Shoes off for some pioneering women

by Linda Chamberlain

The horse’s hoof can pack a punch. Sometimes heavy, it can wriggle or fly towards your face and holding it for a long time can do untold damage to your back.

Is it any wonder that the job of caring for those hefty and sometimes unpredictable digits has been traditionally left to the male of our species? After all, men are generally known to have a tad more muscle than women and many are capable of instilling a sense of respect, sometimes fear, in the average ridden horse.

But, if you will excuse the pun, there is dramatic change afoot.

There has been a 70 per cent reported increase in the number of women training as farriers in the UK although they are still in the minority.

The greatest change is being felt in the barefoot movement where women are qualifying in large numbers and sometimes at great personal expense in order to maintain horses without fixed, permanent shoes on their feet. Women are outnumbering men in this growing niche market and sometimes facing resentment from male farriers that goes beyond the gender issue. Let’s face it, traditional farriery is being challenged to its very core by this pioneering group of women.

Tracey Pettipher, an equine podiatrist from the Midlands, explained: ‘There were 10 people on my course but only 2 of them were men.’

All barefoot training courses are appealing to women and to celebrate this 100th anniversary year of women securing the vote in the UK, I wanted to get a photo of suffragist Millicent Fawcett’s statue on this blog and to find out more. What attracts women to grapple with horse legs instead of computer? Are they bringing different priorities to the male-dominated world of the horse’s hoof? And are they fighting against bias in the workplace in the same way that their sisters complain of in an office environment?

Choose a career in media or the Stock Exchange and it is reported that male colleagues might be promoted instead of you, or be paid far more. Hoof trimmers are self employed but might equally face bias or suspicion from potential customers.

To get some answers I spoke to three special women. I have chosen them because I either know them personally or have connected with them on Facebook. There are others who will be equally ground breaking, interesting, brave, strong and wonderful and this article is a tribute to all of them. They do a job I would have loved…but didn’t quite have the back!

No apologies for asking Alicia Mitchell to be the first to take centre stage. We are friends and now live near each other. I met her years ago when I acquired a bay thoroughbred called Carrie who was under threat of being put to sleep because her feet were so bad with navicular – no wonder she was refusing jumps as an event horse. They were like Aladdin’s slippers, long and curling and impossible to keep shod. Her shoes fell off within 2 weeks of her arrival but then her feet gradually crumbled and split. I was alarmed and found Alicia, who was then in the next county, online.

Back in 2006 she trained under Jaime Jackson in the US. Together we worked with Carrie who returned to some pleasure jumping and had another 10 years with me.

Alicia’s story is poignant and gives a startling insight into the physicality and challenges of the job.

Just imagine, this was the early days of barefoot, there were very few qualified professionals other than farriers and although she eventually had 100 horses on her books they were spread from the Isle of Wight, up to Surrey and across to Dover in Kent – a big chunk of southern UK. She might trim 10 horses in a day and that would be coupled with long hours in the car; she found it exhausting. Eating, let alone eating well, took second place. She’s not sure when she became ill but, looking back, it’s clear she was ignoring symptoms. There were so few specialist trimmers around that she had no one to delegate to and she felt increasingly responsible for her clients and their equines. She couldn’t give up, her customers had no one else but something was going terribly wrong.

She picks up the story, ‘There was a point at the height of the business when the horses were beginning to tell me something because they were increasingly playing up. I was having some strange symptoms and sometimes it didn’t feel as though I was safe.

‘I was missing appointments. Double booking. And then one morning I woke up and couldn’t see. I was blind.’

Thankfully, the loss of sight was temporary but it was her wake-up call. Nothing was found wrong with her eyesight but she went for an MRI scan and was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS affects brain function and balance; she had to slow down, eat well, trim less.

I remember that time. It was the beginning of our friendship and she was an unreliable timekeeper as a trimmer. Frankly, I didn’t mind because my horses’ hooves were looking good and Alicia was very willing to act as teacher so I could take charge between visits. She spent seven years as a full-time trimmer but perhaps she instinctively knew that her expertise needed to be shared, that she wouldn’t carry on.

But I was curious about how others reacted to her in those early days. Although not petite, she isn’t a hefty-built woman. As I write this I’m smiling because my friend looks nothing like a farrier and if you spent your horse-owning life booking one of those you might be surprised when Alicia hops out of her car, pulls out her hoof stand and pins back her curly hair, ready for work with a sunny smile. If a horse owner booked her for a consultation at a large livery yard it was quite likely that she would be surrounded by others listening in, sometimes commenting, sometimes hostile about her ground-breaking advice on diet and lifestyle and its effect on the horse’s hoof.

‘Some would be grumpy about it; they had never heard their farrier talking like this. Being small meant I was more approachable and they didn’t mind saying what they thought. I needed to keep calm, keep smiling but I began to realise that it was a personal journey and some people were frightened.’

And farriers? ‘Usually clients on a large yard would keep us apart! But I can smile my way out of a situation. They have a lot of bravado but once you start talking techie with them there is this understanding. I would say to them that this is growing and they need to learn about the wild horse model and not argue with me about the dark ages.

‘Shoes are a fantastic coping strategy. They saw us through the industrial revolution but now we have moved on.’

Alicia has also moved on. She is fit and well and still has a few local clients. She looks after her own horse plus some liveries and is now studying wildlife conservation and land management. She remains passionate about barefoot and the natural horse.

She had to step back from her dream job but argues – ‘it’s not that women can’t do it; they can! My scenario by no means occurred due to being female or choosing such a demanding career. Life just demanded that I also study natural human care! I feel as though I have passed on the baton and am excited to see where it’s going.’

Which brings me to my other two interviewees. I have already mentioned Tracey Pettipher. Recently qualified as an equine podiatrist she already has 150 horses on her books. There are days when she will trim 10 of them but doing five or six is preferred. She acknowledges the physical demands of the job and there are days when her body feels as though it’s seizing up.

‘You need to be physically fit,’ she says.

But Tracey was always ‘a bit of a tomboy’, hanging out in trees in preference to quieter pursuits as a child. Later, she worked with her dad, a telephone engineer, and her job included climbing those tall poles. She was used to a male environment, went on to become a senior manager at BT but redundancy led to this startling change of direction, working with horses.

Women working in a man’s world have to prove they are capable of the task required but I was curious about the hostility they might meet. Tracey’s account of a workshop she went on is fascinating. She was the only woman, the only barefoot trimmer, in a group of 50 farriers who might think she and her kind were treading on their toes.

‘It was OK, I am confident but then I was introduced to the group and some people gasped. I could have been the Taliban. There were death stares! I needed to explain that I was not crazy. I spoke about the three-year training I had done and how we support owners on nutrition. There were some who wouldn’t speak to me but others chatted during the breaks.’

She doesn’t see herself as competition to farriers but rather plugging a gap in the market. Most of the horses on her books come from natural horsemanship homes and do better with a different approach for handling and hoof care, finding some farriers too rough. About 20 per cent have reached the end of the road with remedial farriery and are desperately seeking a cure for lameness.

What unique skills do women bring to this domain? I asked.

‘They think more about what is best for the horse, the needs of the horse, rather than a utility object,’ she said.

The needs of her own horse, Sunny, prompted Tracey into this brave new barefoot world. He suffered a major colic in 2014 requiring surgery and a long period of box rest. She had always used a farrier for shoeing and trimming and, once Sunny was recovered, he was trimmed and allowed out of his stable.

Tracey explained: ‘He became very footy and I knew something wasn’t quite right. So I called my farrier for advice. I was told he had probably trimmed him a bit short and that he would be all right in a week or so’s time. A week later I found him in his field on three legs and unable to move.’

A vet diagnosed laminitis and advised more box rest. Tracey knew how distressing that was for her horse and was determined to find an alternative approach. ‘I was amazed at how much my EP knew about the condition and that trimming the foot was only a small part of the recovery process. She advised me on his diet and environment and worked very closely with the vet and myself, which resulted in him making a speedy recovery and back into work in a relatively short period of time. It was then that I decided I wanted to help others battling with this awful condition.’

You might have noticed that my interviewees frequently mention diet and some explanation might be timely. Grass, and rich grass in particular, is known to cause havoc with hooves due to its high sugar content. Some bucket feeds will also be filled with molasses and other unhelpful ingredients and most barefoot experts will advise you change your regime to avoid discomfort for your horse. Shoes might disguise that pain, barefoot horse owners have to get it right!

Finally, I want you to meet Caroline Wang-Andresen whose workload might make any decent man reach for his yoga mat and sprint to the nearest retreat centre.

She is Somerset based and looks after her own eight horses on five acres, has two children and about 400 equine clients. She might trim 20 of them if they are on the same yard but between 10 and 15 is quite usual. She doesn’t do yoga to iron out the kinks in her back, much to my amazement.

Her own dressage horse introduced her to the world of barefoot about 18 years ago when he became ‘stale’ and wasn’t going forward, hinting that something was wrong. An instructor suggested taking his shoes off but he was crippled as a result and they went back on. Diet was addressed and another attempt was made, taking time to introduce him to different ground surfaces. Six months later the horse was sound and he has been without shoes ever since.

Caroline was an office manager at this time, not enjoying her work, itching to do something else. So, she investigated training as a hoof trimmer, found Jaime Jackson’s AANHCP and qualified three and a half years later. She has been working full time for the past 14 years.

‘I get to work outside all day and I have autonomy,’ she said, happily.

Farriers have not been known to worry or intimidate this young mother but the horse world is probably at the top of the pile for British conservatism. At a clinic at Hartpury College she chatted to another horse owner.

‘She asked what I did and said she would never have a woman do her horses’ feet. It would be odd.’

Another time she couldn’t help eavesdropping on a conversation between a local vet and a horse owner in which Caroline’s concern about the effect of rich grass on the equine hoof was being ridiculed.

‘The vet had no idea I was there but I was in the stable next door, trimming a horse, and he was slagging me off.’

You need to be physically strong to be a trimmer – a tough exterior is also helpful.

The autonomy Caroline speaks of is the key. Being self employed means the work of these women will be judged directly by the customer and their horse. If their care produces lame horses and unsatisfied owners they will lose out.

I am pleased to report – they are not.

Perhaps 2018 will be remembered as a good year for women…and the domestic horse.

LinksTracey covers mainly Warwickshire and Oxfordshire

Caroline covers a large chunk of South West UK

 

FREE ADVERTISING

A couple of articles ago, a few readers alerted me to some derision on Facebook. Apparently my pages carry wordpress adverts from betting companies. I would like point out that I don’t receive this massive amount of revenue but I do find it mildly amusing. I don’t see the ads as I have an ad blocker at work on my lap top but, since I sometimes write about barefoot race horses, no doubt the betting industry was attracted. Or perhaps it’s because this blog has had nearly 300,000 views since its launch. This has got me thinking – it would be great to carry some FREE ADS that are helpful to horses. So if you have a product, an event or a service that is good for the horse I would love to include it in a list after each blog. Please get in touch via Facebook (see link below) – unlike betting, you have nothing to lose.

HERE ARE the first free ads – Barefoot Horse Magazine issue 19 in print and digital is out now. Full of brilliant articles on navicular, the link between diet and laminitis, hoof boot news, the benefits of special plants. Check it out.

And have you found Barefoot Horse Owners Group UK on Facebook? – for the best support and advice on riding without shoes.  There are now 23,000 members – an awful lot of bare hooves.

The Total Contact Saddle is a unique treeless saddle that has just reached the shortlist for the Saddle Research Trust Awards for 2018. get more info about the saddle at http://www.total-contact.co.uk

MY BOOKS

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. 

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 page-turning book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover Society. 

‘I originally bought this book from Linda at a horse show a couple of years ago but only just got round to reading it. I wish I had read it ages ago! I was absolutely gripped from the first page. It is brilliantly written, well researched, and told with compassion.’ – Amazon UK reader.

I’m a writer and journalist – if you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for yourself or a friend! 

 

 

 

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And the winner is…!

by Linda Chamberlain

A picture is worth a thousand words…and each one of these will tell you so much about barefoot horses and their owners.

They are a selection of the entries for the Barefoot Horse Owners Group photo competition on Facebook  – I was relieved that the job of choosing a winner didn’t land at my door! Members voted for the best banner photo of 2017 and the prize was a year’s subscription to Barefoot Horse Magazine.

And here is the winner, submitted by Lisa Outram but photographed by Mandy Wheatcroft, the breeder of these three youngsters caught having a snooze amid the remains of a hay bale. The photo perfectly captures a blissful moment of herd life, the horses so relaxed that they are out for the count. Together…

But it also tells you a lot about so many of our group members who strive relentlessly to provide some important elements in the life of a horse. Being in a herd, freedom to move, to sleep, to graze, to choose…it’s not always easy, as you will see, especially at this time of year.

All horses, of course, begin their lives as barefooters. These shots were hot contenders and got plenty of votes.

Mother and baby.

A wild foal.

A newborn.

But the influence of humans means not all will stay free of metal shoes Our touch may not be benign.

Our Facebook group with its 20,000 members (almost) is a great place to find out the best methods of going barefoot, staying that way and having fun with horses.

Riding on the beach.

So many of us like to make a splash.

Some have teamed up with some unusual riding companions.

Or simply going it alone.

 

These two went on a trip to London to see the guards.

But it’s great if you can just be with your equine friend and enjoy the view.

Sometimes we get competitive and ride all in blue…

It’s a myth that barefooters can’t jump as high.

 

Here’s a close up of a healthy hoof doing just that.

No slipping, no sliding.

It’s all about partnership.

As these folk will see.

So many times that can be achieved from the ground.

 

Special moments aren’t confined to being in the saddle.

 

Unless you’re a princess…

Or have a Shetland to ride.

 

You see, they need keeping out of trouble.

Should have a category of their own.

And know how to dress festively.

Sometimes we favour photos of horses together.

Other times we love pics on their own.

 

But if a horse is at the end of your rainbow…

Remember there are better ways of keeping them these days.

Let’s peel back the mists of convention.

Let’s battle the skeptics who warn that we can’t.

Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook for the best photos, great support and top-notch advice from trimmers, vets and riders.

BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS

Half way through edits! My latest book about a welfare campaigner from the past has just come back from my editor who has given me work to do but some praise to fuel my typing fingers – she says: ‘Your writing is truly remarkable and your skill with words just takes my breath away.’ Book links and reviews are below…

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. 

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.

I’m a writer and journalist – if you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for a friend! 

 

Learning from the long-distance runners…

by Linda Chamberlain

Imagine a time when it is widely understood that a horse might be a better athlete without metal shoes nailed to his feet.

Imagine sporting professionals acknowledging that a barefoot horse has better natural grip, greater speed and a quicker recovery rate after exercise.

Those of you whose horse has only recently come out of shoes might find such a scenario hard to fathom. Because of course you might be witnessing discomfort as your horse regains the health in his hooves. You might be forgiven for thinking your days of trotting on hard or rough ground are gone – but take heart.

You only have to spend a bit of time in the company of some endurance riders to discover just how much a barefoot horse can achieve given the right lifestyle and training. They can keep going for miles due to their high level of fitness. They don’t slip, they feel the ground (but in a good way) and they have an enviably deep relationship with their riders.

Can less sporting equestrians learn from their experiences?

Let’s meet some of them and impress you with some facts and anecdotes.

This year’s winner of the arduous 100-mile-in-a-day Tevis Cup in the United States DOES NOT WEAR METAL SHOES. Tennessee Lane rode the 17-year-old Arabian, called Farr, with glue-ons and carried Easy boot gloves as back up. The horse is barefoot when not competing.

In the UK, Dominic Smith finished in overall 46th place nationally on a barefoot and bitless horse. He has completed about 500 km in competitions without hoof boots and recently finished third in the open at the Red Dragon ride in Wales, the national championships. He was winner of the best rider/horse combination in the open, bagging a handsome trophy and the horse’s finishing heart rate was 44.

The fact that Dominic can tell me his horse’s heart rate tells you a key thing about the sport. There are regular veterinary checks for soundness and heart rates – horses aren’t allowed to continue unless they pass. A horse that is struggling or lame is ‘vetted out’. There is probably no other equestrian sport with such scrutiny.

Dominic’s horse, known as George (but with the full name George Bush) was bought by him as an unstarted five year old. He was barefoot and shoes were never considered. Boots were difficult to get a good fit for the 16.2 cob x IDTB so Dominic takes it more slowly over rough ground, making up the time where the footing allows.

‘I’ll push on where the going is good for feet, even if I’m feeling it myself. Then I’ll give him a breather where we hit gravel or tougher stuff for feet, so that he’s getting a break where he needs to go easy,’ he says.

‘We’ve been vetted out on two rides early this season. One was ‘out of time’ and the other was lameness, one sore foot which was fine the next day. Both times this was down to me, missing solid stop lines and therefore going off course, doing extra distance and having to double back to achieve the check points. Both times, sod’s law, were on challenging courses.

‘George is out 24/7 in a herd of six all year round, no one gets rugged (although I’m open to it on health grounds). They’re all barefoot, two of the ponies are wildies off the moor kept from slaughter. Shared hard feed and hay on tap.’

Life style, feeding and an exercise regime are all important.

Katherine Mills (right) lives in Hungary but travels far and wide with her four competition horses – all Hispano Arabs apart from one appaloosa cross TB.

‘They live out 24/7 on a 1000m2 bare paddock with shelter and hay in feeders.  They are let out on grass for a snack for a couple of hours in the morning while I poo pick but previously they lived 24/7 on long grass without a problem.  I’ve never keep them on short grass.

‘I ride every other day at the most and mainly trot and canter on all good ground on the flat and walk up and down hills (1-2 hrs LSD, Long, Slow Distance).  Then usually every 3rd session I will do either continuous canters (30mins to 1 hr of canter, in intervals for less fit horses), hill intervals or fartlek intervals for a few weeks. (Fartlek training is another interval-type training for aerobic fitness)  If I have no particular event coming up and they are already at the fitness level I want I will just do the LSD training.  I always have a focus for the session so I train that aspect properly eg: fat metabolism, LSD, raising anaerobic threshold (intervals and fartlek), muscle memory (continuous canters).  Every month or so I will go for a long ride just so they are used to being out. They always get at least a couple of months off in the winter with just the occasional ride for fun.

‘My aim is just to have sound horses that enjoy what they are doing.  I am very sure Arco and QI are capable of doing 160 km at a respectable speed but I won’t push them for the sake of it.  Elsa is capable of doing 120 km for sure but I would rather her do lots of 80 km because she thinks they are fun and she has a low boredom threshold!’

I was fascinated by Barry Brewell’s insight into the relationship between these horses and their riders.

He said: ‘Endurance riders spend hours riding out with their equine partners… covering miles. Human and horse minds meet in the middle; human and horse learn to read the situation, no words are spoken but both rider and horse instinctively learn to understand how best to deal with the road ahead. How fast to go, where to place feet, get off my back and help here, think you’re best going over this bit. Yep, think you’re right, let’s go over there. I’m stopping, got a stone in my foot, have a look, can you? Sounds daft but this is the kind of relationship and understanding you start to get with your horse. It’s worth such a lot.’

Another rider, Sara Nichols Covington, said of barefoot endurance horses. ‘They are more comfortable. They can feel their feet (that proprioception thing), much less concussion with each and every footfall, and the owner is more in tune with natural ways of dealing with issues.’

Deb Morse had this to say: ‘This photo was a 50 mile (80 km) ride in Florida a month ago. Was a bit hot!! All three of these horses are barefoot, although the bay in the back has boots on his fronts. My guys get fed a high fat, sweet feed, supplemental alfalfa, as much green grass as I can get them on or ad lib grass hay. So basically everything you’re “not supposed” to give a barefoot horse. But they work hard enough that they need the calories and put enough miles on their hooves that they can do 50+ miles without protection in the terrain they train on. If we go up north to do a mountain ride, like I am this weekend, I boot all 4 hooves. The bay in the green has done 100 miles (160 km) in a day and was booted since it was in mountains.’

Emma Leigh’s homebred TBxID mare was awarded best condition by FEI vets after one ride. She competes up to 65 km and the mare is trained and competed completely barefoot. ‘Her feet aren’t the prettiest and her conformation isn’t great but it just goes to show that looks don’t matter. I think the distances and terrain covered in training is excellent conditioning for bare hooves. The time taken to do this builds a great partnership so you know each other so well. Having a good hoof care professional who understands the needs of a barefoot performance horse is definitely necessary although these hooves rarely need much attention due to the work they do. She is on restricted grazing due to being a good doer and is fed Allen and Page feeds as well as various supplements and hay. The right diet will always help but movement is key to a good bare hoof.’

Gemma la Coop has had great success competing with hoof boots. ‘I’ve done several 80 km (50mile) rides with my boy successfully booted, and did 100 miles through the Cairngorms over 4 days. The key is to make sure you have well fitted boots!

‘There are lots of successful barefoot horses and ponies out there, the winning Scottish endurance team this year had several barefoot horses on it!’

Jill Thorburn has two barefoot endurance horses. ‘My previous horse competed up to 65 km before I sadly lost him to colic. I have brought on my current horse and he has successfully completed 17 endurance rides up to 64 km in the last two years. He is sometimes booted in front. The key is good nutrition, good conditioning and regular trimming. I have recently backed my next endurance horse and will spend two years working him gently, building up the work and conditioning his hooves through work on all terrains. I think barefoot horses do so well because you never see riders trotting them along the roads when there is a verge available. Both horses and riders are more aware of where to step to protect from concussion. I give Pure feed and its always worked well for my horses. My trimmer says they both have great feet.’

Not all endurance horses are Arabs, although they are famously strong in the sport. This is Ally Knight’s fell x Arab who was previously shod for 10 years and has been barefoot for around 18 months. ‘I do boot on the fronts if I think there is going to be a lot of forestry.’

Danielle Glaister’s horse, Blackie, has completed regularly barefoot and booted. This year they did Cirencester 40 km Saturday, 40 km Sunday. She says: ‘He nearly always gets grade one as he did in riding club championships in Lincolnshire two weeks ago.’

Jane Impey says diet has been vital for her horse. ‘We have participated up to 40 km. For us, lower levels of sugars, reducing grass during summer and feeding ad lib hay with salt and a good balancer has helped and lots of hacking on varied terrain. Support of a good knowledgeable trimmer who also does bodywork has helped massively! Not a typical endurance horse but he loves it.’

Frauke Jurgensen said: ‘I have a metabolically challenged pony who has competed up to 80 km. He did lots of shorter distances bare, and 60 with front boots only, but now he wears Renegades/Vipers all round. We have muddy fields up here and granite tracks, and the combination makes it really difficult to get the hoof conditioning just right. Also, his metabolic issues mean that even with very careful management, his frogs are always pretty crappy and he feel stones more easily. Not a problem if you can amble along and choose your footing very carefully, but not conducive to speed. I’ve had people say that of course it must be easy to go BF for endurance if your horse has feet as great as Benji, but I have to correct them and say that it’s a testament to the quality of the trimmers that he can do so well, despite having metabolically-compromised feet!’

Karen Schafer has completed a 160 km endurance ride on her barefoot Arabian, no boots. ‘He has won and placed in several rides between 80 – 120 km, I found everything depended on the footing, if it was good there was no limitation no matter what distance and if it included gravel roads and stony riverbeds I would usually get around the first 40 km fine and use Easyboots in front after that. My horse became an absolute pro at picking his speed according to the footing and never vetted out due to being barefoot. He was out on pasture (green and lush most of the time but old fashioned varieties) all year round with a little hay and no more than 1 kg of oats plus minerals and salt when in full work. He was always in excellent condition.’

Sam Hunt has competed two Arabs up to advanced level (80 kms) over the years, completely barefoot, never been booted. ‘Miri, pictured, is now 17 and will compete again next season. We’ve done all kinds of terrain, from fast and flat, to steep and rocky. Their proprioception and therefore balance is great. As long as we’re on the right course, I let them pick their preferred bit of ground (not always what you would expect them to choose!) If the going’s particularly tough, we simply slow down accordingly.’

Tracy Helen Ryan reports: ‘This year between 18 February and 17 September Connie and I have completed 1170 km. Longest distance has been 33 km. We have ridden nearly every weekend sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. We have never been vetted out. My horses live on a track system with free access to a barn with a big straw bed and hard standing. There is access to two half acre grass paddocks through the summer and I feed adlib hay all year and Simple Systems grass nuts and purabeet with micronised linseed twice a day. I always allow Connie to choose her own speed over any terrain. If I ask her for a higher gait and she is reluctant we stay with what she is comfortable with. Listening to Connie is my highest priority and in my humble opinion what keeps her sound.’

Finally, another Arab, with Jane Adams. ‘I competed up to 64 km on my little rescue barefoot Arab. Sometimes with front boots but mostly bare. Lives on a track system, ad lib hay 24/7, 365 days per year. Fed always on Simple System feeds. Retired now for a few years due to Cushings but is sound at 24.’

THANK YOU…!

Thanks to all those who have helped me with this article and shared their success stories – and apologies for the time it has taken for me to put it all together! I blame a series of interviews that didn’t happen, evidence that didn’t materialise and my own horse’s battle with niggling injuries. Sophie had a strain on her tendon requiring full-time worrying and nursing. No doubt, the experience will supply me with anecdotes and articles about how to heal such things but I could have done without it. No doubt, she felt the same. I’m not a lover of box rest because the poor horse frets and loses muscle and condition and unfortunately rest is recommended…fortunately I have my own version. Here is my sick bay – big enough for two horses, room for a lay down and to potter about. They can even walk around the outside of it. Difficulties hit me every time I thought she was recovered enough to cope with more space. Turning her out renewed the strain. So I have established an injury recovery area – a level concrete circular track which allows more movement than the sick bay. No slipping and straining, no running. There is a softer area amid some fir trees for lying down and rolling, shelter thanks to their cover. And it’s working – she’s walking happily and being led. Wish her well…xxx

BOOK NEWS

My latest book has just come back from my editor who has given me work to do but some praise to fuel my typing fingers – she says: ‘Your writing is truly remarkable and your skill with words just takes my breath away.’ Wow…but that’s enough about me – book links and reviews are below…

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. 

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…or buy one of my books for a friend! 

He found her in The Killing Fields…

by Linda Chamberlain

He had blue eyes. And so he had been left to die because superstition warned that the Devil might control you through the blue eyes of an animal. He had to fend for himself. On some land known locally as The Killing Fields where there was no feed in winter and little water in summer and so many horses were to die.

Then he spotted a woman, a horse trainer, called Krissy Valentine who was looking for a couple of ponies to rescue. There were so many in those fields but she didn’t want another forever horse. Didn’t want something so big.

Sometimes, though, horses have to take their lives into their own hooves and he didn’t want to be left in such a place, forgotten.

Krissy was driving through the 200 acres of open fields in Kent (south east UK). He approached the car. He said hello…but after a while the humans drove off looking for a smaller project.

Did he know something she didn’t? Did he know she mustn’t get away? His forever human?

Krissy takes up the story. ‘Don’t forget we were in 200 acres. We drove off to check the other horses but then we picked up movement in the bushes and as we went down a track for a bit out comes this same cob who stops our car. We were quite shocked and my friends kept saying – it’s a sign!

‘We moved him and his little herd on and kept going. About half an hour later the sun was going down and we were on the other side of this place heading back and we were stopped yet again by this cob. He was sweaty and had clearly been following us.

‘I was entranced now but we wanted to get home so we carried on once we moved him out of the way. As we were going out the gate, there was a thunder of hooves and this cob comes cantering along after the car, sweating and blowing. We couldn’t believe it as he slowed himself down and came to another stop by the car.

‘I promised him there and then that he’d come home with me and he’d be safe. Forever.’

This happened in 2012. Soon after, the RSPCA intervened but 40 horses are thought to have died in their first week of rescue. The cob, now named Prince Valken, got out early. He was said to be aged four but, once she had him home, Krissy realised he was younger by at least six months. She knew he’d been sat on and she knew he’d worn a bit. She also found he had a few issues. Water was one of them. He was so used to going thirsty that he’d drink too much rather than graze and so then he’d lose weight.

He needed time off.

And then Krissy moved to France. Prince Valken stayed with a friend before joining her later and once in France she restarted his training.

As you can see from the fabulous photos, Krissy enjoys riding without much tack! Actually change that to ANY tack. Her horses and ponies enjoy it too. That doesn’t mean we are asking you to do the same but I thought you’d like to hear how she reaches this point of trust.

Over to Krissy again…’I restarted him from scratch – no bits, no shoes, just a head collar and riding bareback. We’d hack out in the forests and reserves in France that way for hours and hours on end, jumping logs and basically letting him enjoy his education.

‘I wanted to create a partnership based on equality and using as little tack as possible. I start all my youngsters tackless and introduce tack as we go along, generally around six months after the initial backing. I’ve found it is the best way to be with rescues, especially ones who have been in such a state.

‘And I always use reward-based training such as positive reinforcement, clicker training, and natural horsemanship.’

Krissy has her own land so went for lots of walks in hand, playing games, trick training and hopping on for the ride home. The pressure was off; fun was top of the list.

The next stage was introducing a western saddle and neck reining. She soon had the cob responding to the neck rope rather than the bridle. The ‘whoa’ cue was introduced in a safe, fenced-off area…’I would lean back, put my legs forwards and relax my body, saying whoa and breathing out. I could stop him solely off voice. It was time to tie the bridle reins up on his neck and work solely off the neck rope. Always, always, a pocketful of treats will get you far with horses.

‘Reward-based training has changed our lives. Soon we just whipped the bridle off. I’d carry a Parelli carrot stick with me and hold it at the shoulder if I wanted to turn and he wasn’t 100% clear of the neck rope but he picked it up so easily.

‘Riding without tack feels right; it feels like I am made to fit onto my horses that way. I prefer it and find my ponies do too. I can do jumping courses and school but I also do stunt training this way. I do use a bareback pad for long excursions but, for me, the less tack the better.

‘I feel so free, knowing that there is nothing between me and my horses, knowing that my control comes from our trust and partnership rather than our tack.’

HOOF NOTE…

Not surprisingly, Prince Valken’s hooves were in a state when Krissy first acquired him. They were broken, shaped like triangles and failing to grow. A farrier trimmed his hooves gradually, taking off a little at a time, being careful not to put him in pain.

He went on loan when Krissy moved to France and was shod for a few weeks. She was determined it was a temporary measure and once they were reunited, the shoes were off once more. Now he has brilliant hooves and is trimmed only as often as needed.

ABOUT ME – BOOK NEWS – MY HORSES

My name is Linda Chamberlain and I’ve been a journalist all my working life – now I’m also an author and blogger focusing on horses and their welfare. The harm caused by horse shoes has been a particular worry and prompted me to write the hugely popular novel The First Vet and then the non-fiction book, A Barefoot Journey. Another historical novel is in the pipeline. In the meantime my companion horse, Charlie Brown, is trying to worm his way into a true story I’m researching about a dreadfully spoiled princess who closed Richmond Park and kept it to herself for a few years. He thinks it’s time he was in a book and will revert to his original racing name, Legendary Romance. I’ve made him a promise and so I will have to write it now! I’ve recently discovered that the princess took a tumble in the park one day – was that you Mr Brown? He’s not admitting to anything…

Charlie Brown’s job is to look after Sophie, my ridden horse. Apart from one lapse (he bit her ear and she didn’t talk to him for 2 days) he’s been doing a good job. So have I! Sophie has recovered from laminitis (see blog, Life After Lami) and now she is teaching me how to care for a tendon strain. I’ll only write about that once we’ve beaten it…If I forget how to ride, I will get in touch with Krissy!

BOOK LINKS – BOOK REVIEWS

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. 

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…or buy one of my books for a friend! 

Max’s amazing transformation…

by Linda Chamberlain

Meet a horse called Max.

He wants to show you why metal shoes were not working for him.

In this shocking photo (below) he had been shod less than six weeks before.

His heels were underrun and his hooves were distorted. The strain on his tendons must have been immense.

I doubt there can be any farrier in the country who will say it was the work of a good professional.

His owner had had enough. So off came the shoes and with frequent trims she was able to improve the shape of Max’s hooves.

His heels are no longer three inches high – in just a few months they are getting back to where heels should be, at the back of the hoof! And as you can see the potential for tendon strain has been reduced (see below).

You know, it’s a common problem that hooves will distort in between shoeings because of course they are growing all the time. With a nailed-on shoe it is impossible for the horse to wear hooves down naturally or for a professional to keep them trimmed and in shape especially if they are growing quickly during a six-week shoeing cycle.

So heels can become what is known as underrun. This is an extreme example (although I have seen worse) and, as you can see, Max’s heels in his shoes are almost directly beneath the centre of his foot.

There are so many excellent hoof boots on the market that can save all this ridiculous trouble. Isn’t it a scandal that nailed-on shoes are still legal? Sorry, I have trouble understanding why anyone bothers with them…

Max’s owner Tazelle shared his story recently on the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook – a busy support group with more than 18,000 members.

Not surprisingly his photos were greeted with shock and dismay. How can those hooves have got so bad? Why is that farrier still practicing? How many inches in height has Max, a 14.1hh quarter horse, lost? But also, there was a warm ripple of support and encouragement.

Max’s story must have given hope to many members who are beginning on their barefoot journeys. If hooves as bad as Max’s can be revived once free of shoes, then surely other common hoof problems might be beaten.

The good news is – THEY CAN!

To find out more about barefoot, or to get support, join the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook.

ABOUT ME – BOOK NEWS…

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

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