by Linda Chamberlain
Thanks to the growing barefoot movement there are now many farriers who offer a barefoot service. But some have turned their backs on the trade. Some won’t shoe another horse.
Meet the world’s most famous farrier-turned-trimmer, Jaime Jackson, from the U.S. who is the author of many books, including Paddock Paradise and The Natural Horse.
He’s a champion of natural horse care and bases his trim on the ‘wild horse model’.
As one of the founders of AANHCP (Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices) he has forsaken the metal shoe for healthy, naturally shaped hooves and has helped train many trimmers around the world.
Please tell us about the moment you realised the harm shoeing causes.
I don’t recall a “moment”, like an epiphany, wherein I suddenly realized shoeing is harmful. Given to analytical thinking by nature, it came with time. My highest priority was to understand what I was doing as a farrier, and, as a consequence, what the impact was on the hoof, movement, and soundness. This was in the mid-1970s. By 1977, I began to realize that the mere act of shoeing seemed to take a toll on the hoof. Which also brought me to the door of “corrective shoeing”, shoeing theories, and the relationship of veterinary medical care and shoeing. I studied hard – books on shoeing, farrier journals, and observing other farriers in other disciplines. I had come to realize that there were as many opinions, theories, and methods as there were disciplines. All seemed to harbor similar problems at the hoof itself: thin walls, diseases, crippling lameness, and so forth.
During this period, I also began to question care beyond shoeing, including riding, boarding, and diet practices. Looking back, I didn’t like what I saw and heard. I really had had enough of it all, and might have quit from frustration when a client gave me a recently published book by Emery, Miller and Van Hoosen, Horseshoeing Theory and Hoof Care (1977). The book brought the wild horse to my attention and a concept of horse care based on what is natural for the species. I soon contacted the principal author, Emery, and we began to discuss the meaning of “natural” and what that might be as a basis in domestic horse care. The problem was that the authors hadn’t researched the wild horse, knew nothing about their feet and lifestyles from first hand observations; in fact, they were speculating in the book. That’s okay – it prepared me for what was to come. In 1982, a client of mine adopted a “mustang” straight out of the wild.
Looking at the hooves, which were nothing like I had ever seen, read about, or heard described, I knew what I had to do – enter wild horse country and see for myself what Emery et al, had postulated as “natural”. That story and my findings were recorded in my first book, The Natural Horse: Lessons from the Wild (1992). Seeing thousands of sound wild horse hooves, and the lifestyle that created them enabled me to see precisely why and how shoeing is harmful. My life as a farrier was over by the end of the 1980s, paving the way for my new profession, and the world’s first “natural horse/hoof care practitioner”. I’ve now written six books on the subject of natural care, and countless articles, lectures here and abroad, and founded two organizations and as many training programs for NHC professionals. This is a long, round about way of saying that not only did I come to realize just how harmful shoeing is, as well as many other management practices, I also did something about it.
How did you feel knowing that your business had been shoeing?
The responsible thing to do once I learned about the pernicious effects of shoeing, was to end my practice. Which I did. I did this gradually, however, first experimenting on client horses with what would become the “wild horse model” for the “natural trim”. While my research was revealing of the fact that, from a biological standpoint, all horses could go barefoot, I needed a proven “method” and one that I could demonstrate and share with the horse world. This “phase” of developing a method took from 1982 to 1986, at which time I also began to lay the ground work for writing TNH.
What reaction did you get from fellow farriers?
Surprisingly, most farriers – and many vets — were very interested. And Emery, also a professional farrier, was supportive from the beginning – and to the present.
He and I spoke jointly about my findings before 5,000 farriers (and vets) at the annual convention of the American Farriers Association in 1988, years before TNH was published. Later, I was the guest lecturer at the Denver Area Veterinary Medical Association’s annual conference in 1993. And also at the 1995 Laminitis Symposium, where the host, Dr. Ric Redden had me speak over two days before a thousand vets and farriers. During the 1990s, I wrote many articles for the American and European Farriers Journals. In 2010 I was invited by the European Federation of Farriers and the Dutch Farriers Association to explain the natural trim as guest lecturer at the Helicon School in the Netherlands. Then came an invitation from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Teramo (Italy) . In general, while there has been much “interest”, the problem has been, and continues to be, resistance due to conflicts with conventional or institutional regimes of horse and hoof care. That’s another “hot topic”!
Why would you never shoe again?
I ended my shoeing career for a number of reasons. First, because I believe in the “cause no harm” clause of the Hippocratic Oath. Second, it truly isn’t necessary – once the natural trim is properly understood and executed within the context of holistic care based on the wild horse model. And third, because there is broad and growing interest in “going natural” among tens of thousands (probably more) of horse owners. But underlying these points, to this day, 32 years after entering wild horse country, and 37 years after engaging the subject with Emery, I feel a personal responsibility to carry the message – the humane care of horses based on the wild horse model — forward with others.
On a scale of 1-10, how serious a harm is shoeing to the horse?
From the very beginning I realized that any “scale” by which to gauge the harmfulness of shoeing cannot responsibly be separated from the overall care of the horse. For example, it is impossible to do justice to the natural trim if the horse is being fed a “laminitis diet” or is confined to a stall. it is a fact today that too many barefoot trimmers and horse owners cannot distinguish between the adverse effects of one from the other. Not infrequently, diet is blamed when the trimming is either the principal problem or exacerbating the problem. For this reason, I’ve never been inclined to isolate shoeing from other harmful practices, but to differentiate causalities and their symptoms. But back to shoeing, per se, it weakens the hoof, predisposes it to deformity, and fuels other harmful practices that show up symptomatically in the hoof, such as laminitis and Navicular Syndrome. “Harm is harm”, and, so, why take chances? In contrast to the natural trim, it is impossible to shoe a horse or trim the foot in violation of its natural state, and have healthy, sound hooves.
Can you understand the reasons for hostility from some farriers towards barefoot? (Perhaps they are not in US, but in UK they are).
Other than from a few “wackos” whose credentials as professional farriers are suspect in my mind, that hasn’t been my experience at all. In addition to the broad interest I have enjoyed coming from the farrier community, shared above, it is perhaps ironic to the UK equestrian taking their horse barefoot that I have had several very distinguished farriers – arguably publicly hostile to barefoot — from the UK actually come to visit me here in the U.S. to talk about natural care and the wild horse model. They were very understanding, impressed, and I would say supportive of what I was trying to accomplish within the realm of NHC. Ditto other “leaders” in the farrier community, including the President of the Dutch Farriers Association at the time of my talk in the Netherlands — with whom I’ve kept in touch ever since. At the same time, I am aware of the “hostility” posed in the question. But it isn’t specific to the UK, as I hear the same thing happening in other countries. Perhaps I can shed some light on the problem.
First, farriers I’ve talked with about this are resentful of “outsiders” telling them that their profession is out of line shoeing horses when horse owners and their associations are requiring the practice of them. In fact, I know this to be true in many instances. Barefoot isn’t even an option in some disciplines – not because of the farriers but because of traditional rules and regulations, of which farriers may not even agree. Second, they detest “barefooters” telling them what to do, or taking over their business. I know, too, that the barefoot movement has eroded the shoeing landscape, and continues to do so, almost like an insurgency! Third, one has to realize that they are not taught the “natural trim”, and their traditions (such as in the UK), go back over 800 years, wherein we find very little about removing shoes. It is worth recognizing that many have to go though rigorous training regulated by government officials and the law, only to have to contend with a burgeoning and irritating “barefoot bunch” that tell them they are misguided relics of the past. My response to the farriers has been categorically, we need to beat a legal path to the “natural trim”. This means “education”, of course, whether they like it or not. Change isn’t always easy in any discipline.
More and more horses are barefoot. Are you surprised how many? Or did you hope more would convert by now?
What’s happened so far actually makes sense to me. In 1982, there was no “barefoot movement”, in fact my own clients, with a few exceptions, were aghast at the idea. I lost most of them during the 1980s, but then gained new ones who liked the idea of “going natural”. I think what’s happening today would never have happened if the Internet had not come along when it did. Remember, I wrote TNH
on a typewriter! PCs were not commonplace and MS DOS was a nightmare until Windows and Apple arrived to relieve it. All those software engineers have earned their place in Heaven! I also formed my own publishing company to get the word out, because few magazines serving the horse community would touch “barefoot” with a 10 foot pole. In fact, Northland Publishing dropped TNH
in 1995, and I do believe that if I had not formed Star Ridge Publishing in 1996, what’s happening today might never have happened at all. Not well known today, the first edition of the Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care
was published a year later and the barefoot movement struck ground for the first time. By 1999, things were beginning to move, and the new millennium saw a burgeoning barefoot revolution. The AANHCP was founded the following year, and most of the “barefoot heroes” of today were born of that organization. Unfortunately, many of these “heroes” converted to other manners of dealing with the hoof, none of which I am supportive of, and I would say, that much of the farrier hostility is actually directed at these “offshoot methods”. In fact, the UK RSPCA depositioned me in a prosecution of one of those incredibly harmful methods. I adamantly oppose any trim method that causes harm to the horse, regardless of its proponents’ rationales. This has made me unpopular, if not a pariah, among some barefooters, but I intend to stand my ground.
What are your 3 top tips for successful transition to barefoot?
There can’t really be a “successful” transition to barefoot if the method contradicts the wild horse model. I know this for a fact, because I see the failures all the time.
I have and advocate “4 Tips”: the natural trim, natural boarding, a reasonably natural diet, and natural horsemanship.
In the UK there have been prosecutions against barefoot trimmers. Can you picture a day when the boot is on the other foot? That a farrier has to justify shoeing?
I have explained above that I aided the UK government in a prosecution of several barefoot trimmers. But this came at the request of RSPCA attorneys who revealed to me the truly horrible mess they made of the horses. Unfortunately, these people gave “barefoot” a terribly bad name in many UK circles, and some continue to do so. The good news is that I was identified as a humanitarian and that my advocacy was compatible with the law. I even discussed the case with UK farriers at the time and they clearly understood the difference. I don’t believe we will see the same thing happening to UK farriers in the Registry, if for no other reason than politics. Obviously, some farrier methods also rise to the level of terrible (see below) and I am fully aware of the rationales behind them. But I think the way out of this conundrum is for the “natural trim” to be brought before legal authorities in the Farrier Registry and government regulators. In some measure, this is happening now with my support. Again, the matter is very “political” and “sensitive”. And let me say this, I believe that the natural trim might very well have been a “legal trim” in the UK right now if it weren’t from interference run by “generic barefooters” who cause harm and have given the “natural trim” a complete misrepresentation among farriers in their circles.
The English vet Bracy Clark believed 200 years ago that shoeing deformed hooves and led to early death. Do you agree?
I am familiar with Clark, as are many farriers, and reviewed nearly a thousand pages of his manuscripts some years ago while I was sorting through the history of barefoot horses. Clark did not possess our information today regarding the wild horse model, but he was able to deduce some of its features through pure reason. Which is how he came to his views regarding shoeing. He did attempt to fashion a hinged shoe that would facilitate the “hoof mechanism” that prevailed at the time and even into the present – that is, a representation of hoof function, although one that I reject as inconsistent with the wild horse model and current research concerning internal vascular hydraulics. But it was also clear that the model’s mechanics also frustrated Clark as he attempted to deal with the barbaric shoeing practices of the day. He and I would have hit it off for sure! Nevertheless, he understood that metal nailed to the foot contraposed the hoof’s biodynamics and healthy grow patterns (leading to deformity, that is, “unnatural hoof shape” as I call it in TNH
) and that horses can and should go barefoot. For this reason, he is one of our historical heroes and “forefathers” of the ongoing NHC revolution.
What is your vision, your dream, of the future for the domestic horse?
Right now, I have to admit, things don’t look as good for the horse as they should – although it’s much better in many places than when I first stepped into wild horse country with a dream for something better and a vision that was delivered to me as a consequence of what I found. Even the future of the wild horse model is threatened itself as US government and misguided “wild horse” zealots attempt to influence and control the herds in ways that are incongruous with natural selection. I am forever grateful that I saw and studied them in their “heyday” long before current politics got its foothold.
On the domestic front, the wild horse model has been polluted and practically run over by its own strains of zealotry, misguided barefoot trimmers and ignorant, vitriolic farriers. From what I can see, and is reported in the media, much of what is being done to the hoof in the name of “natural” or “physiologically correct” is bogus and harmful. The politics is typically “anti-shoeing”, the methods often anchored unwittingly to farrier techniques they failed to research before claiming as their own, and the “science” the stuff of “word salad”. Which is to say that it isn’t the stuff of what actually occurs in the horse’s natural world, the epicenter of my vision.
Having said this, I take refuge in the world of NHC that I – and now many others, too — practice daily and believe in as I always have from the beginning. Here at the AANHCP Field Headquarters, our horses live year after year with none of the problems I see with shod horses and those given what I can only be described as unnatural and invasive trims, both typically harboring harmful feeding and boarding practices as well. In contrast, the natural trim is just a few minutes of relatively “easy work”, and nothing really changes about the hooves because the environment and care they receive favors naturally shaped, healthy hooves attached to truly healthy, athletic horses.
Our work is completely transparent, and visitors come often to see for themselves. It’s really that simple. I advise horse owners to exercise great caution in selecting their hoof care practitioners. Ask bluntly: what is their method based on? Were they trained in that method? Can they produce a herd of sound, healthy horses year after year, trimmed and maintained according to their method, and with complete public transparency? While such a standard may seem arbitrary and unrealistic to many who simply accept “lameness” as inevitable, it is the NHC standard that I intend to advocate for all horses. In short, their very vitality!
Thanks to Jaime Jackson for answering my questions. Your books have been an inspiration to me!
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