What more proof does the horse world need…?

by Linda Chamberlain

He was a seemingly ordinary policeman in Houston, Texas.

He was a catalyst for change in a traditional horse world.

And for nearly two decades he has been helping the city’s police horses to live healthier, happier lives on their own four feet. Without metal nailed to their hooves…

Greg Sokoloski cut down on vet bills and farriers’ fees. And he proved beyond doubt that equines could work one of the toughest jobs maintaining law and order – barefoot.

He retired from the Houston Mounted Patrol this week and tributes to his ground-breaking success have been pouring in from all over the world.

The reason is simple – Greg didn’t simply transition his own assigned horse to barefoot. He converted the whole patrol! He and some fellow officers learnt how to trim hooves; they studied with Jaime Jackson and Pete Ramey. Then they changed the way the horses were kept and fed. He leaves the patrol of about 30 equines free of metal on their feet and many are ridden bitless, too. No, there is nothing ordinary about this man…

Details of his inspiring story were revealed to the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook in December in a special question and answer session. It’s republished there now on the pinned post – so get yourself over and be prepared to be amazed. Here is a link

Greg’s assigned horse was Shadow, pictured here on their last patrol doing one of his famous, signature grins. ‘It has been a long journey since we first ventured out to do police work in 2004, barefoot,’ Greg explained to the group. ‘We have learned a lot about our horses, ourselves as caretakers and the very normal horse world we were in prior to that time. Our horses are healthy and happy and have saved the citizens of Houston hundreds of thousands of dollars in farrier and vet costs.

‘We use a natural diet, free-choice hay, a mixture of oats/barley, average around 1 pound per day per horse, rice bran and minerals. The main thing is the minerals. We do not use any bagged feeds, too high in sugars, not a good way to get them their minerals, so we stay away from them. We have 14 different breeds, all adjust to the diet with no problems. Please do not go out and just start to feed oats and barley. They are high in sugars when fed in very high amounts. So please do not change your horse’s diet because that is what Houston Police Department uses for their horses. It is a lot more complicated than that. If you want to learn more go to Pete Ramey’s site, Pete Ramey Hoof Rehab home.
‘We have a lot of movement with our horses, which is crucial for healthy strong hooves. They work, they have pasture turnout and when in the barn each stall has a 50 foot run with crushed granite to help condition their hooves. We also have boots. We use Old Mac G2’s, Cavallo’s and we just started evaluating Scoot Boots. I use mine on big protests, some use them more, some officers not at all, but they are available and offer full hoof protection and allow for expansion and contraction of the hoof capsule to allow blood to move the way nature intended.’

Members of the barefoot group wanted to know how long the horses worked and what age they retired. Greg explained they did an eight hour shift and usually covered a couple of miles a day although busy times might put that up to 13 miles. Shadow is now 17 years old but isn’t retiring.

‘He is healthy and happy. He will stay as a police horse – this is what we wanted when we started the barefoot program back in 2000 to show how change is needed in the farrier and vet world. We were told continually how bad taking the metal shoes off would be from the “experts” when we were constantly dealing with sick and lame horses and retiring them too young or worse having to put them down. Shadow has proven what works and what needs to change.’

The key question was probably – how did Greg persuade the top brass to back his barefoot idea all those years ago?

‘Our horses were is such a state of lameness and sickness when I presented them over 20 years of shoeing protocols that continually failed in getting our horses healthy and resulted in many of them being retired or even put down, and cost the city a lot of money. It made a lot of sense to them to change direction and see if we could make better changes for our horses. It was very scary for me, I was up against the established traditions most people come across when dealing with vets and farriers but I knew it had to be better than what the “experts” deemed was normal for horses. After I started with a few and we saw the difference, not only in their health, but of course it saved a bunch of money which is a big deal when dealing with city budgets.

‘Like here in the US, there are still people in charge of mounted units who know only what a vet or farrier tells them. They are afraid of change, afraid of losing that connection with the vet and farrier and afraid of all the time and effort it will involve. It all starts with someone taking control of their unit and making decisions based on the health of the horses and the safety of their officers. Lame and sick horses are a huge business for vets and farriers, I know because our ex vet and farrier made a lot of money.’

What a legacy – happy retirement, Greg…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

THE BLOG – Keep in touch by clicking the ‘follow’ button on this blog – coming soon, the real cost of laminitis, I have been asked to investigate the ‘laminitis industry’ by the UK’s leading Barefoot Horse Magazine.

And an interview with a farrier who became worried about the impact of hammering a horse’s hoof…Don’t miss it…

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 is nearing completion and about to go off 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

 

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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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Occasionally, some

The Blasphemous Blogger…

by Linda Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blog - Sarah Hamilton on Pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

A Tale of Two Crimes

By Linda Chamberlain

Here is the story of two crimes. Both of them are distressing but for very different reasons.

I think I am right in calling the first a crime. It concerns the murder of a horse called Kit. This healthy horse was put to death by a livery yard owner following a disagreement over an unpaid bill for £30. The woman who was loaning the horse said she would pay the bill at the end of the month. The livery yard boss wasn’t happy. He said he would bring her horse in a trailer and tie her to a tree in her garden unless she paid him. She should have but she didn’t. He couldn’t load the horse into the trailer and so he ordered the animal’s destruction claiming the mare was dangerous.

Then something else unforgivable happened. The horse’s body was dumped in the woman’s front garden. Where she and her children would see it the next morning.

left for dead (library picture)

left for dead (library picture)

There have been arrests and police are investigating but there’s a twist to this story. The RSPCA, this country’s foremost animal welfare organisation, has given that yard owner a lot of money. They had some of their rescues at his place but attempted to reassure the public with a statement saying none of their horses were involved in the case. Many people were outraged that the organisation didn’t speak out against such wrong doing. Such senseless cruelty. It sounded as though the charity didn’t wish to become embroiled in the uproar that followed Kit’s death. After public outcry, the RSPCA has finally removed its horses from the yard in question.

Crime number two sees the RSPCA in a much more aggressive role – the sort of behaviour that might have been an appropriate response to the murder of an innocent horse. No gun was used in this crime. No blood was spilt. There were no distressed owners and no horses injured. But barefoot trimmer, Ben Street, was taken to court by the RSPCA. He was found guilty. He now has a criminal record. You might question whether that was a good use of the charity’s time, effort and money. I certainly do.

Ben’s crime might shock you. If you’re ready, I’ll tell you what he did. The court heard that he trimmed a horse’s feet. Then he got hold of a set of hoof boots. These are useful bits of equipment especially for newly barefoot horses, enabling them to be exercised. These particular boots were a special type – they could be glued to the hoof for short periods. So, Ben made use of some glue and enabled the horse, which belonged to one of his clients, to be comfortable while his feet recovered from years of harmful shoeing.

Serious crime? Example of glue on hoof boots.

Serious crime? Example of glue on hoof boots.

His actions upset a farrier who was also on the yard at the time. That farrier complained. The RSPCA’s inspector, also a former farrier, interviewed Ben under caution. They prosecuted. Why? You might ask. Here’s the crux – it’s illegal to practice farriery unless you are qualified and licenced. That’s OK. Very sensible. But Ben wasn’t practising farriery, was he? Well, the Farriers Registration Council and the RSPCA argued that the glued-on boot constituted a shoe and therefore his action was illegal. He trimmed the horse in preparation for this shoe and they said his trim had been harmful. That was his bloodless crime. He trimmed a horse and stuck on a hoof boot to save it discomfort – discomfort that was probably caused by metal shoeing in the first place.

Real horse shoes using nails and metal

Real horse shoes using nails and metal

Here’s what Ben is actually guilty of.

* Helping horses walk on their own feet again.

* Embarrassing traditionalists who are too stubborn to investigate the harm caused by nailed-on shoes.

Ben has an excellent record of helping horses and I hope this questionable prosecution doesn’t stop his pioneering work. Thankfully, a growing number of farriers are offering a barefoot service and I know of many owners who sing their praises. I would urge those farriers to complain to their council about this very smoky interpretation of the law.

In other news!

My debut novel is about to go to press. The First Vet – a story of love and corruption inspired by one of this country’s early vets – will be available as a paperback on Amazon and as an ebook on Kindle very shortly. In the meantime, for anyone who can’t wait, you can download the first chapter by clicking on the picture in the right hand column of this blog. Happy reading. Happy riding.

Trainer with a difference…

by Linda Chamberlain

Sports horses – are they really locked up for their own safety? Are fields such dangerous places that a talented thoroughbred is not allowed near one without a rider? And horseshoes? Surely, these horses work on grass and have no need of them.

Does it have to be like this?

bored - isolated

bored – isolated

Meet Simon Earle, a racehorse trainer, who asked himself those questions ten years ago and came up with answers that set him on a different path to the rest in the industry. His horses are predominantly barefoot and, surprisingly, live for much of the time in a herd. In a field! If you’re not a horse person, you might not realise the significance of this. Believe me, it’s a rare sight and the common regime for talented equines is training followed by stable confinement. It’s rarely questioned and yet the lifestyle causes such stress that ulcers can be found in most race horses. Tendon injuries are regarded as a hazard of racing but Simon has found that taking their shoes off minimises the risk. It sounds as if I’m tempting fate but, since finding a specialist barefoot trimmer eight years ago, not one of his animals has suffered a tendon injury and yet ninety per cent of conventionally-kept racehorses are thought to suffer such a break down, or similar, at some point in their predominantly short careers.

It’s September and Simon’s horses have finished work. At four o’clock they’ve been fed (high fibre, low sugar, vegetable oil and a magnesium supplement) in the American-style barn that will shelter them at night in winter. Now it’s empty and echoes with our footsteps as we walk to the fields where the horses are grazing and socialising. These equines are a friendly crowd. They come to meet us; some check out my bag or the back of my head. One thinks the bag might be worth chewing but is easily dissuaded. There’s the usual herd dynamics to watch out for – that’s my mare, mate. Get lost. A newcomer is chased away and dominance is achieved without violence. Simon picks up their feet for us to examine even though we don’t have a head collar. The horses are so calm and amenable that for ten seconds I kid myself that even I might manage to ride one should it fall into my bag without him noticing. As I mentally choose a favourite, he apologises because I’m seeing their feet at their worst because they’re due for their four-week trim from farrier and barefoot trimmer, Chris Keable. These hooves are healthy and a credit to both men – no thrush, no white-line separation, both are warnings that things are wrong – but some of the horses haven’t been here long and he’s looking for improvement.

They have the usual high price tags that make your eyes water – up to £85,000. That’s enough reason for most owners and trainers to resort to convention and stabling but Simon has seen results from giving his animals a more natural lifestyle. He views the field as a place of health and safety unlike most of his peers explaining that more accidents happen in the stable. He’s undoubtedly thinking of the recent loss of a promising horse nicknamed, Derek, who was put to sleep after an accident in the stable where he had been recovering from an operation.

‘Our horses are trained from the field,’ he says. ‘And they are out together. It’s better for the horse like that. So many come here from other racing yards and their brains are buzzing. To be a racehorse is very stressful. They are pushed to their limit every day.’

 

Free to play

Free to play…

Simon runs a professional yard and there’s no doubt that his horses are also pushed to extremes – he wants winners like any trainer. But their more-natural lifestyle should give his horses an advantage.

He’s already shown that tendon injuries are reduced. He says conventional shoeing plays its part in causing the damage. The farrier endeavours to reduce the number of front shoes pulled off by a hind foot by placing the shoe forward. Eventually the toe becomes long, the heels under run until eventually the foot has migrated changing the break over point and putting strain on the tendon.

‘It’s common sense that if you are weight bearing further forward then the back of the leg takes the strain,’ he says.

I read on the internet how Simon would examine the track after a race to see his horse’s hoof marks and guess what? The barefoot horse doesn’t sink into the ground as much as his shod cousins – less strain on the tendon. He’s also observed that a horse’s stride lengthens without shoes and of course this will help the animal’s heart and his speed.

Simon’s barefoot journey accelerated ten years ago with a retired racehorse called Saucy Night. Frankly, he sounded like pet food and the word retired should have been replaced with finished. He had ulcers, he’d injured his tendons and his feet were a mess. Oh, and he was thin. His career wasn’t successful – not only had he never been placed, he had never passed another horse in his life. A former business partner acquired him and they started repairing him. The shoes were taken off. He was turned out. Slowly he began to recover. Saucy got used to life without shoes. He was put in the horse walker and then ridden. Fast forward to 2005 and a racecourse in Folkestone. Saucy Night made history by becoming the first barefoot winner beating the rest by six lengths. There’s even a You Tube film about him.

Impressed? Saucy continued to make a success of his career before retiring (proper use of the word) a few years later. Simon runs a small yard; he has about a dozen horses, but his most successful horse was Red Not Blue who notched up numerous wins. He had come to him on the verge of retirement at the age of six – he had only one shoe on and after two-weeks of precautionary quarantine was turned out in the field to recover and transition his feet.

 

Red Not Blue - barefoot and winning

                                  Red Not Blue – barefoot and winning

I like Simon’s method – so many of us labour for months, sometimes years over this! But I suppose the pleasure horse has stony tracks to contend with and that’s my excuse. A racehorse trainer doesn’t have the luxury of time and he can’t devote himself to one horse and of course he only needs the animal to compete on grass. So, a newcomer is turned out with the others for six weeks preferably in Spring when the feet are growing strongly. He is trimmed every four weeks and not ridden. Then he’s put in the horse walker to see how those feet are faring. The summer gives the horses a lull from racing so the newly barefoot horse has time to show whether he will cope without shoes. Simon is dismissive of hoof boots because he ‘hasn’t found a good one’ and his attitude to metal shoes is pragmatic. He’ll use them if he has to, he’ll even put them on for a month to give horses a chance to grow some foot but he finds them a pain. They fall off and sometimes they wrench half a foot with them.

Racing, he says, is as conventional as the rest of the horse world. So, I was curious to hear how he was regarded by his peers. Apart from one surprised comment at his first appearance with a barefoot horse he doesn’t get any ribbing and no one has questioned his sanity!

He achieves this enviable situation with a personality that is unchallenging. He does his own thing, in his own quiet way. His horses compete, sometimes they win, and he goes home. What? Not even a little bit of curiosity? I ask.

‘There’s been press coverage. People know what I do,’ he says.

Simon Earle

Simon Earle

Every trainer has a different approach but Simon’s methods are interesting. He favours staff who come from an eventing rather than racing background because, he says, they ride properly. He hastens to qualify the statement, explaining that he wants his horses schooled more than is usual. He wants them working their whole bodies, building up the muscles on their top line and able to sort out their own legs. So if a horse is approaching the final bend in a race, leading with the wrong leg, Simon wants the horse to swap over and not wait for a jockey’s instructions. He also wants the horse to be able to place himself correctly for a jump and so he does a lot of what is known as grid work with them, teaching them to gauge obstacles themselves, minimising the chances of a fall.

Racing, particularly over jumps, has its detractors. It’s hard on the horses. Many are raced at the age of two when they are not fully grown. There are losses and careers can be extremely short. I’m not going to paint a rosy picture of speed and elegance. Hundreds can be lost in a year, still more don’t make the grade or retire without the rebirth made by Saucy Night. What happens to those animals? I don’t ask Simon Earle to defend the sport but what of his own horses?

‘I rehome them and I track them for life,’ he says.

There was a sweet, five-year-old mare in the field who wasn’t up to scratch but I keep myself in check and don’t stick up a hand. Red Not Blue has just gone to a well-known barefoot home.

And two year olds? He doesn’t race them but it’s in character for him not to say much other than it’s not my thing. He favours racing them from the age of five and retiring them at about twelve.

As we leave the fields, we are followed to the gate by a four-year-old bay, one Simon owns himself. He hasn’t raced yet and he has the calm look of a horse who likes humans. ‘He half thinks I’m his mum,’ Simon mutters, rubbing the horse’s face.

Then I remember he’d mentioned Monty Roberts – the innovative trainer from the US who has changed the way many horses are started, not broken, using a method called join up. Simon uses some of Monty’s techniques – of course he does.

 

Some of the racing herd

                         Some of the racing herd

BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS

IMG_3822ABOUT 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-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.’

A Barefoot Journey is a small but perfectly formed field companion for my novel, The First Vet, 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 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!’

 

Horsing Around With Usain Bolt

A spoof, by Linda Chamberlain

World-class sprinter Usain Bolt is to learn the secrets of the horse world in a bid to stay at the top of his game.

 

Usain's new shoes

Usain’s new shoes

 

The fastest man in the world was so impressed by the speed and performance of equine Olympians that he has decided to follow in their hoof steps. On the advice of medical experts, he is having a specially-made, metal attachment, much like a horse shoe, fixed to his trainers. The design of the attachment is a closely guarded secret but I can reveal that Bolt plans to wear them 24/7.

His trainers argue that the Jamaican athlete will get used to the metal shoes more quickly if he wears them all the time. They hope they will guard against slipping during competitions and minimise the risk of exasperating a troublesome tendon injury that has setback his training in the past. They also hope he will be able to sprint faster than a horse.

In an exclusive interview, Bolt said: ‘The shoes felt heavy at first and it took a while to get used to them. They’re coming off next week, so that will be a bit of a break.’

‘Oh, for good?’ I asked the 6 foot 5 inch star of the track.

‘No, only while I have my toe nails trimmed.’

Doubters have speculated that running on metal might be harmful for the athlete but Bolt is confident that medical advice is correct. He’s been told that running without them might have a detrimental effect on the physiology of his foot.

‘The doctors know what they’re doing,’ he said. ‘They must be right and those running tracks can be hard, you know.’

Supporters of the shoe say it can relieve many problems of the foot, including arthritic pain – as well as give support to painful heels and protect weak toe nails.

‘It’s true,’ Bolt said. ‘I don’t break my toe nails half as much as I used to.’

The Olympic authorities have given approval and other athletes are expected to copy the innovation. Bolt predicts that very soon there won’t be an athlete in the world without metal shoes.

In another daring move inspired by the horse world, Bolt is dramatically changing his lifestyle. Apart from the many hours spent in training and competition, he is to be confined to what his trainers describe as a focus room. There will be no TV, no space for friends and therefore no distractions. There’s enough room for his bed and he’ll be given an innovative ball to play with which lets out small amounts of food if he rolls it around the floor.

confiend horse

‘We never stop learning,’ said the runner who has been nicknamed Lightning Bolt. ‘You should have seen those horses at the Olympics. They were awesome and they were focused. If it works for them; it should work for me.’

He’s been confined to his focus room for two weeks and his trainers are pleased it is having the desired effect.

‘He can’t wait to get out on the track in the morning,’ said one of his training team. ‘Before the focus room he was much more laid back. Now he just wants to run; he doesn’t want to stop. It’s brilliant. He loves that room. At the end of the training session we put some of his favourite food in there and you should see him rush back in there.’

* * * * *

Apply the ideology to a human and suddenly it makes you question the treatment of horses, doesn’t it?

Apologies to Usain Bolt for the above article. He seemed such a nice guy that I thought he wouldn’t mind his name being used to support a campaign to free equine athletes.

UPDATE

ABOUT ME – 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

 

 

How Bad Are Horse Shoes?

by Linda Chamberlain

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

Horse shoes? Are they dangerous?

Horse shoes? Are they dangerous?

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

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

But how bad are these shoes?

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

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

Why don’t you like horse shoes, Linda?

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

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

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

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

Carrie's feet - before

Carrie’s feet – before

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

Carrie's hooves - after

Carrie’s hooves – after

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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