The $15,000 failure…

by Linda Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staggering, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

‘ Required reading for anyone thinking of taking their horse’s shoes off’ – Horsemanship Magazine.

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

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

‘Fantastic read, well researched, authentic voice, and a recognition of the correlation of our best slaves- horses- with the role of women throughout history. If you are into history, barefoot horses, and the feminine coming of age story, then this book is a must read’ – Amazon US reader.

If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel has been completed, ready for editing. I am being inspired by a famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. So many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet but I think I should feature one of Bracy Clark’s colleagues. And have I told you about the Very Bad Princess? The one who rode horses, swore a lot and tried to keep a London park all to herself…not a current-day princess…more soon…I’m enjoying the research on this lady! She used to take snuff…xxx

A Tale of Two Crimes

By Linda Chamberlain

Here is the story of two crimes. Both of them are distressing but for very different reasons.

I think I am right in calling the first a crime. It concerns the murder of a horse called Kit. This healthy horse was put to death by a livery yard owner following a disagreement over an unpaid bill for £30. The woman who was loaning the horse said she would pay the bill at the end of the month. The livery yard boss wasn’t happy. He said he would bring her horse in a trailer and tie her to a tree in her garden unless she paid him. She should have but she didn’t. He couldn’t load the horse into the trailer and so he ordered the animal’s destruction claiming the mare was dangerous.

Then something else unforgivable happened. The horse’s body was dumped in the woman’s front garden. Where she and her children would see it the next morning.

left for dead (library picture)

left for dead (library picture)

There have been arrests and police are investigating but there’s a twist to this story. The RSPCA, this country’s foremost animal welfare organisation, has given that yard owner a lot of money. They had some of their rescues at his place but attempted to reassure the public with a statement saying none of their horses were involved in the case. Many people were outraged that the organisation didn’t speak out against such wrong doing. Such senseless cruelty. It sounded as though the charity didn’t wish to become embroiled in the uproar that followed Kit’s death. After public outcry, the RSPCA has finally removed its horses from the yard in question.

Crime number two sees the RSPCA in a much more aggressive role – the sort of behaviour that might have been an appropriate response to the murder of an innocent horse. No gun was used in this crime. No blood was spilt. There were no distressed owners and no horses injured. But barefoot trimmer, Ben Street, was taken to court by the RSPCA. He was found guilty. He now has a criminal record. You might question whether that was a good use of the charity’s time, effort and money. I certainly do.

Ben’s crime might shock you. If you’re ready, I’ll tell you what he did. The court heard that he trimmed a horse’s feet. Then he got hold of a set of hoof boots. These are useful bits of equipment especially for newly barefoot horses, enabling them to be exercised. These particular boots were a special type – they could be glued to the hoof for short periods. So, Ben made use of some glue and enabled the horse, which belonged to one of his clients, to be comfortable while his feet recovered from years of harmful shoeing.

Serious crime? Example of glue on hoof boots.

Serious crime? Example of glue on hoof boots.

His actions upset a farrier who was also on the yard at the time. That farrier complained. The RSPCA’s inspector, also a former farrier, interviewed Ben under caution. They prosecuted. Why? You might ask. Here’s the crux – it’s illegal to practice farriery unless you are qualified and licenced. That’s OK. Very sensible. But Ben wasn’t practising farriery, was he? Well, the Farriers Registration Council and the RSPCA argued that the glued-on boot constituted a shoe and therefore his action was illegal. He trimmed the horse in preparation for this shoe and they said his trim had been harmful. That was his bloodless crime. He trimmed a horse and stuck on a hoof boot to save it discomfort – discomfort that was probably caused by metal shoeing in the first place.

Real horse shoes using nails and metal

Real horse shoes using nails and metal

Here’s what Ben is actually guilty of.

* Helping horses walk on their own feet again.

* Embarrassing traditionalists who are too stubborn to investigate the harm caused by nailed-on shoes.

Ben has an excellent record of helping horses and I hope this questionable prosecution doesn’t stop his pioneering work. Thankfully, a growing number of farriers are offering a barefoot service and I know of many owners who sing their praises. I would urge those farriers to complain to their council about this very smoky interpretation of the law.

In other news!

My debut novel is about to go to press. The First Vet – a story of love and corruption inspired by one of this country’s early vets – will be available as a paperback on Amazon and as an ebook on Kindle very shortly. In the meantime, for anyone who can’t wait, you can download the first chapter by clicking on the picture in the right hand column of this blog. Happy reading. Happy riding.