by Linda Chamberlain
One day there will be more vets like Ralitsa Grancharova. But for now, she’s a rarity. After qualifying she realised there was a terrible gap in her knowledge; she had little understanding of the horse’s hoof. But this is one vet who decided to do something about it – she trained to be a barefoot trimmer.
Now she says barefoot and natural lifestyle are winning the fight against some of the most dreaded equine diseases that traditional medicine has failed to help such as laminitis and navicular.
Her broad skills make her unusual but her opinions are like a breath of fresh air to any owner who has been on the receiving end of veterinary pressure to shoe and stable their injured equine friend. Ralitsa wants stables to become a thing of the past. She wants her patients out of shoes and she wants them to live in a herd.
And even though she is based in Bulgaria, thanks to the internet she’s ready and willing to help you achieve! She’s set up a holistic virtual veterinary service so that people can consult her online – I will give you a link at the end of this interview which I hope you will share far and wide!
My lovely supporters who share this blog are usually thanked lower down the page but they deserve credit earlier – 30,000 people all over the world saw my interview with Marc Ferrador, the ex-farrier who predicted horse shoes will become obsolete. Thank you for spreading the message. I always post the blog on Facebook so find me there if you want to give it a push and pass it on to your friends. So now, over to Ralitsa…
Please tell us about yourself…
My name is Ralitsa Grancharova and when I first rode a horse as a child it became my dream to become an equine vet. I graduated from Trakia University in Bulgaria in 2013. During that time I practised in equine clinics of the veterinary universities in Hannover and Giessen in Germany. After graduation I started to work as an equine veterinarian at a state owned stud farm in Bulgaria, which houses more than 600 horses. Then I founded my own private practise on wheels. I have clients all over Bulgaria and the mobile clinic allows me to transport medical supplies and diagnostic tools to my patients.
In 2014 I organized a natural hoof care clinic with natural horse care practitioner, Nick Hill, which led to the idea of the “Wild horse model” course. This course goes into every aspect of natural horse keeping and includes subjects of interest to equine vets, horse owners and riders. Natural hoof care is part of the course and we aim to teach owners and vets about its importance to the health of the horse.
In 2015 I led a lecture entitled “The digestive system and the diet of the equine” in Israel, followed by a natural hoof care and trimming clinic with Nick Hill. Equine diet is of great interest to me and I include recommendations on diet regime in all of my patients’ treatment plans. I believe a well-balanced diet is the first step on the road to restoring their health.
Why have you have set up an on-line holistic vet service?
It was needed. I was being contacted by horse and pet owners from different parts of the world who knew about me from my website or from friends. I could not treat animals that I could not visit and examine but the desire to help people who had not found answers elsewhere grew stronger. Some of the owners just wanted a second opinion or to make sure that they were doing everything else right. Their questions were not solely concentrated on the medical aspect of the treatment plan they had been offered but on the diet, behaviour and environment of their animal friend. These concerned pet and horse parents wanted to do the best they could for their animal partners and, for them, strictly following the treatment plan did not seem enough. They wanted to know what more they could do – they wanted a holistic approach to their pet or horse’s health. And I guess this is what I can do for them and what I am good at – I make connections between cause and effect, I find links between seemingly unconnected events and I always look for the root of the problem. I have used this technique with all my patients. Of course those with threatening diseases get treated with the appropriate medication so their life would be saved, but where time is still on our side we – I and the patient’s owner – work as a team to find the cause of the disease and treat it. I often include alternative medicine into a traditional treatment plan for optimal results.
Owners of barefoot horses often encounter lack of understanding, sometimes hostility, from vets towards barefoot horse riding. How much did your training teach you about the natural hoof?
I gained a lot of my practical skills and knowledge during my training in the equine clinics in Germany and after I graduated from university, when I was treating patients or when I spent my free time looking into horse specific health related issues. But even so I did not feel prepared enough and did not feel I had enough knowledge or practical experience with the equine hoof. I visited seminars about hoof care where lecturers spoke about orthopaedic shoeing and balancing the hoof and body through special shoes. This left me more and more confused and I started to feel that despite all the information I had gathered about hoof anatomy, hoof physiology and disease I knew nothing and felt unprepared to help my patients when they had a hoof related problem. A year after graduation, having been through more than five years of training I knew a lot, but at the same time my knowledge was of no use as it did not offer me any solutions. Then I met Nick and organized our first clinic together. He taught me more about the equine hoof than I had learned in all my years of training. It suddenly made sense. Barefoot trimming and natural hoof care offered the solution to so many hoof problems but also to diseases that were not strictly directly connected to the hoof. So now I include natural hoof care in the treatment of many of my patients and find that, just like diet and nutrition, it can have an enormous effect on the general health of the horse. Most of my clients either have barefoot horses or are thinking of transitioning to barefoot hoof care.
How much did your veterinary training teach you about the best way to keep a horse ie: naturally / lots of movement? Or was stabling accepted and advised?
My observations on horse behaviour, which I gathered during my years of working as a horse keeper and trainer for different stud farms around Bulgaria before I graduated from university, taught me what I know about the best ways to keep a horse. One of the stud farms, where I was working as a horse trainer, offered me the chance to take care of 10 horses on my own. I was to prepare their training regime and to ride them so that they stayed in shape but I could also decide how much time they would spend in their paddock and when they should be stabled. This was my first chance to organize a daily routine for not only one, but for 10 horses and it was one of the best jobs I ever had. Having the experience from my previous jobs, where horses were stabled and were only let out when they were to be ridden, I started organizing these horses’ routine in a similar fashion. It didn’t take me long to find out that they were unhappy, stressed and were unwilling during training and one day I decided to change that routine and to free all of them into the nearby field. Within a few days they were relaxed and happy, they were behaving like horses and nothing made me smile more than seeing them be their horsey selves. Sadly, I had to leave that job because I had too much to study but my boss has always said that the horses have never been as relaxed and as well trained since. I could not attribute this solely to my training skills.
The English vet Bracy Clark warned 200 years ago that the tradition of shoeing was causing lameness and early death. How harmful do you think metal shoeing is for the horse?
I have seen how horses react when being shod. I have seen how they react when they feel that their shoes are being taken off. I could go into the medical side of things and explain why shoes are harmful to horses, but I feel this is not needed – the sigh of relief from a horse that has had its shoes off is more than enough in my opinion.
Why has the veterinary profession failed to embrace natural horse care and barefoot horse riding?
Being a doctor or a veterinary surgeon is one of the most difficult professions in my opinion. And I do not have in mind the tremendous amount of knowledge we have to fit into our heads, what I mean is that we always need to stay ahead. Medical science is flourishing; certain medical conditions are better understood and as a result – treated more effectively. Hoof care is part of the general health care for the horse and as such it should embrace the newest related research and scientific data. And although barefoot horses are not something that has just been invented, there is more than enough data to show that traditional medicine does not have the answer to treating laminitis and navicular disease and yet barefoot trimming and natural horse care do. I believe that when answers to the treatment of some of the most well-known and dreaded diseases of the equine population have been found, we should look no further. , I cannot speak on behalf of the veterinary community of course, but my impression is that as students we do not learn enough about the anatomy, physiology and function of the equine hoof. We also don’t learn enough about the connections between the hoof and the rest of the body. During our studies (I could only speak about education in Bulgaria, but as I get to know more colleagues from different countries I get the impression this is the same in a lot of countries around the world) we do not learn enough about the hoof and why it is such an important part of the horse’s body. We briefly learn about the diseases of the hoof, their causes and symptoms, sometimes not enough to be able to recognize these symptoms when we actually see them (in the case of the subtle or not so subtle signs of chronic laminitis for example). And when we get to the treatment options of each disease we usually get told that this is better left to the farrier unless the hoof needs the involvement of an experienced surgeon. I really believe that if hoof anatomy, physiology and function in conjunction with the movement of the whole body were taught more extensively in a university such as the one I graduated from, the idea of keeping horses barefoot would be much better understood and accepted.
What made you study barefoot trimming? Tell us about your training.
I have always wanted to be an equine vet and as such I wanted to be prepared and have the knowledge and expertise about every part of the horse’s anatomy, physiology and about keeping the balance in its system. I found myself being fascinated by the eyes, the digestive tract and the hooves of the horse. Ophthalmology is still one of my favourite subjects in equine health care, but the opportunity to not only learn more about hooves but to also learn how to trim them felt like a door opened where I least expected. After I hosted Nick Hill’s trimming clinic in Bulgaria, I started reading more and more on natural hoof care. Being a woman, I was always told I could not take on farriery but hoof trimming opened the door to a whole new world – one that I wanted to be part of. Nick taught me my first lessons in hoof trimming and from that point on it was the horses that taught me. Observation on how the horse moved before and after trimming showed me that I was on the right track and that the horses were grateful that picking their feet up no longer meant putting shoes on.
What do your veterinary colleagues think about your twin roles? (ie: trimmer and vet)
I have found that most of my veterinary colleagues are not interested in hoof care whether shoes are involved or not. In university we were taught to leave the hoof to the farrier and I think this is what most of my colleagues still do.
If there was one thing you could change instantly for the domestic horse, what would it be?
What are the most worrying problems today for the domestic horses that you see or help?
The health related problems horses in Bulgaria face are no different than the ones they face elsewhere in the world. My patients from the Holistic Virtual Vet website suffer the same diseases horses in Bulgaria do. Everywhere there are horses that are overfed to the point where they suffer weight and diet related issues or are emaciated due to the lack of care (although the latter are never my patients).
What are your 5 top tips to horse owners for keeping a healthy horse?
Love your horse and do your best to understand him. Listen to what he has to tell you – your horse will never hide things from you, moreover he will do his best to be understood and to understand you. Whether your horse is completely healthy or has a health related issue, always make sure you feed him a balanced diet by understanding what his natural diet is and by keeping to it as much as you can. Your horse is a horse – never forget that. Treat him like a friend, but remember that first of all he is a horse and needs what they all need – freedom and a herd to be part of. A happy horse is a one that is not stabled all the time and has at least one other (why not more?) equine friend in the paddock to keep him company.
The Holistic Virtual Vet www.holisticvirtualvet.weebly.com
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BOOK NEWS – just published – A Barefoot Journey, 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.
Links to The First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark. Paperback price £6.87, 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 last week! Still available on Amazon though…
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