By Linda Chamberlain
Barefoot has failed to win the hearts of the British equestrian establishment but it is making huge inroads into the minds of the average horse rider.
So while there is a ban on barefoot horses competing in top show hunter classes, riders in other more dangerous disciplines report that more and more are taking part and succeeding without metal shoes.
Ten years ago it was hard to find a barefoot trimmer but numbers have increased, recommendations abound, and farriers are seeing the wisdom of providing their clients with a barefoot service. Our biggest welfare charity, however, the Royal Society for the Protection Against Cruelty to Animals, remains a shadowy presence and is resisting change. Trimmers, who have been working on lame horses, have been prosecuted in the past by the charity for cruelty and the trade of farriery is protected by law. So only qualified farriers can apply a shoe and the law has decreed that glue-on shoes sometimes used for the transition to barefoot are included. Trimmers who are careful take plenty of photos and video footage of their clients for two good reasons. The information is useful to see progress but will also provide evidence if allegations start to fly.
The attitude of the establishment is typified by the ban on barefoot horses from the show ring in working hunter and other classes. It was introduced a few years ago after a judge slipped while riding a horse wearing only front shoes. It’s ironic that you can hunt barefoot and risk your neck over treacherous ground and high hedges but you can’t enter a hallowed but safe arena and do a few circuits over the level grass on a show hunter!
The issue sparked a row between a national magazine called The Showing Journal and the 10,000-strong Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook recently. Furious riders from the group hit back at claims in the magazine’s letters page which said barefoot horses were prone to slipping and must lead very dull lives, rarely leaving the schooling arena.
Here is the original letter and the editor’s response so you can read it for yourself. Not surprisingly it prompted members from the Facebook group to write back shouting ‘rubbish’ and citing examples of their success.
Members of the group are competing in endurance, cross country and show jumping and their horses are winning rosettes rather than falling all over the place. Every week they are posting of their successes in competitions around the country and report that their equines have good-enough grip to give them confidence in extremely wet conditions and over jumps.
Here are a few of our brilliant riders – L-R Richard Greer, Helen Jacks-Hewett and Rea Trotman.
It’s great that they report seeing other competitors who are barefoot when only a few years ago they might have been alone. That feeling of isolation was certainly a feature when I had the shoes taken off my own horses 15 years ago.
My daughter was a keen show jumper and I was watching her on her pony one weekend at a show when the voice of another mother intruded.
‘I thought only travellers or the hideously poor didn’t bother to shoe their horses,’ she said to her friend, loudly enough for me to hear.
The British are experts at the snobbish put down; prejudice is something we have perfected. The barefoot horse here still encounters such attitudes but thanks to the growing numbers of them who are enjoying active lives on their own hooves the tide is beginning to turn. Now their owners are much more likely to meet fellow barefoot enthusiasts rather than hostility.
How I would have welcomed a Facebook group such as ours 15 years ago for advice and support! Every day new members are joining, actually from all over the world, and it’s quite likely that by the end of 2015 there will be 10,000 of us – a force worth listening to. (Now up to 10,500) Many trimmers and some farriers have joined and offer advice; we have many experts on the admin team and such a breadth of experience among the members who share their thoughts.
Impossible to say how many barefoot equines there are in the UK – only that they are increasing every day.
Their owners often complain that the British climate makes barefoot harder than elsewhere in the world. We have rich grass, made richer thanks to abundant rain every spring and autumn, and we have soft ground in our fields. In order to ride on stony tracks or tarmac roads we are learning to change the living conditions for our animals when we can. Vast numbers of our barefooters struggle because of the regime at livery yards where they are obliged to use stables and lush, traditional pastures instead of track systems. So it is heartening to see more and more new-style yards appearing geared solely for the needs of the barefoot horse.
These are the havens which have minimal grass and maximum movement. They know how to keep horses fit and healthy. They provide rough ground instead of soft turf; hills and hay stations and they are making it easier to go barefoot. Expertise is growing and the veterinary profession is occasionally looking on with interest instead of bemusement. Our success will soon make it impossible for the equine establishment to hold onto its hostility.
The above article has been published by The Horse’s Hoof magazine which is based in the US. My thanks to editor Yvonne Welz for her support for my books and asking me to write it! Here is a link to the magazine – check it out for yourself.
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-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. It 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 is one of the latest reviews – ‘What a wonderful book. Loved every page and cannot recommend it too highly. I would love to see the film.’
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