Perfect Policing…

by Linda Chamberlain

A police officer from Texas…and a group of barefoot horse owners in the UK…what on earth have they got in common?

The answer isn’t obvious…

But as soon as I tell you that the police officer doesn’t sit behind the wheel of a Ford you could be getting closer. He mostly rides a horse called Shadow when he’s on duty.

houston-police-2And Shadow has been pounding the streets of Houston for many years without metal nailed to his hooves.

Not only that but Gregory Sokoloski from the Houston Mounted Patrol persuaded the authorities to try barefoot with all their equines.

That was more than 10 years ago and the change from traditional horse keeping has been extremely successful – not one horse has failed to make the transition from shod to working barefoot.

‘Our horses are healthy and happy and have saved the citizens of Houston hundreds of thousands of dollars in farrier and vet fees,’ says Greg.

The Houston Mounted Patrol has become renowned in barefoot circles and so it was a huge thrill when Greg agreed to answer questions put to him by member of the Barefoot Horse Owners Group UK on Facebook. The group has more than 16,000 members from all over the world and has enjoyed a series of Q&A sessions from fascinating professionals.

houston-police-1Perhaps this time was particularly special. Police horses aren’t working for prize money, rosettes or for fun. They have a serious job to do, often in dangerous and highly charged conditions.

Basically, they can’t be anything less than 100 per cent. They mustn’t slip. They can’t be tender. They have to be up to the job.

So questioners from the Facebook group wanted to know how it is done. How are the horses kept? What are they fed? And how much are they ridden? Who trims their hooves? And how on earth did Greg persuade the police authorities to even try it in the first place?

What are the secrets of this phenomenal success story?

Well, I’m not going to tell you the answers here!

Members of the group – check out the pinned post now for the full Q&A.

Not a member? If you are keen or curious about riding without the damaging effects of a metal shoe nailed to your horse’s hoof please come and find the group on Facebook. Greg’s story will inspire you. It certainly defeats the claim that barefoot horses can’t do the same job as their shod friends.

It seems they can do some very arresting activities!

 

ABOUT ME – BOOK NEWS

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

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.

 

Against the odds

by Linda Chamberlain

zak-1By the age of 10 most race horses will have retired or met with a sticky end.

And yet Zakatal is at the peak of his form; he’s winning races and he’s looking good.

It’s very rare for race goers to notice there is something different about him.  His jockey is reportedly not bothered and a punter once shouted out – ‘Does it work?’ while Zak was parading in the paddock before a race.

You see, this handsome grey is barefoot and according to his co-owner David Furman (below) that gives him a fantastic edge.

‘Sometimes I think about all the other horses and I say, go on, keep shoeing them; it gives us an advantage. But from a welfare point of view it doesn’t sit comfortably with me,’ he said.

‘Zak is 10 now and he’s never been better. Most race horses are broken down by that age and I think shoes have a massive part to play in that. Once they are barefoot they track up so much better; they are so much sounder.’

The grey must have a bit of feline in his equine blood because he’s probably used up a few lives in his short one. He was bought from a large racing yard by David and his cousin John Sugarman about five years ago.

‘He was in a proper state and his feet were unbelievable,’ said David.

Horses have long been a passion for David and his wife, Gill, who live in East Yorkshire and transitioned a couple of other horses to barefoot before Zak. They were convinced of the benefits and so were in no doubt that he would improve without shoes.

zak-2Zak’s body was also in need of some TLC and after about a year’s recovery the owners thought he could return to flat racing. But his trainer at the time insisted on shoes. David and John acquiesced and were rewarded when the horse showed promise by coming second in four races.

The sport has a high injury toll though and Zak was injured training on the gallops. He came home. He became barefoot again and recovered. He went to another trainer, remained barefoot but didn’t live up to his earlier promise.  David thought to retire him but John didn’t want to give up.

So they tried Zak with a newly established trainer, Rebecca Menzies, and he’s proving better than ever. In 10 races he’s won three times and been placed five.

He’s going to stay barefoot even though the rules bar him from some race tracks. As a barefooter he is only allowed on all-weather surfaces. The restriction doesn’t apply to jump racing.

Officials of the racing authorities fear barefoot horses are more liable to slip and flat racing is high speed.

Perhaps they will reconsider such nonsense when there are more horses like Zak delighting the crowds and winning at such a ‘ripe old age’.

rebecca-menziesBut interviewing Zak’s owner made me especially curious about his trainer, Rebecca Menzies (right), who has had a licence for three years and works from a yard in Co. Durham.

I wanted to know if she had been skeptical taking on a barefoot horse.

She said: ‘I had very little knowledge about the management techniques to ensure that it was successful. I was very lucky to be able to spend the day with Mike De Kock in Newmarket (who trains top class flat horses barefoot) and he showed me a number of examples of hooves at different stages of transitioning and I learned the importance of very regular trimming & management. He had a pea gravel horse walker and several gravel turnout paddocks, his horses feet were like iron and his system worked brilliantly. MDK is a very clever guy and a massively successful trainer, he researches everything meticulously and in his opinion it is much better for horses to be trained without shoes. He showed me that with a bit of time to transition and some simple changes to our routine , it would be possible to train a barefoot horse (even without a treadmill, rubber walkways and a pea gravel walker!).

‘In terms of racing a barefoot horse, the British Horse Racing Authority are clamping down on the running of horses without shoes. In their opinion (and the opinion of the Professional Jockeys’ Association) horses are more likely to slip when raced without shoes. We now have to apply for clearance to run on turf without shoes & there must be a veterinary reason why the horse cannot be conventionally shod – this is why Zakatal has only been allowed to run on the all weather (sand) this year. The fact that the horse may be sounder, can cope better with training barefoot etc. are not deemed valid enough reasons by the BHA to race un-shod.’

And could more horses race without shoes? I asked.

Rebecca has no doubt…’providing the trainers and carers of the horse are trained properly in barefoot management. We are lucky that David keeps on top of his feet & he is seen regularly by his trimmer, Fiona Varian.

‘Zak has won three races for us without shoes and has stayed very sound throughout a hard season. He’s obviously a very happy horse and you couldn’t find a better advert for training / racing a horse barefoot. I am more than happy to run a horse without shoes on the all weather, however, I would be nervous about running a barefoot horse on turf. This is not because I think they are more likely to slip, Zakatal has amazing grip on all surfaces (you could argue better than a shod horse) but I would be very worried about the consequences should anything happen. The BHA have made it quite clear that they don’t want horses running without shoes and I wouldn’t be in a position to fight my case should anything happen.’

107Zak is treated like all the other horses at the racing yard. He has plenty of turnout and lots of hay. There are a few stoney paths which he copes with well, but he mainly trains on an all weather fibres and surface. He gets physio treatments and has a trim every week.

Rebecca said: ‘I couldn’t be happier with him now he has returned from his summer holiday! He’s a very enthusiastic horse and quite obviously loves what he does, I love watching him run and quite often he is competing against horses who have a lot less miles on the clock.

‘We have plenty of veteran horses (older than ten) and they prove that if look after them well , they can continue to enjoy the racing life for many years (and have a lovely life when they retire too !)’

IN OTHER NEWS

holistic-hound-and-horse-expoMake a date in your diary for the Holistic Hound and Horse Show next Saturday, November 5th, near Guildford. No fireworks but plenty to see and do! I will be selling and signing copies of my books A Barefoot Journey and The First Vet. Sue Gardner will be demonstrating horse agility and Penny Thorpe will be giving a talk on the horse’s hoof. Plus look out for the demos of horses at liberty, saddle fitting, rider biomechanics and dog agility. There’s lot more and the show will be its biggest ever. Here’s a link…I will give a full report here next time and will also be writing an article on it for a magazine.

lianne-rhodesI want to pay tribute to a special horse who was the guiding force behind the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook. Farrah passed away this week after a brilliant life. Years ago she suffered from laminitis and that led her owners Liane Rhodes and Andy Spooner to investigate barefoot rehabilitation. As you can see from the photo Farrah recovered and the rest, as they say, is history. The group was formed to help others and now boasts nearly 16,000 members. That’s an awful lot of hooves…thank you Farrah, Liane and Andy.

U.S. trimmer Jaime Jackson, who has inspired so many of us with his book on setting up track systems, has just published a new work on laminitis. It’s sub titled an equine plague of unconscionable proportions. I hope to report further on this!

My own books are available on Amazon – just click on the link…

The First Vet – ‘I don’t read that often but this book was definitely a “can’t put down”, so sad when I got to the BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from Amberend. Can’t wait to read the other books by this fabulous writer.’ Amazon reader.

A Barefoot Journey – ‘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.

Editor predicts the end for shoeing…

310791_10150393701057428_1959704958_n-3Meet the magazine editor who says, the day is coming closer when horse shoes will be gone from the horse’s life. As more and more riders discover the joys and benefits of riding barefoot Lindsay Setchell (left) urges other countries to follow the example of the Netherlands and outlaw the traditional lifestyle of the domestic horse – a lifestyle that includes hours of stabling and isolation and is increasingly blamed for hindering the animal’s ability to walk on his own hooves.

Lindsay, a former science teacher, turned to barefoot when her pony, Sunny, went down with laminitis. In spite of remedial farriery, her vet advised that the pony be put to sleep.

The vet was sacked. So was the farrier. Lindsay trained to be a barefoot trimmer with Jaime Jackson. Now she is part of the Hoofing Marvellous group of trimmers in south west UK and editor of the country’s only glossy magazine about barefoot.

Find out how she got there…and whether Sunny was saved!

  • Please tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m a busy self employed mum of 2 girls. I have 14 horses of all different shapes, sizes and breeds, 3 dogs, 2 cats and 3 pigs! Up until about 10 years ago I was a full time science teacher working in a secondary school in Cornwall, UK, with a very prosperous career ahead of me. I have a BSC (Hons) in Marine Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Education. When I trained to become a natural hoofcare practitioner I didn’t account for the fact that in the field I would come across situations where horses needed more help than owners were able to give them and where no other humans were stepping in because the situations had become so bad…and so I did. Partly to prove that this system works over a variety of breeds, shapes and sizes and partly because I struggle seeing horses suffering when I know I can do something about it relatively quite simply.

  • And about your training to be a barefoot trimmer…

69541_172441142778743_2959600_nAbout 16 years ago one of my ponies, Sunny, became acutely laminitic but after following all the advice from the vets and remedial farrier, my pony wasn’t recovering and I was told to put him to sleep. Having a science brain & background I decided to research as much as I could about laminitis and came across Jaime Jackson and a little red book called “Founder, prevention & cure the natural way.” That was it, I was hooked. I sacked the vet and the farrier and started to learn all I could about natural hoofcare. My pony recovered soon after and is still with us today and has never had another bout of laminitis. I carried on teaching but decided to train to become a hoofcare professional. I started my training with the UKNHCP in the UK but then went over to the USA to complete my training alongside Jaime Jackson himself (pictured above with Lindsay). I became a fully qualified Natural Hoofcare Practitioner with the AANHCP and have trimmed in the USA, Denmark, Holland, France and Spain.

  • And about your involvement with horses…

I have personally owned horses for about 20 years and I’ve studied Natural Horsemanship for about 10 years. I was a madly into horses when I was youngster at school but my parents could never afford to buy me one or send me for any lessons. So I volunteered every Saturday at a local riding stables and then went on to do my school work experience with horses. Unfortunately I then moved away from horses, went to university and then into teaching. It wasn’t until many years later when I had land of my own that I was able to eventually start to own horses myself.

  • In your opinion, is there another animal whose lifestyle has been so altered as the horse?

Many animals have been domesticated and ‘used’ by humans but the horse is probably the one animal who has suffered the ravages of the entrapment of domesticity the most, with respect of the impact on it’s general health and well being.

  • How healthy is the domestic horse?

In general not very healthy at all. A domestic horse has had most of its species specific needs artificially altered & interrupted by humans. Domesticity has seen significant negative changes in diet, movement, company and health of the horse. Moving into the 21st century the horse is now mirroring the ill health of its human guardians.

  • The English vet Bracy Clark feared 200 years ago that metal shoeing was crippling horses and shortening lives. Do you agree? How harmful is shoeing?

Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more with Bracy Clark and what a difference the world would be for horses now if his peers at that time has listened to him rather than mocked him. Shoeing causes dependency, contraction, atrophy and a myriad of other pathologies in the horse as well as hiding crucial signs that could help an owner recognise inflammatory problems such as laminitis.

  • Can you describe the moment you decided not to shoe your own horses?

gasunny-lovely-day-for-a-driveYes. On researching about laminitis and reading all of Jaime Jackson’s books all those years ago when Sunny was very poorly, I also came across Hiltrud Strasser, a controversial German vet. She had written a few books that were quite technical but they totally hit the spot in my understanding. One in particular called ‘Shoeing, a neccessary evil?’ drove it home to me how terrible shoes were for a horse’s health and I swore never to put a shoe on a horse again. That coupled with the knowledge that the remedial heart bar shoes that had been fashioned for Sunny (pictured left after his recovery) had not helped him to recover, just cemented the decision that shoeing was utterly unnecessary.

  • In your work as a trimmer you must see a lot of hooves…tell us about some of the most challenging cases.

Probably the most challenging cases are those equines who have been having chronic and acute laminitis for a very long time. Their hooves are so desperately distorted and their bodies, general health and well being are extremely compromised. This coupled with the often difficult challenges facing the owners with respect to changing the diet and management sufficiently for those horses to recover, makes these kind of cases very difficult emotionally. Physically, trimming poorly distorted laminitic hooves is not that demanding but keeping owners on the right track in order for their pony or horse to recover is certainly where the greatest challenge lies.

  • Can any horse go barefoot and be ridden?

1016796_281375438667642_798174460_n-3599325_308189809319538_186461523_nAbsolutely any horse of any breed, no matter what state their hooves are in, can go barefoot and recover if given a species specific natural diet, management and trimming regime. However, there are horses, thankfully very rarely, who are so terribly poorly and have been for far too long, who have often had too much medicinal and mechanical intervention, that the road back to health is just not possible. You don’t think you will ever come across them when you start this amazing job of helping horses become healthy – but if you are in this business long enough, you will inevitably come across them. I remember reading once in my early trimming days a quote from Pete Ramey saying ‘you can’t save them all’ and I remember at that time thinking, pfff what tosh, but he was right and it does happen, thankfully extremely rarely, but you never forget the look in those horse’s eyes.

  • What should people do and what should they expect when shoes are first taken off their ridden horse?

They should always make sure the diet is as natural and stripped back as possible. Find a way of encouraging lots of gentle free movement and be prepared to take the time it takes for their feet, bodies and minds to begin to recover. More often than not, owners are pleasantly surprised at how very quickly they can go back to normality with their horse doing all the things they were enjoying before the shoes were removed. I always, always say to a new client that I won’t remove their horse’s shoes unless they are prepared to purchase a set of boots for all 4 feet….this is usually unnecessary but as long as I have that reassurance from them then off the shoes will go!

  • What is the ideal diet for a barefoot horse?

24/7 365 mixed meadow hay (no rye or very low rye/alfalfa). No bagged feeds unless the horse is underweight and then only specific low calorie/sugar feeds. A good mineral/salt block available at all times. Very little or no grass and lots and lots of movement with company. Simple really. The biggest challenge for most owners is sourcing good mixed meadow no rye hay/haylage.

  • And lifestyle?

Turned out in company with lots of movement but very little grass. One of the safest ways to achieve this is by setting up a simple track or Paddock Paradise system.

  • What is the biggest single obstacle in the way of barefoot progress?

Humans!

  • Tell us about the amazing magazine…Britain’s only glossy mag about barefoot…

front-coverI started to produce a newsletter some years ago for all my clients because they were often far apart and lacked support. They felt they were being let down, not catered for and marginalised by the main stream magazines and so the newsletter naturally evolved into an online magazine. As this became more popular, people started pleading for a printed version and so just over a year ago we went into print. We are now at Issue 12 and becoming more and more popular among barefoot owners across the globe. We pride ourselves in being quite unique with respect that the magazine is filled to brimming with owner’s own stories, written by them, telling the readers about their own barefoot journeys and this makes the magazine very personal and reaches out to others in similar situations. Here’s a link to the magazine.

  • Do you have a top story you’d like to share?

Yes. A story I will always remember and love was by a Polish girl called Iga Przybszewska and her beautiful chestnut horse Damiro who had been diagnosed with navicular in Poland. He had moved from one vet to another, with all kinds of remedial farriery and intervention, trying to be fixed. Iga contacted us with Damiro’s story and we published it in our very first printed magazine in Issue 6. Iga and Damiro were on the front cover with the title ‘Chestnut colour of love’. Fab story with a brilliant ending!

  • What is your vision for the future of the domestic horse? And for the magazine…?

My vision for the future is to keep faithfully educating owners and improving the domestic conditions for our horses. I have always said that within the next 15-20 years we will see a massive decline in shoeing and a massive increase in owner’s understanding to the point that shoes will eventually be outcast from use on the domestic horses. That day is getting closer! The magazine will be in the forefront of that education and inspiration and will continue to increase awareness of the beauty of the healthy barefooted horse across the globe.

  • I’ve made you Prime Minister for a day…what would you change for the world of the horse?

I would follow in our counterparts’ footsteps in the Netherlands and only allow limited stabling per day, make it illegal for horses to be turned out alone without at least one member of its own species, not across a fence. I would encourage the RCVS and FRC to introduce natural diets and management regimes into their syllabi, educate charities and RSPCA inspectors on how to recognise and naturally treat lamintis and stop pharmaceutical companies ruling the roost!

ABOUT ME

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a book writer and journalist but horse riding is my great love and I have been a barefoot advocate for a long time. 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 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 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

Vet warns of danger from studs

by Linda Chamberlain

It’s official! According to a renowned international competition vet, horses have been slipping for 55 million years. Trying to stop this using studs fixed to a horse’s shoes increases the strain on ligaments and tendons and causes injuries.shoe with studs

And yet barefoot horses are banned from the show ring in some classes as judges fear they are at risk from slipping and sliding in the wet. Will the ban be lifted? 

Vet, John Killingbeck, who has 30 year’s experience including a time with the British Three Day Event team, was in an open discussion with a farrier at the International Eventing Forum which was reported online.

He said: ‘It is worth remembering what we do when choosing studs and what the horse’s natural function of the foot is. The foot is designed to absorb the impact of landing and it does it by absorbing concussion. Part of that concussion is done through the foot sliding and that absorbs the stresses and strains of landing.’

He warned that riders should use studs carefully and wisely. After reading his fascinating insights, I wondered if that were possible. Or, really, whether the use of any shoe and stud combo was advisable for the health of the horse.

Because he went on to explain that the images5Z053VVFimpact stresses on barefoot hooves were less than those that are shod.

‘We are effectively changing the mechanical effect of the foot. The shoe to a certain point compromises the function of the foot in absorbing impact. Does this contribute to modern injuries that I now see as a vet? – it does.’

John, who is a veterinary delegate to the Federation Equestre Internationale, the world governing body for equestrian sport, should be listened to with ears wide open by every horse owner whether they ride barefoot or shod.

It was music to my ears because barefoot riders have been saying this for years.

But he said more: ‘If you were to trot up 50 horses here on a nice level surface and then take their shoes off and trot them up again, the vast majority would move with more freedom than if they were shod. So the mechanical effect of the shoe comes at a price. It’s a necessary price.’

Of course, this is the crux. That fatal word – necessary.

Well, not necessary for the horse obviously but riders can be competitive souls. They want to win rosettes; they want to scale the highest jumps. The vast majority think they can only do this with the ‘necessary’ crutch of the nailed-on metal shoe, more and more do so now with studs.

John’s audience would have been riders whose horses were shod. His aim was no doubt to increase the understanding of the downside of studs. Perhaps, even limit their use.

So I was surprised to read that he also advised that horses should have a period of rest from shoes which he said compromise the blood flow to the hoof. It was the traditional view many years ago. Hunters always had their rest time with shoes off and the hoof was seen to benefit. Most owners want to ride all year round and so that wisdom has been sidelined. But I am seeing it mentioned more and more by vets and farriers these days.

And yet the traditional equine world has  adopted a hostile attitude to barefoot by banning unshod horses from the show ring in some hunter classes accusing them of being a danger from slipping.

Then something occurred to me while I was reading the online article which reported this fascinating open discussion with a farrier at this year’s Forum. Vets, like John, rarely get to see a brilliant barefoot horse in action.

My own vet once confessed that my horses were the only ones on her books who were barefoot and roamed on a track system 24/7. She was amazed that by using our combined skills – her choice of antibiotics and acupuncture and my nagging to adhere to my horses’ lifestyle – we saved my daughter’s horse when she had an infected tendon sheath. Yes, the vet thought that our maximum-movement lifestyle had been an important part in Tao’s recovery.

Barefoot horses are making their mark in competitions, particular endurance riding. But the Italian, Luca Moneta, is the only top-level showjumper that I know who rides without shoes on his horses’ hinds. Simon Earle is the only race horse trainer in the UK known to favour barefoot. Interestingly, he confirms that his horses haven’t suffered a tendon injury since they got rid of shoes.

So, for John, and any other vet or rider who is clinging to the view that the shoe-and-stud combo are a necessary part of horse riding, I would like to introduce you to two very talented riders – Richard Greer and Georgie Harrison, who is also a barefoot trimmer.

Richard, a trainer, and his barefoot horse, Troy, have already made their mark in one of the most dangerous equine sports, team chasing. Here he is landing over an eye-wateringly, enRichard Greerormous hedge. Not a shoe or stud in sight.

Does he slip, Richard? I asked.

‘I’ve had horses in front of me lose their footing while we never missed a beat but it’s not infallible. Troy and I have come down on greasy ground, rain on hard ground can be testing but shoes and studs won’t save you either. It’s interesting looking over some of the shod horses with all their lumps and bumps and swellings!

‘Barefoot now fits in perfectly with my wider philosophy. When a horse comes in for training with shoes on I find there is something lacking in the fluidity of its paces, I even find the sound slightly offensive. In competition and training, I can run on harder ground without worrying about the impact. Many fractures occur in the race industry and it also happens in team chasing. I think being barefoot reduces the risk.’

Georgie jumpingGeorgie, seen here riding Phoenix, is an event rider. Here’s what she had to say. ‘Riding a non-slip ride across country starts with a balanced rider and a balanced horse. Horses are naturally asymmetric (right or left sided just like we are right or left handed). They are inclined to favour one shoulder or the other and like to use their hinds, one as a push leg and one as a prop leg, It is our responsibility to get our horses to be as balanced as possible and encourage them to become supple in both directions. I start this training process on the ground and in ridden work very slowly. Once mastered, it can be applied to when you are galloping across country up and down hills and on any surface. This allows your horse to be in self-carriage even when at speed.’

So you see, shoes and studs are the option that compromises the horse and his feet. Could barefoot be the better path…? For the sake of the horse, can I get John to meet Troy and Phoenix? – barefooters at their best.

ABOUT ME

I have been a writer and journalist all my working life. I have been a horse rider for quite a bit longer! The shoes were taken off my horses about 16 years ago and now I would never return to shoeing one of my animals so that I could ride. I am a regular contributor to Barefoot Horse magazine and The Horse’s Hoof magazine.

My book – A Barefoot Journey – 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 my horse 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 UKand Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.

‘ 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 Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment! 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 don’t read that often but this book was definitely a “can’t put down”, so sad when I got to the end. Can’t wait to read the other books by this fabulous writer’ – 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. Blending fact and fiction is such fun! And so many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet. It’s on the ‘to-do’ list…xxx

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Sweet Progress

by Linda Chamberlain

It’s high summer in the UK and the land is almost wetter than it was in the winter. Sorry, to be banging on about the weather but if you keep a horse you will know all about it!

davMy horses have a new home in the woods on dry land that was once owned by the War Ministry. Where tanks once rolled, my three barefoot horses are now stretching and toughening up their hooves. They moved here just over two months ago. They have new field companions and their diet is leaves, brambles and ad lib hay. More about their twice daily bucket another time.

They look full of shine and vitality after suffering badly in the winter from a heady mix of laminitis, strained tendon and legs swollen from mud fever.  They shared out the ailments and kept me in full-time nursing work.

The woods, with its long, sloping tank track, has made an enormous difference by giving them maximum movement and zero grass and very little mud…but it hasn’t all been easy.

davThere is still much work to be done and here is what I have learnt.

The enormous amount of concrete is a life saver. I no longer trudge through a thick bog and the horses only get muddy through choice if they go for a roll in the woods.

Their hooves hardly need any trimming. Hind feet barely at all. Fronts, a quick balance.

They have shelter amid the trees but they can still get cold. I actually put a rug on my retired, elderly thoroughbred who was suffering in ‘flaming’ June. That rain was chilly…and made an old horse, stiff and shivery.

The concrete road might not get muddy but the heavy rain runs down it in torrents. It doesn’t soak in. That’s good unless you have tied hay nets onto tyres for ground level feeding. Sweet Lane (named after a road sign that was found in the woods) became something I have never seen before  – a running sewer with horse poo rushing on a few inches of water down the hill. That gave new meaning to the poo picking task. The hay was ruined and fresh had to be put higher up and tied onto the trees. Who said horse keeping wasn’t fun? – it’s such an eye opener.

horses at phie 12We had a high worm egg count from some in the herd and I wondered if the ground level feeding was a factor. Care is now taken to feed low down but not that low.

Laminitis report – here is a success story. At least I hope it is. My own horse, Sophie, went down with laminitis after breaking onto rich grass last Autumn. Trying to cure her on a former dairy farm where I live wasn’t easy in spite of some excellent facilities – large, stony yard, grass track, stony track, field shelter. A few blades of grass seemed to trigger a repeat of the painful condition.

horses at phie 28Since coming to the woods where she has movement but a low sugar diet and zero grass, Sophie is beginning to get comfortable again. For a long time she struggled to pick up her hooves for me to check. She still won’t give me them if she’s standing on the concrete but on soft ground she cooperates after much fuss and praise. The inflammation from the laminitis has given her a deformed hoof shape which is slowly growing out.  She is getting there. She is going for walks in hand, managing the stony trails on the Forest but after getting on briefly, I got off again knowing she wasn’t ready yet.

Hay – if you move to a site with little or no grass you need a constant supply. This late in the season it’s not always possible to buy the best. One of the herd has suffered from a hay cough that is troublesome. Note to self – build some pole barns and stock up on good hay early in the year.

horses at phie 16Dealing with an abscess – Carrie, the retired thoroughbred has an abscess. Movement is a great healer but she is reluctant on concrete and who can blame her? Today and tomorrow, my job is to increase the off-road spaces so that any horse feeling its feet has a choice of surfaces. I want to make use of the verges alongside Sweet Lane so need to clear a few piles of fallen timber.

Thanks to the help of family and friends, I have made a track through part of the woods. Here is Tao enjoying the new space although the hay is more attractive for some of them.

davShelter and flies – woodland has the ace card for this one. My horses are enjoying the shade on the rare days that it has been warm. There are sunny, open spots if they want them. I pass neighbouring horses wearing fly masks and protective rugs on my journey to the woods but mine have hardly been troubled.

A field shelter is under construction. We have harvested some of the pine trees and it is going up on one of the platforms (more concrete) that was once the site of an army accommodation hut. It should be ready in a few weeks.

Tendon trouble – Tao, who has suffered repeated strains thanks to her exuberant behaviour in the field, is probably walking the strongest out of all of the herd. She walks and trots on the concrete without a flinch. We are still not sure if she will return to ridden work as her leg was swollen last week. More time for that one!

It’s been a bit of a journey setting up this unconventional home for horses and it was such a thrill to be featured as the cover story in The Barefoot Horse magazine this month. Here is a link – it’s a great magazine about barefoot horses and their owners.

mag cover

So, thanks to everyone who has helped with the set-up work – Jozef and his fencing team, Patrick for his relentless clearing up, Lisa, Amber and Matt. My fellow horse keepers – Mary Joy, Kate and Suz. And for all the messages of support. A BIG thank you xxx

About Me – I am a journalist, author and barefoot horse owner. My horses went barefoot about 16 years ago and now I would never return to shoeing one of my animals so that I could ride. 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 – tells the story of taking a horse barefoot in a hostile equine world. It is an honest and light-hearted account – 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 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 but was mocked by the veterinary establishment! 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 – ‘What a wonderful story, so beautifully written, so good in fact I have read it twice (so far). I can imagine this as a movie as I felt I was there beside Bracy throughout the whole book, it captures a feeling inside one’s being of wanting to change the world for the better.. Loved it… Loved it!’

If you want to keep in touch, follow this blog or find me on Facebook…Another novel is in the pipeline! This time I will be featuring an enormously famous equestrian campaigner from the past. Can you guess who it is? I’m about half way through the first draft. 

The Good Bare Guide

So, the shoes are off…what next? Here it is – everything you need to know about going barefoot but didn’t know who to ask! I have collaborated with holistic vet Ralitsa Grancharova and renowned hoof trimmer Nick Hill to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about those worrying but exciting, early days. We want to make sure your barefoot journey is made easier and successful. Enjoy the ride…

1image

Nick Hill 12IMG_3822Q – Can you prepare your horse in advance for going barefoot? 

Ralitsa – Any horse should be able to go barefoot if it is reasonably healthy, is put under the right environmental conditions, fed a natural and species-specific diet and is trimmed by an experienced and knowledgeable barefoot trimmer or farrier. Excluding one of these factors may result in an inability of the horse to cope going barefoot. But let us not forget that a sound horse is a horse that is sound when barefoot. If a horse can only manage walking and working when in shoes, this means one or more of the above – health, environment, proper trimming or diet – have not been implemented.

Nick – Firstly take a good look at what a horse really is, what its real needs are, how as a species it is built and made to survive and thrive. Then see if you can implement any changes that could benefit its overall mental and physical health. This will then reduce the stress in the system and allow its immune system to be as strong as possible, which in turn will prepare it for a transition of life.

Linda – It would be a good idea to set up the right diet and lifestyle before shoes come off. So sugar free buckets, low grass intake but topped up with hay and out 24/7. Be warned: Too much rich grass or molassed feeds could make your horse’s feet hurt. But the one creature who needs to be prepped, is the owner. So read, scour the internet, talk to barefoot friends and get yourself ready. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can and, if you are at a livery yard, be prepared to  explain what you are doing and why to sceptics. Find yourself a good hoof care practitioner. Take photos so that you can monitor improvements. Perhaps even keep a diary. 

Q – What is the best time of year to take off the shoes?

Ralitsa – The best time of year will depend a lot on the country where the horse is located. If environmental conditions and a reasonably healthy diet can be implemented at any time of the year, the current season shouldn’t be a concern. In areas of the world where lush grass is a problem and a grass free paddock is not an option, winter time could be the time of year where carbohydrate overload could be of least concern. This of course will depend on the rest of the horse’s diet at that time.

Nick – The best time of year is as soon as you have made as many changes to the diet, lifestyle and environment as possible, so anytime.

Carrie's feet - she sought out the footbath

Carrie’s feet – she sought out the footbath

showing improvement

showing improvement

Linda – softer ground makes it a little easier because the poor, worried owner is less likely to look at her horse struggling on hard going. Walking in hand is more likely and this will aid healing. Riding is likely to be easier but your horse might slip more on muddy tracks. Mine certainly did at first and this can be alarming until the hoof is working as it should and will then bring grip and confidence. My motto has always been ‘those shoes need to come off urgently!’ The only time I thought to keep shoes on a horse was for Carrie my ex-navicular horse who had been under threat of execution when I took her on 11 years ago. She came to me one hot summer and I wanted to wait until the ground was softer as I knew she would struggle on hard ground. Famous last words. She had front shoes on but they fell off within a fortnight. She was barefoot or nothing. She decided to be barefoot…she also thought she’d like to do a bit more jumping before she got too old so there’s hope even for the seemingly hopeless.

Q – Getting the diet right – what should your horse be eating?

Ralitsa – Quite a lot of the information on equine nutrition that we have access to presently comes from research and clinical trials. But under these controlled conditions there are many variables that make the implementing of this knowledge in everyday life hard at best. Even so, this is a massive source of information that could be used to understand the physiology of the equine digestive tract and how it is affected by different types of feed. Another piece of the puzzle is the research on the diet of feral horses around the world. Even though the information regarding the nutrition of these free roaming ungulates is scarce, it is there to show us something very important – horses need variety in their menu. This includes not only different grass species (fresh or dried), but also shrubs, forbs, trees, legumes, herbs, seeds, grains, fruit. Going back to the diet of the domesticated horse, do we see the same variety in our horses’ diet? Is feeding a general purpose supplement enough to make up for the lack of variety?

Something to avoid too much of?

Something to avoid too much of?

Nick –  Keep things as simple as possible, I generally advise hay, water and salt until the system settles and adjusts. Then only add enough to maintain health. Forage diet, not made up of monocultured grasses and preferably no chemicals or sprays.Variety is the spice of life.

horses-eating[1]

Safe? Tasty? Not likely...

Safe? Tasty? Not likely…

Linda – be wary of too much grass especially in Spring and Summer and probably Autumn. It’s high in sugar which will cause footiness. Reduce the grass, top up with hay, and ensure sugar-free forage feed in the bucket so that you have the best chance of eliminating this problem. Also, try to get rid of toxins from the diet. Some horses show alarming symptoms if they graze on land that has been sprayed with weedkiller. Even sprays and run-off from neighbouring land can have an impact. Commercial feeds can be high in sugar (molasses) and filled with oat or wheat feed and this is taken from the outer husk of the grain so low in nutrients but potentially high in chemical residues. So beware! Buy organic or unsprayed if you can. If you think your horse is suffering from toxins or too rich grass, activated charcoal in their feed may help absorb.

Getting the lifestyle right – what are the best living conditions? 

Make a Paddock Paradise by tracking fields

Make a Paddock Paradise by tracking fields

20150312_155753Ralitsa – The best living conditions for horses are the ones closest to their natural environment. Of course we cannot all allow our horse to roam free in thousands of acres of land but we can allow it freedom of movement – something we can all agree a horse is born to have. This means opening the stable doors permanently into the paddock (or Paddock Paradise) and giving the choice of seeking shelter from rain, heat or flies but not taking away the ability to walk, play, communicate, fight and jump. Movement, communication with other horses, fresh air and sunlight are some of the basic requirements for a healthy lifestyle – something which needs to come before any drugs or supplements.

Nick – The best is to be living out 24/7 all year round with company and with different terrain and substrates.

Tao and CashaLinda – outdoors rather than indoors! Field shelter rather than stable. A horse should be in the company of other equines 24/7, with free-choice movement. If you can track your fields this will help to increase movement and aid healing of those newly bare hooves. Jaime Jackson’s book Paddock Paradise explains how to do this and why. If you only have fields which are soft and grassy, see if you can introduce a nice stony area either where they congregate at a gate, or a water trough. I made a huge stony yard and field shelter area and mine toughened up their hooves themselves and saved me an awful lot of trouble. Others recommend a gravel area and say it’s brilliant for stimulating the hooves.

How much movement should the horse have and can a stabled horse be barefoot too?

stabled horseRalitsa – The movement a horse is allowed is dependent on its health. A reasonably healthy horse that has no ortheopaedic issues should be allowed free choice movement. Stabling a horse takes that opportunity away and can lead to a number of other issues, unless the horse is allowed time outside of the stable not only for training and riding, but for communication with other horses and natural behaviour. A stabled horse, which spends most of its time inside and is only taken out for riding and training, could be barefoot IF the diet it is on is set to fulfill its nutritional requirements. Keeping a stabled horse barefoot is far more complicated because this type of environment is not natural to the horse. It could lead to stress, which is detrimental to the horse’s health. Even with the correct diet, a stabled horse is far more likely to suffer health problems (which inevitably lead to hoof problems), but this does not make it impossible to keep a stabled horse barefoot. It only makes it that much harder to have a completely healthy horse.

The big gallop

on the trackNick –  A horse should be allowed free movement in the company of others, they are, after all, a highly social animal. Stabled horses can and do go barefoot, but you have to work a lot harder to gain results.

Linda – as much movement as possible. But if your horse is newly bare it might be best to allow them to choose how much movement they have. Just be careful that you don’t restrict them. So stabling is not advised. Tiny paddock is not helpful. If your horse can move, he will restore his circulation and get those hooves working properly once more. Enough movement and many horses will heal themselves. You will be amazed – not only will the hooves come good but other health issues are also often resolved by the horse walking more.

Who should trim the horse and how often?

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERARalitsa – The know-how of  trimming horses comes with knowledge, practical training and experience. Farriers, barefoot trimmers, equine podiatrists, veterinary surgeons, all of whom have passed reasonable amount of training and have sufficient knowledge on the equine hoof, its anatomy and physiology and preferably on the anatomy and physiology of the rest of the horse’s body should be able to trim horses’ hooves with understanding of how they are made to function. It is usually the specific country’s law that prohibits or limits the lawful hoof care to select specialists who have passed certain training or have met other requirements. A horse with reasonably healthy hooves is usually trimmed at 4 to 6 weeks intervals, while some pathologies of the equine hoof require a shorter or longer time span between trims.

hooves - ralitsaNick – A competant hoof care practitioner, farrier or horse owner with good professional  support.

Linda – Ask for recommends from friends. Failing that join the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook and ask the 13,000+ members who is good in your area. It doesn’t matter to me what qualification the trimmer has – the proof will be in the pudding. A horse should never be made sore as a result of a trim and, personally, I wouldn’t want to be under pressure to reshoe so would avoid a farrier who is still comfortable applying metal to a horse. Learn as much as you can from your hoof carer – see if you can do maintenance trims between visits. There are easy-to-use rasps made for this purpose but I find a little decorator’s mini rasp really useful. They cope well with stone chips and little breaks. You will then be much closer to understanding your horse’s hooves and this is important. Frequency of trim will depend on how much growth and how much self trimming your horse does. I know some barefooters who only need to call in their trimmer and few times a year. Most horses do well on 4-weekly trim cycles.

Once the shoes are off…what will happen? Can the horse be ridden?

Linda on SophieRalitsa – Every horse deals with the change differently. Some horses cope very well and can be ridden straight out of shoes without any problem. But these are the horses that live in environmental conditions as close to natural as possible (not stabled and in paddocks with the company of other horses), are fed a reasonably natural diet based on forage and are clinically healthy. In the worst case scenario, the horse that comes out of shoes is sensitive on soft and lame on hard surfaces. It is safe to say that such a horse hasn’t been healthy or sound even when the shoes were still on. In this case wearing hoof boots is a good alternative to being completely barefoot until the horse becomes sound on hard surfaces. If a horse is unsound when out of shoes this usually means one of the three factors is not in place – the environmental conditions, the diet or the general health. In this case the owner should look for ways to restore the horse’s health as well as making his feet comfortable.

Nick – Every horse responds differently, in the main most horses can be ridden straight away after removal of the shoes. The hoof walls may break up where the nails have been, but this is normal, repair just takes time.

Linda – One of our ponies was rideable the same day his shoes were removed. Shanty almost said thankyou and never looked back. He had very strong, concave hooves. Others were rideable within a few weeks but we needed to be considerate. Allow your horse to find ground that is comfortable. They want to enjoy being ridden as much as we want to enjoy riding them. So find nice, easy rides to begin with or walk out in hand. Later start leading out with the tack on and get on for the soft bits. You will be amazed how much a canter gives those hooves a good workout even when they aren’t ready to cope with stony ground. Road work is brilliant for conditioning hooves and will be managed surprisingly early. The more roadwork the better!

Or is he best left in the field for a few weeks?

 Ralitsa – If the horse is unsound when the shoes have been taken off, it should be left alone and not ridden until it recovers. This break from training and work requires some changes in the diet and environment that will allow for restoration of general health.

Nick – I usually advise to let the horse settle into its new lifestyle for the first 6 weeks, to allow muscles, tendons and ligaments time to adjust to the changes

Linda – Sometimes this is for the best especially if you are on a yard with lots of non-barefooters. The worst thing is to go for a ride with a shod companion and find you either can’t keep up or that you try and cause some damage. Go easy on yourself and your horse. I have been guilty of impatience and always wanted to see how well the hooves are doing so usually get out there ridden or led quite soon.

If the horse is sore…what should the owner do? 

Ralitsa – If the horse suffers ortheopaedic problems or has undergone recovery from a disease, this will most likely reflect on the condition of the hooves. But with time, patience and proper trimming technique, most horses recover from the initial sensitivity when put under more natural living conditions and allowed to eat a species-specific diet. If a horse is lame after the shoes have been taken off, it may require the attention of an ortheopaedic specialist to diagnose the problem. If shoes allow the horse to move soundly, this does not mean the problem is resolved. It simply means it will remain subclinical or asymptomatic for a certain period of time while more damage is possibly occurring when the animal is not feeling pain.

Nick – If the horse is sore then use boots and or keep the horse on comfortable ground.

Nick Hill 10

Recovery can be slow

Linda – Don’t panic; it’s normal. But go through this checklist. Is the trim regular and helpful? Is the diet right? The grass too much? Is there enough movement in my horse’s life? Correct where possible and then allow your horse time to heal himself. Guard against thrush which will cause footiness and  might well have been covered up by the numbing effects of shoes. Seek advice from your hoof carer and vet if in doubt. Hoof boots can be a great help in those early days when it is quite normal for a horse to be sore. Don’t forget that shoes do a lot of damage and it can take a long time for some horses to recover.

Will movement help at this early stage?

Ralitsa – Horses that are sensitive on their feet after the shoes have been first taken off usually do better when allowed to move freely. This excludes putting them in a stable and walking them by hand as both are unnatural to the horse and can do more damage if not implemented with great understanding of how the animal is feeling and of its general health. Most horses do best when put out in a small grass free paddock with soft ground, a horse friend, fed only meadow hay and given a salt lick and water. The initial sensitivity usually disappears in a matter of days, weeks or a few months after this protocol has been put in place (it very much depends on the horse, the length of time it has spent in shoes and its health status). After the horse becomes sound on soft ground it could be walked in hand or put in a bigger grass free paddock with other horses. Once the sensitivity on hard ground is completely gone, the horse could be ridden barefoot or with boots. Movement is helpful in some pathological conditions of the skeletal system but is contraindicated in others. The same goes for the recovery period from other equine diseases, so consult with your veterinary surgeon about allowing your horse free-choice movement once going barefoot.

Minimal grass: maximum movement

Minimal grass: maximum movement

Nick – Free movement, not forced, is always helpful.

Linda – movement is such a healer. I hate ‘box-rest’ and can’t think it would help a newly barefoot horse at all. Listen to your horse. One of mine used to set out on a ride a bit slow, a bit reluctant. I thought she was feeling her feet as the ground was getting hard. So I led her with the tack on and would get on after 15 minutes. It worked for us and she always came back with her hoof comfort much improved. But in the early stages, dealing with a sore horse is worrying. Severe cases benefit from areas of rubber matting and I have been known to make sandy paths – anything to encourage movement that is comfortable. Hoof boots, for the field or track, can be used to good effect in this period.

Should the owner put anything on the hooves to strengthen them?

Ralitsa – Hoof quality comes from within. A healthy horse has rock crunching hooves. If a horse is unsound or sensitive on its feet, this usually means there is a problem within the body. Putting oils and hoof specific recovery products does little to the hoof itself when the cause has not been removed.

Nick – Owners can scrub and clean the hooves daily with a hard wire brush and apple cider vinegar. This will stimulate and prevent pathogens from taking a hold.

Linda – my trimmer once told me to rub a little vegetable oil into hooves first thing in the morning, while they were still damp from the morning dew and I found this helpful for dry, cracking hooves. Tea tree dripped into hoof cracks helps them to close if bacteria is getting in. Apple cider vinegar or tea tree oil are good against thrush but strengthening them comes from within. You can’t produce hard hooves with a magic potion. Sorry, there’s no getting away from the hard work and lots of time to give results. Don’t forget you are aiming for tough but flexible hooves rather than hard, brittle ones. Hoof hardeners are said by many to produce brittleness and ingredients may be less than helpful. Carrie, whose feet were terrible, appreciated a footbath that I built out of railway sleepers, carpet and pond liner. It was in the field and she put herself in the water when she needed the comfort of it.

Should the horse wear hoof boots or is it best to wait?  

Ralitsa – If the horse feels reasonably well on soft terrain and is not sensitive after the shoes have been taken off, hoof boots might not be needed. If the horse is sensitive or in pain on soft or hard ground or both, wearing hoof boots is a good way to transition a horse to being barefoot.

Nick – Generally I advise owners to wait a couple of trim cycles before looking at boots, unless of course there is a problem/weakness.

Scoot_Boot_Black_largeLinda – sorry, I have never used them but they sound brilliant. And there are so many more on the market now. In the UK, and probably elsewhere, there are suppliers who will guide you through the choices and help get the right fit. Many hoof trimmers will fit and supply. I hear good reports about Scoot Boots and Renegades. They would be a good choice for anyone going barefoot who is impatient to keep riding at a reasonable level. I know riders who compete barefoot and some who put on boots and say the grip is good.

How long will it be before the horse is comfortable?

Ralitsa – The period of recovery is different for every horse. For some this takes days, while others recover in a matter of weeks, months or years. For best results the factors that speed up recovery need to be put in place (environmental conditions, diet, general health and trimming).

Nick – This really depends upon the individual immune system, diet and environment and movement. Expect nothing and things move on quicker.

Linda – Really, some horses breathe a sigh of relief when their shoes come off; others are comfortable in the field very soon and then you need to get them used to different surfaces in their ridden life slowly and surely. If you can introduce those tricky surfaces into their field/track life you will find they become comfortable more quickly. I found one of my horses would be comfortable all winter and then go downhill in the Spring. Keeping the grass intake down solved that problem.

Abscesses are common in the early stages of barefoot. Can you explain why? And what to do? 

Ralitsa – Abscesses are common in horses. Period. The reason they are often seen in barefoot horses is that without the symptom-covering effect of shoes, abscesses are diagnosed much more often. Abscesses, much like most signs of bad hoof quality, are a sign of an internal health problem that is not strictly hoof related. In most cases that I encounter abscess formation in the hooves is a result of an unnatural and unbalanced diet, although other causes are also possible – toxic and mechanical to name a few. Removing the cause usually results in resolving the problem with little to no intervention on the hooves themselves.

Nick – Abcessation can be caused by direct bruising from weak structures, from the wrong diet, internal scar tissue and from toxicity. Remove the cause when possible, allow free movement, poultice when needed. The horse will try to form a bolus of pus in the hoof and expel it out of either the coronary band or the heels. In order to do this the horse needs to build pressure in the hoof, enough to force the bolus out as it builds pressure then you may see a bit of swelling around the fetlock joint. This provides a downward pressure to match that of the pressure built up within the hoof and forces the bolus out. It’s completely natural and has been designed by nature to protect the horse. Digging out is rarely necessary and can be very detrimental to the horse, Any work done on internal tissues is veterinary work.

Linda – if your barefoot horse never gets an abscess you have done very well. So be prepared. A stone bruise will easily set one off but your horse has a brilliant advantage over shod field mates. There is no shoe to take off and your horse will probably walk it out if you keep up his movement. Stabling (and shoes) slow this process down. The homeopathic remedy for abscesses is Hepar Sulph. Poulticing can also help. You can use Animalintex-type products; hot porridge or boiled linseed in a plastic bag, then wrapped in a nappy and secured with duct tape. I never call the vet to dig out an abscess; I have never stabled and my horses have always successfully rid themselves of the problem. Now, they hardly ever get them.

What are the common mistakes that people make in their barefoot journey?

 Ralitsa – One of the most common mistakes people make on their barefoot journey is not having patience. Sometimes the horse doesn’t regain hoof strength as quickly as the owner would expect and they decide to go back to shoeing. Not implementing the important principles during the horse’s recovery from shoeing is another common mistake – even if the horse is allowed out 24/7, communicates with other horses on a daily basis, has a relatively stress-free daily schedule and is on a forage-mainly diet, it will get better much more slowly if it spends its days on a grass paddock for example.

More eating than moving?

More eating than moving?

Nick – The most common mistakes are dietery and pushing too hard before the horse has had a chance to adjust itself. Damage takes time to repair

Linda – listening to the wrong advice from the wrong people. Find some barefoot friends, join some barefoot groups on Facebook and listen to other people’s experiences. The last thing you want to hear a week after your horse’s shoes come off is that they need to go back on again! You need support from knowledgeable people. Make sure your professionals are supportive wherever possible. A good barefoot trimmer will advise on lifestyle and diet as well as the hoof. In my experience, vets have very little experience about barefoot horses. My own local vet, when asked, said she didn’t have any other horses on her books that lived like mine ie: barefoot and out 24/7. If you meet with a problem, don’t forget that you can consult Ralitsa for advice as I did when my horse went down with laminitis last Autumn thanks to a break-out onto rich grass.

5imageRalitsa Grancharova is a holistic vet who is registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons but is based in Bulgaria where she runs a mobile clinic. She also has an on-line consultancy service. Here is her website.

Nick Hill 3Nick Hill qualified as a farrier but became a barefoot trimmer and advocate. He travels the world teaching and holding clinics. His email is here.

IMG_3830About 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

Sweet road to comfort

by Linda Chamberlain

My horses were seriously ill this winter but now that has changed. They have a new home, new friends and the most amazing track system to walk courtesy of the War Ministry!

We are using a highly unusual site which was once the home of a tank regiment then a forest garden in peacetime. It was occupied years later by a massive group of new-age travellers and became the subject of a controversial court case. It was full of rubbish – broken bottles, mattresses and metalwork – and needed a huge environmental clean-up before anyone vaguely sensible would put their horse on it.

piles of wood needed clearing

piles of wood needed clearing

Phie - working 2

bags and bags of rubbish went to the dump

But it had something that was particularly appealing to me as the owner of three horses with illnesses which were being aggravated by traditional field life. Concrete. Loads of it and almost no grass or mud.

Most horse owners, who are familiar with traditional livery yards, would probably have winced at the thought of keeping a horse in such a set-up.

horses at phie 12

this road sign was found in the woods

What! No stables? No individual turnout? And where was the grass?

Amber, my daughter, myself and Kate Ayling at one of our work days

Amber, my daughter, myself and Kate Ayling at one of our work days

A dear but ‘traditional’ friend of mine worried that the horses would hurt each other fighting over the hay or die from eating trees.

But I was desperate and perfectly happy to feed ad lib hay to prevent that. I was also exhausted from being nursemaid rather than horse rider. I couldn’t ride any of my three. One was retired and had mud fever, my daughter’s horse, who was careless with my safety (ie: I fell off) had a strained tendon and Sophie went down with laminitis in the Autumn and couldn’t go near a sprout of grass without triggering a repeat of the lameness.

I had to keep all of them off the grass and the mud. Sophie was stressed living on the yard and track. If I walked her up to my house she was beside herself with nerves and worry and thought introducing me to the rhododendron bush was a good idea. The other two were no better. They were not happy.

I gave up riding, I gave up leading them anywhere and aimed to keep them alive…

But the ‘facilities’ at this new place, the lack of grass and the herd life with new friends, have made my horses well again. They have only been there for three weeks at time of writing. They are relaxed, they are sound, putting on muscle and going for walks in hand with relaxed enthusiasm. I have my horses back! The change in Sophie is monumental – she walked the stony tracks on Ashdown Forest last week without flinching. And she was calm and happy.

Sophie - walking well on concrete

Sophie – walking well on concrete

The key thing that had been missing from their lives was movement which was free from the risks of mud and grass. Both were causing problems that needed veterinary help.

Moving away from having my horses at home was a wrench but here’s how it happened…

I posted a blog in which I moaned how dreadful this winter was for horses and their owners thanks to the combination of rich grass and deep mud.

A friend read the article and sent me a message saying she was also struggling, her back was hurting from carrying bales of hay through a swamp and her horses were miserable. After such a mild, wet winter there was a real risk of ailments ahead thanks to the rich, cow pasture that we generally keep our animals on. She, too, felt like moving home before the Spring grass started sprouting and gave us a laminitis risk – if only we could find somewhere that was easier to keep horses.

‘Like a car park!’ she said.

How many times have I made that quip? But deep down, somewhere hidden, I meant it. Fields don’t always work well for horses. Rye grass is very good for the milk yields but for many horses it is too high in sugar; it makes them ill. Hay is safer. In winter there is nothing glorious about the mud. Farmers usually keep their cows in a barn for the winter and protect the fields from being churned…but farmers rarely attempt to ride their cows. Such restricted regimes of 24/7 stabling doesn’t make for happy and healthy equines and riding a miserable one, who is fed up being confined, isn’t fun or easy.

‘I know the perfect place,’ I told my friend. ‘Bigger than a car park. Nearly as much hard standing as they’ve got at Gatwick airport. Very little grass but there’s a few problems. It might need a tiny bit of TLC.’

This is the bit with grass

This is the bit with grass

Phie Forest 3

Shame about the riding, though!

She was intrigued.

‘I wrote about it in A Barefoot Journey. I had my (then) two horses there for a winter. It was wonderfully sheltered and they were really happy. There wasn’t any mud.’

I explained that it was a 40 acre wood on the edge of Ashdown Forest and we could go there again. It would need re-fencing. And a water supply would be useful. There were some open areas which allow some sun between the trees and we could make a few more. We could grow some horse-friendly grass!

horses at phie 26

horses at phie 16

back to health after being crippled with athritus this winter

Those of you who have read the book will know it was the place where my horses first went barefoot about 15 plus years ago. You see, it had the ideal environment for a horse coming out of shoes. – roadways of concrete, so thick you couldn’t dig them up even if the army ordered you at gunpoint.

From that initial conversation a small group of four horse owners was formed – myself, Mary Joy Johnson, Kate Ayling and Suz Jeffery – thanks to all of them for these photos. Work started. The fencing is mostly finished, some dangerous or fallen trees have been taken down and shelters, sand areas and a nice yard are on my shopping list.

horses at phie 21But already we have a unique environment for horses. So many of us battle to put hard standing or stony tracks in our fields; it’s expensive and sometimes needs planning permission. Like others, we have been inspired by Jaime Jackson’s book Paddock Paradise and know how increased movement from tracking fields is an aid to health.

Land owners often deride the desire to turn land that’s good for growing food into roads for horses. I agree, it sounds daft.

So, I am approaching this from the opposite direction and will be introducing grass and herbs alongside the roadways that run through the woods. Just enough for variety and to encourage grazing and movement. Mostly their diet will be mixed-grass hay and birch leaves horses at phie 22until I can create bigger grazing areas in some of the glades which are dominated at the moment by bracken.

You see, if your horse is barefoot and you want him to be healthy, and rideable, he will fare much better if his feet are not forever walking over soft ground or standing still in a stable. Just think how much humans struggle when they take off their shoes and socks on a stony beach. The horse is no different – he needs to walk over varied terrain. And the sly owners at this place have situated the water and the hay at opposite ends of the long roadway!

horses at phie 15We arrived about three weeks ago and have the 14 horses in two herds – each with their own tank track! They also have a chunk of woodland which is dotted with the concrete bases of the former army accommodation huts. And some open areas too…Already we are finding that hooves need less trimming. My retired horse, Carrie, is no longer walking stiffly; she’s putting on weight. Sophie and Tao are getting ready for riding…and the horse owners seem happy, too. It’s great to share chores and have help and support from like-minded friends. Mary Joy and her eight animals have the quiet zone away from the road. She specialises in helping troubled people including, she hopes, ex-servicemen and women who have been traumatised by conflict. Her work is known as equine assisted learning and deserves a blog post of its own. How amazing that land onchorses at Phie 7e used by the Ministry of War should become a place for healing both horses and humans!

 

About Me…

IMG_3822I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. 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 UK and 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 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