by Linda Chamberlain
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 farriery, 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 hazards 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 if 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 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 shooting 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 of 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 & protection. 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 article. 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!
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 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 NovelSociety. 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!