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.

THE BOOKS

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

Isn’t it time to give them rights?

by Linda Chamberlain

Twelve days old and her feet and her body are in perfect health. She is full of promise, has a fantastic home with other horses and an owner who understands her needs.

 

But what about other foals not in such caring homes? Shouldn’t they be protected from harm? What laws exist to safeguard their rights as sentient beings?

What court will listen if they end up in a bad home and are beaten? Or made to work too hard? Ridden and shod too young when their bones are not fully formed? Or if they are kept in conditions that are so alien to their species that they become sick with worry and stress?

Clementine’s perfect, promising hooves (above) have inspired me to take a look at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to see how it might apply to the domestic horse. I make no apology if that sounds a little too much. It can be routine for the horse to be whipped, spurred, pulled on his delicate mouth, isolated for long hours in a stable and have metal shoes nailed to his feet. Do we make such demands on any other animal?

The US is the only one of the signatory countries that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child – it has not been made law. The UK government ratified it in 1992, six years after outlawing corporal punishment in state schools. So you see, it is not long since our children had much less legal status than they do today. It’s not that long ago that their legal rights were little greater than those afforded the horse. In the 90s, the idea that children should be given rights was ridiculed in some quarters.

Perhaps I’m not asking for such a great leap of faith to apply some of this protection to our beloved equines…!

He suffers more interference from humans than any other domestic animal – perhaps it’s time for a treaty for the horse.

So taking a lead from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, let’s consider the following rights…let them be our goal.

You have the right to play and rest.

These two get plenty of time to be horses! They have made their own pool in a sandy area and enjoy a roll and a dip. They are allowed to play together but not all horses are afforded such freedom.

Too many horses are stabled 24/7 especially in winter. There are bars to stop them touching each other due to the fear of fighting. Their only exercise is when they are ridden or worked and that cannot be described as play. The need to socialise isn’t enshrined in law. In the UK, many horses only enjoy turnout for a few hours a day. Is that good enough?

You will be protected from work that harms you or makes you ill.

Children work long hours in many parts of the world and the UN seeks to limit the harm caused. The equine has his own equivalent.  He is backed and trained to enter horse racing as a two year old and many are ruined as a result. Animal Aid says more than 1500 have died on race courses in the last ten years in the UK. Sports horses are frequently competing at the age of four but their bodies are not fully developed until the age of seven. Take a look at the excellent charity Horses4Homes to see how many well-bred horses are looking for retirement homes in their prime. In the developing world, the horse has a lot of work to do and welfare charities strive to encourage better treatment. In the US there has been uproar about the plight of the Tennessee Walking Horse who is made to stride in an exaggerated fashion with the barbaric use of soring (above pic) – defined as chemical or physical means to make the horse lift his leg higher. An attempt to end the practice was put on hold by President Trump in his first day in office. Protection from harmful work would have a massive impact on all of these sports. Shouldn’t it be law?

No one is allowed to punish you in a cruel or harmful way.

Corporal punishment in UK state schools was outlawed in 1986 but family domestic punishment is legal in many countries around the world, so children are still mistreated. Excessive use of the whip is not always frowned on in equestrian sport but governing bodies in racing have the right to suspend and fine riders who go too far – deemed at seven uses of the whip in flat racing, eight over jumps. Otherwise, the horse’s only legal protection in the UK is from anti-cruelty legislation. Is there any other domestic animal that is whipped in a sport we watch for our pleasure? Other means of control can be painful for the animal – spurs, tight nosebands, strong bits – all can cause harm but are endemic. There are calls for such riding ‘equipment’ to be replaced by better training methods. Shouldn’t they be listened to?

You have the right to help if you have been hurt, neglected or mistreated.

Countries with child protection laws will intervene if parents mistreat their children. Vast sums are spent in the developed world monitoring and supporting families that are struggling and children will be rehomed as a last resort. The hard-pressed RSPCA in the UK and Australia will sometimes intervene in cases of reported cruelty or neglect against animals. Both spend a lot of money educating owners and the public. Horses and other animals are rehomed; prosecutions against cruel owners have been brought. Most countries have no welfare charities and the horse is not protected.

Your education should help you develop your abilities and talents.

Not every child in the world is lucky enough to get an education. In the west it is considered a birth right and is compulsory. Every domestic horse will need training but the nature of that has begun to change in the last few decades. Equine training is still called breaking in by some but the description starting a horse is more reflective of new and progressive ways of preparing a horse.

This is Indiana being trained by Liane Rhodes (right). Shouldn’t every horse have this softer start?

You have the right to have safe water to drink and nutritious food to eat.

Perhaps this is one of the most poignant rights in the Convention. With so many children hungry around the world or having to drink water that is contaminated, can we spare a thought for the equines who are underfed? Or those who work in the blistering heat but rarely get something to drink? Ironically, in our richer countries the horse can suffer from the opposite problem – obesity and a high sugar diet.  The Convention rightly concentrates on children who face starvation on a daily basis.

You have the right to give your opinion and for humans to listen and take you seriously.

I included this in all seriousness although I have substituted adults as stated in the Convention with humans. It is part of the Children’s Convention with good reason because their lives in the past could be decided by local authorities or courts without them being consulted. It is not many decades since the practice of sending UK orphans to live (and work) with families in Australia or Canada was ended. The unhappy stories of such children shipped abroad by our leading charities sounded like modern-day slavery when I wrote about the issue as a young journalist. In the equestrian world there is a relatively new buzz word – listen to your horse! It’s an interesting one and encourages us to consider the reason if we are having problems with a horse we ride. So often ‘naughty’ behaviour from the horse was regarded as a reason for stronger training methods. Enlightened equestrians now strive to find out what might be causing problem behaviour. In other words, a buck might be caused by back pain. The horse, like a child, needs to be heard.

You will be protected from harmful drugs.

An important one for our children but should we have this for the horse? They don’t indulge in recreational drugs, of course. No one is trying to lure them into addictive habits that cost a fortune and wreck lives.

You have the right to choose your own friends.

Perhaps, for the horse, we should simply say he must be allowed to have some friends. This takes us back to the beginning and the right to play, the right to have turnout with other equines. It is quite distressing to see so many livery yards advertising their expensive facilities which include large and airy stables and individual turnout. Surely this ignores the horse as a herd animal. How heartening to see so many new-style yards providing all-weather surfaces on tracks and large, open barns for shelter rather than stables so that horses can live together, where they are happy. Shouldn’t such facilities become the norm?

You have the right to a safe place to live.

We want such a thing for every child but this could be terribly misconstrued for the horse. So many owners consider a stable as the warm and safe place for the horse to live and yet long hours of incarceration cause stress habits such as weaving and cribbing. Accidents still happen in a 12 x 12 box of course but what would the horse instinctively choose? A stable, or cave? No, this would not be sought in the wild. It’s more likely that a slight hill would be favoured with good visibility. Safety would be with the herd.

Isn’t it time we thought about all the strange things we do to horses? Things that are so against the animal’s nature.

Isn’t it time we talked about their rights?

Thank you to Catherine Fahy, Liane Rhodes and Sundi Reagan Anderson for photos.

UPDATE ON OUR TRACK

My track system in the woods has had an extension! We now have about a mile of tracks and trails for the horses to get their bare hooves in top notch condition. Sophie’s laminitis appears to be a distant memory and she is enjoying being ridden once more. It’s been interesting to see how much more the horses move now that the track is a complete circuit. Here is Sophie with Charlie Brown enjoying the new space. As you can see it’s quite an open area with a little bit of grass and gorse, an awful lot of bracken and plenty of birch trees. The strimmer has been busy at work on the bracken, trees have been thinned and the horses are making their own tracks without the need for me to direct them with lots of electric fencing. They spend a lot of time there but, judging by my daily, shoveling chore, they are clocking up miles around the whole place.

 

THE BOOKS

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 UK. Amazon 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 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…xxx

The Guided Tour

by Linda Chamberlain

It’s lovely to have a newcomer at our home in the woods for barefoot horses, to see the place through a fresh pair of eyes.

jules-12This is Jules who is aged eight. He’s an Arab cross warmblood and he’s had a tough early life. Orphaned as a foal, he later became a dressage horse and may have worked very hard as he is now troubled with arthritis, gut pain and occasional twinges from kissing spine.

He was due some luck in his life and was bought by his present owner, Nicky Cole, about eighteen months ago. Jules found life very difficult at a conventional livery yard because stabling made him miserable. Being a horse with a strong sense of humour, he would scowl if you happened to be passing by his box. I hate to say this of him, but sometimes he would bite. His owner was bitten and bruised a few times but somehow she didn’t give up on him.

He moved to our woods about six weeks ago and has kept me amused with his habit of guarding the gate in case I want to come through it. He likes to lift up and rearrange the feed buckets or carry the head collars to a place where they can’t be found. He hasn’t nipped me, I’m pleased to say, but sometimes he gives me the feeling that I’m well below him in the pecking order. I guess I’ll work it out soon…

jules-13My horse, Sophie, has become very fond of him and the pair of them have taken to cantering up the concrete road as if it’s an Olympic sport. I guess that officially makes Sophie an ex-laminitic – she certainly didn’t attempt any speed when she arrived here in April, gingerly walking up the road or choosing the woodland at the side where the ground is comfortable.

The improvement in Sophie is enormous and she doesn’t look like the same horse who was struck down by laminitis just over a year ago. This home in the woods was inspired by the US trimmer Jaime Jackson and his book Paddock Paradise. Six months of zero grass and maximum movement, being fed ad lib meadow hay and having her feet regularly trimmed have made such a difference to Sophie.

julesSo it will be interesting to see whether this living-out lifestyle will now help Jules. He loves walking around the tracks and through the woods or checking out the field shelter. Here is Jules’s guided tour of his new home…

Starting at the top (left)  – the ground is quite soft here and so far hasn’t got muddy. This is quite a good place for a canter…or a roll…

 

jules-5

Don’t be fooled by those leaves! That’s one very long, concrete roadway built for a tank regiment in the war. It’s even got curbstones and now haynets hang from the trees by the side.

jules-8

 

 

Take a right off the road here and we can circle through the woods. Keep up…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-9Through those trees are some great horse rides on Ashdown Forest which I have my eye on. We’ve walked them in hand already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-10And in the distance…right down the end of another road…is one of the hay boxes…I love that there is hay here all the time…and there’s a field shelter WITH NO DOOR! So I can come and go as I please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-6Perhaps all this walking about will improve my back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-3I can choose soft ground or hard but mostly I don’t worry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-4But here is a good spot because they keep some pretty good hay inside this green thing. Organic, meadow hay. Weeded by hand, so they say! Tastes good…come on…there’s more to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

jules-7It takes me quite a while to walk around the whole place. I’ve noticed that sometimes the humans drive in their cars but they can be a lazy species. Sophie and I prefer horse power…I have some pretty fancy moves, once I’ve warmed up, you know…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sophie says it would be great if there were more laminitic horses here so that we can help make them ex-laminitic. I say, don’t all horses want to be wild and free? They don’t have to have something wrong with them to come here. She thinks beating laminitis is a priority but there are other problems and pain is pain. We want to get rid of it whatever has caused it or wherever it is. Find Linda on Facebook if you want to know more…

jules-n-sophieWhich reminds me, I haven’t shown you the chill out space we have…there’s Sophie having a kip in the sun where the ground is nice and soft…

 

 

 

max-phie-4Hey, Sophie! If that’s a stable they’re building, I vote it’s for you and not me…I used to hide in mine, hoping all the humans would go away. Really? Only a hay store? That’s alright then.

 

 

 

max-phie-3OK, we’re nearly done. I love this view. My legs might be a bit shorter than hers but one day I’ll get to the top before Sophie. 

 

 

 

 

max-phie-2Finally, the best sight a horse can have…ANOTHER HORSE. This is Sophie who reckons movement can be the greatest healer. She says, it worked for her. Did I mention that I have a lot of people helping me? A specialist trimmer called Lauren Hetherington, a physiotherapist and my own healer called Elaine. Then there’s Nicky, of course, and Linda who ignores me every time she walks through the gate. She doesn’t look so worried any more which is a bit of a shame. It was fun while it lasted. Fancy a run, Sophie? 

 

IN OTHER NEWS    IN OTHER NEWS     IN OTHER NEWS     IN OTHER NEWS

holistic-hound-and-horse-expoWhat a great success the Holistic Hound and Horse Expo was. A full day of talks and demonstrations at a fabulous new venue Merrist Wood, near Guildford. Two hundred people turned up – a sure sign that more and more people are seeking a less traditional approach to caring for their animals. I sold and signed lots of books so it was lovely to be an author again for the day rather than horse servant!

horsemanship-magHorsemanship Magazine is looking for a new editor. Lorraine Stanton is stepping down after many years at the helm having produced 100 issues of this brilliant magazine. Interested in the post – contact the editor on info@horsemanshipmagazine.co.uk.

ABOUT ME – BOOK NEWS

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

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.

 

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

About these ads

Occasionally, some

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 Blasphemous Blogger…

by Linda Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blog - Sarah Hamilton on Pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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