Leo Barefoot Transition. Part 3: Fronts go bare

By Wiola Grabowska


I often hear people say that in the same way as we need shoes to go about our daily challenges and be able to cope with weather, surfaces etc etc, horses really need theirs for “unnatural” use of their legs that we expose them to.

I get that.

But now imagine…to never ever take your own shoes off…not after a long day on your feet…not to sit down for dinner, not to stretch out on a sofa when your feet ache at the end of the day, not for a bath or shower, not for a good night sleep, not for days. Not for weeks. Not for years. Never ever take them off…I am not sure if our feet will help us as be athletic as we can be and our joints to remain healthy as we age if we indeed spend our lives in some form protective outdoor footwear 24/7.

I find the whole hoofcare quite fascinating mainly due to the fact there is so much mainstream belief into such medieval practices like iron shoeing a live structure. I just want to know more about how to do it all differently but not just on retired/non-ridden horses. I’d love to know more about performance barefoot so Leo and I are learning together 😉 There are good few examples now out there that barefoot for a performance horse can work just fine. Hopefully there will be more.

The front shoes came off Leo on December 5th 2017 and I must say I did think that if walks away totally crippled or just unable to walk (I saw such cases before) I would put them straight back on. He walked slowly and deliberately on concrete around the yard but once on arena surface he moved well.

Leo trot barefoot
First barefoot trot to test comfort levels

As with the removal of the hind feet I am going for very little interference in the first week, just making sure he has enough movement on surfaces he is comfortable on. If all goes well I will start introducing different surfaces in-hand from week 2 and aim to be back on board for hacking around end February next year. I will see how he copes with ridden work on soft surfaces (arenas) at the end of December, until then I will repeat all the proprioception and conditioning work I’d done with the hind removal back in the summer.

Here is his front feet photo story.

Above: Autumn 2016. Leo arrived with me in late August wearing custom made bar shoes. I took him out of them several months into having him and he has been in regular front shoes this year.

Leo out of fronts

Last day in shoes. 5th December 2017.

Leo front shoe just off 5th Dec 2017
The starting point…

The hind feet have improved nicely, he is comfortable on them on soft as well as out hacking for up to 1h hacks (not gone for longer so far due to my own injury). He has some sensitivity on them on very stoney ground ridden but not in-hand.

Here is a comparison shot of right hind:

LEFT: 4th December 2017 RIGHT: 27th June 2017 (several days out of shoes)

The new hind feet growth is at a slightly different angle to the old one but at the moment he is still loading the outside of the hoof more than the inside judging by the growth. I haven’t filmed his front feet landing yet to check media-lateral balance of them but will do soon. I planned to do it this morning but the snow stopped the play!

Instead, here’s Leo in his field in the white, white world 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 15.50.42
Click here or on image above to watch the video on Instagram

Until next time!


Leo’s Barefoot Transition. Part 2: Two weeks on

By Wiola Grabowska

Read Part 1 here where I explain why I am transitioning Leo to barefoot and how I plan to go about it. 

Conditioning the hooves out and about

The first two weeks without hind shoes have gone well for Leo and his feet are changing already. He is showing no sensitivity to any surfaces at the moment so I started 30-40 minutes hacks out both ridden and in-hand over as many different surfaces as I can find. Here is a little video of his striding over some gravel with no bother (link takes you to my Instagram post and you’ll need to swipe to 3rd position I think, the other two are from the same hack).

I also started schooling for 20 minutes at a time but decided to limit the arena time only to shoulder-in work and some trot work on 20m circles. This is because there is quite a bit of crookedness that is present in Leo’s body and I am curious as to how this improves now.

Jazz trying to invite Leo for a chase play 😉 He’s not impressed!  

I made this video of him in slow motion 1 week into the transition (video here) to observe his landing pattern and it has already improved since then.

He no longer twists his left foot and it has considerably changed shape for the better…it still loads not quite balanced but I want to see if changing his movement under the saddle will help his improve the foot balance further.

From distorted to much more balanced…I am amazed how much his left hoof changed in such a short period of time. I can feel the difference in his movement too as the previous twist was quite distinct. 

The Pro Hoof supplement arrived 10 days ago so he went on it straight away and despite some reviews saying horses fussed with it, Leo eats it without problems. I feed it together with Keyflow Key3Oil at 30ml. I’d just ran out and was going to go for a few weeks without to see how Pro Hoof works on its own but having re-read ingredients and recommendations for supplementation with Pro Hoof, I just ordered another bottle of Key3Oil (it is recommended to feed ProHoof with Linseed exactly for oil content).

Plan for the next 2 weeks: 

  • work 5 days a week
  • hacking up to 40 minutes on varied terrain
  • in-hand hillwork 30min 2 x week
  • schooling 20min at a time,  straightness focus
  • polework for proprioception and coordination

Re-evaluate at the end of 4th week.

I am so tempted to take the fronts off with his next shoeing cycle but I think I will let him go for another one. Decisions, decisions!



Leo’s Barefoot Transition: Day 1-3

By Wiola Grabowska
If you don’t know Leo’s story please see HERE and HERE as some of the below will make more sense if you know why I have Leo…

Snoozing in his stable after night turn out. Last day with hind shoes. If you look closely, you’ll see he has no shoe on his right fore but that’s because he twisted it the day before and I had to remove it.

Even though Leo arrived to live with me in most dreadful circumstances, I feel privileged to have him. He became a big part of my life and whilst I had some plans for him at the beginning, they evolved and changed. Right now, he’s my “learning together” horse. With my keen interest in biomechanics and rehabilitation, he is helping me learn about movement, soundness and together we are testing different groundwork therapies/in-hand work.

Some of you will have heard of Kingsley, a horse that opened my eyes to knowledge I was oblivious to prior having him and whose 2010/11 barefoot transition journey can be followed on Rockley Farm Blog. Him and Nic Barker has inspired me to learn about hoofcare every day ever since.

In contrast to Kingsley, Leo is sound and happy in low level, hacking work which is all I realistically have the time for. As far as I know, he had been shod all his life.

Why am I taking his shoes off then? 

Leo’s last full set 9th May 2017. Farrier: Jack Boardman Awcf

As most good farriers I had a pleasure chatting with about hoofcare have always said, shoes weaken horses feet.

Everything about horses’ management have progressed at a speed of light from some top spec materials used for rugs, numnahs, boots to bedding we use for them, to the way we feed them, to the science of saddle fitting and saddle design. Pretty much everything has changed. Except hoofcare. We shod horses in Xenophon times (c. 430–354 BC) for war purposes and we still shoe them with metal shoes in 2017…So amazing or so insane? I don’t claim to know but having ridden (sound) barefoot horses I know that there’s a different level of suppleness, fluidity, body awareness and dexterity to their movement that I have never felt on a shod horse. It is true that sometimes, shoes can change the movement to more extravagant and I have seen this happen but I don’t personally consider that a positive as far as soundness and longevity of the horse goes.

So why am I doing this with Leo?

Mostly to learn more. To help him have the healthiest, soundest life I can give him, to test if his movement patterns improve (he has slight pelvis asymmetry), to see how his feet change and what impact will this have on him overall, to understand further the benefit of improved proprioception on the rest of the body biomechanics.

Leo’s last full set 9th May 2017. Farrier: Jack Boardman Awcf

5 weeks before…

In preparation for his shoes coming off I put Leo on Key-3 Oil by Keyflow for its Linseed oil and recommended joint care benefit. My reason for this is that hooves are incredibly dynamic and change in ways I have never imagined possible (you can watch Kingsley’s hoof changes on Rockley’s Farm blog I linked above as Nic kept a good record of those) but from what I gather, joints must have a harder time to adjust to those fast changes. Any person with some kind of foot issue will know how using different shoes can cause plethora of aches and pains in every joint as well as back/neck. As Leo is otherwise healthy and is fed a handful of high fibre nuts by Castle Horse Feeds simply so I have something to put his supplements in and so he has his “I had breakfast and dinner fix” , I have not changed his diet that much. He is on hay during the day and night turn out from about 3pm until 8am.

In the lead up to the transition I worked him for 30 min 5 days a week hacking around the fields and on the roads mostly focusing on hill work. I didn’t want him to be too fit as I knew I will be giving him a few weeks off ridden work once his shoes were removed.

I also treated his feet daily with Red Horse Sole Cleanse.

Day 1 -3 (21st June – 23rd June 2017)

Leo Barefoot Transition
The even heel bulbs foot is his right hind, the unbalanced one is the left hind. Side shots are Day 2, the rest Day 1. Fronts are shod. 

As I mentioned above, I had to remove Leo’s front shoe the day before Jack was due to come to shoe him. As I walked him to the field over some stoney patch of ground I thought he would be footy but he wasn’t in the slightest. Out of curiosity I walked him around some more stones and he couldn’t care less. That’s when I decided to keep his feed unchanged for now and just ordered Pro Feet broad spectrum mineral balancer to add to current feed.

From all the adventures with Kingsley and other barefoot horses I have looked after, I know diet is the key, it is all much more eloquently explained HERE . I am looking into other feeds and considering what to put him on but for the moment, he seems fine so I won’t change anything until end of summer.

Why not in the winter…

There seem to be a common advice to transition in the winter when the ground is soft. I personally found winter second hardest of seasons (after spring) to keep a barefoot horse sound.

My main reasons for transitioning in the summer: 

  • long, night turn out – grass is much “safer” at night (sugar levels drop). Hooves need movement to grow healthy. In the summer, Leo gets about 17 hours of turn out while in the winter, about 7h.
  • light evenings for roadwork (contrary to popular belief that barefoot horses shouldn’t do much roadwork, they indeed do. It helps hugely with self trimming and soundest barefoot horses I have seen and ridden are the most hard working ones )
  • this might be my personal experience only but I find dry ground means less bacterial infections (abscesses), less problems with white line disease and thrush
  • perfect weather for hacking on variety of surfaces to condition the hooves
  • more time to dedicate to the whole process

Farrier or trimmer

I decided to stay with Leo’s current farrier to help me with the transition. He understands the importance of minimal trimming and have done a great job with two other fully barefoot horses where Leo lives so I see no reason to change right now.

Plan for the next 2 weeks

Week 1: Turn out only, no work. Until Wednesday 28th June I am letting Leo figure out the changes by himself. I continue the Sole Cleanse daily and just keep monitoring him for any signs of discomfort. So far he acts as if nothing has changed!

Week 2: I will start introducing short sessions of non-ridden exercise on variety of surfaces starting with smooth tarmac and waxed sand surface of the arena and see how he copes. No plans beyond that as taking each week as it comes.

Please note: mine and Leo’s experience I will share on here is as individual as any other horse is. This is not a “how to go barefoot” blog but simply a diary of this particular horse’s transition. If you are after a more in-depth guidance please visit