Shoes off for some pioneering women

by Linda Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am pleased to report – they are not.

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

LinksTracey covers mainly Warwickshire and Oxfordshire

Caroline covers a large chunk of South West UK

 

FREE ADVERTISING

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

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

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

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

MY BOOKS

My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. 

My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment. His battle motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UKAmazon US. This page-turning book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

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

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

 

 

 

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Learning from the long-distance runners…

by Linda Chamberlain

Imagine a time when it is widely understood that a horse might be a better athlete without metal shoes nailed to his feet.

Imagine sporting professionals acknowledging that a barefoot horse has better natural grip, greater speed and a quicker recovery rate after exercise.

Those of you whose horse has only recently come out of shoes might find such a scenario hard to fathom. Because of course you might be witnessing discomfort as your horse regains the health in his hooves. You might be forgiven for thinking your days of trotting on hard or rough ground are gone – but take heart.

You only have to spend a bit of time in the company of some endurance riders to discover just how much a barefoot horse can achieve given the right lifestyle and training. They can keep going for miles due to their high level of fitness. They don’t slip, they feel the ground (but in a good way) and they have an enviably deep relationship with their riders.

Can less sporting equestrians learn from their experiences?

Let’s meet some of them and impress you with some facts and anecdotes.

This year’s winner of the arduous 100-mile-in-a-day Tevis Cup in the United States DOES NOT WEAR METAL SHOES. Tennessee Lane rode the 17-year-old Arabian, called Farr, with glue-ons and carried Easy boot gloves as back up. The horse is barefoot when not competing.

In the UK, Dominic Smith finished in overall 46th place nationally on a barefoot and bitless horse. He has completed about 500 km in competitions without hoof boots and recently finished third in the open at the Red Dragon ride in Wales, the national championships. He was winner of the best rider/horse combination in the open, bagging a handsome trophy and the horse’s finishing heart rate was 44.

The fact that Dominic can tell me his horse’s heart rate tells you a key thing about the sport. There are regular veterinary checks for soundness and heart rates – horses aren’t allowed to continue unless they pass. A horse that is struggling or lame is ‘vetted out’. There is probably no other equestrian sport with such scrutiny.

Dominic’s horse, known as George (but with the full name George Bush) was bought by him as an unstarted five year old. He was barefoot and shoes were never considered. Boots were difficult to get a good fit for the 16.2 cob x IDTB so Dominic takes it more slowly over rough ground, making up the time where the footing allows.

‘I’ll push on where the going is good for feet, even if I’m feeling it myself. Then I’ll give him a breather where we hit gravel or tougher stuff for feet, so that he’s getting a break where he needs to go easy,’ he says.

‘We’ve been vetted out on two rides early this season. One was ‘out of time’ and the other was lameness, one sore foot which was fine the next day. Both times this was down to me, missing solid stop lines and therefore going off course, doing extra distance and having to double back to achieve the check points. Both times, sod’s law, were on challenging courses.

‘George is out 24/7 in a herd of six all year round, no one gets rugged (although I’m open to it on health grounds). They’re all barefoot, two of the ponies are wildies off the moor kept from slaughter. Shared hard feed and hay on tap.’

Life style, feeding and an exercise regime are all important.

Katherine Mills (right) lives in Hungary but travels far and wide with her four competition horses – all Hispano Arabs apart from one appaloosa cross TB.

‘They live out 24/7 on a 1000m2 bare paddock with shelter and hay in feeders.  They are let out on grass for a snack for a couple of hours in the morning while I poo pick but previously they lived 24/7 on long grass without a problem.  I’ve never keep them on short grass.

‘I ride every other day at the most and mainly trot and canter on all good ground on the flat and walk up and down hills (1-2 hrs LSD, Long, Slow Distance).  Then usually every 3rd session I will do either continuous canters (30mins to 1 hr of canter, in intervals for less fit horses), hill intervals or fartlek intervals for a few weeks. (Fartlek training is another interval-type training for aerobic fitness)  If I have no particular event coming up and they are already at the fitness level I want I will just do the LSD training.  I always have a focus for the session so I train that aspect properly eg: fat metabolism, LSD, raising anaerobic threshold (intervals and fartlek), muscle memory (continuous canters).  Every month or so I will go for a long ride just so they are used to being out. They always get at least a couple of months off in the winter with just the occasional ride for fun.

‘My aim is just to have sound horses that enjoy what they are doing.  I am very sure Arco and QI are capable of doing 160 km at a respectable speed but I won’t push them for the sake of it.  Elsa is capable of doing 120 km for sure but I would rather her do lots of 80 km because she thinks they are fun and she has a low boredom threshold!’

I was fascinated by Barry Brewell’s insight into the relationship between these horses and their riders.

He said: ‘Endurance riders spend hours riding out with their equine partners… covering miles. Human and horse minds meet in the middle; human and horse learn to read the situation, no words are spoken but both rider and horse instinctively learn to understand how best to deal with the road ahead. How fast to go, where to place feet, get off my back and help here, think you’re best going over this bit. Yep, think you’re right, let’s go over there. I’m stopping, got a stone in my foot, have a look, can you? Sounds daft but this is the kind of relationship and understanding you start to get with your horse. It’s worth such a lot.’

Another rider, Sara Nichols Covington, said of barefoot endurance horses. ‘They are more comfortable. They can feel their feet (that proprioception thing), much less concussion with each and every footfall, and the owner is more in tune with natural ways of dealing with issues.’

Deb Morse had this to say: ‘This photo was a 50 mile (80 km) ride in Florida a month ago. Was a bit hot!! All three of these horses are barefoot, although the bay in the back has boots on his fronts. My guys get fed a high fat, sweet feed, supplemental alfalfa, as much green grass as I can get them on or ad lib grass hay. So basically everything you’re “not supposed” to give a barefoot horse. But they work hard enough that they need the calories and put enough miles on their hooves that they can do 50+ miles without protection in the terrain they train on. If we go up north to do a mountain ride, like I am this weekend, I boot all 4 hooves. The bay in the green has done 100 miles (160 km) in a day and was booted since it was in mountains.’

Emma Leigh’s homebred TBxID mare was awarded best condition by FEI vets after one ride. She competes up to 65 km and the mare is trained and competed completely barefoot. ‘Her feet aren’t the prettiest and her conformation isn’t great but it just goes to show that looks don’t matter. I think the distances and terrain covered in training is excellent conditioning for bare hooves. The time taken to do this builds a great partnership so you know each other so well. Having a good hoof care professional who understands the needs of a barefoot performance horse is definitely necessary although these hooves rarely need much attention due to the work they do. She is on restricted grazing due to being a good doer and is fed Allen and Page feeds as well as various supplements and hay. The right diet will always help but movement is key to a good bare hoof.’

Gemma la Coop has had great success competing with hoof boots. ‘I’ve done several 80 km (50mile) rides with my boy successfully booted, and did 100 miles through the Cairngorms over 4 days. The key is to make sure you have well fitted boots!

‘There are lots of successful barefoot horses and ponies out there, the winning Scottish endurance team this year had several barefoot horses on it!’

Jill Thorburn has two barefoot endurance horses. ‘My previous horse competed up to 65 km before I sadly lost him to colic. I have brought on my current horse and he has successfully completed 17 endurance rides up to 64 km in the last two years. He is sometimes booted in front. The key is good nutrition, good conditioning and regular trimming. I have recently backed my next endurance horse and will spend two years working him gently, building up the work and conditioning his hooves through work on all terrains. I think barefoot horses do so well because you never see riders trotting them along the roads when there is a verge available. Both horses and riders are more aware of where to step to protect from concussion. I give Pure feed and its always worked well for my horses. My trimmer says they both have great feet.’

Not all endurance horses are Arabs, although they are famously strong in the sport. This is Ally Knight’s fell x Arab who was previously shod for 10 years and has been barefoot for around 18 months. ‘I do boot on the fronts if I think there is going to be a lot of forestry.’

Danielle Glaister’s horse, Blackie, has completed regularly barefoot and booted. This year they did Cirencester 40 km Saturday, 40 km Sunday. She says: ‘He nearly always gets grade one as he did in riding club championships in Lincolnshire two weeks ago.’

Jane Impey says diet has been vital for her horse. ‘We have participated up to 40 km. For us, lower levels of sugars, reducing grass during summer and feeding ad lib hay with salt and a good balancer has helped and lots of hacking on varied terrain. Support of a good knowledgeable trimmer who also does bodywork has helped massively! Not a typical endurance horse but he loves it.’

Frauke Jurgensen said: ‘I have a metabolically challenged pony who has competed up to 80 km. He did lots of shorter distances bare, and 60 with front boots only, but now he wears Renegades/Vipers all round. We have muddy fields up here and granite tracks, and the combination makes it really difficult to get the hoof conditioning just right. Also, his metabolic issues mean that even with very careful management, his frogs are always pretty crappy and he feel stones more easily. Not a problem if you can amble along and choose your footing very carefully, but not conducive to speed. I’ve had people say that of course it must be easy to go BF for endurance if your horse has feet as great as Benji, but I have to correct them and say that it’s a testament to the quality of the trimmers that he can do so well, despite having metabolically-compromised feet!’

Karen Schafer has completed a 160 km endurance ride on her barefoot Arabian, no boots. ‘He has won and placed in several rides between 80 – 120 km, I found everything depended on the footing, if it was good there was no limitation no matter what distance and if it included gravel roads and stony riverbeds I would usually get around the first 40 km fine and use Easyboots in front after that. My horse became an absolute pro at picking his speed according to the footing and never vetted out due to being barefoot. He was out on pasture (green and lush most of the time but old fashioned varieties) all year round with a little hay and no more than 1 kg of oats plus minerals and salt when in full work. He was always in excellent condition.’

Sam Hunt has competed two Arabs up to advanced level (80 kms) over the years, completely barefoot, never been booted. ‘Miri, pictured, is now 17 and will compete again next season. We’ve done all kinds of terrain, from fast and flat, to steep and rocky. Their proprioception and therefore balance is great. As long as we’re on the right course, I let them pick their preferred bit of ground (not always what you would expect them to choose!) If the going’s particularly tough, we simply slow down accordingly.’

Tracy Helen Ryan reports: ‘This year between 18 February and 17 September Connie and I have completed 1170 km. Longest distance has been 33 km. We have ridden nearly every weekend sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. We have never been vetted out. My horses live on a track system with free access to a barn with a big straw bed and hard standing. There is access to two half acre grass paddocks through the summer and I feed adlib hay all year and Simple Systems grass nuts and purabeet with micronised linseed twice a day. I always allow Connie to choose her own speed over any terrain. If I ask her for a higher gait and she is reluctant we stay with what she is comfortable with. Listening to Connie is my highest priority and in my humble opinion what keeps her sound.’

Finally, another Arab, with Jane Adams. ‘I competed up to 64 km on my little rescue barefoot Arab. Sometimes with front boots but mostly bare. Lives on a track system, ad lib hay 24/7, 365 days per year. Fed always on Simple System feeds. Retired now for a few years due to Cushings but is sound at 24.’

THANK YOU…!

Thanks to all those who have helped me with this article and shared their success stories – and apologies for the time it has taken for me to put it all together! I blame a series of interviews that didn’t happen, evidence that didn’t materialise and my own horse’s battle with niggling injuries. Sophie had a strain on her tendon requiring full-time worrying and nursing. No doubt, the experience will supply me with anecdotes and articles about how to heal such things but I could have done without it. No doubt, she felt the same. I’m not a lover of box rest because the poor horse frets and loses muscle and condition and unfortunately rest is recommended…fortunately I have my own version. Here is my sick bay – big enough for two horses, room for a lay down and to potter about. They can even walk around the outside of it. Difficulties hit me every time I thought she was recovered enough to cope with more space. Turning her out renewed the strain. So I have established an injury recovery area – a level concrete circular track which allows more movement than the sick bay. No slipping and straining, no running. There is a softer area amid some fir trees for lying down and rolling, shelter thanks to their cover. And it’s working – she’s walking happily and being led. Wish her well…xxx

BOOK NEWS

My latest book has just come back from my editor who has given me work to do but some praise to fuel my typing fingers – she says: ‘Your writing is truly remarkable and your skill with words just takes my breath away.’ Wow…but that’s enough about me – book links and reviews are below…

My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. 

My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment. His battle motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UKAmazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

‘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 campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for a friend! 

Max’s amazing transformation…

by Linda Chamberlain

Meet a horse called Max.

He wants to show you why metal shoes were not working for him.

In this shocking photo (below) he had been shod less than six weeks before.

His heels were underrun and his hooves were distorted. The strain on his tendons must have been immense.

I doubt there can be any farrier in the country who will say it was the work of a good professional.

His owner had had enough. So off came the shoes and with frequent trims she was able to improve the shape of Max’s hooves.

His heels are no longer three inches high – in just a few months they are getting back to where heels should be, at the back of the hoof! And as you can see the potential for tendon strain has been reduced (see below).

You know, it’s a common problem that hooves will distort in between shoeings because of course they are growing all the time. With a nailed-on shoe it is impossible for the horse to wear hooves down naturally or for a professional to keep them trimmed and in shape especially if they are growing quickly during a six-week shoeing cycle.

So heels can become what is known as underrun. This is an extreme example (although I have seen worse) and, as you can see, Max’s heels in his shoes are almost directly beneath the centre of his foot.

There are so many excellent hoof boots on the market that can save all this ridiculous trouble. Isn’t it a scandal that nailed-on shoes are still legal? Sorry, I have trouble understanding why anyone bothers with them…

Max’s owner Tazelle shared his story recently on the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook – a busy support group with more than 18,000 members.

Not surprisingly his photos were greeted with shock and dismay. How can those hooves have got so bad? Why is that farrier still practicing? How many inches in height has Max, a 14.1hh quarter horse, lost? But also, there was a warm ripple of support and encouragement.

Max’s story must have given hope to many members who are beginning on their barefoot journeys. If hooves as bad as Max’s can be revived once free of shoes, then surely other common hoof problems might be beaten.

The good news is – THEY CAN!

To find out more about barefoot, or to get support, join the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook.

ABOUT ME – BOOK NEWS…

I’m a writer and journalist who loves horses. My own horses’ shoes were removed about 17 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.

‘The author wrote from the heart and with great conviction. It read as a fiction type book, but was also being informative without you realizing it! It gives me hope with my own ‘Carrie’. I totally recommend this book to anyone….my only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough!! – 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 motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UKAmazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

‘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 campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel has been completed, ready for editing. I am being inspired by a famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. 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. And have I told you about the Very Bad Princess? The one who rode horses, swore a lot and tried to keep a London park all to herself…not a current-day princess…more soon…I’m enjoying the research on this lady! She used to take snuff…xxx

The $15,000 failure…

by Linda Chamberlain

Laminitis – the vets couldn’t cure him, the farriers couldn’t make him comfortable and in the end the poor horse refused to get up. The bill for this sickening failure was $15,000! 

As this crippling condition reaches epidemic proportions, I’m asking whether horse owners are dealing with a ‘laminitis industry’ when they reach out for a cure? Are the professionals who advise making too much money and then failing to make simple but effective changes to diet and lifestyle that will see a lasting cure? Can we really carry on with this betrayal? 

My article is published in the latest Barefoot Horse Magazine. I am reprinting it here in full. Read on…

Our horses’ crippling pain may be feeding a multi-million pound industry.

Laminitis is so widespread and so misunderstood that distressed owners are paying huge bills to treat the symptoms but often failing to find a lasting cure.

They pay a high price for specialist shoes that don’t heal, they fork out for deep bedding, painkillers, supplements, x-rays, veterinary advice and the services of their farrier.

But if they fail to make permanent changes to their horse’s diet and lifestyle there is a real danger of the condition returning – especially when the grass is growing strongly in Spring or Autumn.

After reading the book Laminitis – An Equine Plague of Unconscionable Proportions by Jaime Jackson, I have been investigating the real cost of laminitis, seeking to gauge whether the author is right to label it an ‘industry’ – in other words, the people whose business it is to cure the problem are, in effect, living off its continuance.

You may have heard the same said of the ‘cancer industry’ – the allegations in both cases are harsh and controversial.

With laminitis, however, Jackson is suggesting relatively simple changes that will bring a lasting cure but let’s look at the cost of conventional treatment.

Sometimes the cost is more than financial – sometimes the horse is put to sleep – but others return to work, at least for a while, and some make a lasting recovery. I was prepared to hear about a few large vet bills when I put out a call for information on social media.

I was not expecting to get news of a lamentable failure to cure a horse – at a cost of $15,000.

Staggering, isn’t it?

The horse on the receiving end of all this attention was a sports horse who underwent colic surgery only to be hit by laminitis and rotation of the pedal bone immediately after. He had a month in hospital, countless specialist shoes, drugs and feeds which had little or no impact on this poor equine who deteriorated so much that he refused to get up.

The massive bill included three different farriers, hospital fees and vets visiting on site but everybody had a different approach – none of them worked!

Months later, still wearing shoes, he gained enough strength to be led on walks again. He was on a hay-only diet but full soundness didn’t return. Then his owner read Jackson’s book on laminitis, decided to find a barefoot trimmer and get rid of his shoes. Finally, the horse was healing.

Laminitis is often associated with fat, little ponies who are commonly ‘starved’ on minimal hay if hit by this painful condition. Such a diet, plus box rest, was advised for another horse thought to have diet-related lami. The veterinary bill for his feet alone came to £4000 but there were more problems to come.

His owner reported that starving him and putting him on box rest made him fall apart – literally, as he lost all muscle tone.

She said: ‘At the end of two months my horse had lost all condition, all top line , he looked awful , was still lame and now he didn’t look right behind.’

More veterinary investigations pointed to problems higher up the body.  A full lameness assessment was advised, MRI scans, nerve blocks and a further £1500 bill. Straight bar shoes were replaced with heartbars. Still lame.

The owner began reading about barefoot rehabilitation, left her livery yard, found a field near home and took off his shoes. Six weeks into her programme the vet wanted to do one final nerve block to see if the horse would be sound but there was no pain to block. They are riding again…

The story told to me of a little driving pony shows the repetitive nature of the condition. He first got laminitis in the Autumn of 2015 and the prescribed treatment was box rest, Bute and heartbar shoes. The bill of £2100 was paid on insurance.

No longer insured for laminitis, he went down with another attack this Spring and was once again in heartbars at £100 a time. More x-rays were taken and Bute prescribed.

I visited some farriery web sites to read up on heartbar shoes. The cost seems to be between £100 and £150 for a set which would need to be fitted roughly every four to six weeks. One respected site advised that the horse would need them for life in order to stay sound – so these are a crutch, not a cure. They have an annual bill of between £860 and £1950, depending on cost and frequency.

But how can you prevent laminitis happening in the first place? The secret, as Jackson and others advise, is to be aware that the early signs such as blood traces in the white line of the hoof, persistent thrush, stretched or separating hooves which are mostly caused by the wrong diet. Let’s face it our horses live on farm land. They live on grass that is designed to produce food and milk. So it’s extremely rich. The horse might have a better chance of a healthy life if he shared space with the motorway traffic.

I’m joking and I don’t want you to turn your animals out on the M25…or Route 66!

But I do want you to put yard owners under pressure to adapt their land. Ask, ask and ask again (nicely) to track the fields. If you have your own field I’d like you to buy some electric fencing to make an interesting route for your horses to walk and eat slowly. And I want you to feed some hay all year round but especially in the danger seasons – it’s a much cheaper option than illness. Rely on 100 per cent grass and you are taking a risk with your friend’s life.

Building a track isn’t difficult. It’s fun and your horse will love it too. Simply take out the middle of the field with electric fence and leave your equines to graze the outer track. If you have a grass-sensitive horse you might have to scrape the grass off or get sheep to eat it down. Allow horses to race around it a few times, allow it to become quite bare and make sure there is hay spread around to encourage movement.

Aim for movement and not lush grass and you stand a better chance of avoiding the high cost of lami.

This article was first published in Barefoot Horse Magazine. Here is a link. Thank you to the Hoofing Marvellous group of trimmers for the use of photos.

THE BOOKS

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a writer and journalist who loves horses. My own horses’ shoes were removed about 17 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.

‘The author wrote from the heart and with great conviction. It read as a fiction type book, but was also being informative without you realizing it! It gives me hope with my own ‘Carrie’. I totally recommend this book to anyone….my only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough!! – 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 motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UKAmazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

‘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 campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel has been completed, ready for editing. I am being inspired by a famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. 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. And have I told you about the Very Bad Princess? The one who rode horses, swore a lot and tried to keep a London park all to herself…not a current-day princess…more soon…I’m enjoying the research on this lady! She used to take snuff…xxx

The Guided Tour

by Linda Chamberlain

It’s lovely to have a newcomer at our home in the woods for barefoot horses, to see the place through a fresh pair of eyes.

jules-12This is Jules who is aged eight. He’s an Arab cross warmblood and he’s had a tough early life. Orphaned as a foal, he later became a dressage horse and may have worked very hard as he is now troubled with arthritis, gut pain and occasional twinges from kissing spine.

He was due some luck in his life and was bought by his present owner, Nicky Cole, about eighteen months ago. Jules found life very difficult at a conventional livery yard because stabling made him miserable. Being a horse with a strong sense of humour, he would scowl if you happened to be passing by his box. I hate to say this of him, but sometimes he would bite. His owner was bitten and bruised a few times but somehow she didn’t give up on him.

He moved to our woods about six weeks ago and has kept me amused with his habit of guarding the gate in case I want to come through it. He likes to lift up and rearrange the feed buckets or carry the head collars to a place where they can’t be found. He hasn’t nipped me, I’m pleased to say, but sometimes he gives me the feeling that I’m well below him in the pecking order. I guess I’ll work it out soon…

jules-13My horse, Sophie, has become very fond of him and the pair of them have taken to cantering up the concrete road as if it’s an Olympic sport. I guess that officially makes Sophie an ex-laminitic – she certainly didn’t attempt any speed when she arrived here in April, gingerly walking up the road or choosing the woodland at the side where the ground is comfortable.

The improvement in Sophie is enormous and she doesn’t look like the same horse who was struck down by laminitis just over a year ago. This home in the woods was inspired by the US trimmer Jaime Jackson and his book Paddock Paradise. Six months of zero grass and maximum movement, being fed ad lib meadow hay and having her feet regularly trimmed have made such a difference to Sophie.

julesSo it will be interesting to see whether this living-out lifestyle will now help Jules. He loves walking around the tracks and through the woods or checking out the field shelter. Here is Jules’s guided tour of his new home…

Starting at the top (left)  – the ground is quite soft here and so far hasn’t got muddy. This is quite a good place for a canter…or a roll…

 

jules-5

Don’t be fooled by those leaves! That’s one very long, concrete roadway built for a tank regiment in the war. It’s even got curbstones and now haynets hang from the trees by the side.

jules-8

 

 

Take a right off the road here and we can circle through the woods. Keep up…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-9Through those trees are some great horse rides on Ashdown Forest which I have my eye on. We’ve walked them in hand already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-10And in the distance…right down the end of another road…is one of the hay boxes…I love that there is hay here all the time…and there’s a field shelter WITH NO DOOR! So I can come and go as I please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-6Perhaps all this walking about will improve my back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-3I can choose soft ground or hard but mostly I don’t worry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-4But here is a good spot because they keep some pretty good hay inside this green thing. Organic, meadow hay. Weeded by hand, so they say! Tastes good…come on…there’s more to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-7It takes me quite a while to walk around the whole place. I’ve noticed that sometimes the humans drive in their cars but they can be a lazy species. Sophie and I prefer horse power…I have some pretty fancy moves, once I’ve warmed up, you know…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sophie says it would be great if there were more laminitic horses here so that we can help make them ex-laminitic. I say, don’t all horses want to be wild and free? They don’t have to have something wrong with them to come here. She thinks beating laminitis is a priority but there are other problems and pain is pain. We want to get rid of it whatever has caused it or wherever it is. Find Linda on Facebook if you want to know more…

jules-n-sophieWhich reminds me, I haven’t shown you the chill out space we have…there’s Sophie having a kip in the sun where the ground is nice and soft…

 

 

 

max-phie-4Hey, Sophie! If that’s a stable they’re building, I vote it’s for you and not me…I used to hide in mine, hoping all the humans would go away. Really? Only a hay store? That’s alright then.

 

 

 

max-phie-3OK, we’re nearly done. I love this view. My legs might be a bit shorter than hers but one day I’ll get to the top before Sophie. 

 

 

 

 

max-phie-2Finally, the best sight a horse can have…ANOTHER HORSE. This is Sophie who reckons movement can be the greatest healer. She says, it worked for her. Did I mention that I have a lot of people helping me? A specialist trimmer called Lauren Hetherington, a physiotherapist and my own healer called Elaine. Then there’s Nicky, of course, and Linda who ignores me every time she walks through the gate. She doesn’t look so worried any more which is a bit of a shame. It was fun while it lasted. Fancy a run, Sophie? 

 

IN OTHER NEWS    IN OTHER NEWS     IN OTHER NEWS     IN OTHER NEWS

holistic-hound-and-horse-expoWhat a great success the Holistic Hound and Horse Expo was. A full day of talks and demonstrations at a fabulous new venue Merrist Wood, near Guildford. Two hundred people turned up – a sure sign that more and more people are seeking a less traditional approach to caring for their animals. I sold and signed lots of books so it was lovely to be an author again for the day rather than horse servant!

horsemanship-magHorsemanship Magazine is looking for a new editor. Lorraine Stanton is stepping down after many years at the helm having produced 100 issues of this brilliant magazine. Interested in the post – contact the editor on info@horsemanshipmagazine.co.uk.

ABOUT ME – BOOK NEWS

The new book is taking shape. First draft nearly finished! A historical horsey novel…

The first two are available on Amazon UK and US. Here they are…just click on the highlighted links…

BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe First Vet (UK link) – ‘What a wonderful story, so beautifully written, so good in fact I have read it twice (so far) I can imagine this as movie as I felt I was there beside Bracy throughout the whole book, it captures a feeling inside ones’ being of wanting to change the world for the better.. Loved it… Loved it!’ Amazon reader.  Amazon US link here.

 

 

A Barefoot Journey (UK link) – ‘I LOVED this. It was sat waiting for me when I got home from work, and I Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)finished reading it that night! I couldn’t put it down.’ Amazon reader. Amazon US link here.

 

Fields of trouble…

by Linda Chamberlain

ragwort-fieldThis horse and his owner are taking a huge risk. The horse is walking among poisonous plants; he may even be eating something that is harmful or could kill.

But I have news for you…many people would argue that there is more than one harmful plant in this horse’s field and that the bigger problem is less obvious.

The yellow ragwort has been the bane of horse keepers’ lives for decades. It is well known for causing liver damage and every summer magazines and horse welfare groups try to educate owners of its risk. There is no debate about ragwort.

The careful amongst us pull it up each year and, if we are sensible, we wear gloves. But the horse rarely eats the bitter-tasting plant when it’s fresh and the real danger is if it is cropped in hay where it is more palatable.

There is another worry, though, for this animal and his owner because the field is full of something very palatable that horses routinely nosh every day of the week. Grass.

 

HM rye grassIt is a controversial statement and needs examination. So much of our meadows have been lost in the last 70 odd years to be replaced by acres and acres of a single species of grass. Rye grass is a great asset on a farm because it is high in sugar and therefore great for producing milk or meat.

For the horse’s hooves it is a pile of poo…

It could be the reason we are seeing so many cases of equine obesity, so many animals with metabolic problems, so much laminitis.

Last week a reader asked what was wrong with rye or alfalfa hay after reading my interview with Lindsay Setchell, (left) editor of Barefoot Horse Magazine. Lindsay’s answer is so interesting and detailed that I am copying it here in full…

1016796_281375438667642_798174460_n-3She said – ‘Both alfalfa and rye have the ability to raise the blood sugar levels in your horse either through the metabolism of high protein levels, as is the case with alfalfa or more direct sugars eg NSC’s (Non Structural Carbohydrates) such as with rye. With high protein levels in alfalfa that also brings about other problematic issues for the body as well as the disruption to the delicate mineral balances such as the calcium:phosphorous ratios. When mineral balances become quite out of balance particularly with high calcium levels found in legumous plants such as alfalfa and clover, this can have quite drastic consequences if it is allowed to carry on indefinitely.

69541_172441142778743_2959600_n‘Jaime Jackson (right, with Lindsay) began to pinpoint alfalfa as a particular problem for chronic/acute laminitics many years ago and found that when it was removed from the diet and replaced with a mixed variety of hays then the horses recovered. In the US alfalfa is a far more popular feed for horses than it is in the UK (although it is getting more so over here) and the horses in the US were beginning to suffer because they simply could not escape it. They were (still are) fed it in their hay forage, their bagged feeds, their pastures and it was overwhelming to the horse. Here in the UK we have a similar problem with rye. Horses cannot escape it. They are fed it in all the major commercial bagged chaffs, pellets, nuts and it is persistently fed as haylage (ryelage) and many of the pastures are rye mixes…this is disastrous for the horse.

‘Dr Carol Michael in conjunction with Bangor University found that rye grass contained approximately 300% more sugars than our native meadow grasses which were almost insignificant in comparison. The lady who asked the original question also eluded to the fact that perhaps if the horse is exercised enough then it should be ok. We don’t find that. What we are finding is that, although exercise is vital for health & absolutely necessary, it often is simply not enough to counter the damaging effects of inappropriate feed such as rye and alfalfa (I don’t think I even need to mention molasses!). We still see chronic low level signs of laminitis even on horses who are exercised well but still fed on high levels of rye/alfalfa….it’s a bit like playing Russian Roulette and it’s a cumulative problem and is the single biggest reason that horses still are being shod because of sore feet. Once rye/alfalfa is taken out of the diet or at the very least is less than 10% of the horse’s total feed consumption then we see improvements in the overall health of the horse, its feet, body and mind.

‘The BIGGEST problem of all for horses is that they are not fed enough fibre (and I’m not meaning fibre out of a bag)…horses thrive on fibre not sugar but that fibre must be from a mixed source…good mixed meadow hay and hedges etc. The horse is primarily a forager and so in their more native species specific environment they would have access to a variety of fibre/grasses/minerals, sometimes having to travel great distances to satisfy their basic dietary needs. When we remove that diversity from our horses’ diet and then start feeding excesses of one or two kinds of feeds such as rye/alfalfa, that’s when we clearly begin to see problems arise. A huge issue is that most owners/vets/farriers don’t pick up the often subtle (and not so subtle) signs of inflammatory problems caused by diet and before you know it, the horse has BIG problems. Some owners have realised that rye/alfalfa is not so good and struggle getting mixed meadow and so end up feeding single species plants such as Timothy…but this has problems too as the horse/forager needs variety. Sorry for going on. I hope this helps.’

There is an increasing demand for horse liveries which cater for the need to reduce grass. More and more owners seek places that provide track systems and hay which is fed all year round. But yard owners are so far not keeping up with demand. We need more…

In other news…

finn-jules-aslanMy own home for horses in the woods welcomed three new arrivals this week. It will be lovely to see how well Finn, Jules and Aslan adjust to living out 24/7 with lots of movement, varied terrain and ad lib hay instead of grass. I will keep you posted.

horses at phie 16Sadly, I had to say goodbye to my elderly thoroughbred Carrie (right) last month who was getting increasingly stiff and uncomfortable. We had 11 lovely years together and discovered how well barefoot can help a horse with navicular. She will always have a place in my heart because she gave up on her passion for nudging me with her head for an afternoon when we did our photo shoot for my non-fiction book, A Barefoot Journey (see below). In order to get that shot for the cover we had to be poised patiently in front of a 20 foot drop!

troy-jumpingJust wanted to share this great picture of my friend Troy (left) who featured on the blog last year. He’s still doing brilliantly with rider, Richard Greer, on the team chase circuit and showing how well his bare hooves can grip in all weathers.

holistic-hound-and-horse-expoI will be signing and selling copies of my books – The First Vet and A Barefoot Journey – at the Holistic Hound and Horse Expo on Saturday, 5th November at Merrist Wood Arena, Worplesdon, Guildford. It’s the show’s fourth year and for the first time there will be live demonstrations as well as some great talks including Penny Thorpe on the horse’s hoof. Look out for Sue Gardner with a display of horse agility, too. I will be bringing a couple of comfy chairs and making a cosy corner for anyone needing a quiet moment and a chance to dip into a good book…

img_1482And I’m very excited about my next blog having just interviewed David Furman joint owner of the hugely successful barefoot racehorse Zakatal (left). I think Zak is about to become one of my equine heroes. Find out more next time.

About me

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a writer and journalist who loves horse riding. The shoes were taken off my horses about 16 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.

‘The author wrote from the heart and with great conviction. It read as a fiction type book, but was also being informative without you realizing it! It gives me hope with my own ‘Carrie’. I totally recommend this book to anyone….my only complaint is that it wasn’t long enough!! – 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 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 NovelCover Society. 

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.’

‘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