Olympic shame tarnishes the gold…

by Linda Chamberlain

Has dressage become a blood sport?

No animal is hunted but the world has witnessed this equestrian discipline’s fall from grace at the Rio Olympics and social media networks have been buzzing with allegations of cruelty. There have been pictures of horses foaming and drooling, their mouths full of harsh metal bits and their noses clamped shut with tight nosebands.

Parzival in the World Equestrian Games 2010

And there have been reports of blood.

Horses have been shown with their tongues hanging out awkwardly – their faces alarmed and full of pain. Their sides marked from the prick of the spur.  Their heads pulled into their chests where no equine feels comfortable.

Showjumping has also been criticised after two riders were eliminated – one for excessive whipping, another for the heavy use of spurs.

Gold medals have been won but the glow of victory has failed to warm the hearts of animal lovers who say equestrian ‘sport’ has gone too far.

Jo Macarthur from the Norfolk Horse Training Club, this week attacked the treatment of Olympic equines. She said:

‘Human athletes made mistakes; they did not get whipped by their coaches afterwards.

‘In addition to forced head carriage we witnessed excessive whipping for non-performance and punishment for not achieving the rider’s objective, which is totally unacceptable. ’

Ironically, Andrew Finding from the British Equestrian Federation which governs the sport in the UK, had warned campaigners last year not to use welfare as an issue in its campaign to get bitless bridles accepted in dressage competition.

It would take an effort of Olympian proportions to leave the issue aside. It seems that in Rio all athletes are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Jo said: ‘In the 21st century, it is shameful that abuse of the horse continues in every Olympic discipline. Most shocking to many riders is the continued refusal by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports to allow the softer option of the modern bitless bridle in dressage where the horses are supposedly trained to the lightest signal of the human seat and hands.’

The spotlight in Rio fell on dressage especially because of one horse – Parzival (pictured above at the World Equestrian Games in 2010 when he was also in the spotlight), ridden by the Dutch team member, Adelinde Cornelissen. She withdrew this highly talented horse part way through her performance in Rio. His jaw was patently uncomfortable and swollen, saliva was dripping onto the arena floor and his poor tongue was hanging from the side of his mouth.

The reason was an insect bite. Vets had not been able to reduce the toxins it caused in time. She took the heartbreaking decision to pull out in a highly public way in mid-test and was hailed as the ultimate Olympian for putting her horse before her own competitive interests.

Then came the backlash on social media.

Doubt was put on the cause. A fractured jaw was mentioned. Why did he even enter the ring? Harsh bits and hard hands were blamed. Adelinde denied.

Frankly, I respect the libel laws – I believe her. The horse was bitten. There’s no doubt in my mind.

Also…frankly, it doesn’t matter.

Parzival 3ParzivalParzival (left, in Rio) is just one horse. And there are countless others whose noses are constricted. Whose tongues are seen to be blue; others who have dripped with blood. So many who are trained using methods called Rollkur or LDR (low, deep, round) where the flexion of the horse’s neck is aggressively achieved. Rollkur is banned by the FEI but LDR is not as long as the horse has an unspecified break every ten minutes.

Parzival 4In the UK (and elsewhere) there have been vigorous campaigns to persuade the governing bodies controlling dressage to allow horses in competition wearing bitless bridles.

This is one ban, you see, that the authorities have enforced. A competitor mentioned on Facebook was eliminated at a competition because although his horse was wearing a bit, the reins were attached to the noseband.

They are not having it.

Top level talks last year between the Norfolk training group, plus bitless campaigners from the group A Bit More CHOICE, and British Dressage, the British Equestrian Federation, the British Horse Society and World Horse Welfare failed to convince the authorities that bitted and bitless horses could be judged together.

Jo said: ‘Metal bits are not seen in human ballet dancers’ mouths to exact precise or flowing, light movements, nor are they necessary for control or communication with horses. Norfolk Horse Training Club and CHOICE campaign continue to lobby the British Dressage, British Equestrian Federation and FEI to make the rule change that is being called for on grounds of fairness for the horse, especially after some of the unacceptable antics in Rio.

Dressage - without spurs or bit

Dressage – without spurs or bit

‘A high number of disqualification and withdrawals on welfare grounds during the Rio equestrian disciplines has created a backlash on social media with storms of protest over tight nosebands with horses clearly exhibiting signs of stress and pain, evidenced by excessive foaming of the mouth and terrified facial expressions.’

The British Equestrian Federation didn’t want welfare in the sport to become an issue for campaigners to exploit. The trouble is there is no cosy place for cruelty to hide.

A horse bleeds in Rio and minutes later the animal-loving world sheds a tear.

IN OTHER NEWS

1imageTrimmer Nick Hill and holistic vet Ralitsa Grancharova will be running practical training courses on the horses’ hoof and how to trim. They are based in Bulgaria and are offering the chance to accompany them on their rounds for up to a week and gain hands-on experience.

Nick Hill 12For those experienced in hoof care, ‘You will see everything from straight forward trimming cases to pathologically deformed hooves. We will walk you through the process of bringing the equine back to equilibrium through treatment, diet, environmental changes and barefoot trimming. Amongst the regular clients there are always emergency cases that need our help, which you will be able to see and assess with us.

‘We will be travelling extensively around Bulgaria, spending each day in a different area of the country. The price includes three meals per day (all dietary requirements catered for) and accommodation. Travelling is done by car. Students pay for their own flight tickets to Bulgaria.’

They are interested in taking a couple of students at a time but will also be offering tailor-made short courses for those without experience.

For more info – contact Nick Hill on Facebook.

ABOUT ME

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a book writer and journalist but horse riding is my great love. I’m relatively new to bitless riding but have been a barefoot advocate for a long time. The shoes were taken off my horses about 16 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. Since then I have transitioned quite a few animals including my lovely retired mare, Carrie, who suffered from navicular and was due to be put to sleep when I took her on. She features on the front cover of my book – A Barefoot Journey – which 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.

‘The best book I have ever read, everything was so interesting. And gave the courage to be barefoot and proud of it!!! I always felt the same in my heart but this book just backed up everything I thought. Thank you for writing such an amazing book’ – Amazon reader.

‘ Required reading for anyone thinking of taking their horse’s shoes off’ – Horsemanship Magazine.

‘I loved reading this intelligently written book. It’s so good I think every hoof trimmer should hand this book out to clients who are going barefoot for the first time’ – Natural Horse Management magazine.

My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who warned against strong bits and 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 book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCoverSociety. 

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from Bracy himself – ‘A horse that is free of pain will lead from the thinnest piece of chord.’

REVIEW FOR THE FIRST VET

‘Fantastic read, well researched, authentic voice, and a recognition of the correlation of our best slaves- horses- with the role of women throughout history. If you are into history, barefoot horses, and the feminine coming of age story, then this book is a must read’ – Amazon US reader.

If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel is in the pipeline. I am being inspired by a very famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. I’m more than half way through the first draft – blending fact and fiction is such fun! And so many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet. But I think I should feature one of Bracy Clark’s colleagues. It’s on the ‘to-do’ list…xxx

 

Ex-farrier professor turns barefoot guide…

by Linda Chamberlain

Marc Ferrador is a former professor of farriery who says the practice of repeatedly nailing shoes to a horse’s hoof has to stop.

imageBased in Catalonia, Spain, Marc has turned his back on the farriery trade and now he’s going to guide you along the challenging path to barefoot horse riding. It is not always easy because, as he warns, we are dealing with animals bred in captivity, weaned young and ridden early.

Controversially, he says these factors coupled with bad feeding systems and inadequate living conditions leave us with a ‘version’ of the horse that has mental and physical handicaps which can’t always be corrected.

And he says that although there are no studies proving the effectiveness of barefoot, neither is there any science to show that metal shoes are good for the horse. Not one study – only evidence that shoes are helpful to riders, farriers and veterinarians.

This is my second interview with Marc – the first has been read by more than 60,000 people – so I am very excited to publish more from him. When he turned his back on farriery he persuaded the vast majority of his clients to try barefoot so he has a wealth of experience to draw upon. He has covered a lot of ground here – abscesses, when to take off the shoes, how to protect hooves, when to ride, what to feed and how to keep your horse. But if you have any questions, please go ahead by clicking on comments!

Can you prepare your horse in advance for going barefoot?

Marc 7In the first instance, look to see if the horse’s living conditions and the owner’s commitment will allow it. If these are correct, we then evaluate the state the hooves, limbs and joint alignments.   For most of my initial visits I request x-rays of the front hooves to start with and then of the back hooves if I see anything noteworthy, in order to assess the phalanges, especially the 3rd phalange, which in the great majority of horses usually shows some modification.  As the hoof is a “casing” for this bone, this is an essential piece of information for an equine podiatrist or farrier.

Once we have assessed the horse’s lifestyle, conformation, joint alignments, resting posture and hoof structure we move on to assessing the horse in motion; walk and trot in a straight line then in small circles on both firm and soft surfaces if possible.

I also have to mention that I always remove shoes when the hoof is long, excessively overgrown, so that on removing the shoe the horse has a lot of horny material to exfoliate bit by bit without reaching the point where the sole is being used for support. Hoof material that has grown whilst shod is never prepared for support or wear without a shoe since when the hooves are shod, the brain is “disconnected” from the ground and its stimuli, and economises energy and nutrients which would protect and harden this zone.

Marc 6For this reason we need to leave the hoof long before removing shoes, hastiness and performing a standard trim for all horses in all situations is also a complete error, in my opinion at least.

What is the best time of year to take off the shoes?

Whenever the horse is in the best moment to do so, based on what we’ve already discussed. There’s a lot of urban legend regarding whether it’s better in summer or winter, just as there is with so many other aspects of Barefoot and traditional farriery. However there could be some variation associated with certain types of terrain, for instance granite surfaces, which are extremely abrasive, where you have to evaluate the timing of the start of the transition very carefully. However, if we follow the strategy outlined in the previous question there shouldn’t be any problems.

It has to be said that the x-rays will tell us if our horse can live barefoot or not. It’s an irrefutable truth that there are horses who cannot be barefoot even though their lifestyle is ideal. Due to the mismanagement of foals, poor lifestyles, unsuitable work and bad farriery there are horses with damage and modification in the phalanges, especially the 3rd phalange, who when they are older, but not old, the damage is irreversible and these animals will be dependent on almost permanent orthotics or limitation in their living space. Even so, the number of such horses is very much lower than a lot of people, most farriers and almost all vets think.

For example: In the approximately 200 horses I work with, only 4 fall into this category, that’s to say, 2%.

From what I know of other trimmers, it’s commonly between 2-5%.

Not 40%, nor 30%, not even 25%.

Getting the diet right – what should the horse be eating?

This is not my field of expertise and I could be mistaken in this respect, but a diet based on straw, feed and alfalfa given in two meals a day is not the best system!

Marc 4I know that a diet consisting of mixed hay, in small amounts several times a day is the most adequate. But we must not forget that this is also a substitute for grazing. Therefore a colleague and I are studying the possibilities of direct grazing in fields with native, not cultivated, varieties of grass, without fertilizer or mechanization, managed by timing grazing and resting periods, loosely based on the ideas of Allan Savory and José Luis Pinheiro in their proposals to rehabilitate “desertified” fields using grazing animals and transform them into native perennial leys. So far our trials are running but it’s too early yet to draw any conclusións. There’s a lot written on this subject regarding cattle and sheep but practically nothing with horses. We‘re using a hybrid of the track system along with pasture, taking the best from both parts.

Getting the lifestyle right – what are the best living conditions?

Large spaces with some grazing, good quality as ecological as possible hay , clean water, clean environment, company of other horses whenever possible, surface with varied textures , good work and training programs and  professionals with up to date information who really like horses.

 

How much movement should the horse have and can a stabled horse be barefoot too?

Uff. Another one of the barefoot “million dollar questions”. Well, from what I’ve seen, it shouldn’t be less than 6km (3.5/4miles) a day, but always with the possibility that this might be reduced depending on joint and foot health.  Almost more important than the distance moved would be what surface the horse is living and working on, which determines the greater stimulation of the sole and thereby its thickening.

Who should trim the horse and how often?

Marc 3Well, someone who is qualified to do so, and who is? From my viewpoint it has to be farriers who perform this type of work, they are specialists in hooves, although a great number have mistaken this for being a specialist in ironwork. They already have extensive training in handling the tools, work posture, how to handle horses and vast knowledge of the structures in the foot and assessment of  joint alignment. Although a huge update is needed in so far as the conformation and mechanics of a healthy hoof within the context of a healthy horse also to relearn the groundwork, learn how to manage the barefoot hoof and its environment, see the horse as a subject who benefits or suffers as a consequence of our actions, learn about hoof boots and new pathologies and orthopedics and be aware of the latest information on what and how a horse should eat.

At present I see it as a waste of resources trying to train new hoof care specialists when in the majority of countries there is already a public system already doing 50% of the training required for little more cost than the enrollment fee.

Besides, I also believe that a fully trained podiatrist/orthopedist should have at his disposal all possible resources to solve all manner of maintenance and clinical cases that may arise. In a given moment a horse might require a nailed on orthotic, for example post operatively or following a fracture. This change in equine podiatry needs to be inclusive, not the other way around, a responsibility that comes with the burden of care. It goes without saying that you have to eliminate, always in my view, constant nailing on of iron or aluminium now that it has been more than proven that permanently immobilising the hoof capsule causes atrophy of the soft tissues, in many cases irreversibly, tissues that each have a unique and specific role in the correct functioning and mechanics of the hoof. These tissues represent more than 50% of the volume of the horse’s foot and if we don’t look after these tissues it’s clear that we make a bad start in our function as carers for the health of the hooves and indeed the horse.

I have people regularly ask me if there are scientific studies on the effectiveness of Barefoot and the truth is that there aren’t many, but neither is there any scientific study that shows that shoes are good for the horse, not one. There are some limited preliminary studies demonstrating that shoes are good for many owners, farriers and veterinaries, to vindicate the determination  not to change one iota in the way we look after our horses and we constantly confuse what should be a theme regarding the horse in a wider sense of  its health, with a reduced , myopic view about the hoof.

Once the shoes are off…what will happen? Can the horse be ridden?

Some of this I’ve already covered in the previous questions.

Marc 1Can the horse be ridden when the shoes are taken off? Absolutely! It’s more a case of the horse should be ridden or, better said, worked normally either with or without a rider. With more movement there is more vascularization, more nutrients supplied and more tissue renewal within the hoof.  None of this having a horse in an absurd quarantine without being ridden during the mythical year-long transition, as advocated by some of the urban legends in the barefoot world.

However, there is one all important prerequisite: without pain.

When a horse experiences pain whilst walking over a prolonged period, it triggers a chain of antalgic postures and mental pain patterns that negatively impact on the horse, in many cases leaving permanent psychological and physical consequences.

When a hoof feels pain on weight bearing, the sole produces extra growth as an emergency measure, as seen so often in the famous solar callousing. All this extra, emergency material helps the horse get by for a couple of months but when the new growth comes through it disappears and the horse is back to having thin soles.

To make a good sole, in terms of stimulus, it has to be constant and offer a diversity of textures. There will always be some horses who are the exception, horses that have some structural peculiarities and especially those who are exceptionally sensitive, which makes them immune to these processes. But you have realise that the great complexity of barefoot, the way I see it, is not the plethora of different trimming techniques proposed by each training method, but the different patterns of sensitivity of each horse, which is something you cannot predict, therefore you cannot rely on a standard trim, you need all the tools and resources available to assess and redress each horse’s sensitivity pattern.

As far as I know, there is no Barefoot teaching method that intricately explains this to its students/clients thereby producing a handicap in their ways of working,  especially with the most delicate and complicated horses, more often than not leading to working in an intuitive/improvised manner, a technique for which the Barefoot “sector”  has always criticized farriers.

Or is he best left in the field for a few weeks?

It’s impossible to give a “one size fits all” solution when each horse is so specific, perhaps some people leave the horse in a field when they are hard-pressed to find a solution, “what the eyes don’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over”. Sometimes this works, sometimes not, they can even worsen. I’ve seen horses left at pasture for 5 years without the minimum controls and maintenance and the hooves have not improved one bit, many actually ending up with more sensitivity than before. The ideal would be to leave them in a field with good follow up, in many cases this might be simply a small trim to correct dimensional imbalances in the hoof capsule . We need to be aware that we are dealing with horses bred in captivity, systematically weaned at 8 months of age, started to be trained in whatever form from 3 years old and ridden at 4. These factors coupled with bad feeding systems and inadequately managed living conditions leave us with a version of the horse with mental and physical handicaps which in many cases are not correctable. However as I stated before, these cases are much less numerous than many traditional professionals believe.

 If the horse is sore…what should the owner do?

Marc 5Obtain a good diagnosis, one of the hardest things in this world to acquire. We’re still not capable of keeping a full and extensive history of our horses’ health, this is partly our own fault but also that of farriers and veterinaries too. Without this history we can’t compare the structures, via ultrasound, x-rays etc  to previous information, we’re always working with very limited information about the horse at the moment when it’s suffering pain and discomfort.

If the horse is in pain it is better to have it in a restricted space and if necessary protect its feet with some form of protection until the pain dissipates, but more importantly we need to know what is causing the pain in order to choose the right plan of action..

Will movement help at this stage?

Only that which the horse deems itself capable of, without being obliged by companions. The horse is better off in its own space which as we already mentioned should be somewhat limited, also so that when the horse begins to feel good it doesn’t overdo it, which is quite common, and we find ourselves back at square one again.

Should owner put anything on the hooves to strengthen them?

As I mentioned before, there is no general solution, but a serious in depth analysis of their status is needed in order to decide what will be best for the horse.

Often we use specialised boots for these occasions, soft and smooth with silicone or EVA pads, or hoof casts with a foam insole. In some more specific cases we may use a glue-on boot or some sort of synthetic, glue-on horseshoe, using appropriate, specialist adhesives and only for a set time, knowing as we do that using these systems for too long will impair the hoof’s ability to produce good quality compacted sole, which cannot be done in isolation from the ground and air.

Should the horse wear hoof boots or is it best to wait?

It’s always best not to get to this point, that is to say, know when to take the shoes off for the horse to make a good transition. As professionals, it’s a mistake we might make a couple of times but not more, because it’s the worst way to start the process towards barefoot.

In the event that we are already in this very unfortunate situation, it will depend on the individual horse, where you live, disposition of the owner, physical condition of the horse and its pain threshold. It could go wrong if you just chose one of two options, sometimes you have to combine them, and sometimes you have to create new strategies and even in extreme cases, when we have unshod a horse before it was suitable to, I have recommended re-shoeing to gain a couple of months more hoof growth before starting the process. As the ultimate goal is barefoot for life, I don’t worry about the drawbacks of the horse being shod for a few months more.

How long will it be before the horse is comfortable? (I know every horse is different but this is asked so often!)

imageI think I’ve been answering this in the previous questions but if the horse has not improved exponentially within 3-5 weeks, we must take the decision to protect the hoof and break the pain cycle that the horse finds itself in. But I must emphasise again that we cannot generalise.

Each horse has learned throughout his life his own personal pattern of feeling pain and that is what makes barefoot so highly complex and specific in these cases of sensitivity or pain.

What are the common mistakes that people make in their barefoot journey?

For sure, to not have some of the most basic and effective information, habits and resources available. For example having paddocks with many areas of different textures. Gravels of different thickness do an excellent job in exfoliation and compaction of the soles. Work little and often if horses have limited movement where they live. Keep living spaces clean, remove faeces and urine often. Spread feeding out as much as possible, with access to grazing on native species swards with a great diversity of plant species to choose from. Older horses can be used to teach others who did not have the opportunity to learn to graze as foals. Have a clear and consistent hoof management system, using a professional or DIY if appropriate.  Clean water, free from contaminants such as agrochemical seepage form nearby cultivation.

Failure to follow these guidelines, or some of them and others not specified here, could cause problems in the management of barefoot horses. Above all, do your homework before starting and get good advice. It’s clear that haste is the enemy barefoot, but we mustn’t wait forever either.

I think with most of horses I’ve seen that have made the change, have been because the owner decided to change to barefoot or because the professional involved was not sufficiently au fait in this field. It is also true that often owners do not follow the guidelines given by their professional and that can lead failure. If you don’t trust your professional, change and find someone whom you can work with.

We must also accept that there may be some horses who may not have the capacity to be barefoot, it’s very important to make a rigorous evaluation using x-rays to assess the bony structures in the limb in question.

Abscesses are common in the early stages of barefoot. Can you explain why? And what to do?

The abscess is part of daily life for the barefoot horse’s hoof which, when all its structures are healthy, is designed to cope with an infinite number of impacts on any type of surface each and every day. I see the abscess as a common response of the defense system to these impacts with the ground.

Marc 2We often have horses living in damp conditions under foot and then we work them on hard stony surfaces, this causes abscesses.

Horses in transition may be more susceptible to having abscesses as the layers of solar tissue and the chorion are still not prepared sufficiently to deal with these impacts.

The first thing we need to know is where exactly the abscess is within the hoof. The majority of abscesses in barefoot horses occur in the caudal areas of the hoof – that is in the bars, heels and frog, unlike the large abscesses usually caused by farriery, be it from excessive burning of the sole, a badly fitting shoe or a nail entering the soft tissue.

When we have located the abscess it’s good practice to give the typical hoof soak in hot salty water and to let the horse move as much or little as it wants, without pressure from companions.

Once the abscess bursts the pressure is released and the pain relieved, I recommend not working for a few days to allow better healing of any internal wound that may have been caused.

It has to be said that abscesses are very shocking in terms of the lameness they cause but usually heal very quickly if left to mature, however this is a generalisation and there can always be exceptions to this pattern.

Note from Marc: great thanks to Gill Tibble to great effort to can understand and translate my no-ending answers. Thank you, Gill.

ABOUT MARC

image (2)Marc, who works in Catalonia, Spain, used to ride and compete. Twelve years after qualifying as a farrier he became a professor at the Official School of Farriery in Barcelona. In that time he worked on the creation of the curriculum and also a handbook for courses approved for the European Federation of Farriers Association. He describes the terrain in Catalonia as ‘special’ – it can be dry and unforgiving, so it’s a challenge to ensure horses are transitioned to barefoot without pain. He was expecting to contribute to my earlier blog post – The Good Bare Guide with trimmer Nick Hill and holistic vet Ralitsa Grancharova – but became a father to a baby boy instead. Far more important!! His answers came to me a bit late but were so interesting that I have posted them now…You can contact him on Facebook here.

ABOUT ME

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a book writer and journalist but horse riding is my great love. The shoes were taken off my horses about 16 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. Since then I have transitioned quite a few animals including my lovely retired mare, Carrie, who suffered from navicular and was due to be put to sleep when I took her on. She features on the front cover of my book – A Barefoot Journey – which tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. In this light-hearted account I tell how I coped with my argumentative farrier, derision from other riders and how going barefoot saved Carrie from slaughter. 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.

‘The best book I have ever read, everything was so interesting. And gave the courage to be barefoot and proud of it!!! I always felt the same in my heart but this book just backed up everything I thought. Thank you for writing such an amazing book’ – Amazon reader.

‘ Required reading for anyone thinking of taking their horse’s shoes off’ – Horsemanship Magazine.

‘I loved reading this intelligently written book. It’s so good I think every hoof trimmer should hand this book out to clients who are going barefoot for the first time’ – Natural Horse Management magazine.

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 to expose the harm caused by the practice 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 book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCoverSociety. 

‘I bought this book for my wife some time ago and have only recently been able to prise it from her. An excellent story with factual content which I thoroughly enjoyed reading’ – Amazon UK reader.

‘Fantastic read, well researched, authentic voice, and a recognition of the correlation of our best slaves- horses- with the role of women throughout history. If you are into history, barefoot horses, and the feminine coming of age story, then this book is a must read’ – Amazon US reader.

If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel is in the pipeline. I am being inspired by a very famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. I’m half way through the first draft – blending fact and fiction is such fun! And so many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet. But I think I should feature one of Bracy Clark’s colleagues. It’s on the ‘to-do’ list…xxx

 

 

Vet warns of danger from studs

by Linda Chamberlain

It’s official! According to a renowned international competition vet, horses have been slipping for 55 million years. Trying to stop this using studs fixed to a horse’s shoes increases the strain on ligaments and tendons and causes injuries.shoe with studs

And yet barefoot horses are banned from the show ring in some classes as judges fear they are at risk from slipping and sliding in the wet. Will the ban be lifted? 

Vet, John Killingbeck, who has 30 year’s experience including a time with the British Three Day Event team, was in an open discussion with a farrier at the International Eventing Forum which was reported online.

He said: ‘It is worth remembering what we do when choosing studs and what the horse’s natural function of the foot is. The foot is designed to absorb the impact of landing and it does it by absorbing concussion. Part of that concussion is done through the foot sliding and that absorbs the stresses and strains of landing.’

He warned that riders should use studs carefully and wisely. After reading his fascinating insights, I wondered if that were possible. Or, really, whether the use of any shoe and stud combo was advisable for the health of the horse.

Because he went on to explain that the images5Z053VVFimpact stresses on barefoot hooves were less than those that are shod.

‘We are effectively changing the mechanical effect of the foot. The shoe to a certain point compromises the function of the foot in absorbing impact. Does this contribute to modern injuries that I now see as a vet? – it does.’

John, who is a veterinary delegate to the Federation Equestre Internationale, the world governing body for equestrian sport, should be listened to with ears wide open by every horse owner whether they ride barefoot or shod.

It was music to my ears because barefoot riders have been saying this for years.

But he said more: ‘If you were to trot up 50 horses here on a nice level surface and then take their shoes off and trot them up again, the vast majority would move with more freedom than if they were shod. So the mechanical effect of the shoe comes at a price. It’s a necessary price.’

Of course, this is the crux. That fatal word – necessary.

Well, not necessary for the horse obviously but riders can be competitive souls. They want to win rosettes; they want to scale the highest jumps. The vast majority think they can only do this with the ‘necessary’ crutch of the nailed-on metal shoe, more and more do so now with studs.

John’s audience would have been riders whose horses were shod. His aim was no doubt to increase the understanding of the downside of studs. Perhaps, even limit their use.

So I was surprised to read that he also advised that horses should have a period of rest from shoes which he said compromise the blood flow to the hoof. It was the traditional view many years ago. Hunters always had their rest time with shoes off and the hoof was seen to benefit. Most owners want to ride all year round and so that wisdom has been sidelined. But I am seeing it mentioned more and more by vets and farriers these days.

And yet the traditional equine world has  adopted a hostile attitude to barefoot by banning unshod horses from the show ring in some hunter classes accusing them of being a danger from slipping.

Then something occurred to me while I was reading the online article which reported this fascinating open discussion with a farrier at this year’s Forum. Vets, like John, rarely get to see a brilliant barefoot horse in action.

My own vet once confessed that my horses were the only ones on her books who were barefoot and roamed on a track system 24/7. She was amazed that by using our combined skills – her choice of antibiotics and acupuncture and my nagging to adhere to my horses’ lifestyle – we saved my daughter’s horse when she had an infected tendon sheath. Yes, the vet thought that our maximum-movement lifestyle had been an important part in Tao’s recovery.

Barefoot horses are making their mark in competitions, particular endurance riding. But the Italian, Luca Moneta, is the only top-level showjumper that I know who rides without shoes on his horses’ hinds. Simon Earle is the only race horse trainer in the UK known to favour barefoot. Interestingly, he confirms that his horses haven’t suffered a tendon injury since they got rid of shoes.

So, for John, and any other vet or rider who is clinging to the view that the shoe-and-stud combo are a necessary part of horse riding, I would like to introduce you to two very talented riders – Richard Greer and Georgie Harrison, who is also a barefoot trimmer.

Richard, a trainer, and his barefoot horse, Troy, have already made their mark in one of the most dangerous equine sports, team chasing. Here he is landing over an eye-wateringly, enRichard Greerormous hedge. Not a shoe or stud in sight.

Does he slip, Richard? I asked.

‘I’ve had horses in front of me lose their footing while we never missed a beat but it’s not infallible. Troy and I have come down on greasy ground, rain on hard ground can be testing but shoes and studs won’t save you either. It’s interesting looking over some of the shod horses with all their lumps and bumps and swellings!

‘Barefoot now fits in perfectly with my wider philosophy. When a horse comes in for training with shoes on I find there is something lacking in the fluidity of its paces, I even find the sound slightly offensive. In competition and training, I can run on harder ground without worrying about the impact. Many fractures occur in the race industry and it also happens in team chasing. I think being barefoot reduces the risk.’

Georgie jumpingGeorgie, seen here riding Phoenix, is an event rider. Here’s what she had to say. ‘Riding a non-slip ride across country starts with a balanced rider and a balanced horse. Horses are naturally asymmetric (right or left sided just like we are right or left handed). They are inclined to favour one shoulder or the other and like to use their hinds, one as a push leg and one as a prop leg, It is our responsibility to get our horses to be as balanced as possible and encourage them to become supple in both directions. I start this training process on the ground and in ridden work very slowly. Once mastered, it can be applied to when you are galloping across country up and down hills and on any surface. This allows your horse to be in self-carriage even when at speed.’

So you see, shoes and studs are the option that compromises the horse and his feet. Could barefoot be the better path…? For the sake of the horse, can I get John to meet Troy and Phoenix? – barefooters at their best.

ABOUT ME

I have been a writer and journalist all my working life. I have been a horse rider for quite a bit longer! The shoes were taken off my horses about 16 years ago and now I would never return to shoeing one of my animals so that I could ride. I am a regular contributor to Barefoot Horse magazine and The Horse’s Hoof magazine.

My book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. In this light-hearted account I tell how I coped with my argumentative farrier, derision from other riders and how going barefoot saved my horse from slaughter. 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 UKand Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.

‘ Required reading for anyone thinking of taking their horse’s shoes off’ – Horsemanship Magazine.

‘I loved reading this intelligently written book. It’s so good I think every hoof trimmer should hand this book out to clients who are going barefoot for the first time’ – Natural Horse Management magazine.

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 Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCoverSociety. 

‘I don’t read that often but this book was definitely a “can’t put down”, so sad when I got to the end. Can’t wait to read the other books by this fabulous writer’ – Amazon UK reader.

‘Fantastic read, well researched, authentic voice, and a recognition of the correlation of our best slaves- horses- with the role of women throughout history. If you are into history, barefoot horses, and the feminine coming of age story, then this book is a must read’ – Amazon US reader.

If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel is in the pipeline! I am being inspired by a very famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. Blending fact and fiction is such fun! And so many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet. It’s on the ‘to-do’ list…xxx

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Sweet Progress

by Linda Chamberlain

It’s high summer in the UK and the land is almost wetter than it was in the winter. Sorry, to be banging on about the weather but if you keep a horse you will know all about it!

davMy horses have a new home in the woods on dry land that was once owned by the War Ministry. Where tanks once rolled, my three barefoot horses are now stretching and toughening up their hooves. They moved here just over two months ago. They have new field companions and their diet is leaves, brambles and ad lib hay. More about their twice daily bucket another time.

They look full of shine and vitality after suffering badly in the winter from a heady mix of laminitis, strained tendon and legs swollen from mud fever.  They shared out the ailments and kept me in full-time nursing work.

The woods, with its long, sloping tank track, has made an enormous difference by giving them maximum movement and zero grass and very little mud…but it hasn’t all been easy.

davThere is still much work to be done and here is what I have learnt.

The enormous amount of concrete is a life saver. I no longer trudge through a thick bog and the horses only get muddy through choice if they go for a roll in the woods.

Their hooves hardly need any trimming. Hind feet barely at all. Fronts, a quick balance.

They have shelter amid the trees but they can still get cold. I actually put a rug on my retired, elderly thoroughbred who was suffering in ‘flaming’ June. That rain was chilly…and made an old horse, stiff and shivery.

The concrete road might not get muddy but the heavy rain runs down it in torrents. It doesn’t soak in. That’s good unless you have tied hay nets onto tyres for ground level feeding. Sweet Lane (named after a road sign that was found in the woods) became something I have never seen before  – a running sewer with horse poo rushing on a few inches of water down the hill. That gave new meaning to the poo picking task. The hay was ruined and fresh had to be put higher up and tied onto the trees. Who said horse keeping wasn’t fun? – it’s such an eye opener.

horses at phie 12We had a high worm egg count from some in the herd and I wondered if the ground level feeding was a factor. Care is now taken to feed low down but not that low.

Laminitis report – here is a success story. At least I hope it is. My own horse, Sophie, went down with laminitis after breaking onto rich grass last Autumn. Trying to cure her on a former dairy farm where I live wasn’t easy in spite of some excellent facilities – large, stony yard, grass track, stony track, field shelter. A few blades of grass seemed to trigger a repeat of the painful condition.

horses at phie 28Since coming to the woods where she has movement but a low sugar diet and zero grass, Sophie is beginning to get comfortable again. For a long time she struggled to pick up her hooves for me to check. She still won’t give me them if she’s standing on the concrete but on soft ground she cooperates after much fuss and praise. The inflammation from the laminitis has given her a deformed hoof shape which is slowly growing out.  She is getting there. She is going for walks in hand, managing the stony trails on the Forest but after getting on briefly, I got off again knowing she wasn’t ready yet.

Hay – if you move to a site with little or no grass you need a constant supply. This late in the season it’s not always possible to buy the best. One of the herd has suffered from a hay cough that is troublesome. Note to self – build some pole barns and stock up on good hay early in the year.

horses at phie 16Dealing with an abscess – Carrie, the retired thoroughbred has an abscess. Movement is a great healer but she is reluctant on concrete and who can blame her? Today and tomorrow, my job is to increase the off-road spaces so that any horse feeling its feet has a choice of surfaces. I want to make use of the verges alongside Sweet Lane so need to clear a few piles of fallen timber.

Thanks to the help of family and friends, I have made a track through part of the woods. Here is Tao enjoying the new space although the hay is more attractive for some of them.

davShelter and flies – woodland has the ace card for this one. My horses are enjoying the shade on the rare days that it has been warm. There are sunny, open spots if they want them. I pass neighbouring horses wearing fly masks and protective rugs on my journey to the woods but mine have hardly been troubled.

A field shelter is under construction. We have harvested some of the pine trees and it is going up on one of the platforms (more concrete) that was once the site of an army accommodation hut. It should be ready in a few weeks.

Tendon trouble – Tao, who has suffered repeated strains thanks to her exuberant behaviour in the field, is probably walking the strongest out of all of the herd. She walks and trots on the concrete without a flinch. We are still not sure if she will return to ridden work as her leg was swollen last week. More time for that one!

It’s been a bit of a journey setting up this unconventional home for horses and it was such a thrill to be featured as the cover story in The Barefoot Horse magazine this month. Here is a link – it’s a great magazine about barefoot horses and their owners.

mag cover

So, thanks to everyone who has helped with the set-up work – Jozef and his fencing team, Patrick for his relentless clearing up, Lisa, Amber and Matt. My fellow horse keepers – Mary Joy, Kate and Suz. And for all the messages of support. A BIG thank you xxx

About Me – I am a journalist, author and barefoot horse owner. My horses went barefoot about 16 years ago and now I would never return to shoeing one of my animals so that I could ride. I recently opened a barefoot horse centre where we have 14 equines discovering the benefits of movement over varied terrain 24/7. (See blog post ‘Sweet Road to Comfort’). I am a regular contributor to Barefoot Horse magazine and The Horse’s Hoof magazine.

My book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of taking a horse barefoot in a hostile equine world. It is an honest and light-hearted account – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares. Available on Amazon UKand 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.’

Natural Horse Management magazine said – ‘I loved reading this intelligently written book. It’s so good I think every hoof trimmer should hand this book out to clients who are going barefoot for the first time.’

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 Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCoverSociety. Here’s one of the latest reviews – ‘What a wonderful story, so beautifully written, so good in fact I have read it twice (so far). I can imagine this as a movie as I felt I was there beside Bracy throughout the whole book, it captures a feeling inside one’s being of wanting to change the world for the better.. Loved it… Loved it!’

If you want to keep in touch, follow this blog or find me on Facebook…Another novel is in the pipeline! This time I will be featuring an enormously famous equestrian campaigner from the past. Can you guess who it is? I’m about half way through the first draft. 

The Blasphemous Blogger…

by Linda Chamberlain

You can measure the success of a campaign by the reaction of its opponents.blog - Tina Steiner

The other day a commentator on this blog accused me of blasphemy for suggesting that horses are better, happier and healthier if they are freed from their metal shoes.

Blasphemy! Personally, I thought that a bit strong. A touch over the top. Blasphemy is illegal in many countries of the world. In some, it carries the death penalty. Would I have to throw in my passport?

I was told to stop preaching. Because, of course, no equine could walk over stony ground or be ridden properly without the support we humans have contrived with the nailed-on metal shoe.

I was told I probably only rode my horse in an arena where the surface was soft and her bare toes were not challenged.

Here it is, in full. The comment that was made in response to my interview with ex-farrier and former professor of blog - Ringo in Basque countryfarriery, Marc Ferrador, who warned that ‘Horse Shoes Will Be Obsolete’.  (Please forgive the grammar and spelling. English is not her first language.)

She said – ‘Obviously you do not ride outside the box (ie: arena)  when you ride the concrete pavement roads this tends to ware off the hoof and when you have to ride down a gravel logging road or drive way or along the edge of the pavement those rocks cause stone bruising which will lay your horse up for a good 6 weeks or more soaking with hot Epsom salts helps but don’t cure it. there are also tiny rocks that will work up inside the the soft hoof walls and cause terrible abscesses and later blow out the whole side wall of the hoof.

‘Linda Chamberlain. I cannot imagine the purpose for your crusade in attempting to teach people the shoeing causes blog - Sarra Bear Mackenzie-Pilot on Lightninghazards to your horse and its health. you do realize your talking to people who know that horses have been shod for hundreds of years like we were not just born yesterday mmmkay?

‘You take off my horses shoes that would be like taking someone teeth out of their head. make them venerable to stone bruises and abscesses. quit preaching about things you know nothing of. when my horses dont have shoes i cant ride ok? and if i took them off for five years he still would be lame the first rock he crammed into his foot. the only hazards with horse shoes are they are slick on concrete. i dont know who your really going to convince of this blasphemy but blog - Monica Campori on Warren in kenyaif you do they never owned a horse that they rode outside the box. (arena)=box’

Well, I admit, I am no great advert for barefoot horse riding at the moment because my horse has been lame with laminitis. My daughter’s horse is much too careless with my safety to be entertained so I am busy rehabilitating Sophie with walks in hand. I will be back on board very soon as she is looking brilliantly sound and then I will be able to show off my skills.

I don’t have an arena but, when I was riding, you would have been impressed at the sight of the terrain we covered blog - Julie Allsop, gymkhanaon bare hooves.

I decided to publish the comment it because it made me smile and thought you might like to see it. Mostly. I don’t expect to convince everyone that barefoot is the right foot but never thought my blog would inspire such a backlash.

Then a prominent barefoot trimmer, Lindsay Setchell, who edits Barefoot Horse Magazine, got in touch. She told me a minor accusation of blasphemy was nothing.

‘We’ve had death threats!’ she told me.

My smile suddenly seemed inappropriate. This was no time for levity.  I started writing this article just before the blog - Joanna Hartlandshooting of MP Jo Cox and so knew that the climate was not right for the tone I was adopting. I considered dropping the article because I knew death threats, made on social media in particular, were not new. I had come across other trimmers who have faced abusive language and derision. I met one who suffered anonymous phone calls that were deadly in threat and tone. Riders have to defend themselves against the skeptics; it’s not easy and it’s not nice. Why so much hatred?

I asked Lindsay why barefoot horse riding attracted such vitriol. We were mainly a nice bunch of people who were kind and wanted a better world for our animals.

She said: ‘Many people who are pro-shoeing are in a big traditional bubble, they have no clue that if they stepped out blog - Lindsay Setchell on Oscof that bubble they would be in an enormous thriving world of successfully barefoot horses.

‘They tend to assume that barefoot is only for certain horses & not for horses in competition or in any amount of decent work. They’re truly not exposed to the amazing things that barefoot horses of all breeds & sizes can do in all different equine disciplines.

‘Because of this, they think that barefooters are few and far between and are either brainwashed, clueless, cruel or mad (or all of those things!). They have been ‘conditioned’ to believe that horses need shoes to stop their feet wearing away, support, balance & blog - Charlie Madeley, ski joringprotection. Often shoeing professionals are so utterly convinced that shoeing is an absolute necessity that they become blinkered & cannot comprehend what a true healthy foot actually behaves like or indeed looks like.

‘They also see their livelihoods threatened by people who are in their opinion no better than propagandists and scaremongers. They believe the hype that barefoot trimmers have no real training and therefore no clue about feet. All this leads them to bigotry and aggressive and often threatening behaviour….but it is changing!’

There is enough hatred and violence in the world. So I am very relieved to hear it.

And so, this is my message to those who think horses need metal on their feet – Take a look at the equines in this blog - Kim Gellatly Busbyarticle. They are not confined to a soft arena. They jump amazing heights. Tackle slippery ground. They gallop across the beach. They get dressed up smartly for a show. And they win some rosettes. Without the compromise, or the risk, of nailed-on footwear. Don’t be threatened. Don’t ban us from shows or slight us for being cruel. Find out how we achieve what you might think is the impossible.

I won’t preach any more – Instead, I will let these brilliant hooves from the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook say it ALL.

My thanks to the following riders and their horses, hopefully in order – Tina Steiner at a reconstruction of the Battle of Bosworth, Ringo from the Basque country, Sarra Bear Mackenzie Pilot on Lightening, Monica Campori on Warren, Julie Allsop, Joanna Hartland, Lindsay Setchell with Osc, Charlie Madeley doing something called ski joring, Kim Gellatly barrel racing on Busby, Andrea Tyrrell, Isla McShannon on Bracon Tapdance, Claire Watt on Oreo, Deirdre Hanley with Prince, Carolyn Brown on Heart, Emma Leigh with Dilkara, Georgie Harrison jumping Phoenix, Helen Cross, Jennie Blakehill on City, Karen Davy with Ekko, Rosanna Houston driving Caspar, Richard Martin, Penny Anne Gifford riding Dodge and Sarah Hamilton on Pan – flying the barefoot flag!
blog - Andrea Tyrrellblog - Andrea McShannon's Isla on Bracon Tapdanceblog - Claire Watt on Oreoblog - Deirdre Hanley on Princeblog - Carolyn Brown, Heartblog - Emma Leigh, on Dilkarablog - Georgie Harrison, Phoenixblog - Helen Crossblog - Jennie Blakehill on Cityblog - Karen Davy on Ekkoblog - Rosanna Houston, Casperblog - Richard Martinblog - Penny Anne Gifford on Dodge

blog - Sarah Hamilton on Pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK NEWS

About Me – I am a journalist, author and barefoot horse owner. The shoes came off my horses about 16 years ago and now I would never return to shoeing one of my animals so that I could ride him. I recently opened a barefoot horse centre where we have 14 equines discovering the benefits of movement over varied terrain 24/7. (See blog post ‘Sweet Road to Comfort’). I am a regular contributor to Barefoot Horse Magazine and The Horse’s Hoof magazine.

My book – A Barefoot Journey – is an honest and light-hearted account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares. Available on Amazon UKand 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.’

Natural Horse Management magazine said – ‘I loved reading this intelligently written book. It’s so good I think every hoof trimmer should hand this book out to clients who are going barefoot for the first time.’

My historical and romantic novel, The First Vet, is 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 more than 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…Another novel is in the pipeline! 

The Good Bare Guide

So, the shoes are off…what next? Here it is – everything you need to know about going barefoot but didn’t know who to ask! I have collaborated with holistic vet Ralitsa Grancharova and renowned hoof trimmer Nick Hill to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about those worrying but exciting, early days. We want to make sure your barefoot journey is made easier and successful. Enjoy the ride…

1image

Nick Hill 12IMG_3822Q – Can you prepare your horse in advance for going barefoot? 

Ralitsa – Any horse should be able to go barefoot if it is reasonably healthy, is put under the right environmental conditions, fed a natural and species-specific diet and is trimmed by an experienced and knowledgeable barefoot trimmer or farrier. Excluding one of these factors may result in an inability of the horse to cope going barefoot. But let us not forget that a sound horse is a horse that is sound when barefoot. If a horse can only manage walking and working when in shoes, this means one or more of the above – health, environment, proper trimming or diet – have not been implemented.

Nick – Firstly take a good look at what a horse really is, what its real needs are, how as a species it is built and made to survive and thrive. Then see if you can implement any changes that could benefit its overall mental and physical health. This will then reduce the stress in the system and allow its immune system to be as strong as possible, which in turn will prepare it for a transition of life.

Linda – It would be a good idea to set up the right diet and lifestyle before shoes come off. So sugar free buckets, low grass intake but topped up with hay and out 24/7. Be warned: Too much rich grass or molassed feeds could make your horse’s feet hurt. But the one creature who needs to be prepped, is the owner. So read, scour the internet, talk to barefoot friends and get yourself ready. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can and, if you are at a livery yard, be prepared to  explain what you are doing and why to sceptics. Find yourself a good hoof care practitioner. Take photos so that you can monitor improvements. Perhaps even keep a diary. 

Q – What is the best time of year to take off the shoes?

Ralitsa – The best time of year will depend a lot on the country where the horse is located. If environmental conditions and a reasonably healthy diet can be implemented at any time of the year, the current season shouldn’t be a concern. In areas of the world where lush grass is a problem and a grass free paddock is not an option, winter time could be the time of year where carbohydrate overload could be of least concern. This of course will depend on the rest of the horse’s diet at that time.

Nick – The best time of year is as soon as you have made as many changes to the diet, lifestyle and environment as possible, so anytime.

Carrie's feet - she sought out the footbath

Carrie’s feet – she sought out the footbath

showing improvement

showing improvement

Linda – softer ground makes it a little easier because the poor, worried owner is less likely to look at her horse struggling on hard going. Walking in hand is more likely and this will aid healing. Riding is likely to be easier but your horse might slip more on muddy tracks. Mine certainly did at first and this can be alarming until the hoof is working as it should and will then bring grip and confidence. My motto has always been ‘those shoes need to come off urgently!’ The only time I thought to keep shoes on a horse was for Carrie my ex-navicular horse who had been under threat of execution when I took her on 11 years ago. She came to me one hot summer and I wanted to wait until the ground was softer as I knew she would struggle on hard ground. Famous last words. She had front shoes on but they fell off within a fortnight. She was barefoot or nothing. She decided to be barefoot…she also thought she’d like to do a bit more jumping before she got too old so there’s hope even for the seemingly hopeless.

Q – Getting the diet right – what should your horse be eating?

Ralitsa – Quite a lot of the information on equine nutrition that we have access to presently comes from research and clinical trials. But under these controlled conditions there are many variables that make the implementing of this knowledge in everyday life hard at best. Even so, this is a massive source of information that could be used to understand the physiology of the equine digestive tract and how it is affected by different types of feed. Another piece of the puzzle is the research on the diet of feral horses around the world. Even though the information regarding the nutrition of these free roaming ungulates is scarce, it is there to show us something very important – horses need variety in their menu. This includes not only different grass species (fresh or dried), but also shrubs, forbs, trees, legumes, herbs, seeds, grains, fruit. Going back to the diet of the domesticated horse, do we see the same variety in our horses’ diet? Is feeding a general purpose supplement enough to make up for the lack of variety?

Something to avoid too much of?

Something to avoid too much of?

Nick –  Keep things as simple as possible, I generally advise hay, water and salt until the system settles and adjusts. Then only add enough to maintain health. Forage diet, not made up of monocultured grasses and preferably no chemicals or sprays.Variety is the spice of life.

horses-eating[1]

Safe? Tasty? Not likely...

Safe? Tasty? Not likely…

Linda – be wary of too much grass especially in Spring and Summer and probably Autumn. It’s high in sugar which will cause footiness. Reduce the grass, top up with hay, and ensure sugar-free forage feed in the bucket so that you have the best chance of eliminating this problem. Also, try to get rid of toxins from the diet. Some horses show alarming symptoms if they graze on land that has been sprayed with weedkiller. Even sprays and run-off from neighbouring land can have an impact. Commercial feeds can be high in sugar (molasses) and filled with oat or wheat feed and this is taken from the outer husk of the grain so low in nutrients but potentially high in chemical residues. So beware! Buy organic or unsprayed if you can. If you think your horse is suffering from toxins or too rich grass, activated charcoal in their feed may help absorb.

Getting the lifestyle right – what are the best living conditions? 

Make a Paddock Paradise by tracking fields

Make a Paddock Paradise by tracking fields

20150312_155753Ralitsa – The best living conditions for horses are the ones closest to their natural environment. Of course we cannot all allow our horse to roam free in thousands of acres of land but we can allow it freedom of movement – something we can all agree a horse is born to have. This means opening the stable doors permanently into the paddock (or Paddock Paradise) and giving the choice of seeking shelter from rain, heat or flies but not taking away the ability to walk, play, communicate, fight and jump. Movement, communication with other horses, fresh air and sunlight are some of the basic requirements for a healthy lifestyle – something which needs to come before any drugs or supplements.

Nick – The best is to be living out 24/7 all year round with company and with different terrain and substrates.

Tao and CashaLinda – outdoors rather than indoors! Field shelter rather than stable. A horse should be in the company of other equines 24/7, with free-choice movement. If you can track your fields this will help to increase movement and aid healing of those newly bare hooves. Jaime Jackson’s book Paddock Paradise explains how to do this and why. If you only have fields which are soft and grassy, see if you can introduce a nice stony area either where they congregate at a gate, or a water trough. I made a huge stony yard and field shelter area and mine toughened up their hooves themselves and saved me an awful lot of trouble. Others recommend a gravel area and say it’s brilliant for stimulating the hooves.

How much movement should the horse have and can a stabled horse be barefoot too?

stabled horseRalitsa – The movement a horse is allowed is dependent on its health. A reasonably healthy horse that has no ortheopaedic issues should be allowed free choice movement. Stabling a horse takes that opportunity away and can lead to a number of other issues, unless the horse is allowed time outside of the stable not only for training and riding, but for communication with other horses and natural behaviour. A stabled horse, which spends most of its time inside and is only taken out for riding and training, could be barefoot IF the diet it is on is set to fulfill its nutritional requirements. Keeping a stabled horse barefoot is far more complicated because this type of environment is not natural to the horse. It could lead to stress, which is detrimental to the horse’s health. Even with the correct diet, a stabled horse is far more likely to suffer health problems (which inevitably lead to hoof problems), but this does not make it impossible to keep a stabled horse barefoot. It only makes it that much harder to have a completely healthy horse.

The big gallop

on the trackNick –  A horse should be allowed free movement in the company of others, they are, after all, a highly social animal. Stabled horses can and do go barefoot, but you have to work a lot harder to gain results.

Linda – as much movement as possible. But if your horse is newly bare it might be best to allow them to choose how much movement they have. Just be careful that you don’t restrict them. So stabling is not advised. Tiny paddock is not helpful. If your horse can move, he will restore his circulation and get those hooves working properly once more. Enough movement and many horses will heal themselves. You will be amazed – not only will the hooves come good but other health issues are also often resolved by the horse walking more.

Who should trim the horse and how often?

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERARalitsa – The know-how of  trimming horses comes with knowledge, practical training and experience. Farriers, barefoot trimmers, equine podiatrists, veterinary surgeons, all of whom have passed reasonable amount of training and have sufficient knowledge on the equine hoof, its anatomy and physiology and preferably on the anatomy and physiology of the rest of the horse’s body should be able to trim horses’ hooves with understanding of how they are made to function. It is usually the specific country’s law that prohibits or limits the lawful hoof care to select specialists who have passed certain training or have met other requirements. A horse with reasonably healthy hooves is usually trimmed at 4 to 6 weeks intervals, while some pathologies of the equine hoof require a shorter or longer time span between trims.

hooves - ralitsaNick – A competant hoof care practitioner, farrier or horse owner with good professional  support.

Linda – Ask for recommends from friends. Failing that join the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook and ask the 13,000+ members who is good in your area. It doesn’t matter to me what qualification the trimmer has – the proof will be in the pudding. A horse should never be made sore as a result of a trim and, personally, I wouldn’t want to be under pressure to reshoe so would avoid a farrier who is still comfortable applying metal to a horse. Learn as much as you can from your hoof carer – see if you can do maintenance trims between visits. There are easy-to-use rasps made for this purpose but I find a little decorator’s mini rasp really useful. They cope well with stone chips and little breaks. You will then be much closer to understanding your horse’s hooves and this is important. Frequency of trim will depend on how much growth and how much self trimming your horse does. I know some barefooters who only need to call in their trimmer and few times a year. Most horses do well on 4-weekly trim cycles.

Once the shoes are off…what will happen? Can the horse be ridden?

Linda on SophieRalitsa – Every horse deals with the change differently. Some horses cope very well and can be ridden straight out of shoes without any problem. But these are the horses that live in environmental conditions as close to natural as possible (not stabled and in paddocks with the company of other horses), are fed a reasonably natural diet based on forage and are clinically healthy. In the worst case scenario, the horse that comes out of shoes is sensitive on soft and lame on hard surfaces. It is safe to say that such a horse hasn’t been healthy or sound even when the shoes were still on. In this case wearing hoof boots is a good alternative to being completely barefoot until the horse becomes sound on hard surfaces. If a horse is unsound when out of shoes this usually means one of the three factors is not in place – the environmental conditions, the diet or the general health. In this case the owner should look for ways to restore the horse’s health as well as making his feet comfortable.

Nick – Every horse responds differently, in the main most horses can be ridden straight away after removal of the shoes. The hoof walls may break up where the nails have been, but this is normal, repair just takes time.

Linda – One of our ponies was rideable the same day his shoes were removed. Shanty almost said thankyou and never looked back. He had very strong, concave hooves. Others were rideable within a few weeks but we needed to be considerate. Allow your horse to find ground that is comfortable. They want to enjoy being ridden as much as we want to enjoy riding them. So find nice, easy rides to begin with or walk out in hand. Later start leading out with the tack on and get on for the soft bits. You will be amazed how much a canter gives those hooves a good workout even when they aren’t ready to cope with stony ground. Road work is brilliant for conditioning hooves and will be managed surprisingly early. The more roadwork the better!

Or is he best left in the field for a few weeks?

 Ralitsa – If the horse is unsound when the shoes have been taken off, it should be left alone and not ridden until it recovers. This break from training and work requires some changes in the diet and environment that will allow for restoration of general health.

Nick – I usually advise to let the horse settle into its new lifestyle for the first 6 weeks, to allow muscles, tendons and ligaments time to adjust to the changes

Linda – Sometimes this is for the best especially if you are on a yard with lots of non-barefooters. The worst thing is to go for a ride with a shod companion and find you either can’t keep up or that you try and cause some damage. Go easy on yourself and your horse. I have been guilty of impatience and always wanted to see how well the hooves are doing so usually get out there ridden or led quite soon.

If the horse is sore…what should the owner do? 

Ralitsa – If the horse suffers ortheopaedic problems or has undergone recovery from a disease, this will most likely reflect on the condition of the hooves. But with time, patience and proper trimming technique, most horses recover from the initial sensitivity when put under more natural living conditions and allowed to eat a species-specific diet. If a horse is lame after the shoes have been taken off, it may require the attention of an ortheopaedic specialist to diagnose the problem. If shoes allow the horse to move soundly, this does not mean the problem is resolved. It simply means it will remain subclinical or asymptomatic for a certain period of time while more damage is possibly occurring when the animal is not feeling pain.

Nick – If the horse is sore then use boots and or keep the horse on comfortable ground.

Nick Hill 10

Recovery can be slow

Linda – Don’t panic; it’s normal. But go through this checklist. Is the trim regular and helpful? Is the diet right? The grass too much? Is there enough movement in my horse’s life? Correct where possible and then allow your horse time to heal himself. Guard against thrush which will cause footiness and  might well have been covered up by the numbing effects of shoes. Seek advice from your hoof carer and vet if in doubt. Hoof boots can be a great help in those early days when it is quite normal for a horse to be sore. Don’t forget that shoes do a lot of damage and it can take a long time for some horses to recover.

Will movement help at this early stage?

Ralitsa – Horses that are sensitive on their feet after the shoes have been first taken off usually do better when allowed to move freely. This excludes putting them in a stable and walking them by hand as both are unnatural to the horse and can do more damage if not implemented with great understanding of how the animal is feeling and of its general health. Most horses do best when put out in a small grass free paddock with soft ground, a horse friend, fed only meadow hay and given a salt lick and water. The initial sensitivity usually disappears in a matter of days, weeks or a few months after this protocol has been put in place (it very much depends on the horse, the length of time it has spent in shoes and its health status). After the horse becomes sound on soft ground it could be walked in hand or put in a bigger grass free paddock with other horses. Once the sensitivity on hard ground is completely gone, the horse could be ridden barefoot or with boots. Movement is helpful in some pathological conditions of the skeletal system but is contraindicated in others. The same goes for the recovery period from other equine diseases, so consult with your veterinary surgeon about allowing your horse free-choice movement once going barefoot.

Minimal grass: maximum movement

Minimal grass: maximum movement

Nick – Free movement, not forced, is always helpful.

Linda – movement is such a healer. I hate ‘box-rest’ and can’t think it would help a newly barefoot horse at all. Listen to your horse. One of mine used to set out on a ride a bit slow, a bit reluctant. I thought she was feeling her feet as the ground was getting hard. So I led her with the tack on and would get on after 15 minutes. It worked for us and she always came back with her hoof comfort much improved. But in the early stages, dealing with a sore horse is worrying. Severe cases benefit from areas of rubber matting and I have been known to make sandy paths – anything to encourage movement that is comfortable. Hoof boots, for the field or track, can be used to good effect in this period.

Should the owner put anything on the hooves to strengthen them?

Ralitsa – Hoof quality comes from within. A healthy horse has rock crunching hooves. If a horse is unsound or sensitive on its feet, this usually means there is a problem within the body. Putting oils and hoof specific recovery products does little to the hoof itself when the cause has not been removed.

Nick – Owners can scrub and clean the hooves daily with a hard wire brush and apple cider vinegar. This will stimulate and prevent pathogens from taking a hold.

Linda – my trimmer once told me to rub a little vegetable oil into hooves first thing in the morning, while they were still damp from the morning dew and I found this helpful for dry, cracking hooves. Tea tree dripped into hoof cracks helps them to close if bacteria is getting in. Apple cider vinegar or tea tree oil are good against thrush but strengthening them comes from within. You can’t produce hard hooves with a magic potion. Sorry, there’s no getting away from the hard work and lots of time to give results. Don’t forget you are aiming for tough but flexible hooves rather than hard, brittle ones. Hoof hardeners are said by many to produce brittleness and ingredients may be less than helpful. Carrie, whose feet were terrible, appreciated a footbath that I built out of railway sleepers, carpet and pond liner. It was in the field and she put herself in the water when she needed the comfort of it.

Should the horse wear hoof boots or is it best to wait?  

Ralitsa – If the horse feels reasonably well on soft terrain and is not sensitive after the shoes have been taken off, hoof boots might not be needed. If the horse is sensitive or in pain on soft or hard ground or both, wearing hoof boots is a good way to transition a horse to being barefoot.

Nick – Generally I advise owners to wait a couple of trim cycles before looking at boots, unless of course there is a problem/weakness.

Scoot_Boot_Black_largeLinda – sorry, I have never used them but they sound brilliant. And there are so many more on the market now. In the UK, and probably elsewhere, there are suppliers who will guide you through the choices and help get the right fit. Many hoof trimmers will fit and supply. I hear good reports about Scoot Boots and Renegades. They would be a good choice for anyone going barefoot who is impatient to keep riding at a reasonable level. I know riders who compete barefoot and some who put on boots and say the grip is good.

How long will it be before the horse is comfortable?

Ralitsa – The period of recovery is different for every horse. For some this takes days, while others recover in a matter of weeks, months or years. For best results the factors that speed up recovery need to be put in place (environmental conditions, diet, general health and trimming).

Nick – This really depends upon the individual immune system, diet and environment and movement. Expect nothing and things move on quicker.

Linda – Really, some horses breathe a sigh of relief when their shoes come off; others are comfortable in the field very soon and then you need to get them used to different surfaces in their ridden life slowly and surely. If you can introduce those tricky surfaces into their field/track life you will find they become comfortable more quickly. I found one of my horses would be comfortable all winter and then go downhill in the Spring. Keeping the grass intake down solved that problem.

Abscesses are common in the early stages of barefoot. Can you explain why? And what to do? 

Ralitsa – Abscesses are common in horses. Period. The reason they are often seen in barefoot horses is that without the symptom-covering effect of shoes, abscesses are diagnosed much more often. Abscesses, much like most signs of bad hoof quality, are a sign of an internal health problem that is not strictly hoof related. In most cases that I encounter abscess formation in the hooves is a result of an unnatural and unbalanced diet, although other causes are also possible – toxic and mechanical to name a few. Removing the cause usually results in resolving the problem with little to no intervention on the hooves themselves.

Nick – Abcessation can be caused by direct bruising from weak structures, from the wrong diet, internal scar tissue and from toxicity. Remove the cause when possible, allow free movement, poultice when needed. The horse will try to form a bolus of pus in the hoof and expel it out of either the coronary band or the heels. In order to do this the horse needs to build pressure in the hoof, enough to force the bolus out as it builds pressure then you may see a bit of swelling around the fetlock joint. This provides a downward pressure to match that of the pressure built up within the hoof and forces the bolus out. It’s completely natural and has been designed by nature to protect the horse. Digging out is rarely necessary and can be very detrimental to the horse, Any work done on internal tissues is veterinary work.

Linda – if your barefoot horse never gets an abscess you have done very well. So be prepared. A stone bruise will easily set one off but your horse has a brilliant advantage over shod field mates. There is no shoe to take off and your horse will probably walk it out if you keep up his movement. Stabling (and shoes) slow this process down. The homeopathic remedy for abscesses is Hepar Sulph. Poulticing can also help. You can use Animalintex-type products; hot porridge or boiled linseed in a plastic bag, then wrapped in a nappy and secured with duct tape. I never call the vet to dig out an abscess; I have never stabled and my horses have always successfully rid themselves of the problem. Now, they hardly ever get them.

What are the common mistakes that people make in their barefoot journey?

 Ralitsa – One of the most common mistakes people make on their barefoot journey is not having patience. Sometimes the horse doesn’t regain hoof strength as quickly as the owner would expect and they decide to go back to shoeing. Not implementing the important principles during the horse’s recovery from shoeing is another common mistake – even if the horse is allowed out 24/7, communicates with other horses on a daily basis, has a relatively stress-free daily schedule and is on a forage-mainly diet, it will get better much more slowly if it spends its days on a grass paddock for example.

More eating than moving?

More eating than moving?

Nick – The most common mistakes are dietery and pushing too hard before the horse has had a chance to adjust itself. Damage takes time to repair

Linda – listening to the wrong advice from the wrong people. Find some barefoot friends, join some barefoot groups on Facebook and listen to other people’s experiences. The last thing you want to hear a week after your horse’s shoes come off is that they need to go back on again! You need support from knowledgeable people. Make sure your professionals are supportive wherever possible. A good barefoot trimmer will advise on lifestyle and diet as well as the hoof. In my experience, vets have very little experience about barefoot horses. My own local vet, when asked, said she didn’t have any other horses on her books that lived like mine ie: barefoot and out 24/7. If you meet with a problem, don’t forget that you can consult Ralitsa for advice as I did when my horse went down with laminitis last Autumn thanks to a break-out onto rich grass.

5imageRalitsa Grancharova is a holistic vet who is registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons but is based in Bulgaria where she runs a mobile clinic. She also has an on-line consultancy service. Here is her website.

Nick Hill 3Nick Hill qualified as a farrier but became a barefoot trimmer and advocate. He travels the world teaching and holding clinics. His email is here.

IMG_3830About Me – I am a journalist, author and barefoot horse owner. The shoes came off my horses about 16 years ago and now I would never return to shoeing one of my animals so that I could ride him. I recently opened a barefoot horse centre where we have 14 equines discovering the benefits of movement over varied terrain 24/7. (See blog post ‘Sweet Road to Comfort’). I am a regular contributor to Barefoot Horse Magazine and The Horse’s Hoof magazine.

My book – A Barefoot Journey – is an honest and light-hearted account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares. Available on Amazon UKand 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.’

Natural Horse Management magazine said – ‘I loved reading this intelligently written book. It’s so good I think every hoof trimmer should hand this book out to clients who are going barefoot for the first time.’

My historical and romantic novel, The First Vet, is 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 more than 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

Sweet road to comfort

by Linda Chamberlain

My horses were seriously ill this winter but now that has changed. They have a new home, new friends and the most amazing track system to walk courtesy of the War Ministry!

We are using a highly unusual site which was once the home of a tank regiment then a forest garden in peacetime. It was occupied years later by a massive group of new-age travellers and became the subject of a controversial court case. It was full of rubbish – broken bottles, mattresses and metalwork – and needed a huge environmental clean-up before anyone vaguely sensible would put their horse on it.

piles of wood needed clearing

piles of wood needed clearing

Phie - working 2

bags and bags of rubbish went to the dump

But it had something that was particularly appealing to me as the owner of three horses with illnesses which were being aggravated by traditional field life. Concrete. Loads of it and almost no grass or mud.

Most horse owners, who are familiar with traditional livery yards, would probably have winced at the thought of keeping a horse in such a set-up.

horses at phie 12

this road sign was found in the woods

What! No stables? No individual turnout? And where was the grass?

Amber, my daughter, myself and Kate Ayling at one of our work days

Amber, my daughter, myself and Kate Ayling at one of our work days

A dear but ‘traditional’ friend of mine worried that the horses would hurt each other fighting over the hay or die from eating trees.

But I was desperate and perfectly happy to feed ad lib hay to prevent that. I was also exhausted from being nursemaid rather than horse rider. I couldn’t ride any of my three. One was retired and had mud fever, my daughter’s horse, who was careless with my safety (ie: I fell off) had a strained tendon and Sophie went down with laminitis in the Autumn and couldn’t go near a sprout of grass without triggering a repeat of the lameness.

I had to keep all of them off the grass and the mud. Sophie was stressed living on the yard and track. If I walked her up to my house she was beside herself with nerves and worry and thought introducing me to the rhododendron bush was a good idea. The other two were no better. They were not happy.

I gave up riding, I gave up leading them anywhere and aimed to keep them alive…

But the ‘facilities’ at this new place, the lack of grass and the herd life with new friends, have made my horses well again. They have only been there for three weeks at time of writing. They are relaxed, they are sound, putting on muscle and going for walks in hand with relaxed enthusiasm. I have my horses back! The change in Sophie is monumental – she walked the stony tracks on Ashdown Forest last week without flinching. And she was calm and happy.

Sophie - walking well on concrete

Sophie – walking well on concrete

The key thing that had been missing from their lives was movement which was free from the risks of mud and grass. Both were causing problems that needed veterinary help.

Moving away from having my horses at home was a wrench but here’s how it happened…

I posted a blog in which I moaned how dreadful this winter was for horses and their owners thanks to the combination of rich grass and deep mud.

A friend read the article and sent me a message saying she was also struggling, her back was hurting from carrying bales of hay through a swamp and her horses were miserable. After such a mild, wet winter there was a real risk of ailments ahead thanks to the rich, cow pasture that we generally keep our animals on. She, too, felt like moving home before the Spring grass started sprouting and gave us a laminitis risk – if only we could find somewhere that was easier to keep horses.

‘Like a car park!’ she said.

How many times have I made that quip? But deep down, somewhere hidden, I meant it. Fields don’t always work well for horses. Rye grass is very good for the milk yields but for many horses it is too high in sugar; it makes them ill. Hay is safer. In winter there is nothing glorious about the mud. Farmers usually keep their cows in a barn for the winter and protect the fields from being churned…but farmers rarely attempt to ride their cows. Such restricted regimes of 24/7 stabling doesn’t make for happy and healthy equines and riding a miserable one, who is fed up being confined, isn’t fun or easy.

‘I know the perfect place,’ I told my friend. ‘Bigger than a car park. Nearly as much hard standing as they’ve got at Gatwick airport. Very little grass but there’s a few problems. It might need a tiny bit of TLC.’

This is the bit with grass

This is the bit with grass

Phie Forest 3

Shame about the riding, though!

She was intrigued.

‘I wrote about it in A Barefoot Journey. I had my (then) two horses there for a winter. It was wonderfully sheltered and they were really happy. There wasn’t any mud.’

I explained that it was a 40 acre wood on the edge of Ashdown Forest and we could go there again. It would need re-fencing. And a water supply would be useful. There were some open areas which allow some sun between the trees and we could make a few more. We could grow some horse-friendly grass!

horses at phie 26

horses at phie 16

back to health after being crippled with athritus this winter

Those of you who have read the book will know it was the place where my horses first went barefoot about 15 plus years ago. You see, it had the ideal environment for a horse coming out of shoes. – roadways of concrete, so thick you couldn’t dig them up even if the army ordered you at gunpoint.

From that initial conversation a small group of four horse owners was formed – myself, Mary Joy Johnson, Kate Ayling and Suz Jeffery – thanks to all of them for these photos. Work started. The fencing is mostly finished, some dangerous or fallen trees have been taken down and shelters, sand areas and a nice yard are on my shopping list.

horses at phie 21But already we have a unique environment for horses. So many of us battle to put hard standing or stony tracks in our fields; it’s expensive and sometimes needs planning permission. Like others, we have been inspired by Jaime Jackson’s book Paddock Paradise and know how increased movement from tracking fields is an aid to health.

Land owners often deride the desire to turn land that’s good for growing food into roads for horses. I agree, it sounds daft.

So, I am approaching this from the opposite direction and will be introducing grass and herbs alongside the roadways that run through the woods. Just enough for variety and to encourage grazing and movement. Mostly their diet will be mixed-grass hay and birch leaves horses at phie 22until I can create bigger grazing areas in some of the glades which are dominated at the moment by bracken.

You see, if your horse is barefoot and you want him to be healthy, and rideable, he will fare much better if his feet are not forever walking over soft ground or standing still in a stable. Just think how much humans struggle when they take off their shoes and socks on a stony beach. The horse is no different – he needs to walk over varied terrain. And the sly owners at this place have situated the water and the hay at opposite ends of the long roadway!

horses at phie 15We arrived about three weeks ago and have the 14 horses in two herds – each with their own tank track! They also have a chunk of woodland which is dotted with the concrete bases of the former army accommodation huts. And some open areas too…Already we are finding that hooves need less trimming. My retired horse, Carrie, is no longer walking stiffly; she’s putting on weight. Sophie and Tao are getting ready for riding…and the horse owners seem happy, too. It’s great to share chores and have help and support from like-minded friends. Mary Joy and her eight animals have the quiet zone away from the road. She specialises in helping troubled people including, she hopes, ex-servicemen and women who have been traumatised by conflict. Her work is known as equine assisted learning and deserves a blog post of its own. How amazing that land onchorses at Phie 7e used by the Ministry of War should become a place for healing both horses and humans!

 

About Me…

IMG_3822I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. My book – A Barefoot Journey – is an 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.’

Natural Horse Management magazine said – ‘I loved reading this intelligently written book. It’s so good I think every hoof trimmer should hand this book out to clients who are going barefoot for the first time.’

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 Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has more than 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