The Blasphemous Blogger…

by Linda Chamberlain

You can measure the success of a campaign by the reaction of its opponents.blog - Tina Steiner

The other day a commentator on this blog accused me of blasphemy for suggesting that horses are better, happier and healthier if they are freed from their metal shoes.

Blasphemy! Personally, I thought that a bit strong. A touch over the top. Blasphemy is illegal in many countries of the world. In some, it carries the death penalty. Would I have to throw in my passport?

I was told to stop preaching. Because, of course, no equine could walk over stony ground or be ridden properly without the support we humans have contrived with the nailed-on metal shoe.

I was told I probably only rode my horse in an arena where the surface was soft and her bare toes were not challenged.

Here it is, in full. The comment that was made in response to my interview with ex-farrier and former professor of blog - Ringo in Basque countryfarriery, Marc Ferrador, who warned that ‘Horse Shoes Will Be Obsolete’.  (Please forgive the grammar and spelling. English is not her first language.)

She said – ‘Obviously you do not ride outside the box (ie: arena)  when you ride the concrete pavement roads this tends to ware off the hoof and when you have to ride down a gravel logging road or drive way or along the edge of the pavement those rocks cause stone bruising which will lay your horse up for a good 6 weeks or more soaking with hot Epsom salts helps but don’t cure it. there are also tiny rocks that will work up inside the the soft hoof walls and cause terrible abscesses and later blow out the whole side wall of the hoof.

‘Linda Chamberlain. I cannot imagine the purpose for your crusade in attempting to teach people the shoeing causes blog - Sarra Bear Mackenzie-Pilot on Lightninghazards to your horse and its health. you do realize your talking to people who know that horses have been shod for hundreds of years like we were not just born yesterday mmmkay?

‘You take off my horses shoes that would be like taking someone teeth out of their head. make them venerable to stone bruises and abscesses. quit preaching about things you know nothing of. when my horses dont have shoes i cant ride ok? and if i took them off for five years he still would be lame the first rock he crammed into his foot. the only hazards with horse shoes are they are slick on concrete. i dont know who your really going to convince of this blasphemy but blog - Monica Campori on Warren in kenyaif you do they never owned a horse that they rode outside the box. (arena)=box’

Well, I admit, I am no great advert for barefoot horse riding at the moment because my horse has been lame with laminitis. My daughter’s horse is much too careless with my safety to be entertained so I am busy rehabilitating Sophie with walks in hand. I will be back on board very soon as she is looking brilliantly sound and then I will be able to show off my skills.

I don’t have an arena but, when I was riding, you would have been impressed at the sight of the terrain we covered blog - Julie Allsop, gymkhanaon bare hooves.

I decided to publish the comment it because it made me smile and thought you might like to see it. Mostly. I don’t expect to convince everyone that barefoot is the right foot but never thought my blog would inspire such a backlash.

Then a prominent barefoot trimmer, Lindsay Setchell, who edits Barefoot Horse Magazine, got in touch. She told me a minor accusation of blasphemy was nothing.

‘We’ve had death threats!’ she told me.

My smile suddenly seemed inappropriate. This was no time for levity.  I started writing this article just before the blog - Joanna Hartlandshooting of MP Jo Cox and so knew that the climate was not right for the tone I was adopting. I considered dropping the article because I knew death threats, made on social media in particular, were not new. I had come across other trimmers who have faced abusive language and derision. I met one who suffered anonymous phone calls that were deadly in threat and tone. Riders have to defend themselves against the skeptics; it’s not easy and it’s not nice. Why so much hatred?

I asked Lindsay why barefoot horse riding attracted such vitriol. We were mainly a nice bunch of people who were kind and wanted a better world for our animals.

She said: ‘Many people who are pro-shoeing are in a big traditional bubble, they have no clue that if they stepped out blog - Lindsay Setchell on Oscof that bubble they would be in an enormous thriving world of successfully barefoot horses.

‘They tend to assume that barefoot is only for certain horses & not for horses in competition or in any amount of decent work. They’re truly not exposed to the amazing things that barefoot horses of all breeds & sizes can do in all different equine disciplines.

‘Because of this, they think that barefooters are few and far between and are either brainwashed, clueless, cruel or mad (or all of those things!). They have been ‘conditioned’ to believe that horses need shoes to stop their feet wearing away, support, balance & blog - Charlie Madeley, ski joringprotection. Often shoeing professionals are so utterly convinced that shoeing is an absolute necessity that they become blinkered & cannot comprehend what a true healthy foot actually behaves like or indeed looks like.

‘They also see their livelihoods threatened by people who are in their opinion no better than propagandists and scaremongers. They believe the hype that barefoot trimmers have no real training and therefore no clue about feet. All this leads them to bigotry and aggressive and often threatening behaviour….but it is changing!’

There is enough hatred and violence in the world. So I am very relieved to hear it.

And so, this is my message to those who think horses need metal on their feet – Take a look at the equines in this blog - Kim Gellatly Busbyarticle. They are not confined to a soft arena. They jump amazing heights. Tackle slippery ground. They gallop across the beach. They get dressed up smartly for a show. And they win some rosettes. Without the compromise, or the risk, of nailed-on footwear. Don’t be threatened. Don’t ban us from shows or slight us for being cruel. Find out how we achieve what you might think is the impossible.

I won’t preach any more – Instead, I will let these brilliant hooves from the Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook say it ALL.

My thanks to the following riders and their horses, hopefully in order – Tina Steiner at a reconstruction of the Battle of Bosworth, Ringo from the Basque country, Sarra Bear Mackenzie Pilot on Lightening, Monica Campori on Warren, Julie Allsop, Joanna Hartland, Lindsay Setchell with Osc, Charlie Madeley doing something called ski joring, Kim Gellatly barrel racing on Busby, Andrea Tyrrell, Isla McShannon on Bracon Tapdance, Claire Watt on Oreo, Deirdre Hanley with Prince, Carolyn Brown on Heart, Emma Leigh with Dilkara, Georgie Harrison jumping Phoenix, Helen Cross, Jennie Blakehill on City, Karen Davy with Ekko, Rosanna Houston driving Caspar, Richard Martin, Penny Anne Gifford riding Dodge and Sarah Hamilton on Pan – flying the barefoot flag!
blog - Andrea Tyrrellblog - Andrea McShannon's Isla on Bracon Tapdanceblog - Claire Watt on Oreoblog - Deirdre Hanley on Princeblog - Carolyn Brown, Heartblog - Emma Leigh, on Dilkarablog - Georgie Harrison, Phoenixblog - Helen Crossblog - Jennie Blakehill on Cityblog - Karen Davy on Ekkoblog - Rosanna Houston, Casperblog - Richard Martinblog - Penny Anne Gifford on Dodge

blog - Sarah Hamilton on Pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK NEWS

About Me – I am a journalist, author and barefoot horse owner. The shoes came off my horses about 16 years ago and now I would never return to shoeing one of my animals so that I could ride him. I recently opened a barefoot horse centre where we have 14 equines discovering the benefits of movement over varied terrain 24/7. (See blog post ‘Sweet Road to Comfort’). I am a regular contributor to Barefoot Horse Magazine and The Horse’s Hoof magazine.

My book – A Barefoot Journey – is an honest and light-hearted account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares. Available on Amazon UKand 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.’

Natural Horse Management magazine said – ‘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.’

My historical and romantic novel, The First Vet, is 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 more than 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!’

If you want to keep in touch, follow this blog or find me on Facebook…Another novel is in the pipeline! 

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Innocent victim…

by Linda Chamberlain

This is an urgent plea from a horse that had too many toxins in his life.

As the European Union considers whether to ban the controversial weedkiller glyphosate his voice may not be heard. But Otto has suffered life-threatening illnesses for years and his owner is in no doubt where the blame for some of his torment lies. Farming chemicals and antibiotics are thought to damage the gut and Otto has had plenty of exposure to both.

Otto, seen here at the height of his illness, mystified vets and hoof experts on both sides of the Atlantic who struggled to find the cause of his sore muscles and painful feet.

Otto 1

At one point a leading vet suggested he may have to be put to sleep unless he responded to the latest attempt to give him some relief.

His owner, Helen Jacks-Hewett, who bought him as a yearling colt said: ‘I felt so guilty, so utterly helpless  and responsible for Otto’s illnesses because something was very wrong and despite having a degree and years of experience and trusted, specialist vets on the case I was still none the wiser about the cause of his problems.’

His symptoms were enough to fill a medical encyclopedia…

From the age of three he had a tight back and sore muscles.

His behaviour was irritable.

His enzymes were raised, indicating muscle breakdown and inflammation. Tests, however, were inconclusive.

Vets advised treating him for myopathy (muscle disease) using a high fat/low starch diet. But as Helen explained: ‘Within three months he came down with laminitis!’

His pedal bone rotated as can be seen from these x-rays. Otto xray

And once the laminitis was under control his owner watched in horror as he suffered repeated abscesses in both front feet. Seven in total.

Powerful antibiotics, so more toxins, were prescribed in a battle to save him when x-rays showed an infection near his pedal bone.

Helen said: ‘That’s when my vet had the discussion with me. If he didn’t respond to the drugs then it would be game over.’

OK, trust me; I’m not going to give you a miserable ending to Otto’s story. His insulin levels eventually returned to normal; he got over the laminitis and he beat the abscesses. Helen had the joy of riding him once more. She began to hope she had her lovely horse back.

Sadly, there were more setbacks over the coming months and years. He kept showing signs of a myopathy, his hooves were weak, sometimes inflamed, and he was prone to infections. He was very familiar with antibiotics, he was fed conventional horse feed and the customary doses of wormer. Let’s be honest, a lot of owners might have decided that Otto was too ill for this life. As you can see, he didn’t look well…or comfortable…Otto 4

Then someone gave Helen the name of a woman who ran a small feed company and might be able to help. Really? Helen was not impressed but in spite of her cynicism decided to phone Dr Debbie Carley from Thunderbrook Equestrian.

You see, Helen didn’t know it in 2013 but she and Dr Carley had something in common. They both owned horses who had suffered life-threatening illnesses that had eluded the treatment of conventional veterinary medicine. Dr Carley nearly lost her entire herd when she moved to a home surrounded by arable farms, exposing the horses to high levels of farming sprays. The battle to save her animals is featured in an earlier blog about the feed industry – Beware of the Bucket.

Helen takes up the story again. ‘As far as I was concerned I had tried everything to help Otto. I had liaised with the best vets, nutritionists and hoof trimmers in both the UK and US so how would this lady from a small, relatively unheard of feed company be able to tell me anything I didn’t already know! I don’t know why but I called her anyway and thank goodness I did.

‘The first phone call I had with Debbie lasted ages and it was a revelation – she suggested ALL of Otto’s problems could be related to his hind gut being damaged and not functioning properly. She talked to me about the farmers’ fields that are adjacent to Otto’s paddock and what they probably get sprayed with many times a year that can cause gut damage.

‘All of this seemed plausible but I needed proof, so I ordered all the relevant supplements to help repair and restore Otto’s hind gut. I was still feeling highly suspicious that this approach would work but to my amazement within five days I started to see improvements in Otto’s muscle soreness and his general demeanour. He started to become the lovely, inquisitive boy that I’d seen when he was a yearling.

Otto 5

‘Over the next couple of months Otto blossomed and he became a normal horse for the first time in years.  He became a proper Arab under saddle and would hack for miles without getting tired.  The complete lack of muscle soreness and tension pretty much made my vet agree that Otto probably never had a myopathy in the first place and most likely his damaged hind gut was causing malabsorption of key vitamins and minerals essential for muscle function and a healthy immune system.

‘The only flare ups we have had since have been after crop spraying in the fields next door and rain water drainage from the same fields into our paddock. On the whole his feet are now rock crunching but again crop spraying locally causes rapid soreness for a couple of days. On advice from Debbie I give Otto activated charcoal on crop-spraying days to help mop up any chemicals that he may have ingested.’

So, Otto was saved but other horses will be suffering these worrying symptoms. Will they be so fortunate?

Glyphosate is a weedkiller but since coming out of patent farmers also use it to dessicate, or dry out, crops before harvesting thereby increasing the burden of chemicals on the outer layer of cereals. This is the part that is low in nutrition but commonly fed to animals.

Dr Carley is an expert in equine nutrition and is convinced glyphosate exposure damages the gut. She minimises the risk to her horses by stabling when neighbouring farmers are spraying, cleaning out water troughs and providing mostly organic feed and hay. Seeing her own horses struggle against life-threatening diseases led her to set up Thunderbrook Equestrian feed company.

Should something so high risk as glyphosate be sprayed on our food crops? It has been linked in studies to liver damage, kidney failure and Parkinson’s. A report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer has warned that it is ‘probably’ carcinogenic.

Do we need more evidence before it is banned?

About Helen

‘Potty’ about horses since the age of two, Helen is a McTimoney Animal Practitioner (chiropractic techniques) and Sports Massage Therapist working in North Somerset. Shoes were removed from her first horse Sapphire for Helenretirement at the age of 29 but the mare gained a new lease of life and was ridden barefoot for another six years. Sapphire had unbalanced hooves for most of her shod life and this spurred Helen’s studies. Her degree dissertation ‘The Effects of Unilateral Laterocoudal Tungsten-carbide Road Nails on Equine Mediolateral Hoof Balance’ helped to secure a first class degree and also won the 2001 Eqvalan Thesis of the Year. As a result she presented her dissertation to the prestigious National Equine Forum at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. ‘Speaking to vets and farriers was the most daunting thing I’ve ever done,’ she says. Her website is here.

Otto 12

Otto 11

Otto 8

 

 

 

 

Otto’s rock-crunching hooves…

About Otto

Otto is a purebred Arabian gelding, a descendant of one of the Polish state studs. His proper name Czarovitch means Crowned Prince in Polish. Barefoot all his life, he is 10 years old and Helen has owned him since he was a yearling. ‘I didn’t set out to buy a colt, especially not a grey one, but my heart ruled my head and I had a very strange feeling I’d met him somewhere before!’ she says. Otto 7

He is turned out 24/7 in a field which is modified into a paddock paradise track in the spring and summer.  It has two shelters and he has a pony called Jet (owned by Helen’s mum) for company. Ad lib hay is put in feeding stations to encourage movement. The track comes down in the winter to reduce poaching.  The paddock is downhill from neighbouring farmed fields giving problems with spraying and surface water run off.  Otto had a liver problem last September which occurred only a couple of days after a pre ploughing glyphosate spray. He became lethargic and blood tests showed his liver enzymes were high.

Helen says: ‘He got better after a few weeks on a liver supplement but it was too much of a coincidence it happened straight after spraying.’

Now they are to move to a property on the Mendip Hills, which is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This will help avoid exposure to agrochemicals and flooding in future.

About Me…

IMG_3822I’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.’

Natural Horse Management said – ‘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.’

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!’

If you want to keep in touch, follow this blog or find me on Facebook

 

Barefoot knocks on the stable door…

By Linda Chamberlain

Barefoot has failed to win the hearts of the British equestrian establishment but it is making huge inroads into the minds of the average horse rider.

So while there is a ban on barefoot horses competing in top show hunter classes, riders in other more dangerous disciplines report that more and more are taking part and succeeding without metal shoes.

hooves - ralitsa

Ten years ago it was hard to find a barefoot trimmer but numbers have increased, recommendations abound, and farriers are seeing the wisdom of providing their clients with a barefoot service. Our biggest welfare charity, however, the Royal Society for the Protection Against Cruelty to Animals, remains a shadowy presence and is resisting change. Trimmers, who have been working on lame horses, have been prosecuted in the past by the charity for cruelty and the trade of farriery is protected by law. So only qualified farriers can apply a shoe and the law has decreed that glue-on shoes sometimes used for the transition to barefoot are included. Trimmers who are careful take plenty of photos and video footage of their clients for two good reasons. The information is useful to see progress but will also provide evidence if allegations start to fly.

The attitude of the establishment is typified by the ban on barefoot horses from the show ring in working hunter and other classes. It was introduced a few years ago after a judge slipped while riding a horse wearing only front shoes. It’s ironic that you can hunt barefoot and risk your neck over treacherous ground and high hedges but you can’t enter a hallowed but safe arena and do a few circuits over the level grass on a show hunter!

The issue sparked a row between a national magazine called The Showing Journal and the 10,000-strong Barefoot Horse Owners Group on Facebook recently. Furious riders from the group hit back at claims in the magazine’s letters page which said barefoot horses were prone to slipping and must lead very dull lives, rarely leaving the schooling arena.

Here is the original letter and the editor’s response so you can read it for yourself. Not surprisingly it prompted members from the Facebook group to write back shouting ‘rubbish’ and citing examples of their success.

The Showing Journal

Members of the group are competing in endurance, cross country and show jumping and their horses are winning rosettes rather than falling all over the place. Every week they are posting of their successes in competitions around the country and report that their equines have good-enough grip to give them confidence in extremely wet conditions and over jumps.

Here are a few of our brilliant riders – L-R Richard Greer, Helen Jacks-Hewett and Rea Trotman.

Richard Greer

Helen - dressageRea 4It’s great that they report seeing other competitors who are barefoot when only a few years ago they might have been alone. That feeling of isolation was certainly a feature when I had the shoes taken off my own horses 15 years ago.

My daughter was a keen show jumper and I was watching her on her pony one weekend at a show when the voice of another mother intruded.

‘I thought only travellers or the hideously poor didn’t bother to shoe their horses,’ she said to her friend, loudly enough for me to hear.

The British are experts at the snobbish put down; prejudice is something we have perfected. The barefoot horse here still encounters such attitudes but thanks to the growing numbers of them who are enjoying active lives on their own hooves the tide is beginning to turn. Now their owners are much more likely to meet fellow barefoot enthusiasts rather than hostility.

How I would have welcomed a Facebook group such as ours 15 years ago for advice and support! Every day new members are joining, actually from all over the world, and it’s quite likely that by the end of 2015 there will be 10,000 of us – a force worth listening to. (Now up to 10,500) Many trimmers and some farriers have joined and offer advice; we have many experts on the admin team and such a breadth of experience among the members who share their thoughts.

Impossible to say how many barefoot equines there are in the UK – only that they are increasing every day.

Their owners often complain that the British climate makes barefoot harder than elsewhere in the world. We have rich grass, made richer thanks to abundant rain every spring and autumn, and we have soft ground in our fields. In order to ride on stony tracks or tarmac roads we are learning to change the living conditions for our animals when we can. Vast numbers of our barefooters struggle because of the regime at livery yards where they are obliged to use stables and lush, traditional pastures instead of track systems. So it is heartening to see more and more new-style yards appearing geared solely for the needs of the barefoot horse.

Picture 053

These are the havens which have minimal grass and maximum Barnabymovement. They know how to keep horses fit and healthy. They provide rough ground instead of soft turf; hills and hay stations and they are making it easier to go barefoot. Expertise is growing and the veterinary profession is occasionally looking on with interest instead of bemusement. Our success will soon make it impossible for the equine establishment to hold onto its hostility.

The above article has been published by The Horse’s Hoof magazine which is based in the US. My thanks to editor Yvonne Welz for her support for my books and asking me to write it! Here is a link to the magazine – check it out for yourself.

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-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) 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. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberIt 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 is one of the latest reviews – ‘What a wonderful book. Loved every page and cannot recommend it too highly. I would love to see the film.’

Keep in touch by following this blog or finding me on Facebook.

The carrot beats the stick…

by Linda Chamberlain

It is a shameful fact that if you go to a horse show you will see more sticks, spurs and strong bits…than you will carrots.

In fact, I can’t remember if I have ever seen a competitor pull a carrot from the pocket of their smart riding jacket to reward their horse while they are still in the ring.

This is why you need to meet Luca Moneta; you need to follow his career, his Facebook page and, if you feel the urge, to cheer him on. He is a top, international show jumper from Italy. This is him winning at Olympia in the Puissance in 2013 scaling a wall more than seven feet in height.

 Jumping seven feet!

Jumping seven feet!

It’s very sad that he is so different in the equestrian world – personally, I would like him to be even more different but more of that later…!

And the carrot is the key to all this.

You might ask yourself, ‘So what! The man dishes out some treats.’

That treat is the tip of the iceberg, the tiny bit that the public sees and loves…and approves. It underpins the training he gives his horses and reflects the lifestyle they enjoy.

Luca works by reward, by taking stress out of the equation. Many of his horses come to him with difficult behaviour and a troubled history. He plays Parrelli and ball games with them, he builds up their trust. Rewarding and encouraging all the way. If he’s working them over jumps his hand might reach for his pocket after just a few obstacles. There’s a downside of course. One of his top horses has been known to whinny for a treat before the end of a round which must be a bit inconvenient!

Luca on Neptune

Luca on Jesus

Luca on ConneryLuca on Ciccio

He told me: ‘I always try to work my horses through the emotional training. The objective is to face stressful situations through play and, thanks to high levels of energy, arrive at the “stress point”, help them find a solution and learn to relax.

‘I think training with positive reinforcement in the horse creates the urge to try to do the right thing, which is called “positive effect”. The horse, instead of refusing an order, seeks solutions first to receive the reward, and then becomes more collaborative, more enthusiastic and intelligent.’

Riding in the woods to relax before an event

Riding in the woods to          relax before an event

The lifestyle for Luca’s team must also help produce a more relaxed athlete. So many show jumpers are stabled for long periods and their owners are too fearful to allow them turnout with other horses. That regime is not for Luca. His young horses are mainly barefoot and many of his top horses are bare behind and so he has less worry over kicks and injury. He gives them plenty of turn out in small herds; he wants them to be horses.

Luca's horse

He regards shoes as a ‘necessary evil’ and I get the sense that he wishes there was another way.

‘I had and I often have barefoot horses. I find however that shoeing is a choice that has its strengths and weaknesses. I think, for the horses, it is nice to go to the grass in the group, and if the horses are barefoot behind it gives me less concern when they are together. Also if they have a good nail I tend to keep them barefoot, and so when I have periods when I can afford it, I keep them barefoot to allow the nail to bulk up without iron. I find this logical, considering that three year old horses trot on the stones without shoes without any problems whereas older horses who lose a shoe have hurt their foot and can no longer walk. And this precisely because continuing to protect them, the feet are weakened.

‘My young horses who have never had their feet weakened by shoeing get along very well with the bare foot, in fact I think it’s useful to these horses to shoe them as late as possible.’

I don’t think it will be long before this top rider discovers they don’t need to be shod at all…(scroll down to see one of my favourite horses Troy being barefoot and bold on very slippery ground in an earlier post).

Luca began riding at a young age. His brother was an endurance rider and put his sibling in the saddle, wanting his help. ‘I have made it my passion, my dream and my work,’ he says.

I asked him about the highlight of his career but he says that ‘when you are in contact with a horse it is always a wonderful moment for me.’

Time for a carrot - training without a bridle

Time for a carrot – training without a bridle

Fortunately for his horses, carrot production in Italy has increased and is able to meet Luca’s enormous demands!

But I wanted to know what he would do for the horse if I could make him il presidente for a day.

‘Surely, I wish that it were forbidden to slaughter any horse that has had a sporting career. Riders should provide for a provision to create a fund to guarantee a future for their horses. You might think to tie the passport of any competition horse to a “card accumulation” that allows to set aside over the years what is necessary to allow a sort of retirement; to enjoy a well-earned rest at the end of his career. We should guarantee our fellow horses a wonderful life even when they cannot give.’

He deserves to be elected with such a manifesto.

And finally, just a photo I found on his Facebook page – not all Luca’s horses are sports horses and not all riders are human…It’s a winner, isn’t it?

Sun and sunny - lessons

BOOK NEWS          BOOK NEWS          BOOK NEWS          BOOK NEWS          BOOK NEWS

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-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) 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. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberIt 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 36 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!’

Keep in touch by following this blog or finding me on Facebook.

Silencing the Whisperers

by Linda Chamberlain

There is a new generation of horse whisperers. They work with our animals so peacefully, so silently that you hardly know they’ve done anything at all.

IMG_3786

Perhaps you’ve read The Horse Whisperer, or seen the film and know something of the techniques. Or like me, you may have seen Monty Roberts work with horses. It’s impressive but it’s not about having a quiet, little chat with the horse before it takes a rider on its back for the first time. Put simply, Monty understands the ‘language’ of the herd and mimics the actions of the lead mare to produce some obedience or cooperation from the youngster he’s working with. He’s a great showman and he understands the horse deep down.

Monty and others like him became known as horse whisperers but, thanks to one particular horse, I have recently met a couple of professionals who appear to communicate in a much quieter way.  Neither of them would fill the Albert Hall; there’s no show, no razzmatazz and they would probably hate the label. The horse who has introduced these people into my life is Tao – I wrote about her in an earlier blog and will give you a link to it at the end.

Tao is my daughter’s horse who came to us as a never-been-ridden five year old. She’d had a bad start in life, lacked cover 16food and care and is probably lucky to be alive thanks to the people who saved her from a building site! Well, Amber backed her while studying for her degree but Tao was very accident prone, hated anything that smacked of medical intervention or worming syringes and had her own list of things-I-don’t-like. We worked around them.

On one of the vet’s numerous visits we talked about teeth. It’s routine horse maintenance to have teeth checked and rasped and was something I had neglected, possibly deliberately.  An appointment was made and the vet joked: ‘I’ll bring plenty of sedatives.’

Armour might also have been useful. I laughed but later cancelled the visit. Because I thought a horse that’s never had a dentist examine and tend to her mouth should have a chance to do it nicely. Along came Simon Vieweg, a second-generation equine dentist from Westrow Equine Dental Service who was recommended by a couple of friends.

Without wanting to put him off, I told him about our girl. Simon took Tao’s lead rope from me and stroked her head. Then he held her and brought his face close to hers, his hand resting on her forehead. He didn’t want me or need me nearby. They were having a silent, peaceful ‘chat’.  He closed his eyes and stayed with her for a bit. Then he quietly introduced her to the dentist’s rasp. He let her hold it in her mouth (like a bit) and gradually she allowed him to do his work while my daughter and I picked ourselves up off the floor.  She even let him put on the specialist gag which allowed him to reach her back teeth. We were slightly in awe.

I asked Simon why he had that quiet time with horses before working on them because I had never seen any dentist bother before.

‘I like them to get to know me,’ he said. ‘It’s important for both of us because I need to understand them too.’ He’s never had any training in horse communication; it’s something that comes naturally to him, perhaps because his father was in the profession before him. Jacqui wth T

Now, I want to introduce you to another horse helper who Tao had need of last year. You see, our little chestnut mare began refusing to leave the yard either ridden or for a walk. She seemed depressed and upset after my friend’s horse had to be put to sleep bringing our small herd of three down to two. At first, like many owners, we thought she was being naughty. We asked ourselves whether she was eating too much grass which can make her silly. Amber got cross and forced the issue but was given the ride from Hell as her reward. I decided Tao was deeply upset when I took her only remaining field mate for a ride. Instead of whinnying, Tao said nothing but stood in the field shelter with her head lowered as Carrie left her.

Could she really be grieving for her friend who was put to sleep? I asked around and many, many people said YES. So I contacted my friend Jacqui Howe (left with Tao) who was studying the Trust Technique. She has since qualified in this method of animal communication and set up her own practice but she agreed to come and visit.

She felt Tao’s refusal to leave home was linked to the loss of her friend. She felt Tao was confused and upset, possibly fearing she might be next!

Whatever the horse thought, it was important to reduce her anxiety for everyone’s safety.

I’m going to describe the Technique as relaxation training for people and horses (or other animals). It teaches you to clear your mind of thoughts and get ‘into the present’ – in other words stand with your horse, listen to the sounds of its breathing, the birdsong, the trees but get rid of all that other stuff like the year-end accounts.

Once we humans get to a quieter state, so do our horses. Tao and Carrie stood with us and they began to relax too, their heads lowered, they yawned and chewed. Jacqui suggested I talked to them about the loss of their field companion – not because they would instantly understand me but they are intuitive creatures and will pick up our feelings. It wasn’t easy, I cried…but I spoke.

And then Jacqui suggested we took them for a walk to the house. It was breathtakingly easy, with no anger or waving of back legs from Tao. I was very happy and then something amazing happened. Carrie began licking and grooming Tao’s neck. Now, if Carrie were a human, she would drink pints and ride a motorcycle.

I told Jacqui, ‘She’s an aggressive mare, the boss. She never does that nurturing thing!’

Amber on Tao-WEB VERSION

Amber with Tao – before things went wrong

‘It felt like a real message of well done from Carrie, didn’t it?’ Jacqui said, smiling.

Jacqui visited a few more times and soon Tao was being led in hand on our rides again. Her first time out saw much more resistance from our little mare. Each time she wanted to stop, Jacqui waited with her, emptying her mind, being patient until Tao relaxed and finally…decided to come. It felt like such an achievement.

 

Thinking about both of my lovely practitioners – it seems as if less was more.

Here is an earlier blog about Tao.

Check out Jacqui’s website for more info. Here is the link.

Simon Vieweg of Westrow Equine Dental Service is here.

Please don’t make them too busy so I can’t use them anymore!

BOOK NEWS    BOOKS NEWS    BOOK NEWS    BOOK NEWS

Just published – A Barefoot Journey, my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available onAmazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe First Vet, 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, which has more than 30 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society, sold out at the prestigious international show at Hickstead! Still available on Amazon though…

And thanks to reader Andrea Mash for sending me this heartwarming feedback –  ‘I didn’t know as much as I do now about feet, still don’t know an awful lot but I could tell my girl wasn’t happy & her fronts looked so squashed together from underneath, I started looking into barefoot and took Linda Chamberlain’s book (A Barefoot Journey) on holiday to read. That was it. I had booked my farrier to take her shoes off and an equine podiatrist before I’d even got back from my hols. 3 weeks in now, podiatrist coming again Saturday, can’t wait to see what she thinks.’ Good luck to Andrea and her brilliant thoroughbred. Keep us posted…

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A Bit Much?

by Linda Chamberlain

This is allowed…

dressage horse

And yet…this is not…

bitless dressage

You might think you’ve misread that or jumbled up the photos but no…bitless bridles are effectively banned in dressage competitions around the world. There is no rule against them as such but judges award points to horses that are ‘submissive’ to the bit and so if you ride without one, you can’t join in. And it doesn’t matter how good your horse is; or how well you ride.

Pressure is mounting across the globe for a re-examination of the rules – there’s already been a relaxation in Holland in lower levels of competition. But you won’t find many more traditional places than the equestrian world which is hostile to change.

A top-level meeting was held last month in the UK following pressure from a group of riders – a David-against-Goliath situation if ever there was one. The group are members of a British Horse Society training club in Norfolk. They have support from their MP, Norman Lamb, who is a former government minister; they ride their horses bitless and it’s a testament to their persistence that the talks took place at all. Round the table were key people from the sport – British Dressage, the British Equestrian Federation, the British Horse Society and World Horse Welfare. The horse world is eagerly waiting to hear what will come from those talks and whether the UK will provide a catalyst for change. A press release has yet to be issued.

Dressage, which is proudly sponsored by numerous feed manufacturers, is all about the horse displaying a high level of training. The horse must be ‘on the bit’ – a rough translation 100 years ago from the French ‘dans le main’. Even from my rusty grasp of the Gallic language I know there’s a possible error here because the literal translation means in the hand.

Carl Hester the Olympic dressage rider, is quoted on social media as saying he has no problem competing against those who ride bitless.

But a change would need to come internationally for the system to work because national competitions feed into international ones.  If a bitless horse became a British champion he wouldn’t be able to represent his country on the world dressage stage. I can see that’s a problem but the issue isn’t going away. More and more riders are turning to bitless bridles and finding they can achieve high levels of equitation. Not surprisingly they are frustrated at the exclusion – even at amateur events and local competitions.

There are welfare concerns about using a bit to control a horse but the UK campaign group – A Bit More Choice – is calling for riders to be able to choose what bridle they use; they don’t seek a ban on the bit which is said to be a development of the Bronze Age.  I’ll give you a link to the group’s Facebook page at the end of this blog.

But let’s look at those welfare worries and see whether they are convincing.  Anyone with blood in their veins can look at the two photos above and see that one horse is ridden in a strong bit and is foaming at the mouth. He’s performing to a very high level and the rider has him held between the leg and the hands as the sport requires. Is there pain involved? Your guess is as good as mine.

My other rider (photographed by Sallist Lindqvist) is bitless. There is no foaming, the rider has no spurs but the horse is performing at a high level and it’s a beautiful sight. All appears relaxed and pain free.

Scientific evidence is available from the renowned vet Dr Robert Cook who has developed a cross-under bitless bridle. He’s from the US but graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in the 1950s. He compared skulls of the domestic, ridden horse with those of its wild cousins. The majority of domestic horses showed evidence of bit-induced damage – bone spurs in the jaw. Cook says on his website that the horse’s mouth is one of the most sensitive parts of its anatomy. The application of pressure from a steel rod inserted in this cavity inflicts unnecessary pain and can frighten a horse, he says.

Bracy Clark, who is the subject of my novel The First Vet, was vehemently against the use of strong bits 200 years ago. He was also concerned about metal horse shoes – but that’s another subject. Clark wrote that a ‘horse that is free of pain will lead from the thinnest piece of cord’.Catherine Campbell - dressage

Helen - 2In the 21st century, should we be using such bits for our sport…or our pleasure…when there is an alternative?

Helen - dressageI asked members of my favourite Barefoot Horse Owner’s Group on Facebook to send me some photos of them Monica - dressageworking barefoot and bitless to illustrate this blog. I’m going to let them all inspire you; I couldn’t leave any out.

The recent talks might offer hope of progress. The rider’s group is hoping to meet MP Norman Lamb again soon and at least a dialogue with the dressage authorities has been opened. If you are a member of British Dressage or the British Horse Society, now is the time to make your views known on bridleKaterine Anne - dressage equality.

Lina Hallberg - dressageDressage is a beautiful art. It’s wonderful to watch but if it wants to win the hearts and minds of today’s forward-thinking horse lovers it might need to leave the Bronze-Age equipment to the history books.

You can find A Bit More Choice on Facebook.

                                                                              * * * * *

BOOK NEWS – just published – A Barefoot Journey, my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book, which has more than 30 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society, sold out at the prestigious international show at Hickstead! Still available on Amazon though…

Christine BlackettThanks to reader Christine Blackett for letting me see one of the highlights of her holiday in South Africa – that’s a good spot to put your feet up for a nice read!

Press the follow button to keep in touch, find me on Facebook or leave a comment here – I love to hear from you. Email me if you would like to receive updates about the books. New one coming – well, just started it! Very excited…

Barred for being bitless…

by Linda Chamberlain

A Royal show gets ready to open its doors – but this is one competitor who will have to stay at home.

Rea 4

Not because the horse isn’t a top performer…and not because the rider isn’t willing and able. Have a look at the photo – Rea Trotman can ride that horse of hers with no hands. Over jumps.

So why does the Retraining of Racehorses Organisation have such a problem with their entry at the Royal Norfolk Show? The animal is barefoot but that’s not a stumbling block for the horse, the rider or the show. No the difficulty, it seems, is the choice of bridle if they want to enter a jump challenge for retrained racehorses.

You see this beautiful thoroughbred, who has won countless races at Ascot, Goodwood and Doncaster, is now ridden with a bitless bridle. His owner has chosen this for him as a kindness because his teeth aren’t as good as they used to be and anyway…he doesn’t need a metal bit, jangling around in his mouth in order for him to understand his rider’s requests.

Rea, who has owned Danegold for the last seven years, read about the harm bits can cause to teeth and jaws, and decided he should never wear one again. As you can see, it hasn’t slowed them down.

They’ve entered plenty of low-key fun shows, showjumping and sponsored rides but Rea thought it was time they stepped up a gear.Rea 6

The Royal Norfolk Show is the biggest agricultural show in the country and the Queen is its patron. More than 1000 horses are expected to enter and over the two days in July about 90,000 people will come to watch the spectacle.

 

It’s a fair bet that those spectators would love to see what can be achieved by a barefoot and bitless horse like Danegold.

And wouldn’t the Queen, were she to attend this year, be impressed  with a wonderful ex-racehorse proving how well these beautiful animals can adjust to life after the track?

The class Rea hoped to enter includes a course of jumps and an individual show. ‘My horse would excel in this class as it is judged on style and performance,’ she said. ‘He is very laid back and well behaved; he deserves to show everyone just how great ex-racers can be.’

She decided to check with the retraining organisation’s officials but was told there were rules against bitless bridles for this class although not for showjumping.  ‘The reasons were shocking,’ she added. ‘They made no sense. Seeing a bitless ex-racer demonstrates complete retraining, which is what the class is all about.’

Rea has much in common with other bitless or barefoot riders who are falling foul of the rules of competitions in the UK.

Rea 3

The rules governing our shows are in a complete muddle. You can participate in extremely dangerous equine activities such as racing, showjumping and hunting without metal applied to your horse’s mouth or feet. But you aren’t allowed to do many dressage competitions without a bit. Rules for working hunter classes insist on both bits and shoes even though you can ride without either if you are hunting across the fields. Many barefoot riders say they are frustrated at the exclusion. One person told me they were stopped from competing in a Pony Club team because a ‘barefoot horse was an unfit horse’.

And just listen to this story from Monica Andreewitch of the Pony Academy in Surrey who teaches children to ride on ponies wearing just a rope halter. She had six children eager and ready to go to a jumping competition and then realised the rope halters might cause a bit of a stir. She checked with the organisers and was told that juniors must ride in a bitted bridle.

‘After pondering and checking with my soul, I decided that I could trust the children with bridles,’ she said. ‘They have independent seats and do not hang onto their halters – so why would it be different in bridles?’

Monica bowed to pressure. The children competed. The ponies weren’t jabbed in their mouths and they did cause a stir thanks to their notable control with long, loose reins. Not everyone can or will comply. For Rea and Danegold, there are dental health issues that cannot be ignored.

Rea 5

But frankly, these competition rules are silly. Or are they about tradition for its own sake?

I can’t help worrying that all this nonsense stems from utter embarrassment. There are a growing number of people who ride like Rea. They have a close connection with their horse. They achieve amazing things without whips or spurs and they do it without hands sometimes and make the rest of us feel like novices again. Imagine feeling like that if you are a judge. Is this the reason such riders are excluded? Are they too good? Too kind? They are not in need of whips, spurs and strong bits – all of which are welcomed with open arms.

The only time I’ve seen a rider booed as she left a showjumping arena was thanks to over use of a whip. A horse refused some jumps in a top competition at Hickstead and was eliminated. The horse was punished severely with a whip. The rider was jeered and humiliated by the crowd. If the public knew of the potential harm caused by shoes and bits, the public would not be amused by the equine world.

 So, here is my message to the rule makers and show organisers. Keep up with this growing equestrian movement towards less coercion and fewer gadgets. Embrace it because it’s good horsemanship; it’s humane and wonderful. Welcome it because the public, and probably the Queen, would love to see it. They would probably cheer!

 

THANKS to everyone for supporting this campaigning blog. My interview with ex-farrier Marc Ferrador last month had more than 30,000 hits in a week! Click on the follow button to keep in touch and leave me a comment as I love to hear from you.

BOOK NEWS – published this week – A Barefoot Journey, my honest and light-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback and Kindle.

BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberLinks to The First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – Amazon UK. Amazon US.