Photo courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt

Loyal readers of my blog know that I periodically get fed up with the nonsense I read in Practical Horseman magazine (articles like “The Pulley Rein — Not Just for Emergency Stops”).  But I like to give credit where credit is due, and I have to give PH credit this month, for bringing back the wisdom of Vance Glenn, CJF.

It’s been a long time since Certified Journeyman Farrier Vance Glenn wrote a monthly column for PH, but it’s nice to see him back this month in the “Here’s How” department.  The question was “Should I pull my horse’s shoes for the winter?” and Mr. Glenn’s answer was a resounding “Absolutely!”

I no longer have the article Mr. Glenn wrote years ago about this very thing, but as I recall, it was very much along the same lines as what he writes in the February issue.  He talks about how a barefoot break can stimulate new growth, restore the natural balance of the foot, and make the hoof stronger and healthier.   He talks about the best way to transition to barefoot, what to expect, and what to do along the way.

Mr. Glenn advises his clients to pull shoes in the spring or fall, when the ground is soft.  But if you’ve got some snow on the ground, that might be just as good a time.  As long as you can keep shoes off for a minimum of three months, you’ll see a benefit.

Years ago, I pulled the shoes on my grey Thoroughbred, to the horror of many.  “A grey Thoroughbred barefoot?!” — Oh my, such was the disdain for my choice that I might as well have been riding facing the tail.  But I had a great farrier and I trusted him.  As I watched, my horse’s feet grew.  Over a period of three months, it appeared as if the walls doubled in thickness.   When shoes went back on, they were two sizes bigger than the ones I’d pulled.

My current farrier agreed to pull my new horse’s shoes for the winter, and this one was tougher, because my horse acted as if the ground was opening out from underneath his feet every time he took a step, for two days.  The first day, I had to coax him to get him to put a foot on the barn aisle.  The second day, it took twenty minutes to walk him half-way to the paddock, and by then I took pity on him and put him back in his stall.  Even with Easyboot Bares and pads on his feet.  I emailed my farrier and asked if he’d put shoes back on him.  Luckily, my farrier is as balanced as his trims, and he said, “Whatever you want to do.”

I was worried.  Even my thin-soled chestnut Thoroughbred had a smoother transition…as did my 34-year-old boarder, who shed the bar shoes he’d worn for 15 years when he came to live at my farm and acted as if he’d been barefoot all his life, from his very first step.  My new horse was suffering, if not physically, at least mentally.

Since there was no heat in my horse’s hooves, the chance that I was looking at early laminitis seemed slim, so I opted out of radiographs but took my vet up on his suggestion that I give him a few days of Bute.  I called the barefoot trimmer who serves my farm for counsel.  She said that sometimes horses feel the earth for the first time in a long time, and we think they’re in pain when perhaps they’re just afraid of feeling something so different.  My horse didn’t tell me what the problem was, but I gave him the Bute and he was striding out in three days.  By the second week, he tore the gaiters off his Easyboots while galloping in turnout.

Now, my Easyboots are back in the bin, and my horse is back to his exuberant self, in only three weeks.  I’m watching the walls of his feet thicken.  A few days ago, I tidied up his feet with a rasp.  And this afternoon, for the first time, it looked as if his feet had filled out, the way a Pillsbury crescent roll plumps in the oven.

Whether I keep him barefoot or put shoes back on him, I know this is good for him.  I’m lucky to have a farrier who, like Vance Glenn, believes in giving hooves a barefoot break.  And I’m happy that Practical Horseman has decided to bring Mr. Glenn back, along with his old-fashioned farrier’s common sense.