A horse is only as sound as his feet. Care and management of the feet will vary, however, depending on the individual horse, his conformation and hoof structure, environment and climate, and use. Whether he needs to be shod or can be left barefoot will also hinge on these factors.

Trimming and Cleaning

Julie Bullock, DVM, an equine practitioner who primarily treats foot problems in Mt. Sidney, Va., says horse owners should try to keep a barefoot horse's feet tidy, with no rough edges to split or chip. "They can do this themselves by rasping away superficial cracks and keeping the edges smooth," she says. "Cracks and flares give infection an opening to enter the foot. I see a lot of white line disease in our area due to lack of foot care."

Periodically rasping around the edges can prevent or eliminate cracks and flares, but you should leave the sole alone because it needs a thick callous. Leave the barefoot horse's foot with a slightly longer hoof wall than a foot you'd put a shoe on, but keep it very smooth–rasping whenever it becomes ragged.

As a veterinarian and horse owner, Bullock does not recommend cleaning out the feet on regular basis. "The bars, frog, and sulcus of the frog are designed to allow dirt to pack in, creating a natural hoof pad," explains Bullock.

Tia Nelson, DVM, who is a private practitioner as well as a farrier in Helena, Mont., says the mud/dirt that packs into the feet helps as part of the foot support, to protect and cushion the foot. A horse at pasture shouldn't need the feet cleaned. "You should periodically take a look at the feet, however,