding in proper growth. The hoof must be trimmed to a natural balance in order to function properly. The reason wild horses maintain a good hoof without help is because they have access to various terrain, ample space, and exercise. Because man restricts and limits horses, they need assistance to maintain the proper design of a natural hoof. This is important because a healthy natural hoof serves important functions for the horse.

Quite simply a horse is more likely to challenge you when he is in pain. To make training and working with horses easier it is important to make sure your horse is free of pain. When a horse is in pain from contracted and/or high heels and has excessive bar growth, every step will be painful. When all four feet hurt equally your horse may not show lameness but may exhibit resistance against working. This resistance against working is often labeled as a sign of a problem or sour horse. Can we blame horses for not wanting to run around when they have sore feet? I will admit when my feet hurt I am reluctant to run around and will resist anyone making me. You can incorporate a fun activity into your horse's workout by increasing the desire to work to overpower the pain. You can also increase your horse's training level so his desire to please you is greater than the pain. But neither of these solutions will solve the true problem of soreness; they only increase the horse's willingness to tolerate the pain.

Being a trainer I have the opportunity to work with varying degrees of horse and owner problems. A common problem I hear is when owners complain that their horses are not listening to them. I decided to experiment with this training problem by using my new findings on how to properly trim a barefoot horse. I attempted to follow the trimming guidelines of German veterinarian, Dr. Hiltrud Strasser. The horses in my study did not show lameness and were all ridden by the owners as well as by me. Each horse would perform requirements for me yet would resist performing properly for the owners. The horses' shoes were then removed and a natural trim was done on each horse. After the trim, each horse had increased energy to the point where they required several days of turnout to satisfy their playful needs. Once the owners returned to riding, each owner's ability to control his or her horse improved dramatically without any additional training.

The next group of horses I used in the study were barefoot for most or all of their lives. Again, each horse did not show lameness and was at the same level of training. The natural trim was applied to correct the horses' hooves. The next day each horse and rider improved dramatically. A couple owners even thought I had worked their horses earlier in the day to make them more responsive. None of the horses were worked prior to the owners riding them.

The icing on the cake was that training time for each horse actually decreased and they advanced in training more quickly. Not only were the owners happier about their horses' increased desire to obey them, they were also happy about not having to spend more money on training. By eliminating the horse's resistance to work, which was caused by undetected pain, each owner could take over the responsibility of his or her own horse's training.

The resistance applied by a horse with sore feet is like a driver applying the brakes while accelerating from twenty to forty miles an hour. By eliminating the braking, the driver will achieve his goal faster without causing stress and wasting fuel. Eliminating the source of your horse's resistance will also avoid undue stress, injury, and soreness.

There is a lot of established research on proper hoof care. It is up to you to study the information and determine what is best for your horse. Your horse will benefit from your research time whether there is an evident lameness, affiliated body soreness, or no signs of a problem. Proper trimming knowledge and practice are vital to your horse's health, and will impact training results. There is nothing more satisfying than watching horses, who are free of pain, cantering around the pasture with renewed youth and vitality.

About the author:
Gordon Adair is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor with over twenty-five years of show and pleasure riding experience. Gordon's specialty is instructing owners with their horses through lessons and clinics, using the horse's natural method of communication. The ability to communicate can then be used with the owner's own discipline and personality. For more information, visit Gordon's website on the Internet at or call 352-671-9121.