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Can You Ride a Barefoot Horse on the Road? 10 Tips

Last updated: March 3, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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Today my son asks if I thought it was okay to ride his horse barefoot on the road. We typically don’t ride our horses barefoot on pavement, but I decided to research the topic to find out if it’s safe.

Horses can walk on roads barefoot, and most tolerate short trips over the pavement with no issues. Horses accustomed to barefoot riding tolerate pavement relatively well, but horses with tender feet or weak hoofs require shoes or hoof boots when riding on roads.

Barefoot horses are less likely to slip on hard surfaces than horses wearing shoes. However, there is a lot to know about riding on roads other than your horse’s type of footwear.

Toughen your horses’ feet before riding barefoot.

If you intend to start regularly riding your horse barefoot, you need to have a plan to toughen its feet. Horses that continuously wear shoes will require time to develop a hoof and a protective sole to carry you without damaging their feet.

It’s an easy process, have your farrier remove the horse’s shoes and turn your horse out on a soft grass pasture another comfortable surface. You may notice the animal walking timidly or displaying signs of discomfort.

Showing signs of pain when walking is typical soon after removing the shoes, so don’t too concerned. The horse likely hasn’t walked around without shoes in a long time.

Picture of a boy riding his horse on the road, possibly barefoot.

Horses kept on soft ground have tender feet.

It’s prudent to turn out a horse on soft ground during the early stages of transitioning to barefoot. However, to develop their feet long-term, they need to live on hard, dry land.

Horses’ hoofs will remain soft or soften if they’re primarily kept on soft grass, or continuously exposed to moist conditions. Rough, dry terrain helps a horse’s foot toughen and develop properly for barefoot riding on roads.

Transition gradually to barefoot riding.

Once you have your horse’s shoes removed, give it time to grow and harden its hoof and sole. As the hoof grows, the outer hoof wall is going to crack at the site of the horseshoe nail holes; this is common.

Give your horse time to grow out its hoof past the nail holes. The time it takes varies on the hoof’s growth speed and the location of the nail holes. It typically takes six to nine weeks for a horse’s hoof to grow out past its horseshoe nail holes.

Compromises of the hoof wall, i.e., nail holes, are areas that prone to infection. Thrush and white line disease are the two most common diseases you need to watch for when transitioning your horse from shoes to barefoot.

Use hoof boots during the transition to barefoot riding.

Boots are useful tools during the transition from shoes to barefoot riding. Hoof boots protect tender feet but don’t structurally support the hoof like a shoe. Hoof boots come in various styles and are typically easy to take on and off.

Boots allow a hoof to strengthen naturally and support itself the way nature intended while protecting the foot sole. If your horse has tender feet after you remove its shoes, use hoof boots.

How long your horse needs to wear hoof boots is up to him; each horse is different. It’s crucial you monitor your animal, check its feet, and, when appropriate, adjust the time you keep hoof boots on its feet.

The more time spent barefoot, the better. Some horses’ feet may never toughen enough for you to ride it over tough terrain and gravel. Some horses may never develop hardy enough feet to be ridden barefoot and will always need hoof boots for riding on roads and challenging terrain.

Picture of the underside of a horse's foot without a shoe.

Trimming is different for barefoot horses.

Horseshoes are attached to a hoof with nails driven through the hoof walls. When shoes are worn, the horse’s hoof is trimmed with a short toe, so the nails have a good surface to attach.

A horse kept without shoes has its hooves trimmed differently than those prepared to wear shoes. Some farriers are specially trained to trim barefoot horses to prevent hoof splitting, provide traction, and balance the foot’s weight-bearing surface.

Gravel can cause stone bruises on a barefoot horse.

If you decide to take a horse on a roadway, there’s likely loose gravel and uneven surfaces present that he will invariably step on, which could cause stone bruising to the sole of his foot.

Even horses with tough feet are susceptible to a stone bruise if they continuously walk on unforgiving surfaces with gravel. A stone bruise is the result of damage to the deep tissue between the sole of a horse’s foot and its cannon bone.

Stone bruising is painful, and horses tend to avoid putting weight on the affected limb. If you continue to ride a horse over hard surfaces, the damage will likely increase and will likely abscess.

Some stone bruises are mild, and riding over soft ground won’t negatively impact your horse’s foot. Pay attention to how your horse is walking and dismount if it’s displaying symptoms of pain when its foot hits the ground.

The first step is to determine if your horse is a canidate for barefoot riding.

Picture of a two year old thoroughbred in training

Some horses have genetically weak hoof walls.

Horses with genetically weak feet are not candidates for the barefoot lifestyle, and they need shoes or sturdy hoof boots. When I think of horse breeds with weak feet, Thoroughbreds come to mind.

These horses were selectively bred first and foremost for speed; little thought was given to their feet. The primary components of a horse’s foot are its hoof wall, sole, and frog.

The hoof wall is the outer portion of the hoof and has three sections, the toe (front), quarters (sides), and heel. The wall is weight-bearing along with the bars and frog; the sole protects the bottom of the foot.

In a properly formed foot, the sole shouldn’t touch the ground when the horse stands on a flat surface. Horses with genetically thin hoof walls have a myriad of foot-related issues, such as cracked hoofs, flat and tender soles, and loss of shock absorption.

Nutrition can strengthen a horse’s hoofs.

If you plan to transition your horse from shoes to barefoot, start feeding to strengthen its hoofs as soon as possible. With proper nutrition, some horses grow stronger and healthier hoofs.

The hoof is made up of protein and keratin. To promote hoof growth requires a balanced diet of high-quality hay with adequate amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids supplemented with biotin.

Biotin is an essential dietary supplement to boost the growth and quality of horses’ hoofs.

Riding barefoot gives a horse better traction on roads.

Horses in their natural barefoot state have much better traction than a horse with metal shoes on roads. Standard iron horseshoes have little to no grip; this is especially true when walking on concrete, pavement, or other solid road surfaces.

To increase traction for horses with shoes farriers can use horseshoes with cleats, add borium, or call to horseshoes.

Loose gravel and sharp stones bother horses used to wearing shoes and cause them to take bad steps and stumble.

Riding barefoot on the road depends on the horse.

Horses raised or living in rough terrain develop hardy hoofs and tough soles. However, horses that have spent most of their lives either in shoes or on the soft ground likely will not tolerate riding barefoot on roads.

Most horses can transition to barefoot riding with proper management, keeping the horse in a dry pasture, feeding for hoof health, and having patience. Horse hoofs didn’t evolve to walk on concrete but rather to walk on dirt and grass.

Below is a YouTube video that discusses barefoot basics.