‘I will never shoe another horse’ – Nick Hill

by Linda Chamberlain

I want you to meet a trained farrier – one that says he will never shoe again because of the harm it causes. He turned his back on the trade because separating the horse from the ground was the beginning of a destructive process. He became a barefoot trimmer because he was forever fighting against nature, causing the hoof to distort and break from constant renailing. With all our wisdom and technology, there had to be a better way…

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His name is Nick Hill and he has a list of changes needed for the domestic horse that is shopping-list long. If anyone can make a few of these demands happen it is this quietly, committed man who travels the world educating owners about a new way of caring for the species.

There is more to looking after a horse’s hoof than the style or frequency of its trim. This animal urgently needs some changes in its care if it is to lead a healthy life.

Interestingly, he finds the same health issues affecting the horse in many different parts of the world. Domestication inevitably brings problems whether that animal is in the rain-soaked UK or sun-filled Kenya.

I have a picture in my mind of Nick fighting his way through customs with a hoof rasp and suspicious-looking knives in his bag; in reality he has met only a few raised eyebrows as he crosses international borders but I am astonished that he encounters the same equine issues in a long list of countries – USA, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Estonia, Italy, Portugal, Israel, Spain, France, Denmark, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Lesotho and the UK where he has held clinics aimed at improving the horses’ hooves…and lifestyle.

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‘If inappropriate management is put in place and undue expectations are put on a species, then we shouldn’t be surprised when health becomes compromised. Domestication always throws up challenges, but it’s not a reason to simply say I can’t…better to ask how we can?’ he explains.

So, what is it we do to the horse around the world that compromises him so much?

Mankind has taken him from a herd-loving, free-roaming creature and given him a job to do. In exchange we offer a diet rich in cereals rather than forage and a small house of his very own to live in. To seal the animal’s fate we nail a shoe to his foot.

So wherever he goes, Nick sees laminitis, navicular and other man-made diseases of the hoof. He finds digestive upset, compromised immunity, mental distress from lack of movement as well as breathing problems thanks to confinement.

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Nick Hill 9Nick Hill 6Nick Hill 7No wonder that an animal treated this way might have difficulties walking on his own feet.

And yet Nick warns, ‘Shoeing unbalances the whole horse and over a period of time will further distort the hoof. An unbalanced body makes for an unbalanced mind, which in turn affects the immune system. To cut the contact between the equid and the ground is the start of destroying of what makes him a horse. Shoes just mask problems, they don’t solve them.

‘Most farriers that I know would rather not shoe. It’s extremely hard, skilled work and once heading down that path they are fighting against nature and trying to stop the capsule from distorting and breaking up from the constant renailing.

‘Barefoot is the footwear of choice when the horse is born, if allowed to fully develop in a good environment  and access to a more natural  lifestyle and diet, then it’s simple. Barefoot is normal. The abnormalities come from misuse/abuse of the equine.’

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He believes that any horse can go barefoot. Not all will cope being ridden but most transition without difficulty and recover well from these human-inflicted conditions. ‘People’s expectations of what horses can and should do must be looked at. It saddens me that the equine has fewer legal rights than any other species. It’s hard to understand  when most humans mention how amazing and wonderful the equid is, yet if they truly understood the needs of the species then there would be a massive upheaval of the diet, lifestyle and expectations, which would be legislated for internationally.’

He’s right, you know. No zoo is allowed to treat the zebra the way most people treat the domestic horse. Legislation ensures the zebra’s need for herd life is respected. The horse’s need to socialise has not been squashed by thousands of years of domestication but it is often denied him thanks to the widespread use of single-stall stabling. Sometimes around the clock.

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I asked Nick about the ideal diet for a barefoot horse.

His advice is to keep it as simple as possible and away from monocultured grass paddocks.

‘I usually say that if a bag of feed is promoted as healthy for horses then don’t use it. (There are companies out there that are making better products now). You need to research whatever you feed your horse. Don’t just believe what’s written on the bag.

‘People have really got to ask themselves why they are feeding what they are feeding. Horses should be treated as athletes, you wouldn’t expect an overweight person to be able to perform as an Olympian, so why expect a horse to move properly with excess weight, let alone carry a human. An overweight horse is not a healthy horse.’

And lifestyle?

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‘Just take a look at groups of feral horses around the world, you will then see how horses need to live, social interaction, movement (yes there are some groups of feral horses that just survive and are not in the best conditions). You will at least see how far removed a lot of domesticated horses are from what nature intended.

‘If you look at feral horses in ideal environmental conditions you will see athletes who are sound and strong, healthy, alert and full of life, living like nature intended, with strong physical and mental health, sound, with short toes and heels, running over all substrates without having to worry.

‘Try and emulate the above and you will get a healthier equine. If your horse can’t move, socialise, eat little and often, then guess what?  You are going to have problems.’

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Nick Hill 5Before I give you Nick’s shopping-list for change let me tell you a bit about his background. It includes agricultural college and working in traditional livery yards as a riding instructor. He trained as a farrier because his own horses were struggling to stay sound.

‘I was trained by traditional farriers who were using the Cyteck method of shoeing; they seemed to be getting good results.

‘This was in the Highlands of Scotland (before the Farriers’ Registration Council took control of the whole of the UK) and I also travelled to the USA.

‘I learnt several important lessons, both from the equines and other professionals. Everything pointed to the same conclusion – there must be a better way forward, for all involved in the industry.’

I often ask my interviewees about their vision for the horse’s future. Most give me a line or two. I love that Nick has been suitably ambitious.

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As promised…here is the list…

  • An end to remedial shoeing to mask lameness in competition horses.
  • Livery yards/farms paying more attention to the needs of equines rather than the needs of the land, or what looks nice.
  • Feed companies being regulated against selling bags of rubbish dressed up as healthy feeds.
  • Horse owners recognising the true needs of the horse and knowing the difference between good and unhealthy hooves (as they do reflect the health of the horse).
  • More open-minded vets.
  • Shoeing being replaced by barefoot and booting technologies (the farriers have the necessary skills to make changes but it needs to come from horse owners and vets as well).
  • Stud farms and breeders to take better responsibility for the formative years and allowing the horse to develop fully.
  • The ruling bodies of all equine competitions to state that no horse can compete until fully mature.
  • Professionals should aim to fix the horse’s diet, environment and movement and then implement mechanical changes to the hoof. This applies to some trimming schools of thought as well as traditional farriery and veterinary work.
  • Having professionals and horse owners understanding better handling techniques, recognising that there’s a reason for every reaction. Patience, understanding and kindness bring greater results in my experience.

‘The list is probably longer but let’s see,’ he says.

So, dear reader, if you could choose just one thing from Nick’s demands for the horse, what would it be? Tell us what you think is important by clicking on ‘comments’ and leaving some feedback. Press the follow button to keep in touch.

And if you want to get in touch with Nick you can find him on Facebook  or you can email him on nickhill984@gmail.com

BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS

IMG_3822ABOUT ME – I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. A Barefoot Journey, is my honest and light-hearted account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. Horsemanship Magazine said – ‘The writing is charming, warm, and (gently) brutally honest about a subject which is so obviously dear to her heart and central to her life. The big issues of hoof trim, equine lifestyle and human understanding are all covered. From the agony of self-doubt to the ecstasy of equine partnership, it is all laid out here, clearly and thoughtfully. It really ought to be required reading for anyone thinking of taking their horse’s shoes off.’

A Barefoot Journey is a small but perfectly formed field companion for my novel, The First Vet, inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCoverSociety. Here’s one of the latest reviews – ‘I work nights & this book made me miss sleep (which is sacred to me) – I could not put it down! I loved the combination of historical fact & romance novel & it is so well written. I’m going to buy the hard copy now – it deserves a place on my bookshelf & will be read again. 10 gold stars Ms Chamberlain!’

If you want to keep in touch, follow this blog or find me on Facebook

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47 thoughts on “‘I will never shoe another horse’ – Nick Hill

  1. A great interview with a man who taught me to keep an open mind, allowing me to continually evolve the way I view and manage my equines. One thing I would like to add to his ‘shopping list’ – that barefoot (unshod) horses should be allowed to compete in all equine disciplines, for example Working Hunter classes etc.

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    • Impossible to choose just one off the list but ur Australian Stock horses compete under saddle at 2 years old and are doing working patterns at three. It drives me crazy when they say tnat the breed matures faster than other breeds
      . Grrr

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  2. I’d like to add to Nick’s “shopping list” – that barefoot horses should be allowed to compete in all disciplines, such as Working Hunter classes etc.

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  3. this one as i think it will drive some of the other improvements “Horse owners recognising the true needs of the horse and knowing the difference between good and unhealthy hooves (as they do reflect the health of the horse).”

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  4. Excellent article and a good shopping list. I would add more training for farriers and a more open minded attitude by farriers toward barefoot and all it entails. Diet, management, the whole package. This seems to be entirely lacking in farriers in my experience

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  5. Really? The world that a domestic horse lives in this day and time sucks for the most part. Shoved in a stall for 20 hours a day….they not only need their hooves fixed they need their minds fixed too. In a perfect world they would roam over miles and miles like they were designed to do. But they don’t thanks to people looking to make a buck off of sport. That is why some horses sometimes need corrective shoeing. You can’t put them all in a box and pretend they all can be barefoot. Read a book people about the anatomy of a hoof, what a horse living “like a horse” looks like….it is not locked up in a stall….we ruin our horses by changing their lifestyle.

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  6. Oh gosh, so hard to choose just one, they all make sense to me. After reading through them a few times l think that it might be a good starting point to get vets on board with all this as most people listen to their vet, so l will go for more open minded vets.

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  7. I agree totally with his list, but would like to add an end to the use of bits….all and every bit….they are not necessary….

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  8. Have only recently been converted to the Barefoot cause, but will never go back to traditional shoeing. Common sense tells us that having metal shoes held in place by nails every 6-8 weeks can be neither natural or healthy. My horse is happier with trimming only, and a happy horse means a happy owner. Think that the last item on Nicks list is something that resonates with most horse owners.

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  9. Reblogged this on Over The Edge and commented:
    Nick Hill is who I call when I need guidance with the horses feet. He will be here at Over the Edge sometime this year (dates not confirmed) for a workshop that will include feet, food and fun (for horses!).

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  10. Love it! I’ve had barefoot horses for years, they have constant access to hay, field to roam, only stalled when given feed, base my feed off of forage pellets & add extra from there, etc. My horses are always complimented for their overall health (though one unused gelding is quite fat) and their performance.

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  11. it’s all true, have been a convert for a number of years, we ride on and off road regularly and with the support of a good trimmer or farrier prepared to do a barefoot trim no problems. Boots are useful too! We think our ponies are happy living naturally and they reward us with great rides as proof !

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  12. This is a great and very informative article. I hope horse owners read it, think about it, and hopefully realize that the way most horses are kept today is for the owners convenience and that if we care about the horse, we need to change.

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  13. This is an amazing article all the way around. I have seen many horses suffering daily to being fed a flake or two of hay twice a day with no real grass- it is a very sad process to watch and is something I try to educate when I can. Sadly, some horse people just like to say they have horses and have no real love for the ACTUAL horse and do not care to learn. I think legislation and a movement for these animals that suffer in silence daily is a movement I would LOVE to be involved with!

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  14. Great article! Couldn’t agree more. My horse is 14 years old, barefoot and has no issues. Still acts like a 4 year old. The concussion effects of steel shoes often show themselves years later in lameness and arthritis symptoms. Feel a balanced barefoot trimmed hoof to a shod hoof. The barefoot hoof is always warmer thus circulation is much better and hoof mechanism is not impeded by steel.

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  15. Loved the article and couldn’t agree more with Nick! Have always had more horses barefoot and on natural diets and they are happy and healthy.

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  16. Thank you for this!! Spreading the word! We have kept our herd barefoot and healthy. My husband trims them occasionally when needed but otherwise they are good!

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  17. 😀 “Shoo! Be free!” Is the only logical conclusion to this type of thinking. If you follow this philosophy to its end, really, you have no choice but to quit feeding, sheltering, worming, confining, breeding, training, riding, restraining, etc., etc., of any and every equine. In the end, it’s ALL unnatural. This is just another bleeding heart trying to convince the world that all the comforts that us humans are completely unwilling to live without and that we love to lavish on our dogs and other pets, is deadly poison to the noble equine. There’s no logic to it, only religious dogma. Have fun, folks. Glad my ponies are under the care of common sense and not bleeding heart religion.

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    • oh my – another extremist that is not educated enough, so only sees ALL one way or another! Ouch. Be fair to yourself AND your horses and get educated on practical domestic horse care — YES, you can provide better conditions for your horses with some common sense and knowledge about horse health. ALL of the things you mention can be done in less damaging ways with education, understanding and effort. Even cats and dogs suffer from well-meaning owners who treat them like humans when they require care that is specific to their well-being. Cancer and obesity plague our pets as much as humans – why? because humans treat them like humans and expose them to things that negate good health. I hope you will reconsider what CAN be done vs the extremes you mentioned. Respectfully – my opinion.

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  18. Love this! I have been “preaching” the benefits of barefoot horses for years. Great to see more and more education and professional folks getting on board. Many horse owners just follow fashion and really don’t understand (or care in some cases) what happens to the horse when you remove it far from nature with human demands. Great article!

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  19. I would like to find a Farrier who knows how to trim barefoot horses or learn how to do it myself. I have not put shoes on my horses for many years but I’m not sure that the trimming is being done correctly

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  20. This is a great article and my horses have been barefoot for years and all live outside with run ins that they hardly ever use, but when I was showing my arab mare in western pleasure years ago she wore the maximum weight shoe and wedge pads because I could not compete without them. Unfortunately anyone that shows needs the help of shoes if you want to be competitive and a good blacksmith that knows how to shoe a show horse is a must. I wish it was not this way but it is. The other issue is that if you keep your horse in a stall they really need shoes because being in a stall 23 hours a day destroys the hoof. Putting shoes on a horse before it’s mature is really bad too, the hoof needs to be able to grow to it’s full potential.

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  21. I’m in central Canada. A vast majority of horses here go barefoot. I do require my horses to wear rear shoes but only for a couple months during the summer then back to barefoot when not showing. As a farrier I don’t even offer shoeing services, I believe mother nature had it right. I have seen a lot of advancement in equine boots and “glue” on shoes if they made plates in glue on I’d be the first to try them in the show ring, I think they would allow the proper expansion of the hoof capsule but I’d need to see them in full use. Great read!

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  22. I’ve had my 17.1 hand, 1750 lb. Appaloosa sport horse since he was five months old. He had wonderful feet until he went into training at age three and then slowly but surely the vague problems surfaced. They were everything from looking sore and sour to overt lameness to outright misbehaving under saddle. It was perplexing to me because he had never been a problem to handle as a baby, in fact, he was a dream before the shoes went on (and unfortunately before he was handled by so-called “trainers”). Well, finally, last year at the age of 10, after seven years of wearing shoes with nothing but problems, I pulled his front shoes (the backs were pulled two years before that with great success). As expected the fronts were much more difficult and there were times when I almost changed my mind; however, one year later my horse is doing well and is becoming completely sound to ride barefoot. If ridden over rough terrain, he may need boots, but otherwide his feet are thing of beauty now, about one and half sized bigger than they were last year and horse seems so much happier all the way around. Please keep getting the word out about the damage shoes can do to our horses and how allowing them to be barefoot is good for the whole horse. Thanks!

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  23. My TB mare lives out (rug free) and has been barefoot for some time, she is happy, healthy and most importantly allowed to be a horse, I haven’t read the book just this blog, but what you have written here confirms what I already thought, it takes millions of years for evolution to develop a species and people think that its so how wiser to go against nature, with catastrophic effect to the horse.

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  24. I call BS, and I’m a formally-trained barefoot trimmer, lol. Bad hoofcare is bad hoofcare, it has nothing to do with the shoe. I keep all my clients barefoot, with some easyshoes, but the few I’ve had to refer out for metal shoes suffer no adverse effects, as long as the client is keeping them on a good schedule with a knowledgeable farrier.

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  25. This ‘trained’ farrier posted a picture on facebook of the detrimental effects of nailing… Where he had driven the nail backwards, with the bevel facing the wrong way so that the nail was not curving out of the foot, but into it, and in the wrong part of the foot as well, the unpigmented wall instead of the white line. If that is how he was shoeing, no wonder he switched to barefoot. https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=Nick%20Hill%20nail

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  26. This is all true.I live in Australia and was able to keep all my horses in a paddock on grass and hay never confined to stables, but the ground was extremely rocky and my appaloosa’s very brittle white feet just fell apart without shoes. Had other horses with hard black feet and the ones in constant work had to be shod or would be lame.If the horses were moved to more lush, damp, soft ground then rarely needed shoes. Barefoot may be best and I had a great farrier at the time but found that sometimes shoes were necessary part of life .

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    • I had the opposite experience. I live in the Everglades where it is wet and muddy. After taking a few courses on equine podiatry that taught me that to be healthy the hoof needed stimulation and a variety of terrains including rock. I do have one horse with white feet and did not find a difference. Soft ground would make them comfortable but did nothing to make them healthy. To make them healthy I had to slowly introduce them to gravel and then rock. It was a slow process, hand walking to make sure it was comfortable for them. Building up time and at the same time building stronger feet. My vet and I discussed the process and it is the same with people. If you want to be strong you have to work at it and build up to it. It is more comfortable to sit on a couch but muscles and bone will start to deteriorate (just like hooves will). I am just very lucky that I had the time to research and apply what I learned and dont see a possibility of ever putting a shoe on any of my horses.

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  27. I live in South Florida and took in a horse that was 29 years old and needed a home due to a divorce in the family. He was shod on his front feet. He kept throwing the shoes and each time it took a chunk of hoof with it. My farrier at the time would just reshoe. I started doing some research and found some info about barefoot horses and decided to remove the shoes and work on getting his hooves stronger (at the time I wanted them stronger so they would hold a shoe). Took me a while but I learned that there was more to the barefoot lifestyle than just removing shoes. I could not find anybody in the area who even knew what a barefoot trim was so I found a farrier who would trim the hoof the way I wanted it trimmed (his description was a pasture trim with a few differences). I also started researching info on nutrition. I now have 6 rescued horses, all barefoot. I follow recommendations from 5 different courses I took on equine nutrition and they get a forage based diet available 24/7, vitamins/minerals to replace what is lacking in the hay, salt, flax and vitamin E. They do not live in stalls but can come and go. They get a minimum of 30 minutes a day of walking, trotting, and galloping and I do the best I can to give them a variety of terrains (grass, gravel, sand, rock) to walk on. While my neighbors struggle with thrush and white line disease (South Florida is very damp and I am in a area more wet than most), my horses feet are free of disease and rock hard. I took a year long course in equine podiatry and a few courses on barefoot trimming and trim my own. People in this area are starting to learn about equine nutrition and healthy hooves but we have a long way to go. I am very happy that mine can be shoe free and healthy but it is very hard work. I love to see articles like this….progress.

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  28. I’d choose “The ruling bodies of all equine competitions to state that no horse can compete until fully mature.” as the very most important of a lot of important points he made.

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  29. A very interesting read. Equine nutrition is certainly important for hoof condition. I think it’s all about getting the balance right your horse and for you. My boy lives outside most of the time in the UK, has a balanced diet and was shod for years without problems before he retired. He is now barefoot and his hooves look better than ever.

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  30. All my life growing up we never put shoes on our horses, their hooves were always in perfect condition with the exception of a “stubbed toe” which always healed fine on their own. Then Mom started showing, and put shoes on, and started keeping them in stalls so they wouldn’t get any “blemishes” from being with the rest of the herd. I hated it, the life of a show horse is a miserable one.

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  31. Reblogged this on The Sports Model Jackass and commented:
    One of the best thought out and written pieces I’ve seen in a long, long time about what horses actually NEED v what the commercial industry touts and tries to sell to horse owners as ‘essential to your horse’s health.’ Well worth the read.

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  32. All our horses are barefoot and we love it for them! We use run in sheds so they can be out of it whenever they want and there’s six of them to socialize.

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