The Blasphemous Blogger…

by Linda Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blog - Sarah Hamilton on Pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK NEWS

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

My book – A Barefoot Journey – is an honest and light-hearted account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares. Available on Amazon UKand Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. Horsemanship Magazine said – ‘The writing is charming, warm, and (gently) brutally honest about a subject which is so obviously dear to her heart and central to her life. The big issues of hoof trim, equine lifestyle and human understanding are all covered. From the agony of self-doubt to the ecstasy of equine partnership, it is all laid out here, clearly and thoughtfully. It really ought to be required reading for anyone thinking of taking their horse’s shoes off.’

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

My historical and romantic novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCoverSociety. Here’s one of the latest reviews – ‘I work nights & this book made me miss sleep (which is sacred to me) – I could not put it down! I loved the combination of historical fact & romance novel & it is so well written. I’m going to buy the hard copy now – it deserves a place on my bookshelf & will be read again. 10 gold stars Ms Chamberlain!’

If you want to keep in touch, follow this blog or find me on Facebook…Another novel is in the pipeline! 

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The Quiet Cripple

imagesLWU632DTby Linda Chamberlain

If he could speak – perhaps they would listen. But the equine world is hard of hearing when it comes to the issue of the horse and his tight, nailed-on shoes.

If he could scream, perhaps his owner would realise that trotting up the road is sending vibrations up his legs that the men who drill the roads are familiar with.

If he could shout, he’d tell you that those shoes were put on while his foot was lifted from the ground. It wasn’t weight bearing so it was at its most narrow. The shoe was nailed on six weeks ago and his foot has been growing daily ever since. Perhaps he’d say – my trainers are tight! Can you do something about it?

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But the horse is a quiet cripple. He says nothing. His instinct is to run even if he’s in pain, even if he can’t manage his natural stride. He’ll keep going…on and on, with you on his back and his compromised legs storing problems until the day he goes lame.

The shoeing of a horse appears utterly painless. Nails are driven through his hoof one by one, carefully avoiding the sensitive structures deep in the foot. The horse – such a stoic creature – makes no cry or complaint. If only he would yelp like a dog rather than pretend to be a trout!

The farrier has finished his work, he lets go of the hoof and the animal walks – indeed, he walks well. This one is an equine athlete, a show jumper. He’s at the top of his game and he can manage some impressive moves.

But wait –let’s watch him through the lens of a camera. Let’s imagine we have the analytical mind of David Attenborough to guide us through some slow-motion footage. With hushed, respectful tones he’d explain how the foot of any animal will absorb the shock of landing and thereby protect the leg from harm.

‘Ah, but not for this magnificent creature,’ he’d say, as the horse elongates his stride. ‘Sadly, there’s no flexibility in the design of his footwear. Here we see him approaching an obstacle but observe his right foreleg on landing.’ Attenborough sounds as though lions might be stalking a sickly herd member. There’s trepidation in his voice. ‘Half a ton of horse landing onto one leg – the force driven into metal and nails. The foot is unable to expand or move and thereby minimise the strain through the leg.’

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The camera cuts to Attenborough’s lined and familiar face. He has some history to tell us and a comparison to make; it’s very tenuous but he wants horse riders everywhere to think carefully about it. The practice of metal shoeing began about 1000 years ago – about the same time as the Chinese began binding the feet of young girls in order to make them appear dainty and feminine and to walk with a certain gait.

Both practices hinder the circulation and cause the foot to wither and shrink. The Chinese went much further and the feet of young girls were deliberately broken into shape. The human pain is documented – it was said to take girls about two years to get used to walking again and even then they couldn’t go far. None of them became athletes – not even for the short period enjoyed by our equines.

Attenborough is trying the patience of a few riders by now but hold on – this tenuous comparison has some validity. Just as the horse becomes dependant on his metal shoe, the Chinese woman suffered great pain if her bindings were removed. The structures of the foot were so damaged that she couldn’t manage without. The loss of the bindings reportedly gave as much pain and discomfort as they brought her as a girl. And there is the dilemma – stay with bound, shrivelled feet for the rest of your days…or make an agonising bid for freedom.

Some equines freed of their shoes also suffer discomfort at first, possibly pain, and it’s no wonder that their owners hesitate to ask them to live without shoes. Who wants to see their beloved animal hesitate over hard ground? Or heaven forbid, endure a time of being led in hand rather than ridden…just until their feet recover?

But the horse liberated from his bindings has a much better chance than the lotus feet of China. His bones haven’t been broken and he has a great, natural ability to heal. He can do it, given time, patience, a good sugar-free diet and an expert trim. How easy it is compared to the poor women in China.

cover 18

If this horse could talk – he’d tell his owner to go for it, for the sake of his joints and his tendons.

If he could scream – he’s say let’s go barefoot because in a couple of months I’ll run just as fast.

If he could shout –he’d argue, ‘For god’s sake, we don’t need these things any more. Nailed-on shoes have been superseded by some very natty hoof boots that you can hang up next to my saddle after a ride?’

Foot binding in China was outlawed 100 years ago although the tradition continued into the 1930s.

The domestic horse is still patiently and silently waiting…

Thanks to Amanda Edwards for inspiring this post…and apologies to David Attenborough whose name slipped into my head while writing it!

Care about horses? Then follow this campaigning blog and buy the book! My novel The First Vet is based on one of our very-first vets who amazingly proved that horse shoes deform and cripple the animals we love. His work was suppressed…until recently. Horse lovers, book lovers are buying it and sharing it. It’s a story of love and corruption, full of real history.  Reviewers have described it as ‘brave, witty and romantic.’ The First Vet is on Amazon – UK. Amazon – US.

 

BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from Amber

A man who could cure horses

A woman who couldn’t walk without them

And the brother who stood between them

The most romantic novel since The Horse Whisperer set against the turbulent early years of the Veterinary College. One reviewer said it was ‘brave, witty and romantic’.

Press Release – Please Share

Bracy Clark exposed a serious threat to horse health 200 years ago but his work was suppressed and ridiculed. Now he’s being given a second chance to change the future for the animals he loved thanks to a page-turning new novel called The First Vet.

Clark, one of England’s first-ever vets, proved that horse shoes deform natural hooves. He warned the 1000-year old practice of shoeing led to lameness and sometimes early death but he was tormented by a whisper campaign against him and was refused a platform at the veterinary college that trained him.

The book’s author, Linda Chamberlain, said: ‘The veterinary establishment should have listened to him but he was ahead of his time. Instead they laughed and buried his work. Today we are finding out that he was right. More and more owners are finding a cure for crippling lameness by keeping their horses barefoot. Bracy would be very pleased.’

A natural foot - no need of metal or nails

A natural foot – no need of metal or nails

 

Linda has spent the last few years writing and researching her debut novel which was published on Amazon last week and has already received 5 star reviews.

The First Vet is a touching story of love and corruption – a blend of fact and fiction that owes much of its fast pace to the battle between Clark and the head of the veterinary college, Professor Edward Coleman. The story is made more poignant by the forbidden romance between Clark and the Professor’s fictional sister, Christina.

Linda, who rides her own horses without shoes, discovered Clark’s work on a number of websites about barefoot trimming. She vowed to find out more and her research took her to the Royal Veterinary College and The British Library.

‘I spent many hours reading Bracy’s books,’ she said. ‘He was eloquent and passionate. He went on long journeys riding barefoot horses to see how they would manage and he rode a very lively stallion on his veterinary rounds in the city of London. It disturbed him that his research exposed an evil for which he had no remedy.

‘Like today’s barefoot advocates he worried that the horses’ hoof was treated as though it was a block of wood rather than a living, elastic organ. He warned that nailing an immovable shoe to the hoof was causing serious problems and early death.’

‘Thus we see the beautiful and useful symmetry of nature’s mould, no part of which is without its use, has been changed by artificial restraint to deformity and incompetence.’ Bracy Clark

‘Thus we see the beautiful and useful symmetry of nature’s mould, no part of which is without its use, has been changed by artificial restraint to deformity and incompetence.’ Bracy Clark

So why was he condemned by the veterinary profession without being heard. Linda determined to find out.

‘The answer wasn’t obvious but I think it was greed,’ she said. ‘Bracy withstood the whisper campaign against him in silence for 20 years but eventually he hit back. He accused Professor Coleman of corruption, said he had an open palm and was pocketing the student fees. It’s known that Coleman shortened the course to three months and Bracy alleged that he admitted unsuitable, uneducated students in order to make himself rich.

‘Bracy said Coleman had patented at least two of his own horse shoes which he was using at the college.

‘A greedy or corrupt professor was unlikely to lend a platform to such an honest man as Bracy Clark. He certainly wasn’t interested in hearing how his own horse shoes were doing such enormous harm.’

The two men couldn’t have been more different. Coleman was head of the college as well as Veterinary Surgeon General of the British cavalry. He sold his horse shoes and he patented his medicines and died a wealthy man. Clark was a Quaker who gave up a surgeon’s apprenticeship to be at the newly opened college, vowing to family and friends that he had little need of money. He shared his research and his medicines with the world and he refused to patent and profit from a flexible shoe he developed, called the Expansion shoe.

‘He was a successful and much-loved vet but I don’t think he could fight dirty enough against Coleman,’ Linda explained. ‘He suffered in silence too long. His later books talk of Coleman’s open palm and his greedy charm. He spared no ink in revealing the nature of his adversary and the harm his regime was causing the profession but by then Coleman was secure and entrenched. It might have been too late.

‘It’s great that many of today’s barefoot trimmers recognise Bracy’s pioneering research. Owners of barefoot horses often battle against hostility from other riders but they are finding cures that sometimes elude the professionals. So many lame horses are surviving against the odds once they are free of their metal shoes.

‘Today’s vets should take a look at Bracy’s work. They should continue his research and help barefoot riders create a better life for the horses in our care. As the hero of The First Vet once wrote – My book is a grateful offering to humanity in diminishing the intolerable sufferings of these abused animals. The foot moves for obvious reasons; to break all jar and concussion to the body and to save the foot from destruction. This has been overlooked in the horse. His foot is treated as a senseless block of wood rather than a living, elastic organ.’

I wanted to share the book’s press release so you could hear how important Bracy Clark’s work is today. I love to hear from you, so leave me a comment. Press the follow button to keep in touch with future posts and enjoy the book. Amazon reviews help readers to find a good book amongst the thousands released every year so any feedback is much appreciated. Tell your friends, too. Bracy Clark was a gifted and remarkable man.

Love, Horses and History

by Linda Chamberlain

I have no excuse for taking as long as I did. The gestation period for an elephant is about 2 years and so surely I could have produced a bit more quickly.

But YES, I’ve got there – and here is a picture of my baby.

BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from Amber

My debut novel. Now on Amazon.

Inspired by one of my greatest, unsung heroes.

Like all proud mothers I think my book is more beautiful than anyone else’s. The cover is so pretty. So awesome. Will Jessel took that photo just as the sun was setting. We must have looked a strange party going up the hill to that famous beauty spot – in period costume. But the horse didn’t spook. Much. The bonnet and the rider stayed on board and the dashing man leading them remained calm.

I forgot to tell Will to take pictures that were book shaped. He produced countless brilliant shots that were horizontal but one or two amazing ones that were vertical (if that’s the right term!) In one he had persuaded the sun to settle on top of the hero’s head. I don’t know how he managed it. It had to be the cover!

Over to art director, Ben Catchpole, who put up with me while I fussed about type faces. Type sizes.

I daren’t tell you how long it took me to research and write but finally, we had a book.

THE FIRST VET

A story of love and corruption – inspired by real events

About a man called Bracy Clark, one of England’s first-ever vets who fought all his life against animal cruelty. Today’s riders of barefoot horses will sometimes have experienced a feeling of isolation – professionals and other owners are often hostile for some strange reason. I’ve often wished vets had more knowledge, sympathy or understanding of what I was trying to achieve for my horses. If the veterinary establishment had listened to Bracy Clark 200 years ago, things would be very different for us today because he proved the harm caused by shoeing. He fought tirelessly against shoeing, bits, spurs and whips but he was ridiculed by those in charge of the veterinary college who tried to suppress his work. He in turn accused them of corruption. I had to make him the hero of a novel.

Researching his life and work took me to the Royal Veterinary College library and countless times to the British Library. The more I read his books, the more I was impressed. The man was gifted and he was ahead of his time.

He was one of the first pupils of the newly opened veterinary college in 1792. Until Clark and his peers began practising there were no vets, only farriers or the cow leech who might patch up a wound or carry out an operation. There were no pain killers, no anaesthetic and not much understanding. Horses were dying very young. There were complaints in Parliament. Into this scenario comes Bracy Clark – a man who dared to say horse shoes were shortening their lives, a man who complained the loads they pulled should have been given to an elephant.

He insisted a horse that is free of pain will lead from the thinnest piece of string. He complained that the hoof was “treated more as a senseles block of wood than as a living elastic organ”. And he worried that in exposing the harm of the metal shoe he had “discovered an evil for which there was no remedy”.

He gained quite a following but was ridiculed by the veterinary establishment who wouldn’t let him present his findings or sell his books to the students. Clark reported that the vets “condemned him unheard and without examination”. Professor Edward Coleman described Clark as an enemy of the college. But why? My research came up with a few reasons for this criminal suppression but I mustn’t spoil the plot!

You can see why I love him and why I wanted to give him another chance to be heard. I think you will love him too.

Click here to order on Amazon now.

As always I want to hear from you so leave me a comment. If you read the book and are happy to review it on Amazon, I will be very grateful.

Go ahead and judge…

by Linda Chamberlain

They say never judge a book by its cover – but what rubbish!

 

Into the sunset

Into the sunset

 

What else are you meant to do? The cover is the book’s shop window giving you a hint to what’s inside. It helps you to decide whether to buy, whether to read. It has to be good or authors risk losing out to the competition – sorting out the sock drawer is the height of entertainment  for a lot of people and writers need to remember that.

I have two books coming out this autumn and was lucky to be able to work with a very talented photographer, Will Jessel, on the covers. This blog is devoted to some of the shots he took that day. I have a couple of favourites and I’m looking forward to seeing what use our art director, Ben Catchpole, makes of them.

Book number one is my debut novel with the working title The First Vet. It’s set in the late 18th century and is inspired by the work of the tireless campaigner, Bracy Clark. It’s a story of love and corruption – one man’s fight against animal cruelty. It’s an English cousin for Nicholas Evan’s best seller, The Horse Whisperer. So, I wanted a man and a woman in the photo, since it’s a love story, but I also wanted a horse. The picture above is almost perfect – apart from a minor historical detail. Have you spotted it?

This might be better…

the sun gets lower

the sun gets lower

The grass or the sky could fade out and give room for the title. It could work but the sky isn’t as inspiring. Will positioned himself further down the hill so he was looking up at the action into the sun.

Here you can see part of the rocky outcrop…

nicely silhouetted

nicely silhouetted

Finally, I like this one because the vet, the rider and the horse are focused on each other…

The horse is listening to him

The horse is listening to him

Book number two is a short piece of non fiction called My Barefoot Journey. It’s a light hearted account of some of the things that happened once those shoes came off my horses. I used Carrie as my model horse. She has a habit of nudging so I was really pleased that she didn’t send me head first over that rocky crag…

me with Carrie

me with Carrie

Or may be this one…

There were beautiful skies that evening

There were beautiful skies that evening

It was quite a long way down. All in the cause of art, I suppose!

You can find out more about Will Jessel on Facebook – Will J Photography. Let me know if you have a favourite or two. I’d love to hear from you. And thanks to all of you who shared my earlier posts on Facebook and Twitter and followed this blog. Your comments and encouragement mean an awful lot to me. I’m back on the road next week, going to visit a racehorse yard with a difference. I’m expecting this one to inspire and amaze me. Full report soon, so keep following.

 

The Stable Regime that Harms

by Linda Chamberlain

These two prisoners have much in common.

 

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They spend much of their day in a small space. They have very little to do. And they have very few companions to share their time with. They are confined and they know the meaning of the word vice.

For the man behind bars vice has been many things. The thieving he got away with in his youth, stolen cigarettes from the corner shop and more recently the knife attack that led to his incarceration.

For the horse –incarceration came before the vice. This is how he lives. The bars were put on the stable door because he’s in the habit of putting his head into the fresh air and rocking from side to side. It’s called weaving and, in the horse world, it’s known as a vice. It doesn’t sound such a great crime, does it, but weaving makes a horse lose condition, it lowers his value and there’s a real danger that other horses on the yard will pick up the habit themselves. It most commonly begins when a horse is stabled – and bored – for long periods.

‘They don’t have anything to do and they don’t have anyone to talk to.’

The government’s chief inspector of prisons was talking about worsening conditions in this country’s goals which have led to an increased suicide rate. But he could have been talking about one of the most prestigious horse livery yards in the country.

I went to see one such yard for myself after writing my controversial blog – They’re athletes, not dinner. I got a guided tour because I wanted somewhere with good facilities for my promising sports horse (in my dreams!) and I wanted to know if 24/7 confinement was as acceptable as I’d alleged.

It was.

It was a pleasantly, sunny day and I was taken to an impressive, American-style barn where there were up to twenty horses in residence. How clean it was! How shining! There was hardly a dropping in sight. Grooms rushed about, everything was polished and I could have visited in white jodhpurs and come home clean. I would have to join a waiting list but, were I to be granted admittance, my horse would be skipped out four times a day, fed three times and exercised once by a rider or in the horse walker. I saw a horse in this very expensive machine going round and round without human intervention and my mind boggled. It’s difficult to understand why people go to such expense and trouble when they could go for a ride or, dare I suggest it, turn the horse out in a field. This splendid facility had very few fields, though. The youngsters were allowed out for a couple of hours but the ridden horses enjoyed the special treatment of central heating in winter, rubber stable mats and the occasional mirror.

‘It helps to settle them,’ I was told. ‘They see themselves and it makes them think they have company.’

‘Ah, such a good idea,’ I enthused. My acting talents were stretched to their limit.

The stables were large units inside a huge barn, their doors looking inwards and the horses could at least see each other even though they couldn’t see the outside world or touch each other. Iron bars made sure there was no danger of that and then my guide pointed out a very positive feature – the drop-down, anti weaving bars on each and every stable door. I looked around and had a quick count. I estimated that half the horses had their bars up. I didn’t see any of them weaving – even with the deterrent of the bars a stressed horse can manage to weave in the stable. This livery yard knows its business and reduces the risk of stable vices with regular feeding and exercise. I’m reminded of a yard that a friend of mine worked at run by some Olympic riders where the fields were notable for their absence. She was a groom and Monday was a day off for many of them so the horses weren’t exercised.

‘That’s the day a lot of the them became ill. We called it tying up day,’ she said. Tying up, or azoturia, is a worrying condition notable among stabled horses who work hard. They get cramp-like symptoms and seize up. ‘A lot of them had ulcers and colic was a constant worry.’

The horses at the livery yard I visited looked healthy; they were passive rather than anxious. Bored but subdued. Horses take confinement amazingly well. Some develop vices but with careful management they accept the life we allow them although I’ve barely mentioned the health problems they endure. The state of their feet, I haven’t touched upon.

So, no fields for most of the very expensive animals here. They are such hazardous places, after all. Horses have been known to run in them, kick and play with each other or eat some grass. I’ve even seen a horse drop to the ground and roll in the mud – in fact, that’s something mine will do every day just for the comfort and joy of it although I fear it might worry some of the owners from the livery yard. Not mud!

It’s lovely to return to my own yard where the horses are appreciating that the sun is warm rather than hot. They’ve spent a bit of time in the field shelter judging by the calling cards they’ve left me and are now on their track, grazing together. They see me and saunter over since it’s getting close to supper time. The others hang back because Carrie is the boss and a flick of her ear warns that she’s to have the first hello with me. She doesn’t linger since I have nothing beyond a stroke and heads to the gate; she’ll wait ‘til the bucket is ready. I check the rest. There are no bites or kicks to worry me but they are dusty from rolling.

‘How did you survive?’ I ask them. ‘You haven’t killed each other. Well done.’

Once we’ve done our greetings, I’m ignored. I feed them, so I’m important but I’m not as vital to them as they are to each other. They follow Carrie across the stony yard to the gate. Tao rubs her face on Carrie’s behind and snorts. Carrie nods her head, frowns. Tao respectfully backs off. They don’t say much but they understand each other.

If only humans understood them as well.
And on a different note…

My thanks to author Janice Preston who has nominated me for an inspiring blog award. Wow, that made me chuffed – and made me check my wardrobe to make sure I had something suitable for a possible awards ceremony at the Savoy. It might not be that sort of award, but still. Now I must dash – I’m off to buy Janice’s new book, Mary and the Marquis. It features a horse so I’m going to read it.

Click on the Follow button at the top of the page to make sure you get notified of my next blog or to hear news of my debut novel, The First Vet, which is being published shortly. Set in the late 18th century, it’s a story of love and corruption and is inspired by the campaigning work of Bracy Clark.

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The Start of my Barefoot Journey

 

by Linda Chamberlain

Here is the opening of a book I’m working on – see what you think.

 

I’ve made it a policy to avoid arguing with well muscled men wielding a hammer and nails. I’m not a tall woman; more a lightweight who can be pushed over easily but my stand off with the farrier that day required me to get in touch with my masculine side. Quickly.

You see, my requirements were simple; I wanted the shoes off my two horses and it was not a job I could do myself. He shouldn’t have started a fight over it but he had a jangling set of new shoes in his hand and he wanted to fit them. I wanted him to put them in the back of his bloody van and drive off – once he’d taken the old set off, of course. He was a nice guy. Young; lovely smile and the well-defined muscles of his trade but he had a natural desire to keep hold of his business. Even in the face of some daft woman who had read a tiny but controversial book about riding barefoot horses.

Barnaby leads the way

Barnaby leads the way

‘They won’t manage, love,’ he said, rubbing his chin and eyeing the sad state of Barnaby’s feet.

My daughter’s pony made him sigh but he placidly wrenched the old and worn shoes from their feet; gave them a trim and was ready to smooth their hooves with the heavy rasp that he could wield as if it was a nail file. He straightened his back, swept his hair from his head with one easy swipe and came to a decision without meeting my eye.

‘We’ll put shoes on their fronts; that’s the answer.’

I liked this guy; he was one of the nicest farriers I had used and we had shared a few hours over the years chatting about horses and drinking tea. He had been a competitive rider when he was younger and handled the animals with a sympathy and understanding that came from a genuine connection. But I was a coward and couldn’t find the words to tell him that farriers had become second to undertakers on my people-to-avoid-while-alive list?

He grabbed the tray of tools from the back of his blue van without waiting for my answer and was about to start up the furnace of his mobile forge. Years ago, I used to ride for miles to take my horse to the blacksmith but now the old forges have become bijoux dwellings and farriers have these little mobile jobs so they can hot shoe horses while they’re still in bed. The smell of burnt horse foot follows them like an invisible mist.

My voice was a bit too high pitched to be taken seriously. It needed measured base tones for men to know I meant business. So the first attempt didn’t quell the gas flame.

I needed to try harder since he wasn’t listening. I wanted my horses to be barefoot. We were only riding on the Forest, hardly any road work, so surely they didn’t need metal wrapped around their feet.

‘Nah, his feet will crumble. Look at that crack! White feet; they’re all the same. Weak and useless. He’ll never go barefoot.’

I took a look at the horse that had carted me around for the last five years. He was as strong as an ox and pulled like a tank; he had given me so many reasons to seek out good osteopaths who bemoaned the state of my weary and pulled shoulders. Every farrier that came within two yards of him warned me his feet were his only weak point. They cracked, they didn’t grow quickly enough and so they were full of nail holes with nowhere to fix a new shoe onto.

Horses grazing in a herd

So his feet were in a sorry state even though I had done everything conventional wisdom had advised. Dutiful and regular shoeing every six weeks.

It might have been the hammer that did it; then again the sight of the nails goaded me. Sharp and shining. Lined up neatly in their trays ready to be driven into Barnaby’s feet if this man had his way; consigned to the history books if I had mine.

One word was all it needed. A two-lettered one.

‘No.’

I explained again. ‘We don’t ride them very much. We don’t compete, you know, so I really think they’ll be fine. I don’t want the shoes on.’

Frankly, I would have chosen not to ride if it meant driving nails into their feet every few weeks. For goodness sake, their feet can’t move with metal shoes stuck on them.

I didn’t like to say the shoes were bad for them; I was full of my new-found cause and brimming with facts like a cynic who’d found god on Facebook. Nailing metal onto a moving part of a horse caused injuries, shrank their feet and gave them life-threatening diseases. One lone vet was swimming against the tide and saying their lives were being shortened dramatically by the practice. The average age of a euthanized horse was about eight years old so my two had already passed their sell-by date. But I didn’t like to hurt this man’s feeling by repeating this revolutionary thought and I hated confrontation.

‘Well, what am I going to do?’ he asked.

He seemed shaken with annoyance but he was only losing two horses from his list; he wouldn’t miss them, would he? I mean, I liked them, but surely he hadn’t got attached on such a short acquaintance. His face was tight as if he needed to hold onto his teeth. Embarrassment crept inside me.

‘What do you mean?’ I said.

‘I lose the business then, do I?’

‘Perhaps you could still trim them for me,’ I suggested, apologetically.

This was more than ten years ago. A set of shoes cost about £45 and I have no idea what that has risen to now. I was offering him a job that would yield him £10 or £20 per horse every six weeks at the most. It wasn’t much and he knew it. These horses would need trimming but his business was shoeing. To his mind, it was better for the horse to wear metal shoes since the perceived wisdom was, and still is, that they protect the foot. It was also better for his pay packet.

The little veterinary book that had set me on this journey had warned me against getting the farrier to trim their feet. They trim the feet, it warned, to fit a horse shoe rather than to set a horse up for his barefoot life. But, there weren’t many specialist barefoot trimmers in Britain at that time – I had heard of only one and she lived more than a hundred miles away – so who else would look after their feet?

It was looking more and more likely that this guy wouldn’t be coming back for my measly few pounds.

He flung the rasp to the ground. He wouldn’t look at me and turned away with a hunch of his shoulders. I wasn’t as daft as he thought because I understood and I sympathised but I was too English, too polite to tell him what I really thought of shoeing. Perhaps, we both knew that I would be the first of many owners who would take this step. Neither of us could have envisaged that we were witnessing one of the first cracks in a tradition of metal shoeing that has held sway for a thousand years; a crack that would grow, with or without my contribution, into a worldwide movement affecting thousands of horses. There would be prosecutions, vilification and plenty of hatred. But there would be no stopping the change that was coming.

Horse shoeing. My farrier thought it was essential. I thought it was killing the animals in our care. The middle ground argued it was a necessary evil.

We stood eyeing each other. I kept hold of my thoughts and waited. I had the upper hand. He had to do the job I was asking. Take off the shoes and trim their feet. Nothing more. Or someone else would do it.