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.

 

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

 

 

Some history instead of horses

by Linda Chamberlain

Today’s blog gives you a rest from horses in favour of writing. This is because I have accepted a challenge to post seven lines from a book I’m working on –starting from either line seven or seventy seven. On their own they might not make much sense so I will fill you in on the story so far since this is a novel.

It begins in the year 1795, two years after the opening of England’s first veterinary college. We were at war with France and there were complaints in Parliament that more horses were being lost through ill treatment and ignorance than there were in the war. Even then we were a nation of so-called animal lovers but a lame horse would be sent to the forge for cures or operations. They were often butchered.

Who would lead this fledging institution? The first professor was a Frenchman who died suddenly and left the college bereft so the governors recruited a young surgeon for the role. As you will see, the hero of my book didn’t think much of him.

Over to my protagonist – a young student who became a notable veterinarian and prolific writer and campaigner…

 

‘But why listen to me? One anxious student who feared he would close this place down in his quest for self enrichment. You need to meet him yourself. Edward Coleman, the eminent professor of the country’s first veterinary college. Make up your own mind whether his actions were those of a good man or whether you agree with me that his contribution to our cause was an unmitigated evil. He was a man of good taste; a surgeon who surprisingly knew little of the horse beyond the fact that it walked on four legs, breathed through its nose and made a delightful subject for a painting in oils.’

 

Some horses - just in case you're missing them

Some horses – just in case you’re missing them

The book entitled The First Vet is with my editor as we speak and will be published later this year. It’s a blend of fact and fiction inspired by his life and work and is full of intrigue, forbidden love and well…horses, I suppose. For now, I’m keeping my protagonist’s name under wraps. Anyone who correctly names him gets a free copy once it’s on the shelves!

The seven-lines challenge was passed to me by Alison Morton, author of the Roma Nova thrillers Inceptio and Perfiditus. Her latest novel Successio is out now. I’m happy to pass the baton to any other writers out there ???

 

Setting up Paddock Paradise

by Linda Chamberlain

Jaime Jackson, the American author and trimmer, has devised a better way of keeping horses and it doesn’t need much investment. He calls it Paddock Paradise and was inspired by his observations of wild Mustangs and how they move as a herd.

Put simply, it means turning your fields into track ways which encourage the animals to walk further for their daily ration of grass.

You can try it in the spring or summer as soon as your field dries out enough. Or you might think it’s worth making hard, stony tracks to keep going in the winter.

I have a ten acre field that’s on a hill which I chose for my experiment. There is a footbath at the top of the hill, a water trough half way down and some woods at the bottom. We made a track around the edge of the field, very much like a race horse’s training gallop, using electric fencing. My cob was fond of breaking plastic posts so I had to invest in wooden posts but for most horses this might not be necessary. Jaime Jackson, a former farrier who is now a leading barefoot trimmer, suggests scraping the grass off and feeding hay but I was reluctant to do this and allowed them to graze it down.

Following the leader

Following the leader

The system has since been extended to other fields which adjoin and I probably have a couple of miles of tracks now some with stony ground and others with wider areas for resting and grazing. The middle of the field grows long grass which we sometimes cut for hay or it can be saved for winter grazing when it is appreciated and less likely to cause foot problems.

You might ask: why bother?

It’s the movement and the difference it makes to the horse. We ask these animals to be athletes and they do much better if they don’t spend half their lives in bed. They are grazers who are designed to move. Their feet respond brilliantly and take on an improved and tough shape that can carry you over all sorts of terrain. And they keep fit whether you ride them or not. They move so much more on a track than they do in a traditional paddock because they are herd animals who follow each other in a line in their natural habitat. On a track, they revert to this behaviour.

electric fencing keeps them on the track

electric fencing keeps them on the track

Their daily walks are choreographed by the herd leader who either pushes from behind or leads from the front. Horses lower in the pecking order have no choice; they have to move. Their instinct is to stay together and once my track has the optimum amount of grass I can see they are travelling for a few miles every day. A horse in the wild is known to cover about 15 miles a day – no wonder their feet are tough and perfectly worn. Mine don’t walk so far but if they spend enough time on the stony yard – where they can get water and access to the field shelter – their feet hardly need any trimming at all.

Our winters are too wet, the fields too muddy, for me to maintain this lifestyle without some serious investment. The extra movement means the track soon gets poached in high rainfall but I manage to keep mine on it from April/May to October depending on the weather. There are times when they breach the electric fence and pig out in the long grass but if I’m vigilant this doesn’t happen too often.

If you are still not convinced this system is healthier than the traditional stable with paddock turnout, take a look at Casha’s story.

Casha has lived on our system for about five years and came with very stiff back legs. She had an old suspensary ligament injury and wasn’t ridden. I was alarmed when I first saw her because she reminded me of a banana running up a hill. Very slowly she began to improve. She kept up with the others and her owner began taking her for walks in hand on the Forest. Her body became straighter as she lost the banana shape and her fitness level increased. Watching her canter on the track, we talked about her being ridden again. Was she ready? She had improved so much from the constant physio of walking that we thought it worth a try so on one of our walks Lisa got on board and the horse trotted off.

It had been years since Lisa had ridden her and she didn’t want to stay on for long. She got off once the horse slowed down, wearing a smile as wide as the Atlantic.

‘She didn’t rear or behave like a stallion. Amazing.’

Casha - walking well

Casha – walking well

 

She had been a difficult ride in her young days and rearing had been one of her party tricks. With the benefit of hindsight Lisa felt this was due to discomfort even before her suspensary ligament injury. I hadn’t known what to expect and the animal’s rush into trot might have been a sign of pain and so over the next few months she was slowly reintroduced to a rider on her back. Sometimes she didn’t seem to want to play and at others she remained happy for a good half hour. Lisa always listened to her, respecting the fact that her horse was getting older but delighted that she could be gently ridden again.

Casha is getting on a bit now and her ligament troubled her again this winter thanks to the mud. The vet advised rest and Bute in an effort to reduce the swelling. If you think she should have been stabled I’m afraid it wouldn’t have worked as she seizes up without the movement. But we were able to give her a mud free sick bay for a few weeks since I always save some sections of the winter fields just in case any of them are ill. We weren’t sure whether she would make it but she’s back on the track with the others now and cantering quite well.

Sadly, we don’t feel we can ask her to get through another winter but she’s having a happy summer retirement with her friends.

Casha (right) sheltering from the heat and flies

Casha (right) sheltering from the heat and flies

The Start of my Barefoot Journey

 

by Linda Chamberlain

Here is the opening of a book I’m working on – see what you think.

 

I’ve made it a policy to avoid arguing with well muscled men wielding a hammer and nails. I’m not a tall woman; more a lightweight who can be pushed over easily but my stand off with the farrier that day required me to get in touch with my masculine side. Quickly.

You see, my requirements were simple; I wanted the shoes off my two horses and it was not a job I could do myself. He shouldn’t have started a fight over it but he had a jangling set of new shoes in his hand and he wanted to fit them. I wanted him to put them in the back of his bloody van and drive off – once he’d taken the old set off, of course. He was a nice guy. Young; lovely smile and the well-defined muscles of his trade but he had a natural desire to keep hold of his business. Even in the face of some daft woman who had read a tiny but controversial book about riding barefoot horses.

Barnaby leads the way

Barnaby leads the way

‘They won’t manage, love,’ he said, rubbing his chin and eyeing the sad state of Barnaby’s feet.

My daughter’s pony made him sigh but he placidly wrenched the old and worn shoes from their feet; gave them a trim and was ready to smooth their hooves with the heavy rasp that he could wield as if it was a nail file. He straightened his back, swept his hair from his head with one easy swipe and came to a decision without meeting my eye.

‘We’ll put shoes on their fronts; that’s the answer.’

I liked this guy; he was one of the nicest farriers I had used and we had shared a few hours over the years chatting about horses and drinking tea. He had been a competitive rider when he was younger and handled the animals with a sympathy and understanding that came from a genuine connection. But I was a coward and couldn’t find the words to tell him that farriers had become second to undertakers on my people-to-avoid-while-alive list?

He grabbed the tray of tools from the back of his blue van without waiting for my answer and was about to start up the furnace of his mobile forge. Years ago, I used to ride for miles to take my horse to the blacksmith but now the old forges have become bijoux dwellings and farriers have these little mobile jobs so they can hot shoe horses while they’re still in bed. The smell of burnt horse foot follows them like an invisible mist.

My voice was a bit too high pitched to be taken seriously. It needed measured base tones for men to know I meant business. So the first attempt didn’t quell the gas flame.

I needed to try harder since he wasn’t listening. I wanted my horses to be barefoot. We were only riding on the Forest, hardly any road work, so surely they didn’t need metal wrapped around their feet.

‘Nah, his feet will crumble. Look at that crack! White feet; they’re all the same. Weak and useless. He’ll never go barefoot.’

I took a look at the horse that had carted me around for the last five years. He was as strong as an ox and pulled like a tank; he had given me so many reasons to seek out good osteopaths who bemoaned the state of my weary and pulled shoulders. Every farrier that came within two yards of him warned me his feet were his only weak point. They cracked, they didn’t grow quickly enough and so they were full of nail holes with nowhere to fix a new shoe onto.

Horses grazing in a herd

So his feet were in a sorry state even though I had done everything conventional wisdom had advised. Dutiful and regular shoeing every six weeks.

It might have been the hammer that did it; then again the sight of the nails goaded me. Sharp and shining. Lined up neatly in their trays ready to be driven into Barnaby’s feet if this man had his way; consigned to the history books if I had mine.

One word was all it needed. A two-lettered one.

‘No.’

I explained again. ‘We don’t ride them very much. We don’t compete, you know, so I really think they’ll be fine. I don’t want the shoes on.’

Frankly, I would have chosen not to ride if it meant driving nails into their feet every few weeks. For goodness sake, their feet can’t move with metal shoes stuck on them.

I didn’t like to say the shoes were bad for them; I was full of my new-found cause and brimming with facts like a cynic who’d found god on Facebook. Nailing metal onto a moving part of a horse caused injuries, shrank their feet and gave them life-threatening diseases. One lone vet was swimming against the tide and saying their lives were being shortened dramatically by the practice. The average age of a euthanized horse was about eight years old so my two had already passed their sell-by date. But I didn’t like to hurt this man’s feeling by repeating this revolutionary thought and I hated confrontation.

‘Well, what am I going to do?’ he asked.

He seemed shaken with annoyance but he was only losing two horses from his list; he wouldn’t miss them, would he? I mean, I liked them, but surely he hadn’t got attached on such a short acquaintance. His face was tight as if he needed to hold onto his teeth. Embarrassment crept inside me.

‘What do you mean?’ I said.

‘I lose the business then, do I?’

‘Perhaps you could still trim them for me,’ I suggested, apologetically.

This was more than ten years ago. A set of shoes cost about £45 and I have no idea what that has risen to now. I was offering him a job that would yield him £10 or £20 per horse every six weeks at the most. It wasn’t much and he knew it. These horses would need trimming but his business was shoeing. To his mind, it was better for the horse to wear metal shoes since the perceived wisdom was, and still is, that they protect the foot. It was also better for his pay packet.

The little veterinary book that had set me on this journey had warned me against getting the farrier to trim their feet. They trim the feet, it warned, to fit a horse shoe rather than to set a horse up for his barefoot life. But, there weren’t many specialist barefoot trimmers in Britain at that time – I had heard of only one and she lived more than a hundred miles away – so who else would look after their feet?

It was looking more and more likely that this guy wouldn’t be coming back for my measly few pounds.

He flung the rasp to the ground. He wouldn’t look at me and turned away with a hunch of his shoulders. I wasn’t as daft as he thought because I understood and I sympathised but I was too English, too polite to tell him what I really thought of shoeing. Perhaps, we both knew that I would be the first of many owners who would take this step. Neither of us could have envisaged that we were witnessing one of the first cracks in a tradition of metal shoeing that has held sway for a thousand years; a crack that would grow, with or without my contribution, into a worldwide movement affecting thousands of horses. There would be prosecutions, vilification and plenty of hatred. But there would be no stopping the change that was coming.

Horse shoeing. My farrier thought it was essential. I thought it was killing the animals in our care. The middle ground argued it was a necessary evil.

We stood eyeing each other. I kept hold of my thoughts and waited. I had the upper hand. He had to do the job I was asking. Take off the shoes and trim their feet. Nothing more. Or someone else would do it.