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…
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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 –
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 Novel 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