Off With Her Shoes (Part 1 of the 3 Part Series on Transitioning to Hoof Boots)

This weekend my wife Julia and I pulled the steel horse shoes on her pony Pie’s front feet. From here on out, she’ll go barefoot. For extra protection Pie might need on rocky trails or abrasive surfaces like asphalt, we’ll slap on a pair of hoof boots.

Julia removing the nails from one of the horse shoes she’s taking off Pie. Pie looks pretty chill about the whole thing. If you look closely, you’ll see Pie is already barefoot behind.

Pulling Pie’s Shoes

It’s easiest for me to just show you photos of how I removed Pie’s shoes so here goes.

The scene. Pie is checking out my trimming tools on the green stand.
While it would be great to have proper farrier’s tools, the ones I grabbed out of my shed worked just fine. I made the chisel (2nd from the right) while a student at NC State University.
The straight on view.
Pie’s left front shoe. She was shod by Daniel Yoder. We bought Pie from Daniel and his wife Debbie of Rock Valley Farm in Strassburg, Ohio. I was very impressed with Daniel’s work. If I ever needed a horse or mule shod with steel shoes, Daniel would be the man to nail them on.
Each of Pie’s shoes was held on with four nails. After each nail is driven, it is cut short and clinched over to hold the shoe tight. Here I am lifting the clinched nail with the cold chisel I forged circa 1996.
Clipping off the bent over part of the nail. This will let me pull the nail out of the hoof without doing too much damage.
Levering up the back of the shoe with my nippers. This will start pulling the nail loose.
When I push the shoe back in place the nail head stands proud.
Pulling the nail loose with fencing pliers. You could use any sort of pliers for this. I know some folks would skip this step and just wrench off the shoe at this point. I’d rather take my time and minimize tearing up the hoof wall.
I just like this photo. It reminds me of a parrot smoking a stogie.
Pie’s hoof moments after her shoe was removed.
The same hoof cleaned up so you can see the structure of the foot. It still needs to be trimmed. After it is trimmed, I’ll measure Pie up for hoof boots.
Pie’s shoe. Note the one nail stuck in it. No big deal. I’ll probably nail this shoe up somewhere on the barn. Or maybe on the Pickle Raft.
Barefoot! Two things of note. 1: notice that horse shoe nail still stuck in the hoof on the left. I’ll pull that out next. 2: notice that dark ring on the rubber mat. That’s moisture that’s wicked out of the bottom of Pie’s foot from standing there a few minutes.
Measuring Pie’s feet. Important: these are not the measurements I’ll use to fit her boots. Rather, they serve as a baseline to see how the dimensions of her feet change as she adapts to going barefoot. Experience has taught me that her foot will get narrower and shorter as it goes back to doing what it was meant to do – walk barefoot. It’s always fun to keep track of this and I’ll show you how this works in a future post.

The Case For Going Barefoot

In the last 15 years, I have traveled over 9,000 miles on my mule and horse journeys with hoof boots instead of steel shoes. My barefoot journeys include:

  • Atlantic to Pacific saddle journey with mule Woody and pony Maggie. You can read the account of this voyage in “Too Proud to Ride a Cow” and “Woody and Maggie Walk Across America”, found in the RiverEarth.com General Store.
  • Canada to Mexico wagon voyage with mule Polly. You can watch the “Lost Sea Expedition” documentary about this journey on Amazon or order the DVD in the RiverEarth.com General Store.
  • Across Newfoundland wagon voyage with mule Polly.
  • North Carolina to Virginia and back on saddle mules with Julia.

That doesn’t count the hundreds of additional miles pleasure riding and driving since 2004 when I transitioned from steel shoes to hoof boots.

Three mules Julia and I took on our North Carolina to Virginia ramble. The three brands of hoof boots shown are (R to L): Renegade, Cavallo and Easy Boots. We have since added two pairs of Scoot boots to our collection.
We’ve had great luck with hoof boots in muck like here on the Iron Mountain Trail in Virginia.

There are lots of reason why people choose to let their horses and mules go barefoot. A few of mine are:

  • It allows the foot to act as the blood pump that it is. Every time a horse places weight on one of its feet, it expands, especially the back end of it, the end opposite the toe. When the horse lifts the foot, the hoof contracts. In addition, the frog, the triangular structure at the back of the hoof, pushes up and down when it makes contact with the ground. This in-and-out and up-and-down pumping action is vital for circulation. Steel shoes can restrict that 4-way action.
  • It allows me to trim my mounts’ feet. I was never great at nailing on horse shoes but with a bit of coaching have become comfortable trimming my animals’ feet. My go to source is Pete Ramey’s “Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You”.
  • It feels better for the horse. Do you wear shoes to bed? No, your horse or mule probably doesn’t want to either.

Next Post: Back on With Her Shoes

I’ve always enjoyed transitioning horses and mules from steel shoes to bare feet. In my next post, I’ll explain how we fitted Pie with hoof boots. For a really detailed review of the 3 kinds of hoof boots Julia and I have used check out the Hoof Boot Report.

Consumer Reports just won’t report on some things. These are the boots we’re reviewing. Here’s how they looked during our month-long mule ramble.

Julia and the New Book

Big thanks to Julia who helped with photos. You can read more about her travels and her pony Pie on her ConsideringAnimals.com blog.

Right now I’m deep in to the second draft of my next book about my mule journey from North Carolina to Idaho with my mules Brick and Cracker. In addition to lots of adventure and interesting folks, I cover lots of long distance riding techniques including bare foot hoof care. I’d be happy to give you a heads up when it comes out. Just sign up for the RiverEarth.com Newsletter . That’s right here.

Carpe cavallo y’all!

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