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  • Writer's pictureCatie Staszak

Daniel Bluman: Taking the Shoes Off

Photo ©Catie Staszak Media

International Israeli show jumper Daniel Bluman, bound for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris (FRA), began researching the benefits of going barefoot with performance horses two years ago and has been putting his knowledge into practice, managing a group of his mounts without shoes over the course of the last 20 months.

He shared some of what he's learned:

I began learning in-depth about barefoot in 2022.  It was impossible not to be interested in learning when we were witnessing the results from barefoot horses in competition and the very respected horsemen that were competing barefoot. 

I had been following closely the horses from Peder (Fredricson), Henrik (von Eckermann), and Julien (Epaillard). I also spent time discussing with farriers and vets, as well as reading all the available material I could find, both online and in books I was able to purchase. 

Dr. Jorge Gomez, our vet at Bluman Equestrian and one of the best horsemen I know, loves having horses barefoot and encouraged me to learn and explore it. 

Like with most things in life, there were a lot of conflicting opinions. Some professionals were strongly against barefoot, some strongly supported going barefoot, and some were in the middle. 

In the fall of 2022, I took the shoes off one of my horses, got the entire farrier kit from our farrier Chip Rankin, and began learning to trim and care for my barefoot horse. 

The first horse I took the shoes off was done competing for the season so I figured I could start with him. I had no experience trimming feet or caring for barefoot feet. My horse's feet got in very bad shape, quickly, when I first took his shoes off. Due to my lack of knowledge, the hoof wall began to deteriorate and flare out, and in a matter of weeks, my horse’s feet were very small and weak. 

I called Chip and Dr. Gomez, and they explained to me that since the horse had always been shod, when we took shoes off, his feet were very weak and his hoof walls thin. So, I learned how to trim every other day while the feet grew stronger to avoid massive flares and cracks. A few weeks later, my horse was in great shape barefoot; he felt excellent jumping without his shoes. 

With that first horse going well barefoot, I decided to use our winter in Wellington, when I travel very little to other shows, to get a bigger group of horses barefoot. 

Horse No. 2 went barefoot and felt pretty good jumping over small fences. His feet were trimmed regularly and looked in good shape. After a few weeks, I decided to show him barefoot in a 1.35m class. Again, he felt really good. So, I entered him in an FEI competition.

This is where I really felt the difference: It was like a totally different horse to ride than the one I had before. But not for the better. I had much smaller stride, and he felt uncomfortable landing off of bigger fences. Although his feet looked very good and in great balance, and he was sound and healthy, he wasn’t ready to compete over big fences barefoot. He had been shod his entire sport life, and his feet weren’t ready to take on the load of big jumping. He needed more time.

Meanwhile, Horse No. 3 was doing very well barefoot. She had one foot that had suffered from quarter cracks when it was shod, but once barefoot, the crack disappeared and she felt in balance.  As weeks went by, her feet got stronger and healthier. After four months barefoot, she was jumping FEI classes and has remained barefoot since. 

Horse No. 4 had uneven front feet—or high-low, as farriers call it. This is also known as a “clubfoot.” Her gait was very uneven from left to right. I took the shoes off, cared every other day by trimming to avoid flares or cracks, and worked on dressage and low jumps for a few weeks. After four weeks, her feet began to look much more even. The heels of the high foot where lower and the runaway heels of the low foot where growing. Her gait also became more even, left and right. 

Because I didn’t think this mare had enough sole to jump big fences barefoot, I decided to put her shoes back on before starting FEI competition. She felt great, but as weeks went by, I started to notice the feet getting very uneven again. I discussed my concerns with my team and decided I would keep her barefoot at home and put shoes on a couple days before going to the show. When the show was over, I would pull the shoes off right away. It worked great, and that system has continued to work great since. Her feet are healthy and even, and she gets the best of both worlds, having shoes and being barefoot. 

Barefoot is a great tool. We have integrated barefoot into our program in Europe, Colombia, and the U.S. Our horses are more sound than they have ever been. We treat them significantly less with our vet, and the quality of their feet is fantastic. 

I’ve also gotten a much more intimate relationship with my horses, as I personally do the trimming for each of them. They are constantly giving me information through the behavior of their feet. I value and respect the work done by good farriers, and expanding my knowledge about feet gives me a much better read about my horses' health, technique, and management. 

Barefoot feet do take more management than shod feet—lots of management when you first take the shoes off, and gradually less as the feet get stronger. It's important to remember that each horse is an individual and to treat them as such as you navigate the barefoot journey with them.

I enjoy going on trails and having our horses in the paddock for many hours in the day, so our team has to make sure they have boots on their feet to protect them from any rocks that could bruise their feet when the terrain is rocky. 

I strongly advise everyone to learn about barefoot. It’s a great tool for many different reasons and can be used in many different ways. 

I read a great book called The Essential Hoof, by Susan Kauffmann and Christina Cline that taught me a lot about how horse feet function. It introduced me to many concepts of which I had no previous knowledge. 

I think we can all benefit from expanding our knowledge about every aspect of our horses!


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