Fields of trouble…

by Linda Chamberlain

ragwort-fieldThis horse and his owner are taking a huge risk. The horse is walking among poisonous plants; he may even be eating something that is harmful or could kill.

But I have news for you…many people would argue that there is more than one harmful plant in this horse’s field and that the bigger problem is less obvious.

The yellow ragwort has been the bane of horse keepers’ lives for decades. It is well known for causing liver damage and every summer magazines and horse welfare groups try to educate owners of its risk. There is no debate about ragwort.

The careful amongst us pull it up each year and, if we are sensible, we wear gloves. But the horse rarely eats the bitter-tasting plant when it’s fresh and the real danger is if it is cropped in hay where it is more palatable.

There is another worry, though, for this animal and his owner because the field is full of something very palatable that horses routinely nosh every day of the week. Grass.

 

HM rye grassIt is a controversial statement and needs examination. So much of our meadows have been lost in the last 70 odd years to be replaced by acres and acres of a single species of grass. Rye grass is a great asset on a farm because it is high in sugar and therefore great for producing milk or meat.

For the horse’s hooves it is a pile of poo…

It could be the reason we are seeing so many cases of equine obesity, so many animals with metabolic problems, so much laminitis.

Last week a reader asked what was wrong with rye or alfalfa hay after reading my interview with Lindsay Setchell, (left) editor of Barefoot Horse Magazine. Lindsay’s answer is so interesting and detailed that I am copying it here in full…

1016796_281375438667642_798174460_n-3She said – ‘Both alfalfa and rye have the ability to raise the blood sugar levels in your horse either through the metabolism of high protein levels, as is the case with alfalfa or more direct sugars eg NSC’s (Non Structural Carbohydrates) such as with rye. With high protein levels in alfalfa that also brings about other problematic issues for the body as well as the disruption to the delicate mineral balances such as the calcium:phosphorous ratios. When mineral balances become quite out of balance particularly with high calcium levels found in legumous plants such as alfalfa and clover, this can have quite drastic consequences if it is allowed to carry on indefinitely.

69541_172441142778743_2959600_n‘Jaime Jackson (right, with Lindsay) began to pinpoint alfalfa as a particular problem for chronic/acute laminitics many years ago and found that when it was removed from the diet and replaced with a mixed variety of hays then the horses recovered. In the US alfalfa is a far more popular feed for horses than it is in the UK (although it is getting more so over here) and the horses in the US were beginning to suffer because they simply could not escape it. They were (still are) fed it in their hay forage, their bagged feeds, their pastures and it was overwhelming to the horse. Here in the UK we have a similar problem with rye. Horses cannot escape it. They are fed it in all the major commercial bagged chaffs, pellets, nuts and it is persistently fed as haylage (ryelage) and many of the pastures are rye mixes…this is disastrous for the horse.

‘Dr Carol Michael in conjunction with Bangor University found that rye grass contained approximately 300% more sugars than our native meadow grasses which were almost insignificant in comparison. The lady who asked the original question also eluded to the fact that perhaps if the horse is exercised enough then it should be ok. We don’t find that. What we are finding is that, although exercise is vital for health & absolutely necessary, it often is simply not enough to counter the damaging effects of inappropriate feed such as rye and alfalfa (I don’t think I even need to mention molasses!). We still see chronic low level signs of laminitis even on horses who are exercised well but still fed on high levels of rye/alfalfa….it’s a bit like playing Russian Roulette and it’s a cumulative problem and is the single biggest reason that horses still are being shod because of sore feet. Once rye/alfalfa is taken out of the diet or at the very least is less than 10% of the horse’s total feed consumption then we see improvements in the overall health of the horse, its feet, body and mind.

‘The BIGGEST problem of all for horses is that they are not fed enough fibre (and I’m not meaning fibre out of a bag)…horses thrive on fibre not sugar but that fibre must be from a mixed source…good mixed meadow hay and hedges etc. The horse is primarily a forager and so in their more native species specific environment they would have access to a variety of fibre/grasses/minerals, sometimes having to travel great distances to satisfy their basic dietary needs. When we remove that diversity from our horses’ diet and then start feeding excesses of one or two kinds of feeds such as rye/alfalfa, that’s when we clearly begin to see problems arise. A huge issue is that most owners/vets/farriers don’t pick up the often subtle (and not so subtle) signs of inflammatory problems caused by diet and before you know it, the horse has BIG problems. Some owners have realised that rye/alfalfa is not so good and struggle getting mixed meadow and so end up feeding single species plants such as Timothy…but this has problems too as the horse/forager needs variety. Sorry for going on. I hope this helps.’

There is an increasing demand for horse liveries which cater for the need to reduce grass. More and more owners seek places that provide track systems and hay which is fed all year round. But yard owners are so far not keeping up with demand. We need more…

In other news…

finn-jules-aslanMy own home for horses in the woods welcomed three new arrivals this week. It will be lovely to see how well Finn, Jules and Aslan adjust to living out 24/7 with lots of movement, varied terrain and ad lib hay instead of grass. I will keep you posted.

horses at phie 16Sadly, I had to say goodbye to my elderly thoroughbred Carrie (right) last month who was getting increasingly stiff and uncomfortable. We had 11 lovely years together and discovered how well barefoot can help a horse with navicular. She will always have a place in my heart because she gave up on her passion for nudging me with her head for an afternoon when we did our photo shoot for my non-fiction book, A Barefoot Journey (see below). In order to get that shot for the cover we had to be poised patiently in front of a 20 foot drop!

troy-jumpingJust wanted to share this great picture of my friend Troy (left) who featured on the blog last year. He’s still doing brilliantly with rider, Richard Greer, on the team chase circuit and showing how well his bare hooves can grip in all weathers.

holistic-hound-and-horse-expoI will be signing and selling copies of my books – The First Vet and A Barefoot Journey – at the Holistic Hound and Horse Expo on Saturday, 5th November at Merrist Wood Arena, Worplesdon, Guildford. It’s the show’s fourth year and for the first time there will be live demonstrations as well as some great talks including Penny Thorpe on the horse’s hoof. Look out for Sue Gardner with a display of horse agility, too. I will be bringing a couple of comfy chairs and making a cosy corner for anyone needing a quiet moment and a chance to dip into a good book…

img_1482And I’m very excited about my next blog having just interviewed David Furman joint owner of the hugely successful barefoot racehorse Zakatal (left). I think Zak is about to become one of my equine heroes. Find out more next time.

About me

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a writer and journalist who loves horse riding. The shoes were taken off my horses about 16 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. 

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from Bracy himself – ‘A horse that is free of pain will lead from the thinnest piece of chord.’

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

If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel is in the pipeline. I am being inspired by a very famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. I’m more than half way through the first draft – blending fact and fiction is such fun! And so many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet. But I think I should feature one of Bracy Clark’s colleagues. It’s on the ‘to-do’ list…xxx

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Editor predicts the end for shoeing…

310791_10150393701057428_1959704958_n-3Meet the magazine editor who says, the day is coming closer when horse shoes will be gone from the horse’s life. As more and more riders discover the joys and benefits of riding barefoot Lindsay Setchell (left) urges other countries to follow the example of the Netherlands and outlaw the traditional lifestyle of the domestic horse – a lifestyle that includes hours of stabling and isolation and is increasingly blamed for hindering the animal’s ability to walk on his own hooves.

Lindsay, a former science teacher, turned to barefoot when her pony, Sunny, went down with laminitis. In spite of remedial farriery, her vet advised that the pony be put to sleep.

The vet was sacked. So was the farrier. Lindsay trained to be a barefoot trimmer with Jaime Jackson. Now she is part of the Hoofing Marvellous group of trimmers in south west UK and editor of the country’s only glossy magazine about barefoot.

Find out how she got there…and whether Sunny was saved!

  • Please tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m a busy self employed mum of 2 girls. I have 14 horses of all different shapes, sizes and breeds, 3 dogs, 2 cats and 3 pigs! Up until about 10 years ago I was a full time science teacher working in a secondary school in Cornwall, UK, with a very prosperous career ahead of me. I have a BSC (Hons) in Marine Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Education. When I trained to become a natural hoofcare practitioner I didn’t account for the fact that in the field I would come across situations where horses needed more help than owners were able to give them and where no other humans were stepping in because the situations had become so bad…and so I did. Partly to prove that this system works over a variety of breeds, shapes and sizes and partly because I struggle seeing horses suffering when I know I can do something about it relatively quite simply.

  • And about your training to be a barefoot trimmer…

69541_172441142778743_2959600_nAbout 16 years ago one of my ponies, Sunny, became acutely laminitic but after following all the advice from the vets and remedial farrier, my pony wasn’t recovering and I was told to put him to sleep. Having a science brain & background I decided to research as much as I could about laminitis and came across Jaime Jackson and a little red book called “Founder, prevention & cure the natural way.” That was it, I was hooked. I sacked the vet and the farrier and started to learn all I could about natural hoofcare. My pony recovered soon after and is still with us today and has never had another bout of laminitis. I carried on teaching but decided to train to become a hoofcare professional. I started my training with the UKNHCP in the UK but then went over to the USA to complete my training alongside Jaime Jackson himself (pictured above with Lindsay). I became a fully qualified Natural Hoofcare Practitioner with the AANHCP and have trimmed in the USA, Denmark, Holland, France and Spain.

  • And about your involvement with horses…

I have personally owned horses for about 20 years and I’ve studied Natural Horsemanship for about 10 years. I was a madly into horses when I was youngster at school but my parents could never afford to buy me one or send me for any lessons. So I volunteered every Saturday at a local riding stables and then went on to do my school work experience with horses. Unfortunately I then moved away from horses, went to university and then into teaching. It wasn’t until many years later when I had land of my own that I was able to eventually start to own horses myself.

  • In your opinion, is there another animal whose lifestyle has been so altered as the horse?

Many animals have been domesticated and ‘used’ by humans but the horse is probably the one animal who has suffered the ravages of the entrapment of domesticity the most, with respect of the impact on it’s general health and well being.

  • How healthy is the domestic horse?

In general not very healthy at all. A domestic horse has had most of its species specific needs artificially altered & interrupted by humans. Domesticity has seen significant negative changes in diet, movement, company and health of the horse. Moving into the 21st century the horse is now mirroring the ill health of its human guardians.

  • The English vet Bracy Clark feared 200 years ago that metal shoeing was crippling horses and shortening lives. Do you agree? How harmful is shoeing?

Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more with Bracy Clark and what a difference the world would be for horses now if his peers at that time has listened to him rather than mocked him. Shoeing causes dependency, contraction, atrophy and a myriad of other pathologies in the horse as well as hiding crucial signs that could help an owner recognise inflammatory problems such as laminitis.

  • Can you describe the moment you decided not to shoe your own horses?

gasunny-lovely-day-for-a-driveYes. On researching about laminitis and reading all of Jaime Jackson’s books all those years ago when Sunny was very poorly, I also came across Hiltrud Strasser, a controversial German vet. She had written a few books that were quite technical but they totally hit the spot in my understanding. One in particular called ‘Shoeing, a neccessary evil?’ drove it home to me how terrible shoes were for a horse’s health and I swore never to put a shoe on a horse again. That coupled with the knowledge that the remedial heart bar shoes that had been fashioned for Sunny (pictured left after his recovery) had not helped him to recover, just cemented the decision that shoeing was utterly unnecessary.

  • In your work as a trimmer you must see a lot of hooves…tell us about some of the most challenging cases.

Probably the most challenging cases are those equines who have been having chronic and acute laminitis for a very long time. Their hooves are so desperately distorted and their bodies, general health and well being are extremely compromised. This coupled with the often difficult challenges facing the owners with respect to changing the diet and management sufficiently for those horses to recover, makes these kind of cases very difficult emotionally. Physically, trimming poorly distorted laminitic hooves is not that demanding but keeping owners on the right track in order for their pony or horse to recover is certainly where the greatest challenge lies.

  • Can any horse go barefoot and be ridden?

1016796_281375438667642_798174460_n-3599325_308189809319538_186461523_nAbsolutely any horse of any breed, no matter what state their hooves are in, can go barefoot and recover if given a species specific natural diet, management and trimming regime. However, there are horses, thankfully very rarely, who are so terribly poorly and have been for far too long, who have often had too much medicinal and mechanical intervention, that the road back to health is just not possible. You don’t think you will ever come across them when you start this amazing job of helping horses become healthy – but if you are in this business long enough, you will inevitably come across them. I remember reading once in my early trimming days a quote from Pete Ramey saying ‘you can’t save them all’ and I remember at that time thinking, pfff what tosh, but he was right and it does happen, thankfully extremely rarely, but you never forget the look in those horse’s eyes.

  • What should people do and what should they expect when shoes are first taken off their ridden horse?

They should always make sure the diet is as natural and stripped back as possible. Find a way of encouraging lots of gentle free movement and be prepared to take the time it takes for their feet, bodies and minds to begin to recover. More often than not, owners are pleasantly surprised at how very quickly they can go back to normality with their horse doing all the things they were enjoying before the shoes were removed. I always, always say to a new client that I won’t remove their horse’s shoes unless they are prepared to purchase a set of boots for all 4 feet….this is usually unnecessary but as long as I have that reassurance from them then off the shoes will go!

  • What is the ideal diet for a barefoot horse?

24/7 365 mixed meadow hay (no rye or very low rye/alfalfa). No bagged feeds unless the horse is underweight and then only specific low calorie/sugar feeds. A good mineral/salt block available at all times. Very little or no grass and lots and lots of movement with company. Simple really. The biggest challenge for most owners is sourcing good mixed meadow no rye hay/haylage.

  • And lifestyle?

Turned out in company with lots of movement but very little grass. One of the safest ways to achieve this is by setting up a simple track or Paddock Paradise system.

  • What is the biggest single obstacle in the way of barefoot progress?

Humans!

  • Tell us about the amazing magazine…Britain’s only glossy mag about barefoot…

front-coverI started to produce a newsletter some years ago for all my clients because they were often far apart and lacked support. They felt they were being let down, not catered for and marginalised by the main stream magazines and so the newsletter naturally evolved into an online magazine. As this became more popular, people started pleading for a printed version and so just over a year ago we went into print. We are now at Issue 12 and becoming more and more popular among barefoot owners across the globe. We pride ourselves in being quite unique with respect that the magazine is filled to brimming with owner’s own stories, written by them, telling the readers about their own barefoot journeys and this makes the magazine very personal and reaches out to others in similar situations. Here’s a link to the magazine.

  • Do you have a top story you’d like to share?

Yes. A story I will always remember and love was by a Polish girl called Iga Przybszewska and her beautiful chestnut horse Damiro who had been diagnosed with navicular in Poland. He had moved from one vet to another, with all kinds of remedial farriery and intervention, trying to be fixed. Iga contacted us with Damiro’s story and we published it in our very first printed magazine in Issue 6. Iga and Damiro were on the front cover with the title ‘Chestnut colour of love’. Fab story with a brilliant ending!

  • What is your vision for the future of the domestic horse? And for the magazine…?

My vision for the future is to keep faithfully educating owners and improving the domestic conditions for our horses. I have always said that within the next 15-20 years we will see a massive decline in shoeing and a massive increase in owner’s understanding to the point that shoes will eventually be outcast from use on the domestic horses. That day is getting closer! The magazine will be in the forefront of that education and inspiration and will continue to increase awareness of the beauty of the healthy barefooted horse across the globe.

  • I’ve made you Prime Minister for a day…what would you change for the world of the horse?

I would follow in our counterparts’ footsteps in the Netherlands and only allow limited stabling per day, make it illegal for horses to be turned out alone without at least one member of its own species, not across a fence. I would encourage the RCVS and FRC to introduce natural diets and management regimes into their syllabi, educate charities and RSPCA inspectors on how to recognise and naturally treat lamintis and stop pharmaceutical companies ruling the roost!

ABOUT ME

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a book writer and journalist but horse riding is my great love and I have been a barefoot advocate for a long time. The shoes were taken off my horses about 16 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. 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 best book I have ever read, everything was so interesting. And gave the courage to be barefoot and proud of it!!! I always felt the same in my heart but this book just backed up everything I thought. Thank you for writing such an amazing book’ – Amazon reader.

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

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

My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who 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. 

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from Bracy himself – ‘A horse that is free of pain will lead from the thinnest piece of chord.’

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

If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this blog or find me on Facebook…Another historical, horsey novel is in the pipeline. I am being inspired by a very famous equestrian campaigner from the past who quietly made such a difference to horses. I’m more than half way through the first draft – blending fact and fiction is such fun! And so many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet. But I think I should feature one of Bracy Clark’s colleagues. It’s on the ‘to-do’ list…xxx

Ex-farrier professor turns barefoot guide…

by Linda Chamberlain

Marc Ferrador is a former professor of farriery who says the practice of repeatedly nailing shoes to a horse’s hoof has to stop.

imageBased in Catalonia, Spain, Marc has turned his back on the farriery trade and now he’s going to guide you along the challenging path to barefoot horse riding. It is not always easy because, as he warns, we are dealing with animals bred in captivity, weaned young and ridden early.

Controversially, he says these factors coupled with bad feeding systems and inadequate living conditions leave us with a ‘version’ of the horse that has mental and physical handicaps which can’t always be corrected.

And he says that although there are no studies proving the effectiveness of barefoot, neither is there any science to show that metal shoes are good for the horse. Not one study – only evidence that shoes are helpful to riders, farriers and veterinarians.

This is my second interview with Marc – the first has been read by more than 60,000 people – so I am very excited to publish more from him. When he turned his back on farriery he persuaded the vast majority of his clients to try barefoot so he has a wealth of experience to draw upon. He has covered a lot of ground here – abscesses, when to take off the shoes, how to protect hooves, when to ride, what to feed and how to keep your horse. But if you have any questions, please go ahead by clicking on comments!

Can you prepare your horse in advance for going barefoot?

Marc 7In the first instance, look to see if the horse’s living conditions and the owner’s commitment will allow it. If these are correct, we then evaluate the state the hooves, limbs and joint alignments.   For most of my initial visits I request x-rays of the front hooves to start with and then of the back hooves if I see anything noteworthy, in order to assess the phalanges, especially the 3rd phalange, which in the great majority of horses usually shows some modification.  As the hoof is a “casing” for this bone, this is an essential piece of information for an equine podiatrist or farrier.

Once we have assessed the horse’s lifestyle, conformation, joint alignments, resting posture and hoof structure we move on to assessing the horse in motion; walk and trot in a straight line then in small circles on both firm and soft surfaces if possible.

I also have to mention that I always remove shoes when the hoof is long, excessively overgrown, so that on removing the shoe the horse has a lot of horny material to exfoliate bit by bit without reaching the point where the sole is being used for support. Hoof material that has grown whilst shod is never prepared for support or wear without a shoe since when the hooves are shod, the brain is “disconnected” from the ground and its stimuli, and economises energy and nutrients which would protect and harden this zone.

Marc 6For this reason we need to leave the hoof long before removing shoes, hastiness and performing a standard trim for all horses in all situations is also a complete error, in my opinion at least.

What is the best time of year to take off the shoes?

Whenever the horse is in the best moment to do so, based on what we’ve already discussed. There’s a lot of urban legend regarding whether it’s better in summer or winter, just as there is with so many other aspects of Barefoot and traditional farriery. However there could be some variation associated with certain types of terrain, for instance granite surfaces, which are extremely abrasive, where you have to evaluate the timing of the start of the transition very carefully. However, if we follow the strategy outlined in the previous question there shouldn’t be any problems.

It has to be said that the x-rays will tell us if our horse can live barefoot or not. It’s an irrefutable truth that there are horses who cannot be barefoot even though their lifestyle is ideal. Due to the mismanagement of foals, poor lifestyles, unsuitable work and bad farriery there are horses with damage and modification in the phalanges, especially the 3rd phalange, who when they are older, but not old, the damage is irreversible and these animals will be dependent on almost permanent orthotics or limitation in their living space. Even so, the number of such horses is very much lower than a lot of people, most farriers and almost all vets think.

For example: In the approximately 200 horses I work with, only 4 fall into this category, that’s to say, 2%.

From what I know of other trimmers, it’s commonly between 2-5%.

Not 40%, nor 30%, not even 25%.

Getting the diet right – what should the horse be eating?

This is not my field of expertise and I could be mistaken in this respect, but a diet based on straw, feed and alfalfa given in two meals a day is not the best system!

Marc 4I know that a diet consisting of mixed hay, in small amounts several times a day is the most adequate. But we must not forget that this is also a substitute for grazing. Therefore a colleague and I are studying the possibilities of direct grazing in fields with native, not cultivated, varieties of grass, without fertilizer or mechanization, managed by timing grazing and resting periods, loosely based on the ideas of Allan Savory and José Luis Pinheiro in their proposals to rehabilitate “desertified” fields using grazing animals and transform them into native perennial leys. So far our trials are running but it’s too early yet to draw any conclusións. There’s a lot written on this subject regarding cattle and sheep but practically nothing with horses. We‘re using a hybrid of the track system along with pasture, taking the best from both parts.

Getting the lifestyle right – what are the best living conditions?

Large spaces with some grazing, good quality as ecological as possible hay , clean water, clean environment, company of other horses whenever possible, surface with varied textures , good work and training programs and  professionals with up to date information who really like horses.

 

How much movement should the horse have and can a stabled horse be barefoot too?

Uff. Another one of the barefoot “million dollar questions”. Well, from what I’ve seen, it shouldn’t be less than 6km (3.5/4miles) a day, but always with the possibility that this might be reduced depending on joint and foot health.  Almost more important than the distance moved would be what surface the horse is living and working on, which determines the greater stimulation of the sole and thereby its thickening.

Who should trim the horse and how often?

Marc 3Well, someone who is qualified to do so, and who is? From my viewpoint it has to be farriers who perform this type of work, they are specialists in hooves, although a great number have mistaken this for being a specialist in ironwork. They already have extensive training in handling the tools, work posture, how to handle horses and vast knowledge of the structures in the foot and assessment of  joint alignment. Although a huge update is needed in so far as the conformation and mechanics of a healthy hoof within the context of a healthy horse also to relearn the groundwork, learn how to manage the barefoot hoof and its environment, see the horse as a subject who benefits or suffers as a consequence of our actions, learn about hoof boots and new pathologies and orthopedics and be aware of the latest information on what and how a horse should eat.

At present I see it as a waste of resources trying to train new hoof care specialists when in the majority of countries there is already a public system already doing 50% of the training required for little more cost than the enrollment fee.

Besides, I also believe that a fully trained podiatrist/orthopedist should have at his disposal all possible resources to solve all manner of maintenance and clinical cases that may arise. In a given moment a horse might require a nailed on orthotic, for example post operatively or following a fracture. This change in equine podiatry needs to be inclusive, not the other way around, a responsibility that comes with the burden of care. It goes without saying that you have to eliminate, always in my view, constant nailing on of iron or aluminium now that it has been more than proven that permanently immobilising the hoof capsule causes atrophy of the soft tissues, in many cases irreversibly, tissues that each have a unique and specific role in the correct functioning and mechanics of the hoof. These tissues represent more than 50% of the volume of the horse’s foot and if we don’t look after these tissues it’s clear that we make a bad start in our function as carers for the health of the hooves and indeed the horse.

I have people regularly ask me if there are scientific studies on the effectiveness of Barefoot and the truth is that there aren’t many, but neither is there any scientific study that shows that shoes are good for the horse, not one. There are some limited preliminary studies demonstrating that shoes are good for many owners, farriers and veterinaries, to vindicate the determination  not to change one iota in the way we look after our horses and we constantly confuse what should be a theme regarding the horse in a wider sense of  its health, with a reduced , myopic view about the hoof.

Once the shoes are off…what will happen? Can the horse be ridden?

Some of this I’ve already covered in the previous questions.

Marc 1Can the horse be ridden when the shoes are taken off? Absolutely! It’s more a case of the horse should be ridden or, better said, worked normally either with or without a rider. With more movement there is more vascularization, more nutrients supplied and more tissue renewal within the hoof.  None of this having a horse in an absurd quarantine without being ridden during the mythical year-long transition, as advocated by some of the urban legends in the barefoot world.

However, there is one all important prerequisite: without pain.

When a horse experiences pain whilst walking over a prolonged period, it triggers a chain of antalgic postures and mental pain patterns that negatively impact on the horse, in many cases leaving permanent psychological and physical consequences.

When a hoof feels pain on weight bearing, the sole produces extra growth as an emergency measure, as seen so often in the famous solar callousing. All this extra, emergency material helps the horse get by for a couple of months but when the new growth comes through it disappears and the horse is back to having thin soles.

To make a good sole, in terms of stimulus, it has to be constant and offer a diversity of textures. There will always be some horses who are the exception, horses that have some structural peculiarities and especially those who are exceptionally sensitive, which makes them immune to these processes. But you have realise that the great complexity of barefoot, the way I see it, is not the plethora of different trimming techniques proposed by each training method, but the different patterns of sensitivity of each horse, which is something you cannot predict, therefore you cannot rely on a standard trim, you need all the tools and resources available to assess and redress each horse’s sensitivity pattern.

As far as I know, there is no Barefoot teaching method that intricately explains this to its students/clients thereby producing a handicap in their ways of working,  especially with the most delicate and complicated horses, more often than not leading to working in an intuitive/improvised manner, a technique for which the Barefoot “sector”  has always criticized farriers.

Or is he best left in the field for a few weeks?

It’s impossible to give a “one size fits all” solution when each horse is so specific, perhaps some people leave the horse in a field when they are hard-pressed to find a solution, “what the eyes don’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over”. Sometimes this works, sometimes not, they can even worsen. I’ve seen horses left at pasture for 5 years without the minimum controls and maintenance and the hooves have not improved one bit, many actually ending up with more sensitivity than before. The ideal would be to leave them in a field with good follow up, in many cases this might be simply a small trim to correct dimensional imbalances in the hoof capsule . We need to be aware that we are dealing with horses bred in captivity, systematically weaned at 8 months of age, started to be trained in whatever form from 3 years old and ridden at 4. These factors coupled with bad feeding systems and inadequately managed living conditions leave us with a version of the horse with mental and physical handicaps which in many cases are not correctable. However as I stated before, these cases are much less numerous than many traditional professionals believe.

 If the horse is sore…what should the owner do?

Marc 5Obtain a good diagnosis, one of the hardest things in this world to acquire. We’re still not capable of keeping a full and extensive history of our horses’ health, this is partly our own fault but also that of farriers and veterinaries too. Without this history we can’t compare the structures, via ultrasound, x-rays etc  to previous information, we’re always working with very limited information about the horse at the moment when it’s suffering pain and discomfort.

If the horse is in pain it is better to have it in a restricted space and if necessary protect its feet with some form of protection until the pain dissipates, but more importantly we need to know what is causing the pain in order to choose the right plan of action..

Will movement help at this stage?

Only that which the horse deems itself capable of, without being obliged by companions. The horse is better off in its own space which as we already mentioned should be somewhat limited, also so that when the horse begins to feel good it doesn’t overdo it, which is quite common, and we find ourselves back at square one again.

Should owner put anything on the hooves to strengthen them?

As I mentioned before, there is no general solution, but a serious in depth analysis of their status is needed in order to decide what will be best for the horse.

Often we use specialised boots for these occasions, soft and smooth with silicone or EVA pads, or hoof casts with a foam insole. In some more specific cases we may use a glue-on boot or some sort of synthetic, glue-on horseshoe, using appropriate, specialist adhesives and only for a set time, knowing as we do that using these systems for too long will impair the hoof’s ability to produce good quality compacted sole, which cannot be done in isolation from the ground and air.

Should the horse wear hoof boots or is it best to wait?

It’s always best not to get to this point, that is to say, know when to take the shoes off for the horse to make a good transition. As professionals, it’s a mistake we might make a couple of times but not more, because it’s the worst way to start the process towards barefoot.

In the event that we are already in this very unfortunate situation, it will depend on the individual horse, where you live, disposition of the owner, physical condition of the horse and its pain threshold. It could go wrong if you just chose one of two options, sometimes you have to combine them, and sometimes you have to create new strategies and even in extreme cases, when we have unshod a horse before it was suitable to, I have recommended re-shoeing to gain a couple of months more hoof growth before starting the process. As the ultimate goal is barefoot for life, I don’t worry about the drawbacks of the horse being shod for a few months more.

How long will it be before the horse is comfortable? (I know every horse is different but this is asked so often!)

imageI think I’ve been answering this in the previous questions but if the horse has not improved exponentially within 3-5 weeks, we must take the decision to protect the hoof and break the pain cycle that the horse finds itself in. But I must emphasise again that we cannot generalise.

Each horse has learned throughout his life his own personal pattern of feeling pain and that is what makes barefoot so highly complex and specific in these cases of sensitivity or pain.

What are the common mistakes that people make in their barefoot journey?

For sure, to not have some of the most basic and effective information, habits and resources available. For example having paddocks with many areas of different textures. Gravels of different thickness do an excellent job in exfoliation and compaction of the soles. Work little and often if horses have limited movement where they live. Keep living spaces clean, remove faeces and urine often. Spread feeding out as much as possible, with access to grazing on native species swards with a great diversity of plant species to choose from. Older horses can be used to teach others who did not have the opportunity to learn to graze as foals. Have a clear and consistent hoof management system, using a professional or DIY if appropriate.  Clean water, free from contaminants such as agrochemical seepage form nearby cultivation.

Failure to follow these guidelines, or some of them and others not specified here, could cause problems in the management of barefoot horses. Above all, do your homework before starting and get good advice. It’s clear that haste is the enemy barefoot, but we mustn’t wait forever either.

I think with most of horses I’ve seen that have made the change, have been because the owner decided to change to barefoot or because the professional involved was not sufficiently au fait in this field. It is also true that often owners do not follow the guidelines given by their professional and that can lead failure. If you don’t trust your professional, change and find someone whom you can work with.

We must also accept that there may be some horses who may not have the capacity to be barefoot, it’s very important to make a rigorous evaluation using x-rays to assess the bony structures in the limb in question.

Abscesses are common in the early stages of barefoot. Can you explain why? And what to do?

The abscess is part of daily life for the barefoot horse’s hoof which, when all its structures are healthy, is designed to cope with an infinite number of impacts on any type of surface each and every day. I see the abscess as a common response of the defense system to these impacts with the ground.

Marc 2We often have horses living in damp conditions under foot and then we work them on hard stony surfaces, this causes abscesses.

Horses in transition may be more susceptible to having abscesses as the layers of solar tissue and the chorion are still not prepared sufficiently to deal with these impacts.

The first thing we need to know is where exactly the abscess is within the hoof. The majority of abscesses in barefoot horses occur in the caudal areas of the hoof – that is in the bars, heels and frog, unlike the large abscesses usually caused by farriery, be it from excessive burning of the sole, a badly fitting shoe or a nail entering the soft tissue.

When we have located the abscess it’s good practice to give the typical hoof soak in hot salty water and to let the horse move as much or little as it wants, without pressure from companions.

Once the abscess bursts the pressure is released and the pain relieved, I recommend not working for a few days to allow better healing of any internal wound that may have been caused.

It has to be said that abscesses are very shocking in terms of the lameness they cause but usually heal very quickly if left to mature, however this is a generalisation and there can always be exceptions to this pattern.

Note from Marc: great thanks to Gill Tibble to great effort to can understand and translate my no-ending answers. Thank you, Gill.

ABOUT MARC

image (2)Marc, who works in Catalonia, Spain, used to ride and compete. Twelve years after qualifying as a farrier he became a professor at the Official School of Farriery in Barcelona. In that time he worked on the creation of the curriculum and also a handbook for courses approved for the European Federation of Farriers Association. He describes the terrain in Catalonia as ‘special’ – it can be dry and unforgiving, so it’s a challenge to ensure horses are transitioned to barefoot without pain. He was expecting to contribute to my earlier blog post – The Good Bare Guide with trimmer Nick Hill and holistic vet Ralitsa Grancharova – but became a father to a baby boy instead. Far more important!! His answers came to me a bit late but were so interesting that I have posted them now…You can contact him on Facebook here.

ABOUT ME

Cover_Barefoot_3 (1)I’m a book writer and journalist but horse riding is my great love. The shoes were taken off my horses about 16 years ago as soon as I realised the harm they were causing. Since then I have transitioned quite a few animals including my lovely retired mare, Carrie, who suffered from navicular and was due to be put to sleep when I took her on. She features on the front cover of my book – A Barefoot Journey – which tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. In this light-hearted account I tell how I coped with my argumentative farrier, derision from other riders and how going barefoot saved Carrie 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 UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.

‘The best book I have ever read, everything was so interesting. And gave the courage to be barefoot and proud of it!!! I always felt the same in my heart but this book just backed up everything I thought. Thank you for writing such an amazing book’ – Amazon reader.

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

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

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

‘I bought this book for my wife some time ago and have only recently been able to prise it from her. An excellent story with factual content which I thoroughly enjoyed reading’ – 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. I’m half way through the first draft – blending fact and fiction is such fun! And so many people have asked me to write a sequel to The First Vet. But I think I should feature one of Bracy Clark’s colleagues. It’s on the ‘to-do’ list…xxx

 

 

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

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Sweet road to comfort

by Linda Chamberlain

My horses were seriously ill this winter but now that has changed. They have a new home, new friends and the most amazing track system to walk courtesy of the War Ministry!

We are using a highly unusual site which was once the home of a tank regiment then a forest garden in peacetime. It was occupied years later by a massive group of new-age travellers and became the subject of a controversial court case. It was full of rubbish – broken bottles, mattresses and metalwork – and needed a huge environmental clean-up before anyone vaguely sensible would put their horse on it.

piles of wood needed clearing

piles of wood needed clearing

Phie - working 2

bags and bags of rubbish went to the dump

But it had something that was particularly appealing to me as the owner of three horses with illnesses which were being aggravated by traditional field life. Concrete. Loads of it and almost no grass or mud.

Most horse owners, who are familiar with traditional livery yards, would probably have winced at the thought of keeping a horse in such a set-up.

horses at phie 12

this road sign was found in the woods

What! No stables? No individual turnout? And where was the grass?

Amber, my daughter, myself and Kate Ayling at one of our work days

Amber, my daughter, myself and Kate Ayling at one of our work days

A dear but ‘traditional’ friend of mine worried that the horses would hurt each other fighting over the hay or die from eating trees.

But I was desperate and perfectly happy to feed ad lib hay to prevent that. I was also exhausted from being nursemaid rather than horse rider. I couldn’t ride any of my three. One was retired and had mud fever, my daughter’s horse, who was careless with my safety (ie: I fell off) had a strained tendon and Sophie went down with laminitis in the Autumn and couldn’t go near a sprout of grass without triggering a repeat of the lameness.

I had to keep all of them off the grass and the mud. Sophie was stressed living on the yard and track. If I walked her up to my house she was beside herself with nerves and worry and thought introducing me to the rhododendron bush was a good idea. The other two were no better. They were not happy.

I gave up riding, I gave up leading them anywhere and aimed to keep them alive…

But the ‘facilities’ at this new place, the lack of grass and the herd life with new friends, have made my horses well again. They have only been there for three weeks at time of writing. They are relaxed, they are sound, putting on muscle and going for walks in hand with relaxed enthusiasm. I have my horses back! The change in Sophie is monumental – she walked the stony tracks on Ashdown Forest last week without flinching. And she was calm and happy.

Sophie - walking well on concrete

Sophie – walking well on concrete

The key thing that had been missing from their lives was movement which was free from the risks of mud and grass. Both were causing problems that needed veterinary help.

Moving away from having my horses at home was a wrench but here’s how it happened…

I posted a blog in which I moaned how dreadful this winter was for horses and their owners thanks to the combination of rich grass and deep mud.

A friend read the article and sent me a message saying she was also struggling, her back was hurting from carrying bales of hay through a swamp and her horses were miserable. After such a mild, wet winter there was a real risk of ailments ahead thanks to the rich, cow pasture that we generally keep our animals on. She, too, felt like moving home before the Spring grass started sprouting and gave us a laminitis risk – if only we could find somewhere that was easier to keep horses.

‘Like a car park!’ she said.

How many times have I made that quip? But deep down, somewhere hidden, I meant it. Fields don’t always work well for horses. Rye grass is very good for the milk yields but for many horses it is too high in sugar; it makes them ill. Hay is safer. In winter there is nothing glorious about the mud. Farmers usually keep their cows in a barn for the winter and protect the fields from being churned…but farmers rarely attempt to ride their cows. Such restricted regimes of 24/7 stabling doesn’t make for happy and healthy equines and riding a miserable one, who is fed up being confined, isn’t fun or easy.

‘I know the perfect place,’ I told my friend. ‘Bigger than a car park. Nearly as much hard standing as they’ve got at Gatwick airport. Very little grass but there’s a few problems. It might need a tiny bit of TLC.’

This is the bit with grass

This is the bit with grass

Phie Forest 3

Shame about the riding, though!

She was intrigued.

‘I wrote about it in A Barefoot Journey. I had my (then) two horses there for a winter. It was wonderfully sheltered and they were really happy. There wasn’t any mud.’

I explained that it was a 40 acre wood on the edge of Ashdown Forest and we could go there again. It would need re-fencing. And a water supply would be useful. There were some open areas which allow some sun between the trees and we could make a few more. We could grow some horse-friendly grass!

horses at phie 26

horses at phie 16

back to health after being crippled with athritus this winter

Those of you who have read the book will know it was the place where my horses first went barefoot about 15 plus years ago. You see, it had the ideal environment for a horse coming out of shoes. – roadways of concrete, so thick you couldn’t dig them up even if the army ordered you at gunpoint.

From that initial conversation a small group of four horse owners was formed – myself, Mary Joy Johnson, Kate Ayling and Suz Jeffery – thanks to all of them for these photos. Work started. The fencing is mostly finished, some dangerous or fallen trees have been taken down and shelters, sand areas and a nice yard are on my shopping list.

horses at phie 21But already we have a unique environment for horses. So many of us battle to put hard standing or stony tracks in our fields; it’s expensive and sometimes needs planning permission. Like others, we have been inspired by Jaime Jackson’s book Paddock Paradise and know how increased movement from tracking fields is an aid to health.

Land owners often deride the desire to turn land that’s good for growing food into roads for horses. I agree, it sounds daft.

So, I am approaching this from the opposite direction and will be introducing grass and herbs alongside the roadways that run through the woods. Just enough for variety and to encourage grazing and movement. Mostly their diet will be mixed-grass hay and birch leaves horses at phie 22until I can create bigger grazing areas in some of the glades which are dominated at the moment by bracken.

You see, if your horse is barefoot and you want him to be healthy, and rideable, he will fare much better if his feet are not forever walking over soft ground or standing still in a stable. Just think how much humans struggle when they take off their shoes and socks on a stony beach. The horse is no different – he needs to walk over varied terrain. And the sly owners at this place have situated the water and the hay at opposite ends of the long roadway!

horses at phie 15We arrived about three weeks ago and have the 14 horses in two herds – each with their own tank track! They also have a chunk of woodland which is dotted with the concrete bases of the former army accommodation huts. And some open areas too…Already we are finding that hooves need less trimming. My retired horse, Carrie, is no longer walking stiffly; she’s putting on weight. Sophie and Tao are getting ready for riding…and the horse owners seem happy, too. It’s great to share chores and have help and support from like-minded friends. Mary Joy and her eight animals have the quiet zone away from the road. She specialises in helping troubled people including, she hopes, ex-servicemen and women who have been traumatised by conflict. Her work is known as equine assisted learning and deserves a blog post of its own. How amazing that land onchorses at Phie 7e used by the Ministry of War should become a place for healing both horses and humans!

 

About Me…

IMG_3822I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. 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 UK and 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! 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

 

 

 

No Shoes, no studs…and no fear!

by Linda Chamberlain

Richard Greer’s life is all about putting broken horses back together. It’s the one thing that ‘makes him tick’, he says.

But like many of us he remembers the one that got away – the horse that you might have saved if you’d known what you do now.

For Richard, that horse was a talented grey mare whose early training had gone wrong. He spent a year working with her, was making a breakthrough and then something went horribly wrong. The mare, who was shod, was diagnosed with navicular. She couldn’t be saved and was eventually put to sleep.

 ‘It broke me and I pretty much quit the horse game,’ he says. ‘ A lot of horses break down at that age, around 11,  and I wonder how much is down to shoes and the resulting trauma on the rest of the body. If I’d considered barefoot at the time as part of her rehab maybe I’d have saved her.’

The regret is evident but Richard, who is making a name for himself as a trainer as well as a rider on the British Team Chase circuit, didn’t give up the horse game.

The loss of that mare affects what he does now. His own horses are barefoot and clients who bring their animals to his yard are offered a choice during their stay – farrier or barefoot trimmer.

He takes part in what appears to be one of the more dangerous equine sports – team chasing – on a fearless horse called Troy who is barefoot and brazen about it. (Did The Showing Journal really say barefoot horses lead dull and slippery lives, rarely leaving the sand school? Sadly, yes.)

Dull? Slippery? I don't think so...

Dull? Slippery? I don’t think so…

Troy is probably laughing into his bucket. For this is a horse who thunders around a course of jumps in all weathers but doesn’t know what a stud is. (Troy, they are put onto horse shoes, as well as football boots, in wet weather for additional grip but they can wreak havoc on tendons and joints in exchange for the extra anchorage.)

Does he slip, Richard? I asked.

‘My horses perform great. 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 horse 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.’

He’s not a fan of hoof boots either. ‘Stay away from boots. They cost me a fortune, didn’t work and made my horses sore. Pick your ground and work your horses, then work them some more.’

Let’s be honest, it’s Troy we want to know more about. This is the boy who was featured in Horse & Hound jumping beautifully without a rider. He and Richard had parted company half way around the Belvoir Team Chase but Troy continued with his three team mates over the remaining 10 fences.

Most of the time Troy let's Richard come too...

Most of the time Troy let’s Richard come too…

It’s not the first time this horse has shown some talent for going solo. Richard went to view him at a dealer’s yard but got off after a minute.

‘I always think the horses find me and that was certainly true for Troy. Five years ago I was looking for a young horse; I don’t know what I saw in him, if I see the photos now he looked a mess. The dealer girl rode him and I asked her to get off after 20 seconds before any more damage was done. I sat on him and also jumped off after about a minute because there was no tune to be had.

‘I realised how wrong he was or, if you like, how much damage had already been done and there was nothing I could do there and then to improve matters. You could describe him as a ‘car wreck’. He didn’t behave badly; I think he was too shut down for that but he had been what I call anti trained and nothing was right.

‘In the advert they said he had a big jump, I asked to see it but they had nowhere to jump him.

‘I tell you what, I told them. Turn him out in that paddock. If he jumps out I’ll buy him.

‘Well I couldn’t get my breath. He trotted away from me, popped over the fence at the end of the paddock, trotted another 20 yards and turned around and stared straight at me.

I picked him up the next day, sans passport. That tells you what kind of place he came from.

‘Troy and I are bloody minded. I could tell you many tales of trying to train him. Once, whilst trying to lunge him, he jumped four feet in the air straight up and squealed like a pig. Twice. It was just his way. I took him to see a very talented classical trainer, Ken Sudsbury, as I really didn’t know what to do with him. Troy bolted around the arena. We did three laps before I managed to stop him. It was reassuring that Ken had no idea either!

‘Thankfully Troy is a one off as it’s not an experience I wish to repeat. Did I get through to him? We have certainly come to an understanding and his training is ongoing. The over-riding factor was perseverance and as my old trainer, Ian Silitch, used to say, trust in your training.’

Troy - when he first arrived

Troy – when he first arrived

Well, a lot of people are trusting in Richard’s training now. He has moved to a new yard in South Staffordshire and he specialises in problem horses as well as starting them.

‘I was chuffed to read that the master, Nuno Oliveira, backed his young horses with the reins attached to the noseband initially. That is exactly how I do it! I differ from others in my breadth of knowledge that allows me to ensure the horses I work with are not in pain, without relying on other professionals. I come across horses every week that are bucking or rearing or generally protesting and the owner tells me there is nothing wrong with the saddle because the saddle fitter says so and there is nothing wrong with its teeth because the dentist rasped them and its back is fine according to the physio. My training allows me to see if they did their jobs properly. Once I know the horse is not in pain I can get down to training him.

‘I get called on to look at all sorts of problems but mostly it’s horses that are difficult to ride, bucking or rearing or just gone wrong in their training. I don’t use round pens or bucking straps. I can’t bear that pseudo horse training; it just shuts down already struggling horses. I get to the bottom of problems and rebuild a horse’s confidence.

‘Backing young horses comes next on the list. People often don’t understand that it’s a job for a trained rider; it’s a specialist skill. If you have never ridden a schooled horse, by that I mean one that is trained to Grand Prix or equivalent, you shouldn’t be riding the youngsters. In this country they tend to stick any kid on, crash-test dummies. It’s crazy. Or even worse, they strap on an actual dummy. That’s something else to thank Monty Roberts for.’

It’s the saddle industry, though, that Richard would tackle if I could make him Prime Minister for the day. ‘The majority of horses that come to me for rehab with severe behavioural and training problems including many that have been written off as riding horses simply have overlooked saddle problems. On my yard I get to see some of the worst cases but, if you look at horses out competing, how many of them are able to work through their backs?  So, I would make every horse comfortable in its saddle. At present the saddle industry is a disgrace. And my best advice for people is that your saddle can cause a problem even if it fits, the design and build quality are as important.’

Troy and Richard are moving up a gear on the 25th October. They ride with the Dapper Dobbins Hedge Hoppers and will be tackling the Open in the Cotswold Team Chase for the first time. The course is two-miles long and has about 20 jumps. Talented, eh?

Talking of talent reminds me of trimmers and the thought that horses don’t trim their own toe nails unless they walk enough miles on abrasive ground. It was important to find out who trimmed Richard’s horses. He did it himself for five years, then tried a barefoot trimmer but wasn’t enamored and so invited people to ‘audition’ for the role.

Along came Georgie Harrison who impressed him with her energy and enthusiasm. Georgie is a fellow admin on the Barefoot Horse Owners Group and so I am fully aware of her commitment.

Ah, the joy of a having a yard full of horses; you can invite people to audition. Not sure it would work for vets though!

Herd life for Troy, who lives out at the moment unless exercising

Thanks to Richard and Troy for this special interview and proving what we all know – that horses understand pretty much everything we say! You can find Richard on his Facebook page – here

BOOKS AND NEWS       BOOKS AND NEWS         BOOKS AND NEWS

Coming soon to the blog – A Barefoot Guide. Ex- farrier Marc Ferrador and vet Ralitsa Grancharova are going to help you on your barefoot journey. We are going to look at the best time to take off those shoes and what mistakes to avoid. Don’t miss it! Follow this blog! We will also be having another look at the dangers in your horse’s bucket – Digging Deep into the Feed Industry. 

ABOUT ME – I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. A Barefoot Journey, is my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has more than 30 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society.

‘We are not anti-barefoot’ – the BHS replies…

by Linda Chamberlain

Brilliant news! A month ago I wrote a letter to British Horse, the magazine of the British Horse Society, on behalf of a group of barefooters. The letter has been published and there’s a very considered reply from their director of equine policy. I am republishing both letter and reply in full. Please share, as the BHS isn’t digital yet! So this info isn’t online. 

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Dear British Horse,

‘As a rider of a barefoot horse I was really pleased to read Wayne Upton’s interview in February’s issue. I was pleased because some farriers can be hostile to the idea of equines being ridden without shoes and here was a man suggesting the idea to riders ‘if you’re not doing very much with a horse’.

My fellow members of the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook, which now has a remarkable 4,000 members, were not as impressed as me, however. You see, so many of them compete – some to a very high level – and so were rightly concerned that readers of the British Horse might wrongly think that barefoot was a cheap but slippery option. They cited Simon Earle, the racehorse trainer, who favours barefoot and Lucinda MacAlpine from the world of dressage. There are also police forces in the US whose horses have no shoes. Then there was Luca Maria Moneta’s success at Olympia on his barefoot (on the backs) mare who scaled a massive wall more than seven feet high to go in the record books. A high enough achievement for anyone, I would suggest.

Bare feet jumping seven feet!

Bare feet jumping seven feet!

But I asked members of the Facebook group to tell your readers of their own competition and riding successes. Here they are: –

Sue Gardner said – I have had my horse barefoot for 12 years and I have competed in low level show jumping, Trec and some cross country events.

Mandy Aire got a barefoot event established in her local show and it was the most well attended class. Mandy will be doing endurance this year.

Christine Green said – my daughter is a BHS member. She competes at show jumping, cross country and dressage on a barefoot horse who is proving more sound now than when shod.

Katherine Mills has two barefoot horses who have qualified for FEI endurance. They cover up to 80 km – booted or barefoot. Two more of her youngsters have qualified for open competitions.

Chris Thompson rides a barefoot Mustang stallion, has affiliated for BSJ and regularly competes against both amateur and professional riders. Eventing in muddy conditions also poses no problem.

Emily Kate Briggs does cross country training with her barefoot ex-racehorse.

Emma Hart’s barefoot mare happily jumped around British Novice at Pyecombe and Royal Leisure.

Clair McNamara rides the British Showjumping Show Eastern Area’s reigning champion. A mare who is barefoot.

Janet Harkness’s children join in all Pony Club activities on a barefoot pony.

Brigitte Manning found barefoot no hindrance to her horse’s performance when she qualified for the Hartpury Showjumping South West competition.

Claire Alldritt rode the coast to coast in Scotland last year – no slipping from her barefoot mount or packhorse.

Inga Crosby competes in dressage on her barefoot ex-racehorse.

Sheryl Pochin has a mini Shetland who competes in local shows.

Sarah Wynn recently ran an arena Trec competition – half the entrants were barefoot horses.

Tina Webb drives her pony on the roads – about 30 miles in an average week.

Sandra Gaskin Hall, a BHS member, lives in Wales and her barefooter copes well for mile after mile on the rocky tracks.

Elice Wadsworth finds the grip superior from her barefoot horse in the following disciplines – showjumping, cross country, dressage…oh, and hunting!

Sarah Pinnell is another multi-discipline rider – 3 barefooters who hunt, jump and go on long pleasure rides.

Milly Shand competed at advanced dressage on Kudi – no shoes – and winning at Prix St Georges.

Hester Polak – does hunting, showjumping, endurance  and eventing on a barefoot horse with no problems.

Sharon Smith hunts her horse who has never been shod and reports that grip is excellent.

Look at that bare foot!

Look at that bare foot!

Dani Knight’s horse has been barefoot all her life and is regularly placed in local showing classes. She hacks happily over all terrain.

So, you see, barefoot isn’t only for those who do the occasional light hack. And the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook is a great place for support and information.’

Lee Hackett, BHS Director of Equine Policy, replied,

‘It’s important to make clear that the views expressed by any interviewee in British Horse does not necessarily reflect those of the BHS itself. We’ve never suggested that many horses cannot thrive going barefoot and can do exactly the same as many shod horses, including competing at the highest level. That said, every horse needs to be treated as an individual and there are some for whom barefoot is not a viable option. We also try to make clear that going barefoot isn’t the cheap option! The old saying “no foot, no horse” is absolutely true and it is vital to do what is right for the horse in each case.

On occasion we’re accused of suggesting every horse should be shod. I have no idea where this comes from, as it is completely untrue and would be frankly absurd! We do, however, strongly recommend that going barefoot should be done in consultation (at the very least) with a registered farrier. This is not to denigrate barefoot trimmers in any way but until there are National Occupational Standards and a recognised training and qualification system on the national QCF framework for barefoot trimmers, this is important.

There are many excellent, exceptionally knowledgeable trimmers and some very responsible governing bodies but for the uninitiated it can be hard to identify them. Presently, anyone can advertise as a barefoot trimmer without any experience or qualification and this is why we have to recommend that the switch to barefoot is done in consultation with a registered farrier. With a registered farrier you are guaranteed a level of training and qualification, that the farrier is insured and that there is an established complaints and disciplinary procedure should something go wrong. We need the same guarantees for barefoot trimmers. The equine foot is an extremely complex structure and it is very easy to do considerable damage.

At the risk of labouring a point, but because this is seen by some as a controversial subject, I will just make clear that the BHS supports all efforts to regulate and support barefoot trimming – as we know many barefoot trimmers and their associations do, too – and that we fully recognise that many trimmers are exceptionally talented and knowledgeable.

It is also worth mentioning that there are quite a few barefoot trimmers who are fully qualified and registered farriers that no longer shoe. We are in no way anti-barefoot. For many horses the only limit to what they can achieve is down to their and their rider’s ability – not whether or not they are wearing shoes!’

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BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from Amber

My novel The First Vet is based on one of our very-first vets who amazingly proved that horse shoes deform and cripple the animals we love. His work was suppressed…until recently. Horse lovers, book lovers are buying it and sharing it. It’s a story of love and corruption, full of real history.  Reviewers have described it as ‘brave, witty and romantic.’ 

 

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