by Linda Chamberlain
The fight for the barefoot horse was given a new boost last week when dressage star Lucinda McAlpine shared her tips for success at a special Facebook event.
Lucinda, whose horses are barefoot and live out 24/7, was the special guest at a Q&A session held by the Barefoot Horse Owners Group as it celebrated soaring membership nearing 10,000 people. She told the group that its astonishing growth was one of the most encouraging things in the equestrian world.
Her own barefoot journey is thanks largely to one very talented horse called Panduc aka The Black who could no longer cope in shoes. Farriers were shoeing this Grand Prix level dressage horse tighter and tighter in an attempt to help but his feet were crumbling and he perfected the art of hurling his shoes off at canter in the field.
‘It was his idea, really,’ she said as she explained her move to barefoot.
This was 20 years ago. There were no hoof boots and no one to guide her. Undaunted, Lucinda asked farrier, Nigel Gatesman, if he would support her in trying another approach – without shoes. He did and he’s still in charge of her horses’ hooves today.
How did The Black cope? Did he slip? Lucinda was asked during the two-hour Facebook session which was buzzing with activity.
‘I carried on riding him as usual. But it was that first hack down a really steep hill that made me realise we had opened the door to a whole new world of possibilities. Not only did he not slip, he walked evenly with confidence and with a soft back which was not the case before.’
Even now she doesn’t resort to hoof boots, preferring the horse to be unencumbered in its early barefoot days. She finds horses need to adjust their way of going since many are too heavy on the forehand. In other words they are working by pulling with their front legs rather than being propelled from behind. Once they have changed this, soreness problems are alleviated. ‘It’s my speciality,’ she said.
‘Welsh cobs,’ she explained to one questioner, ‘do tend to develop a very extravagant foreleg action with shoes often due to the noise of the shoe itself. If they carry on stamping their feet down they will certainly be sore.’
Lucinda admitted that it was frustrating that the equine world predominantly considered shoes humane and warned that ‘fear is the main reason for closed minds’.
Another questioner said that she was thinking about going barefoot with her cob but confessed she was worried.
Lucinda assured her, ‘Looks like you have come to the right place then. Yes, it can be scary but in reality it is much easier for the horses than it is for us! People who chose to shoe their horses can be very cruel so stick with us!’
Lucinda, who is enjoying a return to competing after a break, said that her horses’ lifestyle went hand in hand with barefoot. They live out in groups on her farm in Devon, where she runs study days. They aren’t rugged but have grown their own ‘multi-functional, non-slip, anti-chafe coats to suit each individual. They work really well but are not available in the shops! Wish I could find a jacket that worked as well.’
She provides hard standing in every field and hay is put out on these ‘pads’. In nature the horse might move to higher, drier ground in winter but if he is kept in a paddock this isn’t possible. So owners need to replicate this with their facilities.
‘I would not recommend that horses do without shoes if the owner keeps them on filthy deep litter but I am not sure many British horse owners would admit to that.’
And she continues to buck the trend by not clipping, even for competition. A member of the group asked about this tricky issue and was worried she would be marked down by the judges if her animal was hairy. How did Lucinda cope with that?
‘My friend, Kate Weeks, used to say that my horses were the only ones at shows who didn’t look like they were going through chemo in the winter. Interestingly, the more I compete the less I see people renewing their clips and more just taking a strip off. A full coat will give you a unique insight into his physical and mental/emotional fitness as he will sweat when he is anxious or you have done too much work. Stay just under the sweat and his warmth will make the coat lie down and GLEAM. Nothing better as a gauge for how much work to do.
‘Good luck. If you lose marks then just feel sorry that the judges do not have this knowledge and know that you are working for the horse’s wellbeing. Well done you – a winner in my eyes already!’
Lucinda runs study days and other events at her farm in Devon – here is a link to find out more…
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It was the first time the Barefoot Horse Owners Group had tried a live Q&A session. It was a little bit like a radio phone-in but on Facebook…and in writing. It worked brilliantly but was busy and required our poor guest to type answers furiously so we are truly thankful for her efforts. The group is celebrating quite a milestone- nearly 10,000 people are members. That represents an awful lot of bare hooves. We believe the only thing that should be attached to the horse’s hoof…is its leg. Come and find us on Facebook.
ABOUT ME – I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. A Barefoot Journey, is my honest and light-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. It is a small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet, a historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has 40 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society. Here’s the latest review on Amazon – ‘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!’
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