Olympic shame tarnishes the gold…

by Linda Chamberlain

Has dressage become a blood sport?

No animal is hunted but the world has witnessed this equestrian discipline’s fall from grace at the Rio Olympics and social media networks have been buzzing with allegations of cruelty. There have been pictures of horses foaming and drooling, their mouths full of harsh metal bits and their noses clamped shut with tight nosebands.

Parzival in the World Equestrian Games 2010

And there have been reports of blood.

Horses have been shown with their tongues hanging out awkwardly – their faces alarmed and full of pain. Their sides marked from the prick of the spur.  Their heads pulled into their chests where no equine feels comfortable.

Showjumping has also been criticised after two riders were eliminated – one for excessive whipping, another for the heavy use of spurs.

Gold medals have been won but the glow of victory has failed to warm the hearts of animal lovers who say equestrian ‘sport’ has gone too far.

Jo Macarthur from the Norfolk Horse Training Club, this week attacked the treatment of Olympic equines. She said:

‘Human athletes made mistakes; they did not get whipped by their coaches afterwards.

‘In addition to forced head carriage we witnessed excessive whipping for non-performance and punishment for not achieving the rider’s objective, which is totally unacceptable. ’

Ironically, Andrew Finding from the British Equestrian Federation which governs the sport in the UK, had warned campaigners last year not to use welfare as an issue in its campaign to get bitless bridles accepted in dressage competition.

It would take an effort of Olympian proportions to leave the issue aside. It seems that in Rio all athletes are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Jo said: ‘In the 21st century, it is shameful that abuse of the horse continues in every Olympic discipline. Most shocking to many riders is the continued refusal by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports to allow the softer option of the modern bitless bridle in dressage where the horses are supposedly trained to the lightest signal of the human seat and hands.’

The spotlight in Rio fell on dressage especially because of one horse – Parzival (pictured above at the World Equestrian Games in 2010 when he was also in the spotlight), ridden by the Dutch team member, Adelinde Cornelissen. She withdrew this highly talented horse part way through her performance in Rio. His jaw was patently uncomfortable and swollen, saliva was dripping onto the arena floor and his poor tongue was hanging from the side of his mouth.

The reason was an insect bite. Vets had not been able to reduce the toxins it caused in time. She took the heartbreaking decision to pull out in a highly public way in mid-test and was hailed as the ultimate Olympian for putting her horse before her own competitive interests.

Then came the backlash on social media.

Doubt was put on the cause. A fractured jaw was mentioned. Why did he even enter the ring? Harsh bits and hard hands were blamed. Adelinde denied.

Frankly, I respect the libel laws – I believe her. The horse was bitten. There’s no doubt in my mind.

Also…frankly, it doesn’t matter.

Parzival 3ParzivalParzival (left, in Rio) is just one horse. And there are countless others whose noses are constricted. Whose tongues are seen to be blue; others who have dripped with blood. So many who are trained using methods called Rollkur or LDR (low, deep, round) where the flexion of the horse’s neck is aggressively achieved. Rollkur is banned by the FEI but LDR is not as long as the horse has an unspecified break every ten minutes.

Parzival 4In the UK (and elsewhere) there have been vigorous campaigns to persuade the governing bodies controlling dressage to allow horses in competition wearing bitless bridles.

This is one ban, you see, that the authorities have enforced. A competitor mentioned on Facebook was eliminated at a competition because although his horse was wearing a bit, the reins were attached to the noseband.

They are not having it.

Top level talks last year between the Norfolk training group, plus bitless campaigners from the group A Bit More CHOICE, and British Dressage, the British Equestrian Federation, the British Horse Society and World Horse Welfare failed to convince the authorities that bitted and bitless horses could be judged together.

Jo said: ‘Metal bits are not seen in human ballet dancers’ mouths to exact precise or flowing, light movements, nor are they necessary for control or communication with horses. Norfolk Horse Training Club and CHOICE campaign continue to lobby the British Dressage, British Equestrian Federation and FEI to make the rule change that is being called for on grounds of fairness for the horse, especially after some of the unacceptable antics in Rio.

Dressage - without spurs or bit

Dressage – without spurs or bit

‘A high number of disqualification and withdrawals on welfare grounds during the Rio equestrian disciplines has created a backlash on social media with storms of protest over tight nosebands with horses clearly exhibiting signs of stress and pain, evidenced by excessive foaming of the mouth and terrified facial expressions.’

The British Equestrian Federation didn’t want welfare in the sport to become an issue for campaigners to exploit. The trouble is there is no cosy place for cruelty to hide.

A horse bleeds in Rio and minutes later the animal-loving world sheds a tear.

IN OTHER NEWS

1imageTrimmer Nick Hill and holistic vet Ralitsa Grancharova will be running practical training courses on the horses’ hoof and how to trim. They are based in Bulgaria and are offering the chance to accompany them on their rounds for up to a week and gain hands-on experience.

Nick Hill 12For those experienced in hoof care, ‘You will see everything from straight forward trimming cases to pathologically deformed hooves. We will walk you through the process of bringing the equine back to equilibrium through treatment, diet, environmental changes and barefoot trimming. Amongst the regular clients there are always emergency cases that need our help, which you will be able to see and assess with us.

‘We will be travelling extensively around Bulgaria, spending each day in a different area of the country. The price includes three meals per day (all dietary requirements catered for) and accommodation. Travelling is done by car. Students pay for their own flight tickets to Bulgaria.’

They are interested in taking a couple of students at a time but will also be offering tailor-made short courses for those without experience.

For more info – contact Nick Hill on Facebook.

ABOUT ME

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a book writer and journalist but horse riding is my great love. I’m relatively new to bitless riding but 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. Since then I have transitioned quite a few animals including my lovely retired mare, Carrie, who suffered from navicular and was due to be put to sleep when I took her on. She features on the front cover of my book – A Barefoot Journey – which tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. 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 warned against strong bits and 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 NovelCoverSociety. 

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.’

REVIEW FOR THE FIRST VET

‘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

 

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Saving the hoof…the Marvellous way!

by Linda Chamberlain

I’m writing this in December. It’s sunny, my sleeves are rolled up and my horses haven’t worn rugs in ages.

Climate change! Is it sinister…or a sheer pleasure? We might laugh; we might even enjoy it unless our house has been flooded or our horses have been rescued from swollen rivers.

But when I go to check my little herd later without my jacket on I have good reason to worry.

3 horses on track

Because the grass is still growing steadily, the sugar content remains high and if your horse is barefoot like mine there is no hiding the symptoms it may cause behind a metal shoe. Rich grass is thought to be the cause of footiness in some barefooters. It does the same to a shod horse but you might not notice due to the numbing effect of the shoe. It also causes separation at the white line and if this worsens you have a serious condition called laminitis to deal with.

There is said to be an epidemic of laminitis in the UK at the moment. My own horse is still recovering from an episode so my ears were flapping last weekend when I had the chance to discuss the latest ideas on horse keeping with some serious experts.

I was signing and selling books at the Westcountry Equine Fair on the stand of Barefoot Horse Magazine and Hoofing Marvellous, the umbrella title of a very interesting group of trimmers who between them cover a massive part of the south west and beyond.

HM logo

barefoot horse magThe mild, wet climate of the UK doesn’t make it easy to keep a barefoot horse who should ideally be living out 24/7. The land can get sodden and unless you’ve created some nice, dry areas of hard standing or all-weather tracks you are facing problems when the mud arrives.

But there is another worry and I would be very interested to hear whether readers of this blog in other countries have the same concern.

 

Rye grass. 

Here’s a picture of it. Looks innocent enough, doesn’t it?

HM rye grass

Gary Hinton, who covers Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Dorset for HM, warned: ‘It has between 300 and 600 times more sugar than other grasses, even when dried.’

HM gary hinton

Rye grass is great if you have your sights on record milk yields but a nightmare for a horse and his feet. It’s quite possibly the single biggest reason why some people find it so hard to ride without metal. The UK is heaving with it and it can be hard to find fields or hay made from more suitable mixed meadow grasses.

My trimmers were full of brilliant advice – no wonder, they were inundated by crowds of people around their stand at the show in Exeter. Barefoot is really catching on and everyone needed information; they wanted to learn.

HM - sophie bennettsSophie Bennetts, who is hoping to set up a livery yard in Cornwall for barefooters, seemed to know pretty much all there was to know about hoof boots.

 

Caroline Wang-Andresen, a trimmer who covers Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset, was unequivocal – track your field if you can. Then you can reduce your grass but increase your horse’s movement. Ideally, you should scrape off the grass and replace with stone or other surfaces and feed hay 24/7. But not any old hay – avoid rye grass, even if dried.

HM Caroline

On my return home, I checked my own hay supply and found one or two pieces of rye but a predominance of other grasses so decided not to panic! I had been promised it was organic meadow hay.

Tracking fields, removing grass and replacing with all-weather surfaces might sound crazy but there’s another reason for caution when it comes to the green stuff. Climate change.

I usually deem it safe to turn my horses onto their winter pasture in November; the horse that goes crazy on rich grass seems to hold her head together and the two that become footy appear to cope. Not this year, though. I have only one horse out on it for a few hours a day. For the rest of the time they are confined to the yard and a strip of muddy field while Sophie sorts out her laminitis. We are slowly getting there. It’s not ideal and I wish something better for them. I’m about to investigate making more all-weather areas and will report back…

In the meantime, let me tell you about another of those awesome Hoofing Marvellous trimmers – Lindsay Setchell. Here she is showing me how to ride and stay in the saddle. I’m a troublesome pupil, sadly.

Lindsay Setchell

Not only does Lindsay trim hooves but she edits the only magazine in Britain dedicated to the barefoot horse. This publication passed an important milestone recently – it went into print as well as digital. I write for Barefoot Horse Magazine occasionally myself but it is full of articles from horse owners telling their stories.

The magazine was born from a newsletter Lindsay sent out to clients and now it’s a full-colour phenomenon!

Check it out here. And Hoofing Marvellous…herebarefoot horse mag

HM Kim TaylorAs trimmer, Kim Taylor, said at the show: ‘There is such a different attitude towards barefoot this year. It’s really changing.’

Such good news…let’s face it, you might not be able to reverse the change in the climate single handed but you can try barefoot and reduce your horse’s footprint on the world…

I’m trying to think how it might help the climate – it will certainly help your horse.

ABOUT ME – I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. A Barefoot Journey, is my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) 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. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberIt is a small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet, a historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has 40 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society. Here’s the latest review on Amazon – ‘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!’ It was lovely to meet so many readers at the Equine Show last weekend. Keep in touch by following this blog or finding me on Facebook.

The carrot beats the stick…

by Linda Chamberlain

It is a shameful fact that if you go to a horse show you will see more sticks, spurs and strong bits…than you will carrots.

In fact, I can’t remember if I have ever seen a competitor pull a carrot from the pocket of their smart riding jacket to reward their horse while they are still in the ring.

This is why you need to meet Luca Moneta; you need to follow his career, his Facebook page and, if you feel the urge, to cheer him on. He is a top, international show jumper from Italy. This is him winning at Olympia in the Puissance in 2013 scaling a wall more than seven feet in height.

 Jumping seven feet!

Jumping seven feet!

It’s very sad that he is so different in the equestrian world – personally, I would like him to be even more different but more of that later…!

And the carrot is the key to all this.

You might ask yourself, ‘So what! The man dishes out some treats.’

That treat is the tip of the iceberg, the tiny bit that the public sees and loves…and approves. It underpins the training he gives his horses and reflects the lifestyle they enjoy.

Luca works by reward, by taking stress out of the equation. Many of his horses come to him with difficult behaviour and a troubled history. He plays Parrelli and ball games with them, he builds up their trust. Rewarding and encouraging all the way. If he’s working them over jumps his hand might reach for his pocket after just a few obstacles. There’s a downside of course. One of his top horses has been known to whinny for a treat before the end of a round which must be a bit inconvenient!

Luca on Neptune

Luca on Jesus

Luca on ConneryLuca on Ciccio

He told me: ‘I always try to work my horses through the emotional training. The objective is to face stressful situations through play and, thanks to high levels of energy, arrive at the “stress point”, help them find a solution and learn to relax.

‘I think training with positive reinforcement in the horse creates the urge to try to do the right thing, which is called “positive effect”. The horse, instead of refusing an order, seeks solutions first to receive the reward, and then becomes more collaborative, more enthusiastic and intelligent.’

Riding in the woods to relax before an event

Riding in the woods to          relax before an event

The lifestyle for Luca’s team must also help produce a more relaxed athlete. So many show jumpers are stabled for long periods and their owners are too fearful to allow them turnout with other horses. That regime is not for Luca. His young horses are mainly barefoot and many of his top horses are bare behind and so he has less worry over kicks and injury. He gives them plenty of turn out in small herds; he wants them to be horses.

Luca's horse

He regards shoes as a ‘necessary evil’ and I get the sense that he wishes there was another way.

‘I had and I often have barefoot horses. I find however that shoeing is a choice that has its strengths and weaknesses. I think, for the horses, it is nice to go to the grass in the group, and if the horses are barefoot behind it gives me less concern when they are together. Also if they have a good nail I tend to keep them barefoot, and so when I have periods when I can afford it, I keep them barefoot to allow the nail to bulk up without iron. I find this logical, considering that three year old horses trot on the stones without shoes without any problems whereas older horses who lose a shoe have hurt their foot and can no longer walk. And this precisely because continuing to protect them, the feet are weakened.

‘My young horses who have never had their feet weakened by shoeing get along very well with the bare foot, in fact I think it’s useful to these horses to shoe them as late as possible.’

I don’t think it will be long before this top rider discovers they don’t need to be shod at all…(scroll down to see one of my favourite horses Troy being barefoot and bold on very slippery ground in an earlier post).

Luca began riding at a young age. His brother was an endurance rider and put his sibling in the saddle, wanting his help. ‘I have made it my passion, my dream and my work,’ he says.

I asked him about the highlight of his career but he says that ‘when you are in contact with a horse it is always a wonderful moment for me.’

Time for a carrot - training without a bridle

Time for a carrot – training without a bridle

Fortunately for his horses, carrot production in Italy has increased and is able to meet Luca’s enormous demands!

But I wanted to know what he would do for the horse if I could make him il presidente for a day.

‘Surely, I wish that it were forbidden to slaughter any horse that has had a sporting career. Riders should provide for a provision to create a fund to guarantee a future for their horses. You might think to tie the passport of any competition horse to a “card accumulation” that allows to set aside over the years what is necessary to allow a sort of retirement; to enjoy a well-earned rest at the end of his career. We should guarantee our fellow horses a wonderful life even when they cannot give.’

He deserves to be elected with such a manifesto.

And finally, just a photo I found on his Facebook page – not all Luca’s horses are sports horses and not all riders are human…It’s a winner, isn’t it?

Sun and sunny - lessons

BOOK NEWS          BOOK NEWS          BOOK NEWS          BOOK NEWS          BOOK NEWS

ABOUT ME – I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. A Barefoot Journey, is my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) 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. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberIt is a small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet, a historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has 36 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society. Here’s the latest review on Amazon – ‘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!’

Keep in touch by following this blog or finding me on Facebook.

The Barefaced Ban

by Linda Chamberlain

Riders have hit back at ludicrous claims in a national magazine which said barefoot horses were prone to slipping and rarely left the schooling arena.

A letter in The Showing Journal sparked the row and prompted the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook to write back shouting ‘nonsense’.

Here’s the original letter and the editor’s response so you can see it for yourself.

The Showing Journal

Sadly, these opinions have their grip on the world of showing at the moment. Barefoot horses are banned from many hunter classes because judges, who ironically often wear the traditional bowler hat with no strap rather than a safety helmet, refuse to ride animals without shoes. They fear they are not safe; they will slip and so won’t let them in the ring.

I’m a lover of irony and there’s more of it in this story – you can hunt barefoot or shod, risking your neck over treacherous ground and high hedges – but you can’t enter the hallowed, but safe, show arena and do a few circuits of the level grass on a show hunter without shoes.

And yet barefoot horses are succeeding in many more dangerous equine sports. Our members are competing in endurance, cross country and show jumping and their horses are winning rosettes rather than falling all over the place. Just take a look at Claire Alldritt’s story of her journeys across Scotland on a barefoot animal – here’s a link to my earlier blog.

Becky Chapman, pictured below, is another wonderful example. She was a winner before the ban on a talented heavyweight show hunter called Mac at a very muddy Horse of the Year Show in 2008 – she says he was the only horse that wasn’t slipping!

She explains: ‘I stopped competing due to the stupidity of the ban and my disillusionment with that world. Due to ethical reasons I no longer compete either of my wonderful barefoot mares.’

Becky Chapman

Once a horse has recovered from the damaging effects of shoeing, he fares much better in wet conditions than his shod companions. He is far superior in the snow and there is a greatly reduced risk of tendon and ligament injuries without the anchoring effect of a metal shoe. Less damage from concussion, too.  Frankly, the ban is a mystery. Bowler hats are traditional and allowed; barefoot is very definitely neither.

My letter from the Barefoot Horse Owners Group managed to appear on The Showing Journal’s Facebook page until it was removed along with other pro-barefoot responses. The only answer I’ve had so far was an email from the editor thanking me and looking forward to receiving my letter. A comment from the Showing Journal on Facebook  – which has also been taken down – acknowledged that both barefoot and shod horses have been known to slip.

There is a similar oddity in the world of dressage with its hostility to riders who choose bitless – see my earlier blog A Bit Much. Did I say hostility? Well, they actually ban bitless horses.

No wonder there is so much talk among the barefoot-and-bitless community about establishing events separately from the traditional competition circuit. More news of this in a later blog…

BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS      BOOK NEWS     BOOK NEWS

A Barefoot Journey, my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available onAmazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book, which has more than 30 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society, sold out at the prestigious international show at Hickstead! Still available on Amazon though…

Many thanks to reader Nicola Jones for this lovely feedback – ‘After reading your Barefoot Journey I have finally found the confidence and the oomph to go it alone! I plucked up the courage to ask a local farmer if he had a field for me.. and he does! I feel no fear, just excitement at getting my relationship (with my horses) back on track.’

Barred for being bitless…

by Linda Chamberlain

A Royal show gets ready to open its doors – but this is one competitor who will have to stay at home.

Rea 4

Not because the horse isn’t a top performer…and not because the rider isn’t willing and able. Have a look at the photo – Rea Trotman can ride that horse of hers with no hands. Over jumps.

So why does the Retraining of Racehorses Organisation have such a problem with their entry at the Royal Norfolk Show? The animal is barefoot but that’s not a stumbling block for the horse, the rider or the show. No the difficulty, it seems, is the choice of bridle if they want to enter a jump challenge for retrained racehorses.

You see this beautiful thoroughbred, who has won countless races at Ascot, Goodwood and Doncaster, is now ridden with a bitless bridle. His owner has chosen this for him as a kindness because his teeth aren’t as good as they used to be and anyway…he doesn’t need a metal bit, jangling around in his mouth in order for him to understand his rider’s requests.

Rea, who has owned Danegold for the last seven years, read about the harm bits can cause to teeth and jaws, and decided he should never wear one again. As you can see, it hasn’t slowed them down.

They’ve entered plenty of low-key fun shows, showjumping and sponsored rides but Rea thought it was time they stepped up a gear.Rea 6

The Royal Norfolk Show is the biggest agricultural show in the country and the Queen is its patron. More than 1000 horses are expected to enter and over the two days in July about 90,000 people will come to watch the spectacle.

 

It’s a fair bet that those spectators would love to see what can be achieved by a barefoot and bitless horse like Danegold.

And wouldn’t the Queen, were she to attend this year, be impressed  with a wonderful ex-racehorse proving how well these beautiful animals can adjust to life after the track?

The class Rea hoped to enter includes a course of jumps and an individual show. ‘My horse would excel in this class as it is judged on style and performance,’ she said. ‘He is very laid back and well behaved; he deserves to show everyone just how great ex-racers can be.’

She decided to check with the retraining organisation’s officials but was told there were rules against bitless bridles for this class although not for showjumping.  ‘The reasons were shocking,’ she added. ‘They made no sense. Seeing a bitless ex-racer demonstrates complete retraining, which is what the class is all about.’

Rea has much in common with other bitless or barefoot riders who are falling foul of the rules of competitions in the UK.

Rea 3

The rules governing our shows are in a complete muddle. You can participate in extremely dangerous equine activities such as racing, showjumping and hunting without metal applied to your horse’s mouth or feet. But you aren’t allowed to do many dressage competitions without a bit. Rules for working hunter classes insist on both bits and shoes even though you can ride without either if you are hunting across the fields. Many barefoot riders say they are frustrated at the exclusion. One person told me they were stopped from competing in a Pony Club team because a ‘barefoot horse was an unfit horse’.

And just listen to this story from Monica Andreewitch of the Pony Academy in Surrey who teaches children to ride on ponies wearing just a rope halter. She had six children eager and ready to go to a jumping competition and then realised the rope halters might cause a bit of a stir. She checked with the organisers and was told that juniors must ride in a bitted bridle.

‘After pondering and checking with my soul, I decided that I could trust the children with bridles,’ she said. ‘They have independent seats and do not hang onto their halters – so why would it be different in bridles?’

Monica bowed to pressure. The children competed. The ponies weren’t jabbed in their mouths and they did cause a stir thanks to their notable control with long, loose reins. Not everyone can or will comply. For Rea and Danegold, there are dental health issues that cannot be ignored.

Rea 5

But frankly, these competition rules are silly. Or are they about tradition for its own sake?

I can’t help worrying that all this nonsense stems from utter embarrassment. There are a growing number of people who ride like Rea. They have a close connection with their horse. They achieve amazing things without whips or spurs and they do it without hands sometimes and make the rest of us feel like novices again. Imagine feeling like that if you are a judge. Is this the reason such riders are excluded? Are they too good? Too kind? They are not in need of whips, spurs and strong bits – all of which are welcomed with open arms.

The only time I’ve seen a rider booed as she left a showjumping arena was thanks to over use of a whip. A horse refused some jumps in a top competition at Hickstead and was eliminated. The horse was punished severely with a whip. The rider was jeered and humiliated by the crowd. If the public knew of the potential harm caused by shoes and bits, the public would not be amused by the equine world.

 So, here is my message to the rule makers and show organisers. Keep up with this growing equestrian movement towards less coercion and fewer gadgets. Embrace it because it’s good horsemanship; it’s humane and wonderful. Welcome it because the public, and probably the Queen, would love to see it. They would probably cheer!

 

THANKS to everyone for supporting this campaigning blog. My interview with ex-farrier Marc Ferrador last month had more than 30,000 hits in a week! Click on the follow button to keep in touch and leave me a comment as I love to hear from you.

BOOK NEWS – published this week – A Barefoot Journey, my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback and Kindle.

BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberLinks to The First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – Amazon UK. Amazon US.

 

 

 

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.

How Bad Are Horse Shoes?

by Linda Chamberlain

My horses have been barefoot for so many years that I sometimes forget that other people are still fond of horse shoes. Let’s face it the majority of horses wear metal and few riders question the practice that has been the norm for hundreds of years. It’s often when things go wrong that we look for an alternative. A horse whose feet are crumbling, who is lame or can’t keep a shoe on for more than a few days is given a chance to be barefoot. But that animal is going to have a difficult time of it – see my earlier post about Carrie’s ongoing battle to walk on her own feet – and, unless the owner and the professionals giving support have some experience of transitioning a horse to barefoot, the odds seem almost insurmountable.

Horse shoes? Are they dangerous?

Horse shoes? Are they dangerous?

It would be wonderful if owners looked at their horse’s feet, saw that they were strong and concave and sound, and got rid of metal shoes because they were no longer needed. The horse with good feet has such an easier time. A few years ago, I needed a companion for my cob and took on an old pony who needed a semi retirement home. The farrier pulled Shanti’s shoes and he was ridden the same day without a stumble. He never looked back, never had an abscess or a moment’s discomfort whether he walked on roads or over stony tracks. There must be so many animals out there like Shanti who simply don’t need the things. But not many Shantis get the chance to show the horse world what they are capable of.

The barefoot movement has made enormous inroads. I no longer get puzzled or disapproving looks from vets who visit the yard. They are used to barefoot horses because there are enough of them around but one day I hope vets will be supportive rather than tolerant.

But how bad are these shoes?

Plenty of horses reach old age wearing them and so riders can be forgiven for thinking they do no harm. Perhaps it’s similar to the old argument about the dangers of smoking. So many people didn’t believe smoking killed and would cite the case of an elderly aunt who puffed a hundred a day and got away with it. Surely no one today doubts that smoking is harmful but the issue of metal shoeing for horses is still up for discussion.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to convince a non-horsey person of the dangers. I’ve tried it so many times and it goes something like this.

Why don’t you like horse shoes, Linda?

Well, the hoof is a flexible, moving part of the horse. It acts as a shock absorber and helps pump blood around the animal.

If I have one of my horses handy and willing, I’ll pick up a hoof at this point and give it an illustrative squeeze making it possible to see what I’m talking about. Imagine the harm caused by nailing a metal band onto that foot. It can no longer flex on landing. It can no longer work.

From here, it’s easy to explain how many diseases of the foot are caused by shoeing. A friend, who is an osteopath, was quick to pick up the implications. How the shoe would add to the impact of landing and how it would put strain on ligaments and muscles. The German vet, Hiltrud Strasser, cites the statistics from insurance studies which show that lameness is the most common cause of horse death and euthanasia. Alarmingly, only 11% of horses manage to live past the age of 14. It seems that humans are seriously bad for a horse’s health. In the wild they can expect to live to 30 or 40 but few manage such a feat in their domesticated lives. We are killing them. Nice and slowly. In her book A Lifetime of Soundness Strasser says, ‘Shoeing is still an accepted practice and countless horses still needlessly suffer and die due to preventable and curable lameness.’

My own horse’s feet looked like this when her shoes first came off –

Carrie's feet - before

Carrie’s feet – before

After years of living naturally without shoes they now look like this –

Carrie's hooves - after

Carrie’s hooves – after

One more vet from the barefoot camp is Bracy Clark, an English vet who exposed the harm caused by shoeing more than 200 years ago, and is the inspiration behind my debut novel due to be published later this year. He said:

‘The present system of shoeing, and its consequences, ruin such multitudes of horses, that surely the discovery of its cause cannot but be of the highest importance in the affairs of mankind; for not one in thirty of all that are raised live to see half of their natural life expended!’

‘It is also a truth that cannot be denied, that by shoeing the tender feet of the young and growing horse, which are then enlarging to their form with the other parts of the body, not only the evils arise that would occur to a full-grown foot if shod, but there is a partial arrestation of the growth attends it, with frequent disfiguration.

‘While their limbs and body are everywhere increasing in bulk and weight, their feet, placed in bonds of iron, are diminishing in size and fitness to support and move them.’

‘The first day of shoeing is a grievous day for the horse, the commencement indeed of a black catalogue of troubles to him, so we would desire to put it off as late as possible, as the iron and knife will then make less ravages on the foot, and his limbs will better withstand the violence that often attend his first lessons.’

His evidence is damning and yet the majority of horses still wear shoes and vets are hardly at the forefront of getting them removed for good.

Only this week I heard the distressing story of an ex-racehorse whose owner tried him barefoot for a couple of years but was persuaded to return to shoes to prevent the horse slipping in the sand school. At first, she found it was wonderful not to worry about hoof boots or hard ground because the horse was never tender. The slipping was not improved by the shoes, however, but then something awful happened. One shoe came loose and moved to the side. The horse was lame. The farrier came and removed the shoe and suggested a poultice just in case. The next day the animal was in too much pain to move. The vet was called and found a nail had gone through the sole and had punctured the coffin bone. Emergency surgery was needed.

The horse lived but I couldn’t help seeing an irony in the situation. Horse keepers take such care to keep fields safe from sharp objects. No one in their right mind would leave nails or broken glass where a horse might walk and yet thousands of nails are driven into hooves every day.

It’s common practice but one day it might be regarded as cruelty. What do you think?