Press Release – Please Share

Bracy Clark exposed a serious threat to horse health 200 years ago but his work was suppressed and ridiculed. Now he’s being given a second chance to change the future for the animals he loved thanks to a page-turning new novel called The First Vet.

Clark, one of England’s first-ever vets, proved that horse shoes deform natural hooves. He warned the 1000-year old practice of shoeing led to lameness and sometimes early death but he was tormented by a whisper campaign against him and was refused a platform at the veterinary college that trained him.

The book’s author, Linda Chamberlain, said: ‘The veterinary establishment should have listened to him but he was ahead of his time. Instead they laughed and buried his work. Today we are finding out that he was right. More and more owners are finding a cure for crippling lameness by keeping their horses barefoot. Bracy would be very pleased.’

A natural foot - no need of metal or nails

A natural foot – no need of metal or nails

 

Linda has spent the last few years writing and researching her debut novel which was published on Amazon last week and has already received 5 star reviews.

The First Vet is a touching story of love and corruption – a blend of fact and fiction that owes much of its fast pace to the battle between Clark and the head of the veterinary college, Professor Edward Coleman. The story is made more poignant by the forbidden romance between Clark and the Professor’s fictional sister, Christina.

Linda, who rides her own horses without shoes, discovered Clark’s work on a number of websites about barefoot trimming. She vowed to find out more and her research took her to the Royal Veterinary College and The British Library.

‘I spent many hours reading Bracy’s books,’ she said. ‘He was eloquent and passionate. He went on long journeys riding barefoot horses to see how they would manage and he rode a very lively stallion on his veterinary rounds in the city of London. It disturbed him that his research exposed an evil for which he had no remedy.

‘Like today’s barefoot advocates he worried that the horses’ hoof was treated as though it was a block of wood rather than a living, elastic organ. He warned that nailing an immovable shoe to the hoof was causing serious problems and early death.’

‘Thus we see the beautiful and useful symmetry of nature’s mould, no part of which is without its use, has been changed by artificial restraint to deformity and incompetence.’ Bracy Clark

‘Thus we see the beautiful and useful symmetry of nature’s mould, no part of which is without its use, has been changed by artificial restraint to deformity and incompetence.’ Bracy Clark

So why was he condemned by the veterinary profession without being heard. Linda determined to find out.

‘The answer wasn’t obvious but I think it was greed,’ she said. ‘Bracy withstood the whisper campaign against him in silence for 20 years but eventually he hit back. He accused Professor Coleman of corruption, said he had an open palm and was pocketing the student fees. It’s known that Coleman shortened the course to three months and Bracy alleged that he admitted unsuitable, uneducated students in order to make himself rich.

‘Bracy said Coleman had patented at least two of his own horse shoes which he was using at the college.

‘A greedy or corrupt professor was unlikely to lend a platform to such an honest man as Bracy Clark. He certainly wasn’t interested in hearing how his own horse shoes were doing such enormous harm.’

The two men couldn’t have been more different. Coleman was head of the college as well as Veterinary Surgeon General of the British cavalry. He sold his horse shoes and he patented his medicines and died a wealthy man. Clark was a Quaker who gave up a surgeon’s apprenticeship to be at the newly opened college, vowing to family and friends that he had little need of money. He shared his research and his medicines with the world and he refused to patent and profit from a flexible shoe he developed, called the Expansion shoe.

‘He was a successful and much-loved vet but I don’t think he could fight dirty enough against Coleman,’ Linda explained. ‘He suffered in silence too long. His later books talk of Coleman’s open palm and his greedy charm. He spared no ink in revealing the nature of his adversary and the harm his regime was causing the profession but by then Coleman was secure and entrenched. It might have been too late.

‘It’s great that many of today’s barefoot trimmers recognise Bracy’s pioneering research. Owners of barefoot horses often battle against hostility from other riders but they are finding cures that sometimes elude the professionals. So many lame horses are surviving against the odds once they are free of their metal shoes.

‘Today’s vets should take a look at Bracy’s work. They should continue his research and help barefoot riders create a better life for the horses in our care. As the hero of The First Vet once wrote – My book is a grateful offering to humanity in diminishing the intolerable sufferings of these abused animals. The foot moves for obvious reasons; to break all jar and concussion to the body and to save the foot from destruction. This has been overlooked in the horse. His foot is treated as a senseless block of wood rather than a living, elastic organ.’

I wanted to share the book’s press release so you could hear how important Bracy Clark’s work is today. I love to hear from you, so leave me a comment. Press the follow button to keep in touch with future posts and enjoy the book. Amazon reviews help readers to find a good book amongst the thousands released every year so any feedback is much appreciated. Tell your friends, too. Bracy Clark was a gifted and remarkable man.

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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!’

 

Go ahead and judge…

by Linda Chamberlain

They say never judge a book by its cover – but what rubbish!

 

Into the sunset

Into the sunset

 

What else are you meant to do? The cover is the book’s shop window giving you a hint to what’s inside. It helps you to decide whether to buy, whether to read. It has to be good or authors risk losing out to the competition – sorting out the sock drawer is the height of entertainment  for a lot of people and writers need to remember that.

I have two books coming out this autumn and was lucky to be able to work with a very talented photographer, Will Jessel, on the covers. This blog is devoted to some of the shots he took that day. I have a couple of favourites and I’m looking forward to seeing what use our art director, Ben Catchpole, makes of them.

Book number one is my debut novel with the working title The First Vet. It’s set in the late 18th century and is inspired by the work of the tireless campaigner, Bracy Clark. It’s a story of love and corruption – one man’s fight against animal cruelty. It’s an English cousin for Nicholas Evan’s best seller, The Horse Whisperer. So, I wanted a man and a woman in the photo, since it’s a love story, but I also wanted a horse. The picture above is almost perfect – apart from a minor historical detail. Have you spotted it?

This might be better…

the sun gets lower

the sun gets lower

The grass or the sky could fade out and give room for the title. It could work but the sky isn’t as inspiring. Will positioned himself further down the hill so he was looking up at the action into the sun.

Here you can see part of the rocky outcrop…

nicely silhouetted

nicely silhouetted

Finally, I like this one because the vet, the rider and the horse are focused on each other…

The horse is listening to him

The horse is listening to him

Book number two is a short piece of non fiction called My Barefoot Journey. It’s a light hearted account of some of the things that happened once those shoes came off my horses. I used Carrie as my model horse. She has a habit of nudging so I was really pleased that she didn’t send me head first over that rocky crag…

me with Carrie

me with Carrie

Or may be this one…

There were beautiful skies that evening

There were beautiful skies that evening

It was quite a long way down. All in the cause of art, I suppose!

You can find out more about Will Jessel on Facebook – Will J Photography. Let me know if you have a favourite or two. I’d love to hear from you. And thanks to all of you who shared my earlier posts on Facebook and Twitter and followed this blog. Your comments and encouragement mean an awful lot to me. I’m back on the road next week, going to visit a racehorse yard with a difference. I’m expecting this one to inspire and amaze me. Full report soon, so keep following.

 

The Stable Regime that Harms

by Linda Chamberlain

These two prisoners have much in common.

 

images[6]

images[2]

They spend much of their day in a small space. They have very little to do. And they have very few companions to share their time with. They are confined and they know the meaning of the word vice.

For the man behind bars vice has been many things. The thieving he got away with in his youth, stolen cigarettes from the corner shop and more recently the knife attack that led to his incarceration.

For the horse –incarceration came before the vice. This is how he lives. The bars were put on the stable door because he’s in the habit of putting his head into the fresh air and rocking from side to side. It’s called weaving and, in the horse world, it’s known as a vice. It doesn’t sound such a great crime, does it, but weaving makes a horse lose condition, it lowers his value and there’s a real danger that other horses on the yard will pick up the habit themselves. It most commonly begins when a horse is stabled – and bored – for long periods.

‘They don’t have anything to do and they don’t have anyone to talk to.’

The government’s chief inspector of prisons was talking about worsening conditions in this country’s goals which have led to an increased suicide rate. But he could have been talking about one of the most prestigious horse livery yards in the country.

I went to see one such yard for myself after writing my controversial blog – They’re athletes, not dinner. I got a guided tour because I wanted somewhere with good facilities for my promising sports horse (in my dreams!) and I wanted to know if 24/7 confinement was as acceptable as I’d alleged.

It was.

It was a pleasantly, sunny day and I was taken to an impressive, American-style barn where there were up to twenty horses in residence. How clean it was! How shining! There was hardly a dropping in sight. Grooms rushed about, everything was polished and I could have visited in white jodhpurs and come home clean. I would have to join a waiting list but, were I to be granted admittance, my horse would be skipped out four times a day, fed three times and exercised once by a rider or in the horse walker. I saw a horse in this very expensive machine going round and round without human intervention and my mind boggled. It’s difficult to understand why people go to such expense and trouble when they could go for a ride or, dare I suggest it, turn the horse out in a field. This splendid facility had very few fields, though. The youngsters were allowed out for a couple of hours but the ridden horses enjoyed the special treatment of central heating in winter, rubber stable mats and the occasional mirror.

‘It helps to settle them,’ I was told. ‘They see themselves and it makes them think they have company.’

‘Ah, such a good idea,’ I enthused. My acting talents were stretched to their limit.

The stables were large units inside a huge barn, their doors looking inwards and the horses could at least see each other even though they couldn’t see the outside world or touch each other. Iron bars made sure there was no danger of that and then my guide pointed out a very positive feature – the drop-down, anti weaving bars on each and every stable door. I looked around and had a quick count. I estimated that half the horses had their bars up. I didn’t see any of them weaving – even with the deterrent of the bars a stressed horse can manage to weave in the stable. This livery yard knows its business and reduces the risk of stable vices with regular feeding and exercise. I’m reminded of a yard that a friend of mine worked at run by some Olympic riders where the fields were notable for their absence. She was a groom and Monday was a day off for many of them so the horses weren’t exercised.

‘That’s the day a lot of the them became ill. We called it tying up day,’ she said. Tying up, or azoturia, is a worrying condition notable among stabled horses who work hard. They get cramp-like symptoms and seize up. ‘A lot of them had ulcers and colic was a constant worry.’

The horses at the livery yard I visited looked healthy; they were passive rather than anxious. Bored but subdued. Horses take confinement amazingly well. Some develop vices but with careful management they accept the life we allow them although I’ve barely mentioned the health problems they endure. The state of their feet, I haven’t touched upon.

So, no fields for most of the very expensive animals here. They are such hazardous places, after all. Horses have been known to run in them, kick and play with each other or eat some grass. I’ve even seen a horse drop to the ground and roll in the mud – in fact, that’s something mine will do every day just for the comfort and joy of it although I fear it might worry some of the owners from the livery yard. Not mud!

It’s lovely to return to my own yard where the horses are appreciating that the sun is warm rather than hot. They’ve spent a bit of time in the field shelter judging by the calling cards they’ve left me and are now on their track, grazing together. They see me and saunter over since it’s getting close to supper time. The others hang back because Carrie is the boss and a flick of her ear warns that she’s to have the first hello with me. She doesn’t linger since I have nothing beyond a stroke and heads to the gate; she’ll wait ‘til the bucket is ready. I check the rest. There are no bites or kicks to worry me but they are dusty from rolling.

‘How did you survive?’ I ask them. ‘You haven’t killed each other. Well done.’

Once we’ve done our greetings, I’m ignored. I feed them, so I’m important but I’m not as vital to them as they are to each other. They follow Carrie across the stony yard to the gate. Tao rubs her face on Carrie’s behind and snorts. Carrie nods her head, frowns. Tao respectfully backs off. They don’t say much but they understand each other.

If only humans understood them as well.
And on a different note…

My thanks to author Janice Preston who has nominated me for an inspiring blog award. Wow, that made me chuffed – and made me check my wardrobe to make sure I had something suitable for a possible awards ceremony at the Savoy. It might not be that sort of award, but still. Now I must dash – I’m off to buy Janice’s new book, Mary and the Marquis. It features a horse so I’m going to read it.

Click on the Follow button at the top of the page to make sure you get notified of my next blog or to hear news of my debut novel, The First Vet, which is being published shortly. Set in the late 18th century, it’s a story of love and corruption and is inspired by the campaigning work of Bracy Clark.

And leave me feedback – I would love to hear from you.

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

 

 

They’re athletes…not dinner

by Linda Chamberlain

If this horse was to be your dinner you might be worried about the way it was kept. You see, this horse lives in a stable that is only a little bigger than he is himself. He has room to lie down. He has room to turn around but he can’t run and he can’t touch any of his friends. His keeper is, no doubt, generous with his food – he might get two buckets of feed a day and a couple of hay nets. If those run out in the night he can always eat his bed…until it gets too mucky for his taste.

 

library picture

library picture

 

If this horse was to be your dinner you might see a television documentary by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that would distress you. You wouldn’t be able to smell that stable but Hugh’s nose might crinkle and you’d know what it was like in there by the morning. He might show you the bars on the stable door with a hushed and upset tone. ‘They’re anti weaving bars,’ he’d explain. ‘To stop the horse rocking from side to side – a harmful habit but it relieves the terrible boredom.’

If this horse was to be your dinner Hugh might manage to get a camera in the stable at night. He’d show you that the horse, who sleeps only for a few minutes at a time, is still awake. He’s been chewing the wooden walls because the door has been covered with metal to stop it being eaten.

This horse stays in the stable all day and all night in a very expensive livery yard that is equipped with all the latest in horsey facilities. There’s an indoor sand school, a heated tack room and even a horse walker so he can get a little exercise on the days his owner is unable to take him out. He’s an animal whose ancestors lived in fear of predators. They lived in a herd and if any caught the scent of a lone wolf, they ran. That’s how they survived for millions of years and the instinct is still strong in today’s domesticated horse.

So, when this horse’s owner takes him for a ride he can sometimes be a tricky beast – full of fear and flight. He might want to run simply because there’s a plastic bag in the hedge. He’s spent the last 24 hours in solitary confinement without the comfort of a herd – surely, he can be forgiven a fanciful imagination.

But he’s not going to be your dinner.

He’s an athlete. A valuable sports horse. His breeding is impeccable and his performance is remarkable. He’s extremely fast and you should see him stretch over fences because he’s awesome.

It’s a strange way to keep an athlete, isn’t it? Unmoving. Alone.

Can you imagine David Beckham or Wayne Rooney bedded down in the smallest room in the house but brought out to chase a ball for 90 minutes every Saturday? They suffer enough injuries as it is and it doesn’t take a science degree to work out that their fitness levels might be compromised by the lifestyle of a couch potato. Horses must have been the only Olympians that performed in the world’s most notable sporting event from the confines of what is, by the morning, a toilet.

This horse’s owner is very careful, though. The horse is warmed up diligently before every competition to minimise the risk of injury. A torn tendon could finish this animal’s career and every athlete knows the importance of correct preparation before an event. Although this horse doesn’t get as much space as your average lamb chop, he does get more than most pieces of chicken breast you can buy in the supermarket.

Something no one wants to see before dinner...

Something no one wants to see before dinner…

But there are no campaigns, no cries from animal welfare activists about the way this horse is confined. It’s perfectly normal. In fact, the more expensive and talented the horse, the more likely it is that he is kept in this way. I know many livery yards where the animals are rarely, and sometimes never, turned out in a field. Race horses spend most of their day at rest in a stable.

It is perfectly legal and it isn’t even frowned upon. Why? you might ask.

I suppose the practice has its roots in the past. In the 1800s London housed about a million and a half horses and none of them had access to a field. Horses were like the car in a garage today – brought out when needed. Most of those horses were working animals, vital to the economy. So, if they were awake, they were probably working.

There are few working horses left in Britain and we keep them for our pleasure, or our sport. We no longer have to keep them confined. There’s no longer any excuse.

They are athletes – let them move.

(I’m a former journalist and for my next blog I’m going ‘under cover’ to investigate how our top equines are kept – press the follow button on the black band at the top of the page if you want notification of future blogs and news of my debut novel – The First Vet – being published later this year. Leave me a comment, too. I’d love to hear from you.)

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?