Diet is the most important aspect for maximising the performance of your barefoot horse. Dietary issues are often the cause of horses not coping barefoot. The healthy hoof requires a good diet (lots of fibre and little starch and sugar) with plenty of exercise. If your horse’s diet is not in balance, your horse will not be able to exercise correctly, which could have an impact on the way your horse moves (see exercise section below).
The horse’s digestive system is designed for fibre based feeds and the basis of your horse’s diet must be forage, preferably hay fed ad lib, but not sugars and grains. Soaking and rinsing your hay reduces sugar levels if you need to.
In the UK our grazing and forage is typically high in iron or manganese, and low in copper, zinc and magnesium. Most pasture has been created for dairy cattle which is not suitable for horses. Therefore unlimited grazing, particularly in Spring and Summer will make many horses footsore.
If you are not in a position to get your own forage analysis, I find most horses do well on a diet of ad lib hay, unmolassed sugar beet (this is high in fibre and also provides energy but low in calories), oats (if in work and needed) together with linseed, brewers yeast and magnesium oxide. I would also advise cutting out sugar, cereals, molasses, alfalfa, and wheatfeed.
You may need to supplement your horse’s diet to optimise your barefoot performance. An analysis of your horse’s forage is useful to ascertain the mineral balance of your forage. If you obtain a mineral analysis of your forage I can provide you with a bespoke diet sheet based upon the guidelines of the 2007 Nutrient Requirement of Horses and provide you with such advice as necessary. I can also supply you with details of companies who undertake forage analysis.
It is important to read feed companies' list of ingredients on hard feed. “Low sugar” still contains molasses, glucose or syrups. “Cereal free” can contain cereal products. Chemical binders also can make a horse go footy, as can certain vaccinations, antibiotics and chemical wormers. Don’t be deceived by the title of the product or an endorsement.
There is a very useful barefoot forum (written by barefoot owners for all those interested in keeping horses barefoot of their own experiences so may not apply to everyone) on the Internet. It lists the actual feed ingredients in percentages and milligrams per kilogram in some well known branded feeds in a “Sticky”.