by Linda Chamberlain
Meet Marc Ferrador. He was a much-respected farrier who had serious doubts about nailing shoes to horses’ hooves and decided to do something about it. Colleagues thought he was crazy when he announced he was turning his back on his trade but amazingly he convinced ninety per cent of his customers to try barefoot riding.
Now he says not only is the metal shoe harmful but so too is the horse’s lifestyle. In this interview, he calls on vets, farriers and riding teachers to bring themselves up to date for the sake of the animal which is suffering because of ‘this lack of evolution’.
Marc, who works in Catalonia, Spain, used to ride and compete. Twelve years after qualifying as a farrier he became a professor of farriery. In that time he worked on the creation of the curriculum and also a handbook for courses approved for the European Federation of Farriers Association. He describes the terrain in Catalonia as ‘special’ – it can be dry and unforgiving, so it’s a challenge to ensure horses are transitioned to barefoot without pain.
Please tell us about the moment you realised the harm shoeing causes.
The change in my professional career does not occur in a specific moment. I was a farrier and teacher for 14 years in the Official School of Farriers in Barcelona and some pupils and clients questioned me about the ‘barefoot movement’ so I started to search for information and people who were trimming nearby.
I wanted to see what happens when horses live barefoot. One of the biggest pillars of my change was to realise that young horses
lose health in their hooves with each shoeing. It makes them change the balance of the load on their hooves and even though every farrier of the world knows this, most of them are still shoeing horses.
It is stupid to be unaware of what a barefoot horse offers and decide to put a nailed-on shoe over his live structures to help him. We need to better understand those hooves (and horses) so that we can support most efficiently their health.
When a shod horse works hard, all his structures are stressed and he falls into a state of chronic disease – mechanical laminitis, infection in the water line, cracks across nails perforations, very stressed soles and stunting the back of the hoof. When a transitioned barefoot horse works hard, his structures are fine and healthy.
When I understood that you can’t help horses by systematically shoeing I looked for new hoof management systems to see how to protect them without a permanent shoe.
I had doubts and questioned my old teachers, as well as the master farriers and vets that I met. But none of them had any doubt about the iron nailed shoe and the horse’s welfare. This inability from the farrier/vet sector to be critical about their own work was the other reason to start my emancipation.
How did you feel knowing that your business had been shoeing?
Once I had information about barefoot horses and the new generation of hoof boots which can protect when needed I was ready to start my ‘transition’ with good arguments to explain my change to my clients. This was in 2009.
I told them that I can better help your horse’s welfare with these techniques because the nailed-on shoe, as well as the horse’s actual lifestyle, are obsolete and harmful.
I was able to transform ninety per cent of my customers to barefoot and have slowly found new clients – thanks to my internet site. Ten per cent left me. I was not angry about this, on the contrary, because they were good clients during the last 14 years and I searched a farrier for them. Some of them changed their mind in the last years and thanks to the good relations between us I started to work with them again. I can’t change everyone’s mind in one shout because I had also needed time to change.
I am proud to say that friend farriers and vets sent me customers who wanted their horses barefoot. I’ve been lucky in that aspect.
Nowadays, I’m very happy and feel fine with my option, because it is stupid to deceive yourself because you are afraid to lose some customers and money. I understand that nobody can change his mind in one day but you never can have a good excuse about not doing your job well.
All these business matters can change with good planning and good work with people and horses. If you only work with the human part or with the horse part of your business, then sure you will get only a part of the achievement. Working with horses is also working with people. In front of each horse there is a person and if you want to help horses it is essential to treat people with respect.
What reaction did you get from fellow farriers?
There were different reactions. Some said I was crazy, others that I would lose a lot of money with this change. But now I have good customers and a very good reputation.
The other typical comment during that time was that not all horses have such good hooves to go barefoot.
They did not realize that the problem is not in the hooves but the life style of the horses.
Track systems provide a better lifestyle for horses
Some other farriers also said they did not want to explain about how to improve the welfare of their clients’ horses.
I am very lucky to have here, in Catalonia, a group of farriers that trust me after sharing a lot of courses, farriers’ competitions and clinics. So the Catalan farriers usually share with me some doubts and ask me questions without problem and request me information about barefoot. I have always been happy to answer them.
Once I attended a National Congress of Veterinary and Farriers and realised that change is possible but needs to start inside the farriers’ community.
The horse world urgently needs a big change especially in everything related to horse welfare. For that reason we cannot waste time with silly arguments about morality. We need more science, more education and more results and all this can be done if we start transforming part of our existing professional sector.
In Europe, farriers learn in public schools and it is an accessible job, like veterinarians. We must be able to reach these young people to ensure a better future for our horses and not lose more time in a stupid war between different companies certified in barefoot, as the vast majority have no more than a business vocation to help horses.
This change comes by being generous. A young farrier who is well prepared can get in contact with many of the experienced farriers to learn from them without any expense. I’ve enjoyed this generosity and have learnt with the best people.
It is merely a matter of having access to good training, even after the studies. Barefoot professionals often remain closed to any other trimming methods and this is very dangerous as it impoverishes the quality of their work and its results. We are professionals. We are part of the horse’s health and this has a great responsibility, to use all the resources and techniques to help and heal our patients.
Why would you never shoe again?
In fact, I tried it on two occasions, both for rehabilitation issues. One with a horseshoe and the other with synthetic horseshoe extensions for a rescued horse who had severe deep flexor tendon retraction and after the operation, I put the orthopaedic horseshoes on for three months.
My commitment is with the health of my patients. I promise to use correctly all the resources that are on my hands. I understand that it would be irresponsible from my side not to do it.
In fact these are the only two cases in which the best option was the horseshoe, but over the last years I have been able to solve ninety nine per cent without using horseshoes in pathological cases, and in some cases inventing new orthopaedics that are not nailed or perpetual. We need a new orthopaedics catalogue.
In my experience, problems begin with a bad or lack of diagnosis which will lead to a bad solution. Never in history have there been so many well trained and equipped veterinarians as today. So, we can deduce that there is a problem with their attitude.
On a scale of 1-10, how serious a harm is shoeing to the horse?
Except in the one per cent of rehabilitation cases, I would say 10. We live in the 21th Century, with tactile screens, nanotechnology and drones. Is it logical to put an iron piece with nails to ‘protect’ the hoof? Of course, it is not.
The nailed shoe is seriously harmful. Just see how it deforms the soft tissues. But although we do not like to recognize it, the horseshoe has some advantages. It is minimalist compared to boots, it is highly integrated, leaving much open sole and is much cheaper.
Can you understand the reasons for hostility from some farriers towards barefoot?
Yes, of course. Farriers feel their job is at risk. They also feel hostility to those who “trim” horses barefoot rather than to barefoot itself. If you allow me to do the devil’s advocate, some farriers may be right when they say that a lot of people practising barefoot are not well prepared because they learnt in private schools or certifier organisations which demonize farriers and horseshoes instead of having a serious and scientific proposal about how to help the horse and its health, which unfortunately not too many farriers do.
More and more horses are barefoot. Are you surprised how many? Or did you hope more would convert by now?
I am not surprised right now but when I started with barefoot it surprised me that lots of people contacted me through my website in just a few months. Now, it is possible to find a lot of information about it on internet and not to be limited by the knowledge of the farrier or vet. This has allowed barefoot knowledge to spread very fast and to all the world.
But I was disappointed when I heard so much misunderstanding that most of the people had about barefoot horses. Most of them thought it was ideal because it was healthy, cheap and natural! As farriers, I had to fight with many owners who gave priority to their own interest against their horse´s ones. Unfortunately, this attitude is not exclusive to the barefoot world.
In Catalonia, barefoot professionals have to be well prepared because the land is very special and not everybody knows how to convert a horse to barefoot without pain and discomfort. There is a lot to be done, not all is invented. A most scientific vision could be the key to develop much more technique.
And I am sure that the profile of a barefoot horse using a non-permanent protection when he really needs it and to improve the stabling and care systems, is going to be extended and normalized in a decade, and the iron horseshoe nailed as standard will be obsolete.
What do you feel when you see a horse in shoes?
At first, I feel pity. Then I assess how damaged is each structure. I cannot help it. It’s a shame that there are still people who shoe their horses for practical reasons, without thinking how it is affecting the health of their horses, with the support of owners of riding schools and coaches.
The attitude of riding schools and teachers has not been updated and is slowing down the evolution of the horse sector and its well-being. Again, lots of work to do. It is understandable that people who want their horse to be healthier feel aversion towards farriers, vets and riding schools.
What are your 3 top tips for successful transition to barefoot?
The owner has to be aware of what transition means and what is the meaning of having a barefoot horse. It is about the horse, not just about hooves. The horse needs suitable feeding, the right environment and good handling. It is also important to understand that if we take off the horseshoes, the horse and its hoof structures will mark when and what to do.
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 do not know very well the situation in the UK, but I guess it is similar to what happens in France, where there has been a legislative change and only veterinarians and farriers can manage the hooves of horses. Certified training companies are excluded.
Based on my experience, I would say that a person who has made an intensive course of 10 or 15 days, is not ready to do podiatry. Farriers have a long experience in serious cases, technique and different methods of handling difficult horses, physical exhaustion, etc.
We have to appeal to the responsibility if we want barefoot to be extended and make sure we have the best professionals. But we must request the same attitude to formal schools of farriers and veterinarians. Their training curriculum are obsolete and yet it is vital because the health of the horse is suffering from this lack of evolution. If everybody is up to date, there will be little difference between farriers and trimmers. From my point of view, this is the way.
The English vet Bracy Clark believed 200 years ago that shoeing deformed hooves and led to early death. Do you agree?
I totally agree that with horseshoes, the feet are deformed, and it is something known by all farriers in the world. But I could not say how much the lives of horses are reduced. It is risky to say without having a serious study to support it, because there are too many factors that can influence the life of a horse. I have known horses that have lived more than 35 years and some others who have been always barefoot and not reached 25 years.
On the other hand, it is unquestionable that damage is produced by the metal horseshoe in the foot health, in vascular return, in the joints and tendon, proprioceptive, lymphatic, etc …
Horseshoes produce numerous harmful effects, specially for immobility, producing degenerative habituation and damaging soft tissues. I say degenerative habituation because it is used in human health when prolonged immobilization harmfully affects the soft tissues and tendon tone.
What is your vision, your dream, of the future for the domestic horse?
Good locations and a healthy lifestyle. Updating and unification of the most important and basic health criteria and welfare of horses at all academic levels, leaving aside the dogmas and enhancing the scientific view.
Rule out the metal horseshoe nailed as usual and leave it as a possible aid in cases of clinical surgery and in extreme cases of rehabilitation. Exponentially improve protections for hooves with a better design, being more minimalist and having a better cost. Use only trimming systems that are radiologically corroborated.
Change the degree of farrier by podiatry, without the systematic use of horseshoes. Have serious studies of feral horse populations in the world to give us more accurate information than we have today. Create greater synergy between society and what is a healthy horse with pedagogy, collaboration and disclosure because we have to reset the old stereotype of horse that is deeply rooted and is doing so much damage.
I also desire that there many more places like this blog, where you can freely express different experiences to help improve the situation of the horse world. Thanks for your interest and your work, Linda. And also, I would like to thank Ainhoa Gomez and Roberto Reyes for the translation of this interview.
Thanks to Marc for answering my questions and coping with an interview in a second language. Interesting that he uses the word patient for the horse – an apt description for an animal coming out of shoes. You can contact Marc on his website.
As always – get in touch with your thoughts and comments. I love to hear from you. And don’t forget to press the follow button to keep in touch. My novel The First Vet inspired by Bracy Clark is available on Amazon UK (£6.99 paperback and £2.24 for the ebook on Kindle) and Amazon US. It will shock you that this brilliant man exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was ridiculed by a corrupt veterinary establishment. The book is a historical romance, full of horses and adventure, as well as real history. It has 35 five-star reviews on Amazon UK and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society. It was a sell out this summer at the international showjumping at Hickstead.
And my non-fiction book A Barefoot Journey is coming soon. Here’s a sneak preview of the cover!
STOP PRESS – NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON – £2.84 FOR THE PAPERBACK. 99P FOR THE KINDLE EDITION In this light-hearted account I tell how I battled with my farrier, coped with derision from other riders and saved a horse from slaughter. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Amazon UK and Amazon US.