Some of these horses looked like death when they were found – now they can be ridden on ground as rocky as the moon. They make it look easy and they are shocking local people by doing it without bits in their mouths.
Meet the rescued horses from Tenerife who are causing a stir because ‘they have no brakes’ and ‘no protection’ for their feet. This barefoot-and-bitless tribe don’t need metal to help them enjoy their new chance at life. There are 12 of them and they are thriving thanks to Emma Greenfield and her partner, Edoardo Pensato, who have set up a charity to help them called Horse Holidays Tenerife.
There is Turbo, the 25-year-old warmblood, who was twice abandoned on the island when he outlived his usefulness. The picture below shows him six months after his rescue but he came to them so thin that his bones were breaking through his skin – he is now so well recovered that he is doing a little exercise to relieve his boredom. And then there is Eric, a stallion pony who was kept in a stable without food or water, knee-deep in filth. ‘It was months before he would let us brush it off; he was a sad, shell of a pony,’ Emma remembered.
Eric is a sought-after type, rare on the island, and within a month of being rescued, Emma and Edoardo had six requests to buy or breed from him so it’s a mystery why he was ever abandoned. Others have injuries from being ridden too young, or in heavy bits, and they have all taken to gentle, bitless riding. They do minimal training in a menage and show a preference for riding along the trails and by the coast – who can blame them?
Now, this is the point where I fear that I am lauding an English woman who has travelled to foreign climes in order to show other folk how ‘we do it better than them’. So, I’ll just straighten that one out – we don’t. The UK leads the world in the sticking-to-tradition stakes and riders routinely use bits, metal shoes, whips, spurs and long periods of stabling for their horses. While we might muck those stables out with vigour and provide enough food and water, there are plenty of horses who live in confinement full time. There are also many who are trained using harsh methods.
There is a small-but-growing move towards alternatives which are kinder to the horse and Emma found herself in that camp years before moving to Tenerife. The scepticism and criticism she and Edoardo are now dealing with can be found in any traditional horse yard, anywhere in the world.
Many UK riders, who have ditched metal shoes and bits, will be familiar with some negative comments if they board their horse at a traditional yard.
For Emma, the volume is much higher because the natural-horse concept is so new in Tenerife. ‘The general horsemanship here is very strict and heavy, so we are sometimes fighting a losing battle when people say they will not ride our horses because they are unsafe, they don’t have brakes! Or they say the horses are unhappy and need to be in a stable. One visitor told me to stop rescuing horses if we can’t afford to put shoes on them.’
In many ways, Tenerife is the ideal place to have a barefoot horse thanks to its dry climate and rocky terrain. To prove it, all of her rescues have transitioned out of shoes without a hitch and most are being ridden. In fact, Emma says taking them barefoot is the easy bit. Lush grass and its associated foot problems are a thing of the past and she has forgotten what mud looks like or what fun some of us have trudging through it every winter. The other key to their successful transition is the lack of stabling and the fact that the horses live on the same terrain that they ride on – take note if you are struggling with your own barefoot horse who might be on too much soft, green grass. Neither the diet, nor the surface is helpful.
She says the island is as close to perfect as you can get. ‘The dry, rocky ground is great for their feet, making trimming almost unnecessary and, of course, grass does not exist here so we have no problem with fat ponies.’
Luckily, there is a barefoot specialist on the island and Emma has the easy-to-use Radius Rasp for tidying up as well – I have just bought one myself and find it great for that Mustang roll (the bevel on the hoof wall)! Their initial plan had been to support the horses financially by offering riding holidays but they are finding it better to keep the pressure off their rescues who now have sharers to exercise and help care for them – only gentle riders need apply.
Emma says: ‘The temperature doesn’t generally go above 30 or drop below 15 so we stay at a nice temperature all year with a lovely Atlantic breeze. The horses relax, enjoy the sun and rolling in the dust. To this day, I have never seen a horse use a field shelter for shade, only when it rains once or twice a year.’
Of course, there is a snake somewhere in this Paradise! With no grass, high land prices and few crops, all feed has to be imported and is therefore expensive. She finds it is also unreliable and shortages mean they sometimes only have straw for their base feed.
‘Space is limited, it’s rare to find anywhere big enough to have a real, free-range paddock due to the harsh, volcanic landscape and expensive land prices so many horses are kept in stables or garages. The worst problems we have is human ignorance, tendon injuries and early arthritis due to bad shoeing (we have seen different sizes, back to front and snapped in half) and racing on the streets from the age of two, which is not uncommon.’
Space is not the big issue for this couple. Even though they have less than two acres, it is so much more than most horses on the island enjoy and they haven’t resorted to stabling in a garage yet. Some of the land was levelled and it is now split into three paddocks and another two paddocks will be levelled and added later. Using trial and error, the rescues were put into three herds – food is a cause of tension for many horses who have been traumatised and not surprisingly these wouldn’t cope with a large group. More land is always useful and they hope to buy some from a neighbour.
There is a lot of support for them on the island in spite of the inevitable negativity. They have a huge team of volunteers, some great sharers who treat the horses as their own and support from more established charities who have given advice AND funds. Their own charity is now fully set up.
Emma explained: ‘We work together as we have more space but little money so we can take some of their animals when they help with the costs. Other charities have taken us under their wing and help us with anything they can such as paperwork, licenses and advice. We are slowly moving in the right direction but it hasn’t been as easy as we hoped being accepted. After all, we are advocating a very, very different horse style to the one they have here.’
They have opened as a petting farm since they also have goats, rabbits, cats, dogs and chickens. A yurt and a cave house are being constructed and should be ready for holidays, with or without riding, from December.
Being a pioneer is never easy – but they eventually inspire others so we can expect to see more and more horses in Tenerife ridden without metal and living in the great outdoors.
ABOUT LINDA CHAMBERLAIN
I’m a writer and journalist and I have lived with horses most of my life. Now, I love to write about them whether it’s in fact or fiction. It’s a fact that I keep my horses without shoes, I sometimes even get the time to ride one of them and I often write about them. If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…
THERE ARE MORE HORSES, MORE GREAT STORIES, IN MY BOOKS…!
My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.
My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment. His battle motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This page-turning book has 60 lovely reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society.
New historical books are in the pipeline and coming soon! My novel about Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty, will show why she wrote the most powerful book on horse welfare ever. Right now, I am half way through a book about a horse-mad princess whose family make the Osbournes appear functional! To put it mildly, I am very excited about this one and have learnt a new 18th century insult – puff guts…! See if you can work out what it means xx