Gravel Crunchers

Last Updated August 2011

Cagey, 10 year old Arab

The ideal in the barefoot world is a barefoot horse who can handle extremes in terrain... a horse that can move easily across rock, sand, mud, and water.

The assumption in recent times has been that domestic horses are incapable of having tough, durable feet, because "good footedness" has been bred out of domestic horses.

Even barefoot supporters are skeptical about the mythical "gravel crunchers", bare feet that can go anywhere.

Horses born wild or with 24x7 access to many acres of a varied terrain, an appropriate diet and herd conditions have stronger feet, Cagey is a good example of a domestic horse with extremely solid feet. It's also true that horses born in an environment where they get the right diet and lots of exercise from the start and are never shod have better bare feet. Some breeds have genetically stronger feet. however many horses of all the different breeds develop gravel-crunching feet.

Long-Shots? Maybe... Maybe Not....

Many domestic horses feet have been damaged by an inappropriate diet, poor trimming or shoeing, being shod before their feet developed completely, or have had laminitis or navicular. We have antidotal evidence that the accumulated damage can still be reversed to some extent, but horses with problem feet will probably need boots for tough trails for at least the first few years, and potentially forever. Many are fine with just front boots, others need front and rear boots.

Booted, many of these horses can still be gravel crunchers on the trail, and comfortable barefoot at home.

Some bad-footed horses surprise me and develop a really nice foot, so I suggest that owners feed the right diet and trace minerals, boot appropriately, get their horses as much exercise as they can, and work towards developing "Gravel Cruncher" feet, even if it seems like a long shot. I recently decided to get back to the gym 5 times a week, am trying to look like I'm in my 40's again(I'm in my late 50's), and it's never going to happen! But I **will** be healthier for the effort.

The Right Stuff??

The secret to great feet is the right attitude, right diet, feeding balanced amounts of minerals like zinc and copper, regular exercise, the right trim, the right living environment.

You may not get your horse to the barefoot gravel cruncher level, but trying to get here is a good goal for most of us. My Gabby was shod back-to-back for 6 years,had long toes and underrun heels, and he's gotten there. It took time and all the "Right Stuff"

About These "Gravel Crunching" Pictures...

The horses depicted in these pictures are all eager and willing trail horses with very sensitive, if durable, feet. These pictures are taken on Coast Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore during a 24 mile - barefoot - ride, and the horses are so casual about the rocky environment that they had to be slowed down for me to take the pictures... moving over rock at a decent speed isn't a problem - unless someone's trying to get good pictures!


Robbie, 12 year old Arab

Tinker, an 18 year old Shetland pony

Boots like Gloves. Renegades, Trails, Old Mac's, Cavello's  and Epics all offer excellent protection. They take 3 to 5 minutes a set to put on, and they stay in place in all conditions if they fit correctly. Riding booted is just as cool as riding barefoot. Our personal horses almost never need boots on any trail, but we do carry them just in case, and if we want to move out fast, we put them on ahead of time to make sure nothing slows us down.

Developing A Gravel Crunchier Foot

The concept of passive conditioning involves using rock or gravel around watering tanks, gates, in paddocks and feeding areas.

Xenophon, a fourth century BC Greek cavalry commander, had a lot to say on horse management for the development of rock-hard feet. Some of the oldest writings about the care of hooves are found in the works of Xenophon, who wrote "naturally sound hooves get spoiled in most stalls," and included the instruction that their hooves should be toughened by putting a cobblestone area in their paddock, (a practice still in use today).

Building A Foot For Rocky Trails

Building a tough hoof is dependent on the right LIM (Less Is More) trim, a lots of time and travel, good low-carb diet (See or and booting when necessary.

While the process takes time and riding, it isn't difficult... feed right, trim just enough, bevel the edge of the wall the right way, get rid of thrush, provide good footing in the living environment and ensure you horse gets lots of exercise. I leave a good "rasps width" (more or less) of wall for traction and to ensure that horses don't get tender. See Rumi's case study for an example.

The Shape of a Healthy Bare Foot

There may be an ideal shape for most conditions, but many shapes are possible. Not all sound bare feet have a "barefoot trim" ; Tinker, below and to the right, is trimmed by a regular farrier.


Cagey & Robbie
Cagey and Me

Cagey grew up in a rough 300 acre pasture. The mares and foals were again turned out to pasture until the foals were 3 to 4 months old, when they were again brought in and essentially round penned as a herd, taught the essentials of natural horsemanship. There were handled a bit, then turned out again to mature.

Cagey matured into an awesome trail horse. Danielle tried shoeing him, but the farrier said his feet were too hard to trim, so wait until he wears them down and then he'd nail shoes on. After thinking about this - and trying to wear his feet down unsuccessfully - Danielle decided to skip the shoes.









Tinker is an almost 20 year old Welsh pony who is Deb Weathers favorite horse to ride. Don't let his size deceive you! This is an Equine to be reckoned with!

Tinker easily does 15 to 20 mile trail rides at top speed carrying owner Deb. He blows the socks off of Arabs and TB's, shod, unshod or booted, and he has ALWAYS been barefoot!