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.

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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?

Some history instead of horses

by Linda Chamberlain

Today’s blog gives you a rest from horses in favour of writing. This is because I have accepted a challenge to post seven lines from a book I’m working on –starting from either line seven or seventy seven. On their own they might not make much sense so I will fill you in on the story so far since this is a novel.

It begins in the year 1795, two years after the opening of England’s first veterinary college. We were at war with France and there were complaints in Parliament that more horses were being lost through ill treatment and ignorance than there were in the war. Even then we were a nation of so-called animal lovers but a lame horse would be sent to the forge for cures or operations. They were often butchered.

Who would lead this fledging institution? The first professor was a Frenchman who died suddenly and left the college bereft so the governors recruited a young surgeon for the role. As you will see, the hero of my book didn’t think much of him.

Over to my protagonist – a young student who became a notable veterinarian and prolific writer and campaigner…

 

‘But why listen to me? One anxious student who feared he would close this place down in his quest for self enrichment. You need to meet him yourself. Edward Coleman, the eminent professor of the country’s first veterinary college. Make up your own mind whether his actions were those of a good man or whether you agree with me that his contribution to our cause was an unmitigated evil. He was a man of good taste; a surgeon who surprisingly knew little of the horse beyond the fact that it walked on four legs, breathed through its nose and made a delightful subject for a painting in oils.’

 

Some horses - just in case you're missing them

Some horses – just in case you’re missing them

The book entitled The First Vet is with my editor as we speak and will be published later this year. It’s a blend of fact and fiction inspired by his life and work and is full of intrigue, forbidden love and well…horses, I suppose. For now, I’m keeping my protagonist’s name under wraps. Anyone who correctly names him gets a free copy once it’s on the shelves!

The seven-lines challenge was passed to me by Alison Morton, author of the Roma Nova thrillers Inceptio and Perfiditus. Her latest novel Successio is out now. I’m happy to pass the baton to any other writers out there ???