by Linda Chamberlain
Richard Greer’s life is all about putting broken horses back together. It’s the one thing that ‘makes him tick’, he says.
But like many of us he remembers the one that got away – the horse that you might have saved if you’d known what you do now.
For Richard, that horse was a talented grey mare whose early training had gone wrong. He spent a year working with her, was making a breakthrough and then something went horribly wrong. The mare, who was shod, was diagnosed with navicular. She couldn’t be saved and was eventually put to sleep.
‘It broke me and I pretty much quit the horse game,’ he says. ‘ A lot of horses break down at that age, around 11, and I wonder how much is down to shoes and the resulting trauma on the rest of the body. If I’d considered barefoot at the time as part of her rehab maybe I’d have saved her.’
The regret is evident but Richard, who is making a name for himself as a trainer as well as a rider on the British Team Chase circuit, didn’t give up the horse game.
The loss of that mare affects what he does now. His own horses are barefoot and clients who bring their animals to his yard are offered a choice during their stay – farrier or barefoot trimmer.
He takes part in what appears to be one of the more dangerous equine sports – team chasing – on a fearless horse called Troy who is barefoot and brazen about it. (Did The Showing Journal really say barefoot horses lead dull and slippery lives, rarely leaving the sand school? Sadly, yes.)
Troy is probably laughing into his bucket. For this is a horse who thunders around a course of jumps in all weathers but doesn’t know what a stud is. (Troy, they are put onto horse shoes, as well as football boots, in wet weather for additional grip but they can wreak havoc on tendons and joints in exchange for the extra anchorage.)
Does he slip, Richard? I asked.
‘My horses perform great. I’ve had horses in front of me lose their footing while we never missed a beat but it’s not infallible. Troy and I have come down on greasy ground, rain on hard ground can be testing but shoes and studs won’t save you either. It’s interesting looking over some of the shod horse with all their lumps and bumps and swellings!
‘Barefoot now fits in perfectly with my wider philosophy. When a horse comes in for training with shoes on I find there is something lacking in the fluidity of its paces, I even find the sound slightly offensive. In competition and training I can run on harder ground without worrying about the impact, many fractures occur in the race industry and it also happens in team chasing. I think being barefoot reduces the risk.’
He’s not a fan of hoof boots either. ‘Stay away from boots. They cost me a fortune, didn’t work and made my horses sore. Pick your ground and work your horses, then work them some more.’
Let’s be honest, it’s Troy we want to know more about. This is the boy who was featured in Horse & Hound jumping beautifully without a rider. He and Richard had parted company half way around the Belvoir Team Chase but Troy continued with his three team mates over the remaining 10 fences.
It’s not the first time this horse has shown some talent for going solo. Richard went to view him at a dealer’s yard but got off after a minute.
‘I always think the horses find me and that was certainly true for Troy. Five years ago I was looking for a young horse; I don’t know what I saw in him, if I see the photos now he looked a mess. The dealer girl rode him and I asked her to get off after 20 seconds before any more damage was done. I sat on him and also jumped off after about a minute because there was no tune to be had.
‘I realised how wrong he was or, if you like, how much damage had already been done and there was nothing I could do there and then to improve matters. You could describe him as a ‘car wreck’. He didn’t behave badly; I think he was too shut down for that but he had been what I call anti trained and nothing was right.
‘In the advert they said he had a big jump, I asked to see it but they had nowhere to jump him.
‘I tell you what, I told them. Turn him out in that paddock. If he jumps out I’ll buy him.
‘Well I couldn’t get my breath. He trotted away from me, popped over the fence at the end of the paddock, trotted another 20 yards and turned around and stared straight at me.
I picked him up the next day, sans passport. That tells you what kind of place he came from.
‘Troy and I are bloody minded. I could tell you many tales of trying to train him. Once, whilst trying to lunge him, he jumped four feet in the air straight up and squealed like a pig. Twice. It was just his way. I took him to see a very talented classical trainer, Ken Sudsbury, as I really didn’t know what to do with him. Troy bolted around the arena. We did three laps before I managed to stop him. It was reassuring that Ken had no idea either!
‘Thankfully Troy is a one off as it’s not an experience I wish to repeat. Did I get through to him? We have certainly come to an understanding and his training is ongoing. The over-riding factor was perseverance and as my old trainer, Ian Silitch, used to say, trust in your training.’
Well, a lot of people are trusting in Richard’s training now. He has moved to a new yard in South Staffordshire and he specialises in problem horses as well as starting them.
‘I was chuffed to read that the master, Nuno Oliveira, backed his young horses with the reins attached to the noseband initially. That is exactly how I do it! I differ from others in my breadth of knowledge that allows me to ensure the horses I work with are not in pain, without relying on other professionals. I come across horses every week that are bucking or rearing or generally protesting and the owner tells me there is nothing wrong with the saddle because the saddle fitter says so and there is nothing wrong with its teeth because the dentist rasped them and its back is fine according to the physio. My training allows me to see if they did their jobs properly. Once I know the horse is not in pain I can get down to training him.
‘I get called on to look at all sorts of problems but mostly it’s horses that are difficult to ride, bucking or rearing or just gone wrong in their training. I don’t use round pens or bucking straps. I can’t bear that pseudo horse training; it just shuts down already struggling horses. I get to the bottom of problems and rebuild a horse’s confidence.
‘Backing young horses comes next on the list. People often don’t understand that it’s a job for a trained rider; it’s a specialist skill. If you have never ridden a schooled horse, by that I mean one that is trained to Grand Prix or equivalent, you shouldn’t be riding the youngsters. In this country they tend to stick any kid on, crash-test dummies. It’s crazy. Or even worse, they strap on an actual dummy. That’s something else to thank Monty Roberts for.’
It’s the saddle industry, though, that Richard would tackle if I could make him Prime Minister for the day. ‘The majority of horses that come to me for rehab with severe behavioural and training problems including many that have been written off as riding horses simply have overlooked saddle problems. On my yard I get to see some of the worst cases but, if you look at horses out competing, how many of them are able to work through their backs? So, I would make every horse comfortable in its saddle. At present the saddle industry is a disgrace. And my best advice for people is that your saddle can cause a problem even if it fits, the design and build quality are as important.’
Troy and Richard are moving up a gear on the 25th October. They ride with the Dapper Dobbins Hedge Hoppers and will be tackling the Open in the Cotswold Team Chase for the first time. The course is two-miles long and has about 20 jumps. Talented, eh?
Talking of talent reminds me of trimmers and the thought that horses don’t trim their own toe nails unless they walk enough miles on abrasive ground. It was important to find out who trimmed Richard’s horses. He did it himself for five years, then tried a barefoot trimmer but wasn’t enamored and so invited people to ‘audition’ for the role.
Along came Georgie Harrison who impressed him with her energy and enthusiasm. Georgie is a fellow admin on the Barefoot Horse Owners Group and so I am fully aware of her commitment.
Ah, the joy of a having a yard full of horses; you can invite people to audition. Not sure it would work for vets though!
Thanks to Richard and Troy for this special interview and proving what we all know – that horses understand pretty much everything we say! You can find Richard on his Facebook page – here.
BOOKS AND NEWS BOOKS AND NEWS BOOKS AND NEWS
Coming soon to the blog – A Barefoot Guide. Ex- farrier Marc Ferrador and vet Ralitsa Grancharova are going to help you on your barefoot journey. We are going to look at the best time to take off those shoes and what mistakes to avoid. Don’t miss it! Follow this blog! We will also be having another look at the dangers in your horse’s bucket – Digging Deep into the Feed Industry.
ABOUT ME – I’m a writer and a journalist who has a passion for horses especially if they are barefoot. A Barefoot Journey, is my honest and light-hearted account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! 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. The 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 has more than 30 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society.