If your horse has spent a lifetime in shoes, or has very poor wall or sole quality, it's important to evaluate the environment he'll be living in so that you know how easy his transition will be.

If his living environment is hard and rocky, it will probably make his feet tender initially, but if he develops a decent foot, that rocky environment will result in super strong feet long term. In a case like this, consider altering his environment by adding areas of deep smooth gravel, sand or shavings so that he has an option to be on either environment, or consider a temporary move to a gentle environment that will allow the transition to be a smooth one.

The ideal transition environment depends on the individual horse; ideal is usually lots of room to move (a large paddock or a pasture) combined with a variety of different footing surfaces.

Here are what different footings do for - or TO - your horses feet. The best environment contains many of these different surfaces.

Soft Grass, Dirt or Shavings


soft surfaces cushion your horses feet if they become tender or bruised, and encourage movement that's essential to stimulate the sole and encourage the development of healthy sole, heels and walls. On the downside, too much soft stuff for too long doesn't challenge your horses feet to toughen up, and grass can lead to mild laminitis for sensitive horses.

Deep Smooth Pea Gravel


This is one of the best surfaces for most bare feet because the deep Pea Gravel (1/4 to 3/16 inch in diameter) acts like a bean-bag, distributing pressure evenly. The hard gravel toughens the wall and sole while it burnishes the edges of the wall. Horses love to roll in gravel, so if you keep your horses at home, consider adding a gravel pit to your paddock or pasture. A shiny gravel is less abrasive than a coarse gravel and is easier on soles.



There are many types of sand, from very soft, smooth beach sand, to creek sand to manufactured sand made from lava, granite or other rock. Packed sand is actually a hard surface, and while it distributes some pressure, deep gravel is preferred by most barefoot trimmers. Some types of sand cause hoof wall to peel, so check locally to see what effect it has before making a major investment to upgrade a paddock or loafing area.

Packed Road base


Sometimes referred to as "road fines", road base consists of crushed gravel up to an inch in diameter mixed with "fines", a rock based sand. Laid properly and compacted, this combination of rocks and grit becomes a hard packed surface that drains well and sheds water. It's a great surface for developing tough hooves.

Mud & Water


Horses like to stand in mud and water. Sometimes this helps a horses hoof condition, but more often, it softens the sole callous and allows it to wear faster, so keeping feet dry will also preserve any accumulated "toughness".

Feet that have a very hard packed sole typical to areas like black hard clay in Dallas in the summer, benefit from the moisture because it encourages over-accumulated dead sole to shed.

Deep Crushed Gravel


This footing has sharp edges but it's great for feet that can handle it, and most barefoot horses whose feet have passed the initial stage where they are tender benefit from having this footing available.

Horses with very tender soles or wall separation caused by chronic laminitis may have trouble on it, though. A depth of 4 or more inches distributes pressure, and the rough surface buffs and toughens the hoofs surface. Sharp gravel is more likely to become wedged around the frog, so check feet regularly.

Hard Flat Surfaces


Hard firm surfaces like mats, concrete or scraped dirt offer horses with concavity sole relief. As long as these surfaces are smooth, they are relatively easy for most horses with healthy feet to travel on, but living on stall mats can create problems, too. Urine pools on stall mats, and urine contains ammonia that dissolves the proteins in frog and can lead to thrush.

Hooves prefer terrain that offers sole support, such as pasture, dirt and deep 1/16 inch gravel.

Shallow Gravel/Gravel Paddocks


Gravel laid over hard dirt (as is normally seen on roads and parking lots) has most newly unshod barefoot horses picking their way gingerly, and not many long-time barefoot horses like it either! It isn't a good surface to house a barefoot horse on , although some barefoot horses with healthy feet handle it easily after they've been barefoot several months.

Large Rocks & Boulders


Smooth rock in the soil is good for horses whose feet have passed the stage where they are tender.

Many horses that start out in shoes at a young age need to develop the back of their feet (the digital cushion behind the heel bulbs and the lateral cartilages on the interior sides of the hoof) prior to being completely sound barefoot without boots for riding.

The secret to getting the rear foot developed is to encourage the horse to use it fully by making the back of the hoof comfortable to use, and the challenge is that horses with immature or weak rear feet tend to land toe-first to avoid weighting their heels directly.

Also according to Pete Ramey and Dr Bowker, the foot appears to be conditioned not so much by terrain type as by repeated weighting and un-weighting the sole in a heel first landing.

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