Saving the hoof…the Marvellous way!

by Linda Chamberlain

I’m writing this in December. It’s sunny, my sleeves are rolled up and my horses haven’t worn rugs in ages.

Climate change! Is it sinister…or a sheer pleasure? We might laugh; we might even enjoy it unless our house has been flooded or our horses have been rescued from swollen rivers.

But when I go to check my little herd later without my jacket on I have good reason to worry.

3 horses on track

Because the grass is still growing steadily, the sugar content remains high and if your horse is barefoot like mine there is no hiding the symptoms it may cause behind a metal shoe. Rich grass is thought to be the cause of footiness in some barefooters. It does the same to a shod horse but you might not notice due to the numbing effect of the shoe. It also causes separation at the white line and if this worsens you have a serious condition called laminitis to deal with.

There is said to be an epidemic of laminitis in the UK at the moment. My own horse is still recovering from an episode so my ears were flapping last weekend when I had the chance to discuss the latest ideas on horse keeping with some serious experts.

I was signing and selling books at the Westcountry Equine Fair on the stand of Barefoot Horse Magazine and Hoofing Marvellous, the umbrella title of a very interesting group of trimmers who between them cover a massive part of the south west and beyond.

HM logo

barefoot horse magThe mild, wet climate of the UK doesn’t make it easy to keep a barefoot horse who should ideally be living out 24/7. The land can get sodden and unless you’ve created some nice, dry areas of hard standing or all-weather tracks you are facing problems when the mud arrives.

But there is another worry and I would be very interested to hear whether readers of this blog in other countries have the same concern.


Rye grass. 

Here’s a picture of it. Looks innocent enough, doesn’t it?

HM rye grass

Gary Hinton, who covers Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Dorset for HM, warned: ‘It has between 300 and 600 times more sugar than other grasses, even when dried.’

HM gary hinton

Rye grass is great if you have your sights on record milk yields but a nightmare for a horse and his feet. It’s quite possibly the single biggest reason why some people find it so hard to ride without metal. The UK is heaving with it and it can be hard to find fields or hay made from more suitable mixed meadow grasses.

My trimmers were full of brilliant advice – no wonder, they were inundated by crowds of people around their stand at the show in Exeter. Barefoot is really catching on and everyone needed information; they wanted to learn.

HM - sophie bennettsSophie Bennetts, who is hoping to set up a livery yard in Cornwall for barefooters, seemed to know pretty much all there was to know about hoof boots.


Caroline Wang-Andresen, a trimmer who covers Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset, was unequivocal – track your field if you can. Then you can reduce your grass but increase your horse’s movement. Ideally, you should scrape off the grass and replace with stone or other surfaces and feed hay 24/7. But not any old hay – avoid rye grass, even if dried.

HM Caroline

On my return home, I checked my own hay supply and found one or two pieces of rye but a predominance of other grasses so decided not to panic! I had been promised it was organic meadow hay.

Tracking fields, removing grass and replacing with all-weather surfaces might sound crazy but there’s another reason for caution when it comes to the green stuff. Climate change.

I usually deem it safe to turn my horses onto their winter pasture in November; the horse that goes crazy on rich grass seems to hold her head together and the two that become footy appear to cope. Not this year, though. I have only one horse out on it for a few hours a day. For the rest of the time they are confined to the yard and a strip of muddy field while Sophie sorts out her laminitis. We are slowly getting there. It’s not ideal and I wish something better for them. I’m about to investigate making more all-weather areas and will report back…

In the meantime, let me tell you about another of those awesome Hoofing Marvellous trimmers – Lindsay Setchell. Here she is showing me how to ride and stay in the saddle. I’m a troublesome pupil, sadly.

Lindsay Setchell

Not only does Lindsay trim hooves but she edits the only magazine in Britain dedicated to the barefoot horse. This publication passed an important milestone recently – it went into print as well as digital. I write for Barefoot Horse Magazine occasionally myself but it is full of articles from horse owners telling their stories.

The magazine was born from a newsletter Lindsay sent out to clients and now it’s a full-colour phenomenon!

Check it out here. And Hoofing Marvellous…herebarefoot horse mag

HM Kim TaylorAs trimmer, Kim Taylor, said at the show: ‘There is such a different attitude towards barefoot this year. It’s really changing.’

Such good news…let’s face it, you might not be able to reverse the change in the climate single handed but you can try barefoot and reduce your horse’s footprint on the world…

I’m trying to think how it might help the climate – it will certainly help your horse.

ABOUT ME – I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. A Barefoot Journey, is my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) 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. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberIt is a small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet, a historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has 40 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society. Here’s the latest review on Amazon – ‘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!’ It was lovely to meet so many readers at the Equine Show last weekend. Keep in touch by following this blog or finding me on Facebook.

3 thoughts on “Saving the hoof…the Marvellous way!

  1. All so true, I have a diabetic mare, fast sugar will kill her, via laminitis. The only solution here is a grazing muzzle to limit intake and encourage exercise to keep up circulation in her feet. Tough weather for now.


  2. Hi Linda,
    Great post. I thought I would share with you my situation. I’ve moved my horses to Spain. They are both barefoot and used to be turned out 24/7 on pasture in the uk.

    I used to be on lami watch, but luckily my grass was meadow grass with lots of plants and a brilliant hedgerow full of tasty treats. We never had any problems.

    Just prior to leaving the UK, the weather was a total washout and and the girls were constantly wet and muddy. The land was sodden.

    Now my horses live in a corral and I face different challenges as I learn to manage them in a totally different way.

    The corral is sandy and stony. It is a total change from what we were all used to and I have had to put a lot of thought into how I handle this change.

    The major benefit is that the horses feet are amazing, the best I’ve ever seen them.


    I’m now responsible for every morsel they eat which is a blessing and a curse!

    I have taken to devising toys that offer treats in return for some brain work, such as bottles with small holes in filled with carrots or alfalfa pellets.

    The best bonus is that we get to take walks in the mountains together (neither of them are backed yet, they are still babies) and they get to browse for grass and wild herbs.

    It has massively improved our relationship and their feet.

    I have had barefoot horses since 2005 and Im a keen enthusiast.

    So what do I think of my new Spanish horse adventure?

    I love it.

    Aside from the extra flies that we have to cope with, we are out in the sun every day. We can play more as less time is spent getting mud out of coats and we have a much more interesting time learning new things. Feet need less trimming and are in fab condition. What more could I ask?


    • Maria, thank you for sharing your experience. I envy your situation at the moment as I struggle with keeping a horse on zero grass! She needs movement and at the moment I am so busy looking after them that I hardly have time to go for walks. Enjoy your girls…


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