by Linda Chamberlain
It’s high summer in the UK and the land is almost wetter than it was in the winter. Sorry, to be banging on about the weather but if you keep a horse you will know all about it!
My horses have a new home in the woods on dry land that was once owned by the War Ministry. Where tanks once rolled, my three barefoot horses are now stretching and toughening up their hooves. They moved here just over two months ago. They have new field companions and their diet is leaves, brambles and ad lib hay. More about their twice daily bucket another time.
They look full of shine and vitality after suffering badly in the winter from a heady mix of laminitis, strained tendon and legs swollen from mud fever. They shared out the ailments and kept me in full-time nursing work.
The woods, with its long, sloping tank track, has made an enormous difference by giving them maximum movement and zero grass and very little mud…but it hasn’t all been easy.
The enormous amount of concrete is a life saver. I no longer trudge through a thick bog and the horses only get muddy through choice if they go for a roll in the woods.
Their hooves hardly need any trimming. Hind feet barely at all. Fronts, a quick balance.
They have shelter amid the trees but they can still get cold. I actually put a rug on my retired, elderly thoroughbred who was suffering in ‘flaming’ June. That rain was chilly…and made an old horse, stiff and shivery.
The concrete road might not get muddy but the heavy rain runs down it in torrents. It doesn’t soak in. That’s good unless you have tied hay nets onto tyres for ground level feeding. Sweet Lane (named after a road sign that was found in the woods) became something I have never seen before – a running sewer with horse poo rushing on a few inches of water down the hill. That gave new meaning to the poo picking task. The hay was ruined and fresh had to be put higher up and tied onto the trees. Who said horse keeping wasn’t fun? – it’s such an eye opener.
Laminitis report – here is a success story. At least I hope it is. My own horse, Sophie, went down with laminitis after breaking onto rich grass last Autumn. Trying to cure her on a former dairy farm where I live wasn’t easy in spite of some excellent facilities – large, stony yard, grass track, stony track, field shelter. A few blades of grass seemed to trigger a repeat of the painful condition.
Since coming to the woods where she has movement but a low sugar diet and zero grass, Sophie is beginning to get comfortable again. For a long time she struggled to pick up her hooves for me to check. She still won’t give me them if she’s standing on the concrete but on soft ground she cooperates after much fuss and praise. The inflammation from the laminitis has given her a deformed hoof shape which is slowly growing out. She is getting there. She is going for walks in hand, managing the stony trails on the Forest but after getting on briefly, I got off again knowing she wasn’t ready yet.
Hay – if you move to a site with little or no grass you need a constant supply. This late in the season it’s not always possible to buy the best. One of the herd has suffered from a hay cough that is troublesome. Note to self – build some pole barns and stock up on good hay early in the year.
Dealing with an abscess – Carrie, the retired thoroughbred has an abscess. Movement is a great healer but she is reluctant on concrete and who can blame her? Today and tomorrow, my job is to increase the off-road spaces so that any horse feeling its feet has a choice of surfaces. I want to make use of the verges alongside Sweet Lane so need to clear a few piles of fallen timber.
Thanks to the help of family and friends, I have made a track through part of the woods. Here is Tao enjoying the new space although the hay is more attractive for some of them.
Shelter and flies – woodland has the ace card for this one. My horses are enjoying the shade on the rare days that it has been warm. There are sunny, open spots if they want them. I pass neighbouring horses wearing fly masks and protective rugs on my journey to the woods but mine have hardly been troubled.
A field shelter is under construction. We have harvested some of the pine trees and it is going up on one of the platforms (more concrete) that was once the site of an army accommodation hut. It should be ready in a few weeks.
Tendon trouble – Tao, who has suffered repeated strains thanks to her exuberant behaviour in the field, is probably walking the strongest out of all of the herd. She walks and trots on the concrete without a flinch. We are still not sure if she will return to ridden work as her leg was swollen last week. More time for that one!
It’s been a bit of a journey setting up this unconventional home for horses and it was such a thrill to be featured as the cover story in The Barefoot Horse magazine this month. Here is a link – it’s a great magazine about barefoot horses and their owners.
So, thanks to everyone who has helped with the set-up work – Jozef and his fencing team, Patrick for his relentless clearing up, Lisa, Amber and Matt. My fellow horse keepers – Mary Joy, Kate and Suz. And for all the messages of support. A BIG thank you xxx
About Me – I am a journalist, author and barefoot horse owner. My horses went barefoot about 16 years ago and now I would never return to shoeing one of my animals so that I could ride. 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 – tells the story of taking a horse barefoot in a hostile equine world. It is an honest and light-hearted account – 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 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! 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 NovelSociety. Here’s one of the latest reviews – ‘What a wonderful story, so beautifully written, so good in fact I have read it twice (so far). I can imagine this as a movie as I felt I was there beside Bracy throughout the whole book, it captures a feeling inside one’s being of wanting to change the world for the better.. Loved it… Loved it!’
If you want to keep in touch, follow this blog or find me on Facebook…Another novel is in the pipeline! This time I will be featuring an enormously famous equestrian campaigner from the past. Can you guess who it is? I’m about half way through the first draft.