Metal-free on the ‘Moon’

by Linda Chamberlain

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 UKAmazon US. This page-turning book has 60 lovely reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover 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

 

Horse shoes are a major risk – vet warns

by Linda Chamberlain

The U.S. vet Tomas Teskey warns in a new book just published that steel shoes pose a major risk factor for disease among horses. He says they alter form and function of the hoof so severely that they disqualify the animal from being sound. 

He explains that healthy hooves move blood in and out of the limbs, thereby aiding energy dissipation. Shod hooves are fixed by the shoe in a contracted state while the foot is in the air. This limits expansion, reduces blood volume and increases concussion. Shoes force other structures to handle the energy as best they can, he says. 

Teskey is a leading exponent of barefoot and his book Insight to Equus is full of his wisdom on the subject. More and more, I hear people report that their vet is supportive of their wish to remove metal shoes from their horse which is brilliant. More and more owners and farriers are waking up to the harm but will the veterinary establishment open its ears? Here is a vet who is more than supportive; he is an expert and actively promotes barefoot. For many years, he has been warning of the dangers of horses remaining shod as anyone who follows him on Facebook can attest. 

Here is a short extract from Tomas Teskey’s book to entice you! 

The whirlwind of college, veterinary school and “working hard to fulfil the great American Dream” was in full dramatic swing as I ventured across southeastern Arizona, visiting a guest ranch with 80 horses for the second time in a week. They loved that I was able to come, even if I was the only veterinarian that would drive the 70 miles whenever they called with a problem.

My learning curve was as steep as ever. I was seeing animals of all kinds and performing procedures most graduates would never get the chance to do simply because I was told, “either do something or put him down, Doc.” On arrival, one of the favorite trail horses was in obvious distress, wide-eyed and visibly distended in her belly. Horses with abdominal pain, or colic, were decidedly more prevalent at this guest ranch, so after treating this horse with the routine pain-killers and fluids, I asked if I might get a quick tour or the place and the feeding schedule.

The head wrangler was more than happy to oblige, and as she led me on a personal tour of the ranch, we visited about the feeding schedule, types of feed, work schedule for the horses, and how much she was spending on everything, including my veterinary services. As we circled around the hay barn, I watched as the other wranglers loaded up ten big 100 pound bales of alfalfa hay on a flatbed pickup truck, and commenced to driving all around the  two acre turnout where all eighty horses began to excitedly vocalize and take up positions to be the first to get at the fresh hay. The ranch fed ten bales of hay twice a day, and the horses had the majority of the hay eaten within 30 minutes, a feeding frenzy that was obviously a big highlight of their day.

After the bulk of the hay had been rapidly eaten, the dominant horses continued to sift through the remnants, searching mostly for the tasty alfalfa leaves that were mixed in with the dirt and sand so common in the Arizona desert. At first I thought they were licking up the dirt, but getting closer, I could see them pushing the dirt and sand aside with their noses to find the remnants of hay.

The following week, I was back at the ranch to follow up on the two previous cases of colic, and to check on two others that weren’t doing quite right. Happily for me, it was about lunchtime when we finished checking the horses, and we all filed in to the dining room to escape the sun and flies for a cool drink and some soup and sandwiches–I loved having lunch there. After we all sat down with our plates, I looked at the owner and told her, “I think we need to modify your horse management here on the ranch.”

Everybody at the table stopped chewing at that moment, as she raised an eyebrow and asked me, “Oh, what do you mean?”

“The horses are getting colicky because of the alfalfa, and because they are picking up a lot of sand when they eat it. I’d like you to build a covered feed bunk big enough for all the horses to eat together, right in the middle of your turnout and put grass hay in it, free choice.” Everybody at the table seemed shocked, trying to imagine how they would fit in to such changes.

“I’m sure when you put a pencil to it, you’ll find out the grass hay will be more expensive, and you’ll have the cost of the feed bunk, but we have serious problems with colic, as well as lamenesses I feel are being worsened by feeding alfalfa. Things are getting worse right now, not better.”

Within a few weeks, the feed bunk was built and the horses were completely different, not only because there wasn’t a single colicky one in the last two weeks, but because the wranglers noticed several other changes that were making everyone’s lives better.

Making fewer emergency trips to the ranch had reduced my income, improved the horses’ health, reduced lameness and injuries and allergies to the tune of $3150.00 per month. I began to see and feel what it was like to work for people and their animals, in good conscience.

Published this month: Insight to Equus: Holistic Veterinary Perspectives on Health and Healing

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 UKAmazon US. This page-turning book has 60 lovely reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover 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 beginning work on 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

Crime and footwear

I have been dying to write a crime drama but really wanted to get horses into the story, especially barefooted ones. How on earth would that be possible? I asked myself.

By centring it on the mounted police force in Houston, Texas – that’s how!

Did you know that Houston Mounted Patrol rides unshod horses and has done for years? This inspiring police force has been the subject of my blog before but is featured again because I am testing out my crime-drama imagination on some very short fiction. You see, I write historical fiction and didn’t feel ready to leap into full-length crime just yet. A writing group I belong to set me a challenge – to write a short piece including the words, The Easter Bunny

Now, that’s not an obvious prompt for a piece of crime writing but those bunnies can be dangerous, nefarious creatures. So, here it is – I hope you like it. Please let me know and if anyone wants to come up with a writing challenge, send me a couple of inspiring words. I’ll see what my demons can come up with xx Linda

 

THE PATROLMAN

by Linda Chamberlain

No one associated Houston with the Easter bunny.

The city’s reputation was built on moon landings, space travel and all that manly stuff but it had its softer side and officer, Brad Soper, sometimes wished there was more of it. A man could get fed up arresting drunks and criminals and there were no moon landings anymore.

He was watching the annual Easter parade from the perfect vantage point, atop his horse, Cloud. They had been on patrol, keeping things peaceful, for the last five hours and both were tired thanks to the heat that couldn’t escape the dense crowd of high-rise blocks which seemed to reverberate with the blare of music and laughter.

He had no idea who was inside that white-bunny suit. Poor fella, must be hotter than he was! Jeez, he had never known an Easter like this. The bunny was standing in one of those horse-drawn carriages, doing a great job, tossing sweets from a yellow bucket, waving and blowing kisses to the people lining the streets. Throwing kisses…were they allowed to do that anymore?

Soper conjured up a vision of having to make an arrest for such a heinous crime and laughed to himself.

‘Ah, it won’t get that bad,’ he said, patting the horse’s neck. ‘Too many old-fashioned thugs around.’

Without knowing why – curiosity, instinct – he decided to follow. Who was inside that suit? Not a woman, the shape was all wrong, although it was hard to tell with the suit. And he reckoned it was no senior citizen either. Far too lithe. No, this was one hell of a muscular man. The arms. The shoulders. The guy wasn’t tall but he worked out and wasn’t your usual volunteer.

He nudged his horse gently with his heels, clearing a path through the onlookers, wanting a closer look. Not for the first time, he was thankful all the patrol horses were barefoot. How silent and stealthy they were; no more clip-clopping from their metal shoes. The bunny carried on throwing sweets and kisses and didn’t turn around. Then he did something strange.

He let go of the bucket. He seemed to be focused on a young woman who was tottering in heels at the front of the spectators. Or perhaps she was part of the parade. No, she had a purse on her shoulder; its zipper was open and the contents on view for all to see. Did they never learn?

It looked like he’d have to arrest the bunny after all. He kept an eye on that fury hand wondering how it would be deft enough for purse snatching. Waiting for it to make the first move. Soper was one stride behind the carriage, unnoticed still.

His breath was in his throat, the heat forgotten. The woman went from tottering to toppling. The bunny reached out from the carriage and made a grab for her. She seemed to be folding in two and then the patrolman understood. His horse responded to the forward tilt of his body and, before she hit the ground, he was on her other side.

He reached down and had hold of her right arm. With the bunny’s muscular help, he lifted her into the carriage where she fainted clean away. Her face was red with heat but soon her eyes were fluttering, she was recovering, accepting a drink of water.

The bunny took off his bunny head. The blond woman who emerged from all that white fur grinned at Soper’s shocked face, thanked him for his help.

‘I’ve been keeping an eye out,’ she said, in a soft and melodic voice. ‘They’re falling like flies in this heat.’

‘They are ma’am,’ said the officer. ‘You take care now.’

Heck, he wouldn’t trust his first impressions. Never again.

 

THE END…or maybe, just the beginning…!

 

 

Barefoot police horses in Houston, Texas? Yes, there really are – I didn’t make that bit up. The rest is pure fiction. 

 

THERE ARE MORE HORSES, MORE GREAT STORIES, IN MY BOOKS…!

KEEP IN TOUCH BY FOLLOWING THIS BLOG, FINDING ME ON FACEBOOK OR CHECKING OUT 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 UKAmazon US. This page-turning book has 60 lovely reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

I’m a writer and journalist – if you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for yourself or a friend! New books are in the pipeline – coming soon!

A Growing Problem…

by Linda Chamberlain

Excuse the pun but obesity is a growing problem – and not just for our children.

Perhaps it is no surprise that twenty-eight per cent of the UK’s kids are obese or overweight. More and more of them are driven to school, where they spend their day sat behind a desk and then they come home and exercise their fingers on some digital device. They do not move enough.

There are shocking similarities among the horse population. A recent report by the Royal Veterinary College warned that half of our horses are overweight and 70 per cent of ponies are born obese.

How can this have happened? And what can we do to change it?

In my last blog I looked at the amount of sugar in food aimed at both children AND horses. There is an awful lot of it being consumed – sweets, fizzy drinks AND green grass are full of it, bagged commercial feeds are laced with molasses – and reducing it must be the first step in getting healthier.

The other factor in this scenario is exercise. Now, a lot of people might be thinking that the average horse runs about a lot but many are kept stabled for long periods where inactivity is compulsory.

A little-known section of the horse world is changing that with a brilliant way of keeping horses – on tracks rather than stables and fields – and showing how important exercise and movement is to health.

If we set up something similar for children you would see their dinner waiting for them at the top of the road, a drink at the bottom. Two streets over, up a footpath, would be a park where they could play with friends; another path might take them to a youth club. Finally, they would need to walk home again to find their bed where they could rest happily after an exhausting day! If our children lived every day like that, we might see obesity in retreat.

This innovative way of keeping horses is known as a track system and it does away with the traditional model of stabling with occasional paddock turnout. Many horses are kept in stables overnight. It’s convenient for some humans that way and it prevents wet land from becoming poached. Some horses are kept in all day and all night and I dare not think what condition their bodies must be in.

I asked some people who have set up a tracks for horses to share some of their findings and success stories. Have horses lost weight with this method? Have they overcome health problems?

The answer is an overwhelming YES. Laminitis has been shown the door, allergies have disappeared, hooves have got stronger and excess weight is reducing.

Bethan Summers, who runs Gawsworth Track Livery in Cheshire, UK, found increased movement was a key factor but she wanted to know more. So, she put a monitor on two of the horses and found this startling difference. A horse on the track moved nearly seven miles in a 24-hour period. Another horse in a field travelled just over three miles.

Now, I know that is not a scientific study but it is interesting and if you are looking at an obese horse you might want to take note. Or even better, track the edge of your field and see what happens. They key is spreading their activity around the track – water at one end, shelter at another and hay somewhere else.

It is owners of laminitic horses who are the first in the queue when a new track livery yard opens. They already know to take their equine off rich, sugary grass but they need movement, too, and traditional set-ups rarely have anywhere suitable beyond the stable door.

Liane Rhodes offers track herd life in West Yorkshire, specialising in treatment for lami with what she describes as free-range horse management.

‘Our approach is very much horse led, we prioritise horses’ mental and emotional well-being. Living in a family group, as nature intended, is paramount to successful recovery and healthy minds as well as bodies. We are constantly progressing and improving our track environment, adding more surfaced areas to help with extra movement. One livery arrived with severely stretched white lines, she had done a whole season of endurance just before coming to us, so this proved to me that movement alone wasn’t enough. All her hooves have grown in tight and her flares are hugely improved after just one year. Another livery came with low grade laminitis, she had been on mostly a correct diet for a long time, but stabled at her previous yard due to lack of facilities. Movement and social interaction as well as diet are helping this mare get back to being a healthy, active individual.’

Amy Dell, who runs Abbots View Livery in Buckinghamshire, UK, said: ‘Our type of livery is perfect for the majority of horses as it aims to mimic the horse’s natural environment and gives them freedom of choice, but is especially good for those who suffer from today’s common health problems, such as obesity (see before and after pic below), laminitis, and arthritis,  or horses that do not like being stabled, suffer from boredom, or just crave a stimulating and enriching environment.

‘Over the spring and summer the horses are kept on a track system 24/7 but in the winter, due to England’s weather, they are shut off from the track and let into the carefully-managed middle in sections, with continued access to and from the corral where water, ad lib hay, and our open shelter are always available. This ensures the horses have free choice, are on the move all-year round and are never confined to stables.’

Tanya Bisp has a track for her own horses in Somerset. ‘I include big climbing mounds, narrow and wide tracks with stepping poles,’ she said. ‘A track system offers a home for young, old, laminitics, arthritic, big or small. It doesn’t matter if they are not ridden, as the track can be made interesting and stimulating and keeps the horses fit, healthy and happy. I often have people come, just to see my chilled out herd; sit amongst them drinking tea, brush them, walk with them, whether it be for therapy or just peace.’

 

 

In Belgium, Camille Vanham, set up a track system because her horses were suffering from laminitis. ‘I have not had a laminitis crisis on the part of horses since. In addition to that I find the horses more serene and always able to work with humans. Their feet are in good shape, and in the summer wear well thanks to the beaten-earth corridors. I do not have a problem with foot rot anymore.’

Jessica Dench, from South Africa, had this to say: ‘We are 6 ladies who decided to take the leap and set up a paddock paradise track in South Africa. Many people thought we were cruel or stupid to keep our horses off grass and live out but the results speak for themselves.

One horse used to be on Allergex and had to be washed weekly due to grass allergies. She doesn’t have those issues anymore. Two of our horses were overweight and under muscled and because of constant movement and hay diets they improved and actually look healthy for a change.’

My own two horses live on a woodland track and lately I have been investigating ways of helping them to move even more. Their hay was already spread over a long and winding trail but there were other areas that they seemed to neglect and didn’t visit.

I have tied some large plant pots to the trees and each day add herbs, a few slices of carrot or a handful of hay cobs for them to ‘find’ – a reason for them to explore. Inspired by other ‘trackies’ who have built mounds for their horses to climb I have also been putting hay onto the natural banks in the woods. The aim is to give those legs a good work out.

My ex-race horse, Charlie Brown, has long struggled to lift up his hind legs for hoof care but this is now improving and his dipped back has muscled up to the amazement of our equine osteopath.

Sophie (right), my ridden horse, gave me some concern over her lack of weight and muscle strength last summer and she frequently rested her right hind leg. Since osteopathic treatment and climbing those hills she is a different mare.

 

Tracks are like a giant playground for your kids, something they can enjoy all day long. Your job, as a horse guardian, is to set it up, keep it interesting and watch, or keep up with the poo picking, as nature works its magic.

 

 

THERE’S EVEN MORE IN THE BOOKS…!

KEEP IN TOUCH BY FOLLOWING THIS BLOG, FINDING ME ON FACEBOOK OR CHECKING OUT 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 UKAmazon US. This page-turning book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

I’m a writer and journalist – if you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for yourself or a friend! New books are in the pipeline – coming soon!

The hidden F word

by Linda Chamberlain

Jamie Oliver is the champion chef who is fighting against childhood obesity. He is the man who has woken up MPs, schools and parents with his campaign to reduce sugar in our diets fearing that large swathes of the population will suffer from diabetes unless something is done. Twenty eight per cent of schoolchildren in the UK are reportedly obese or overweight.

We urgently need an equestrian ‘chef’ to do the same.

Because the statistics for horses are even worse. Half of the country’s horses are said to be overweight and according to a report by the Royal Veterinary College seven out of ten ponies are born obese. They are, to use the F word, FAT!

How? Why? And what can we do to stop this?

Horses and our children have two things increasingly in common. Their diets are in a mess and they don’t move enough. Diet and exercise.

Diet first…sugar seems to be the major common denominator. Our children are eating twice as much sugar as recommended. A five year old should have no more than five cubes of sugar a day but there is more than that in a can of cola.

I went online and took a look at some websites of the main horse feed manufacturers. I was particularly interested in feeds said to suit laminitics who the world must surely know should be kept away from grass and sugary feeds. Laminitis is a killer and you shouldn’t mess with it so why are so many of these bagged feeds made ‘tasty’ with molasses? Molasses = sugar but with a longer name. Why are so many manufacturers selling Nutritionally Improved Straw, oatfeed and wheatfeed (the outer husk and not very nutritious) with added sugars and then advising customers to give these to horses that are already ill and in pain?

To be fair, they had alternative feeds that were free of molasses. And they had advice for owners dealing with laminitis, a disease that one described as the second biggest horse killer. Soak hay to remove sugars – good idea. Stable to keep off grass – OK, we can probably come up with something better than that and we can return to it in a minute.

Interestingly, I saw no reference to the RVC’s latest research on obesity but there was mention on one site of dated figures showing that 20 per cent of horses were overweight.

Like sugary foods for children these bags of feed appear very reasonably priced. Competitive. It’s very tempting to save money and watch your horse lick the bowl clean.

But if your horse needs any feed at all, and many don’t need more than hay, why not choose something without added harm? Check out these small manufacturers – Thunderbrook Equestrian, Agrobs and Simple Systems, more expensive but my horses have done well on their feeds and because they are high quality, you feed less. I’m wondering if one of them has an equestrian chef to become the Jamie Oliver of the horse world.

Now then, exercise. Children don’t do enough of it. Many are taken in a car to school and they go out to play less and less so they are not burning up the sugary foods they have eaten.

There is a similar story in the equestrian world thanks to stabling. So many horses are kept in 24/7 especially in winter. There’s not much movement to be had in a stable but lucky horses get enough food to keep them occupied. When they do get turned out in summer there are lush fields to welcome them. I wonder if, like children, horses are eating twice their recommended sugar intake as a result. Or even more. Grass, particularly rye grass, is high in sugar. Horses do better on rough pasture but most farms have been developed to fatten livestock rather than keep equestrian athletes in top condition.

My next blog will be taking an in-depth look at some new-style livery yards that are providing a brilliant alternative to the traditional stable-and-field approach. Track liveries they are called and I will be giving examples from around the world. Places that are helping to fight against the obesity trend. If you know of one, or run one, please get in touch.

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 UKAmazon US. This page-turning book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

I’m a writer and journalist – if you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for yourself or a friend! 

Let them compete…!

by Linda Chamberlain

Meet the Ambassadors of a world-wide association which is launched this week in a bid to end discrimination against riders of bitless horses who are banned from some equestrian competitions.

The World Bitless Association will be campaigning to allow horses ridden in modern, humane bitless bridles to be judged on an equal basis to bitted horses. Its focus will be primarily on compassionate training whether a horse is ridden in a bitless bridle or bitted since shameful treatment of a horse is not acceptable, whatever tack it is wearing.

The bitless movement has been growing rapidly in the last few years as more and more riders realise they don’t need the forcible ‘brakes’ of a bit in their horse’s mouth; they simply need to communicate and gently train their horse. There is also evidence that a bit can cause damage to the horse’s tender mouth even if it is used softly.

Sadly, the governing bodies of many equestrian competitions remain deaf to the changes and keep bitless, and sometimes barefoot, horses out of some classes.

The fledgling organisation already has the support of some bridle manufacturers for its ambassador initiative which awards rosettes to bitless equestrians competing around the world. And some pioneering riders are sporting huge smiles as their approach to riding is recognised.

The gallery of ambassadors on the WBA website shows how well bit-free competitors can do given the chance.

Here is Lomax ridden by Aaliyah at a show in the UK this year where the pair won 15 rosettes, two trophies and a £10 prize – barefoot and bitless.

I remember Lomax whose transformation from a rather poor and bedraggled pony to a glossy equine was shared on Facebook’s Barefoot Horse Owner’s Group a couple of years ago.

It’s wonderful to see him doing so well and setting such a good example – what a shame that he was the only bitless horse at the show. But there are other brilliant ambassadors.

Another horse, Tara, (below left) is a good example. Many riders might be sceptical they could manage their equine in a challenging situation such as a cross country event.

Rider, Daniee, said the horse went round the course like a pro wearing an Orbitless bridle.

‘It was also only our second cross country ever! She was impeccably behaved the whole time and lots of people were interested in our bridle and asking questions.

‘Tara was nervous about the water jump and had to follow a human helper through for some confidence so we got eliminated, although lots of other horses were also eliminated here because it was a very scary water jump, going through the water into a dark wooded area! But she flew round the rest of the course like a pro, showing everyone that you don’t need a bit to be in control in cross country!’

It’s in the world of dressage that bitless riders can face the most discrimination and much controversy surrounds one of the stated reasons by the authorities – that bitless riders are not able to show that their horse is ‘on the bit’ as required.

Lower levels of competition are able to take a more relaxed approach.

It is heartening to see the only bitless rider at an event in Tasmania (Fiona on Cavalier Crusader) clinched a winning  test with a score of 71 per cent. The horse was ridden in a Transcend bridle.

Brittany riding Skye’s the Limit won a rosette with no bridle at all – wish I had done that when I was younger! She has been competing all year without a bridle and hopes to qualify for year-end awards. Surely, spectators would be queuing up to see such a brilliant performance.

Below left you can see Polly-Ann riding Dakota in the International Mountain Trail Challenge Association in France. She said: ‘It was my first ever riding competition at the age of 59. Got second place in Novice ridden class. Dakota is a QH aged 16. It was his first ever competition as well. I was the only rider bitless in the novice class.’

Then there is Tam riding Blue (below right) in Brocconoc, Cornwall, UK, during a grade 140k endurance ride.

And Joanne with Marina competing in endurance in South Africa.

Check out more about the ambassadors scheme and the aims of the WBA on its website – only £15 a year to join! It’s lovely to see so many comfortable horses, ridden without gadgets and unnecessary bits of metal. I think the public will love to see more riders like this in showgrounds across the world – much more impressive to see someone achieve so well, with much less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day they will be allowed to compete unfettered by rules and regulations which sometimes exclude them – most notably for the UK in some ridden showing classes and dressage. But the prejudice seeps into places you wouldn’t expect. I still remember the day that my daughter was banned from a Pony Club show for riding her pony in a hackamore. There are better bitless bridles around now and the hackamore is admittedly harsh but the irony hasn’t left me. There was no ban on young riders using spurs, whips or the harshest bits and we had to watch on the sidelines as they strutted their stuff.

 

FREE ADVERTISING

A couple of articles ago, a few readers alerted me to some derision on Facebook. Apparently my pages carry wordpress adverts from betting companies. I would like point out that I don’t receive this massive amount of revenue but I do find it mildly amusing. I don’t see the ads as I have an ad blocker at work on my lap top but, since I sometimes write about barefoot race horses, no doubt the betting industry was attracted. Or perhaps it’s because this blog has had more than 300,000 views since its launch. This has got me thinking – it would be great to carry some FREE ADS that are helpful to horses. So if you have a product, an event or a service that is good for the horse I would love to include it in a list after each blog. Please get in touch via Facebook (see link below) – unlike betting, you have nothing to lose.

HERE ARE the first free ads – Barefoot Horse Magazine issue 19 in print and digital is out now. Full of brilliant articles on navicular, the link between diet and laminitis, hoof boot news, the benefits of special plants. Check it out.

And have you found Barefoot Horse Owners Group UK on Facebook? – for the best support and advice on riding without shoes.  There are now 23,000 members – an awful lot of bare hooves.

The Total Contact Saddle is a unique treeless saddle that has just reached the shortlist for the Saddle Research Trust Awards for 2018. Get more info about the saddle at its website total-contact.co.uk

The WBA’s Ambassador scheme is sponsored by Transcend, Orbitless, Light Rider and NuturalX bitless bridles.

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 UKAmazon US. This page-turning book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

‘I originally bought this book from Linda at a horse show a couple of years ago but only just got round to reading it. I wish I had read it ages ago! I was absolutely gripped from the first page. It is brilliantly written, well researched, and told with compassion.’ – Amazon UK reader.

I’m a writer and journalist – if you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for yourself or a friend! 

 

 

Shoes off for some pioneering women

by Linda Chamberlain

The horse’s hoof can pack a punch. Sometimes heavy, it can wriggle or fly towards your face and holding it for a long time can do untold damage to your back.

Is it any wonder that the job of caring for those hefty and sometimes unpredictable digits has been traditionally left to the male of our species? After all, men are generally known to have a tad more muscle than women and many are capable of instilling a sense of respect, sometimes fear, in the average ridden horse.

But, if you will excuse the pun, there is dramatic change afoot.

There has been a 70 per cent reported increase in the number of women training as farriers in the UK although they are still in the minority.

The greatest change is being felt in the barefoot movement where women are qualifying in large numbers and sometimes at great personal expense in order to maintain horses without fixed, permanent shoes on their feet. Women are outnumbering men in this growing niche market and sometimes facing resentment from male farriers that goes beyond the gender issue. Let’s face it, traditional farriery is being challenged to its very core by this pioneering group of women.

Tracey Pettipher, an equine podiatrist from the Midlands, explained: ‘There were 10 people on my course but only 2 of them were men.’

All barefoot training courses are appealing to women and to celebrate this 100th anniversary year of women securing the vote in the UK, I wanted to get a photo of suffragist Millicent Fawcett’s statue on this blog and to find out more. What attracts women to grapple with horse legs instead of computer? Are they bringing different priorities to the male-dominated world of the horse’s hoof? And are they fighting against bias in the workplace in the same way that their sisters complain of in an office environment?

Choose a career in media or the Stock Exchange and it is reported that male colleagues might be promoted instead of you, or be paid far more. Hoof trimmers are self employed but might equally face bias or suspicion from potential customers.

To get some answers I spoke to three special women. I have chosen them because I either know them personally or have connected with them on Facebook. There are others who will be equally ground breaking, interesting, brave, strong and wonderful and this article is a tribute to all of them. They do a job I would have loved…but didn’t quite have the back!

No apologies for asking Alicia Mitchell to be the first to take centre stage. We are friends and now live near each other. I met her years ago when I acquired a bay thoroughbred called Carrie who was under threat of being put to sleep because her feet were so bad with navicular – no wonder she was refusing jumps as an event horse. They were like Aladdin’s slippers, long and curling and impossible to keep shod. Her shoes fell off within 2 weeks of her arrival but then her feet gradually crumbled and split. I was alarmed and found Alicia, who was then in the next county, online.

Back in 2006 she trained under Jaime Jackson in the US. Together we worked with Carrie who returned to some pleasure jumping and had another 10 years with me.

Alicia’s story is poignant and gives a startling insight into the physicality and challenges of the job.

Just imagine, this was the early days of barefoot, there were very few qualified professionals other than farriers and although she eventually had 100 horses on her books they were spread from the Isle of Wight, up to Surrey and across to Dover in Kent – a big chunk of southern UK. She might trim 10 horses in a day and that would be coupled with long hours in the car; she found it exhausting. Eating, let alone eating well, took second place. She’s not sure when she became ill but, looking back, it’s clear she was ignoring symptoms. There were so few specialist trimmers around that she had no one to delegate to and she felt increasingly responsible for her clients and their equines. She couldn’t give up, her customers had no one else but something was going terribly wrong.

She picks up the story, ‘There was a point at the height of the business when the horses were beginning to tell me something because they were increasingly playing up. I was having some strange symptoms and sometimes it didn’t feel as though I was safe.

‘I was missing appointments. Double booking. And then one morning I woke up and couldn’t see. I was blind.’

Thankfully, the loss of sight was temporary but it was her wake-up call. Nothing was found wrong with her eyesight but she went for an MRI scan and was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS affects brain function and balance; she had to slow down, eat well, trim less.

I remember that time. It was the beginning of our friendship and she was an unreliable timekeeper as a trimmer. Frankly, I didn’t mind because my horses’ hooves were looking good and Alicia was very willing to act as teacher so I could take charge between visits. She spent seven years as a full-time trimmer but perhaps she instinctively knew that her expertise needed to be shared, that she wouldn’t carry on.

But I was curious about how others reacted to her in those early days. Although not petite, she isn’t a hefty-built woman. As I write this I’m smiling because my friend looks nothing like a farrier and if you spent your horse-owning life booking one of those you might be surprised when Alicia hops out of her car, pulls out her hoof stand and pins back her curly hair, ready for work with a sunny smile. If a horse owner booked her for a consultation at a large livery yard it was quite likely that she would be surrounded by others listening in, sometimes commenting, sometimes hostile about her ground-breaking advice on diet and lifestyle and its effect on the horse’s hoof.

‘Some would be grumpy about it; they had never heard their farrier talking like this. Being small meant I was more approachable and they didn’t mind saying what they thought. I needed to keep calm, keep smiling but I began to realise that it was a personal journey and some people were frightened.’

And farriers? ‘Usually clients on a large yard would keep us apart! But I can smile my way out of a situation. They have a lot of bravado but once you start talking techie with them there is this understanding. I would say to them that this is growing and they need to learn about the wild horse model and not argue with me about the dark ages.

‘Shoes are a fantastic coping strategy. They saw us through the industrial revolution but now we have moved on.’

Alicia has also moved on. She is fit and well and still has a few local clients. She looks after her own horse plus some liveries and is now studying wildlife conservation and land management. She remains passionate about barefoot and the natural horse.

She had to step back from her dream job but argues – ‘it’s not that women can’t do it; they can! My scenario by no means occurred due to being female or choosing such a demanding career. Life just demanded that I also study natural human care! I feel as though I have passed on the baton and am excited to see where it’s going.’

Which brings me to my other two interviewees. I have already mentioned Tracey Pettipher. Recently qualified as an equine podiatrist she already has 150 horses on her books. There are days when she will trim 10 of them but doing five or six is preferred. She acknowledges the physical demands of the job and there are days when her body feels as though it’s seizing up.

‘You need to be physically fit,’ she says.

But Tracey was always ‘a bit of a tomboy’, hanging out in trees in preference to quieter pursuits as a child. Later, she worked with her dad, a telephone engineer, and her job included climbing those tall poles. She was used to a male environment, went on to become a senior manager at BT but redundancy led to this startling change of direction, working with horses.

Women working in a man’s world have to prove they are capable of the task required but I was curious about the hostility they might meet. Tracey’s account of a workshop she went on is fascinating. She was the only woman, the only barefoot trimmer, in a group of 50 farriers who might think she and her kind were treading on their toes.

‘It was OK, I am confident but then I was introduced to the group and some people gasped. I could have been the Taliban. There were death stares! I needed to explain that I was not crazy. I spoke about the three-year training I had done and how we support owners on nutrition. There were some who wouldn’t speak to me but others chatted during the breaks.’

She doesn’t see herself as competition to farriers but rather plugging a gap in the market. Most of the horses on her books come from natural horsemanship homes and do better with a different approach for handling and hoof care, finding some farriers too rough. About 20 per cent have reached the end of the road with remedial farriery and are desperately seeking a cure for lameness.

What unique skills do women bring to this domain? I asked.

‘They think more about what is best for the horse, the needs of the horse, rather than a utility object,’ she said.

The needs of her own horse, Sunny, prompted Tracey into this brave new barefoot world. He suffered a major colic in 2014 requiring surgery and a long period of box rest. She had always used a farrier for shoeing and trimming and, once Sunny was recovered, he was trimmed and allowed out of his stable.

Tracey explained: ‘He became very footy and I knew something wasn’t quite right. So I called my farrier for advice. I was told he had probably trimmed him a bit short and that he would be all right in a week or so’s time. A week later I found him in his field on three legs and unable to move.’

A vet diagnosed laminitis and advised more box rest. Tracey knew how distressing that was for her horse and was determined to find an alternative approach. ‘I was amazed at how much my EP knew about the condition and that trimming the foot was only a small part of the recovery process. She advised me on his diet and environment and worked very closely with the vet and myself, which resulted in him making a speedy recovery and back into work in a relatively short period of time. It was then that I decided I wanted to help others battling with this awful condition.’

You might have noticed that my interviewees frequently mention diet and some explanation might be timely. Grass, and rich grass in particular, is known to cause havoc with hooves due to its high sugar content. Some bucket feeds will also be filled with molasses and other unhelpful ingredients and most barefoot experts will advise you change your regime to avoid discomfort for your horse. Shoes might disguise that pain, barefoot horse owners have to get it right!

Finally, I want you to meet Caroline Wang-Andresen whose workload might make any decent man reach for his yoga mat and sprint to the nearest retreat centre.

She is Somerset based and looks after her own eight horses on five acres, has two children and about 400 equine clients. She might trim 20 of them if they are on the same yard but between 10 and 15 is quite usual. She doesn’t do yoga to iron out the kinks in her back, much to my amazement.

Her own dressage horse introduced her to the world of barefoot about 18 years ago when he became ‘stale’ and wasn’t going forward, hinting that something was wrong. An instructor suggested taking his shoes off but he was crippled as a result and they went back on. Diet was addressed and another attempt was made, taking time to introduce him to different ground surfaces. Six months later the horse was sound and he has been without shoes ever since.

Caroline was an office manager at this time, not enjoying her work, itching to do something else. So, she investigated training as a hoof trimmer, found Jaime Jackson’s AANHCP and qualified three and a half years later. She has been working full time for the past 14 years.

‘I get to work outside all day and I have autonomy,’ she said, happily.

Farriers have not been known to worry or intimidate this young mother but the horse world is probably at the top of the pile for British conservatism. At a clinic at Hartpury College she chatted to another horse owner.

‘She asked what I did and said she would never have a woman do her horses’ feet. It would be odd.’

Another time she couldn’t help eavesdropping on a conversation between a local vet and a horse owner in which Caroline’s concern about the effect of rich grass on the equine hoof was being ridiculed.

‘The vet had no idea I was there but I was in the stable next door, trimming a horse, and he was slagging me off.’

You need to be physically strong to be a trimmer – a tough exterior is also helpful.

The autonomy Caroline speaks of is the key. Being self employed means the work of these women will be judged directly by the customer and their horse. If their care produces lame horses and unsatisfied owners they will lose out.

I am pleased to report – they are not.

Perhaps 2018 will be remembered as a good year for women…and the domestic horse.

LinksTracey covers mainly Warwickshire and Oxfordshire

Caroline covers a large chunk of South West UK

 

FREE ADVERTISING

A couple of articles ago, a few readers alerted me to some derision on Facebook. Apparently my pages carry wordpress adverts from betting companies. I would like point out that I don’t receive this massive amount of revenue but I do find it mildly amusing. I don’t see the ads as I have an ad blocker at work on my lap top but, since I sometimes write about barefoot race horses, no doubt the betting industry was attracted. Or perhaps it’s because this blog has had nearly 300,000 views since its launch. This has got me thinking – it would be great to carry some FREE ADS that are helpful to horses. So if you have a product, an event or a service that is good for the horse I would love to include it in a list after each blog. Please get in touch via Facebook (see link below) – unlike betting, you have nothing to lose.

HERE ARE the first free ads – Barefoot Horse Magazine issue 19 in print and digital is out now. Full of brilliant articles on navicular, the link between diet and laminitis, hoof boot news, the benefits of special plants. Check it out.

And have you found Barefoot Horse Owners Group UK on Facebook? – for the best support and advice on riding without shoes.  There are now 23,000 members – an awful lot of bare hooves.

The Total Contact Saddle is a unique treeless saddle that has just reached the shortlist for the Saddle Research Trust Awards for 2018. get more info about the saddle at http://www.total-contact.co.uk

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 UKAmazon US. This page-turning book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

‘I originally bought this book from Linda at a horse show a couple of years ago but only just got round to reading it. I wish I had read it ages ago! I was absolutely gripped from the first page. It is brilliantly written, well researched, and told with compassion.’ – Amazon UK reader.

I’m a writer and journalist – if you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for yourself or a friend!