|by Carola “Yarraman” Adolf NEP/SHP|
Over the last few years horse owners show an increasing interest and growing awareness in equine hoof care. It seems that this originates from a lot of discontent amongst horse owners who have to deal with ongoing soundness problems in their horses as well as dissatisfaction with professional services rendered.
Usually, new trends emerge when common practises or standards are no longer adequate or the general public is beginning to recognise that there actually is a problem. Once it is accepted that “common practise” is just that, alternative solutions are being sought and can be found. “Barefoot” is such an alternative.
From the status quo in hoofcare, the domain of the farriers and blacksmiths, a new, more natural way of caring for our domestic performance horses has developed: “The Art of Barefoot Trimming” .
Looking at the horse industry and how the “barefoot movement” is growing, the changes in equine hoofcare are more than just a shift in paradigms: We are at the beginning of a new age in hoofcare and horse owner awareness.
Why and how?
When looking at statistics, we see that almost 85 percent of usually teenaged performance horses have to be retired (or worse) due to problems with their movement apparatus.
The economical consequences are well known: Specialist hoofcare, followed by veterinary care, and last but not least, replacement costs.
“Ignorance is bliss” some say, and “some things must be left to the experts”. Experts however, come all from pretty much the same school of thoughts. Some are better in what they do, and some are not as good.
Looking at the statistics, and the main reason that domestic performance horses “disappear” when they have reached their mid-teens due to problems in the movement apparatus, must make us want to find out how we can improve this area of – not only to minimalize economical , but also emotional loss. After all, we all love our horses and want the best for them, their wellbeing and longevity!
Therefore insisting that “ignorance is bliss”, doing what we always did, blindly trusting “the experts” may not be good enough for our horses, in whose interest WE, the owners, are acting. Why? Because the horse can not make its own decisions - obviously.
What has this to do with hoofcare and “barefoot”?
In recent years, you may have noticed debates about hoofcare that have never been held before.
All of a sudden, there are “barefoot experts” like Jamie Jackson talking about his “wild horse trim”, or Dr. Hiltrud Strasser, who has developed a method of “natural” lifestyle for domestic horses and rehabilitative trimming. And there are numerous others who have picked what was reasonable and practical to them from these “pioneers of the barefoot movement”, added their own experiences and called it their “own style of trimming”.
Unfortunately at this point in time it is still “Barefoot” VERSUS the old school of farriery” and it is shaking the equine hoofcare industry.
“Navicular disease”, “Laminitis”, “Founder”, “Pedalosteitis”, “White Line disease” , and other devastating diagnostic verdicts that are directly affecting the hoof, are feared by any horse owner – as any of them may result in either an early, – always untimely –, temporary or permanent retirement - or even the loss of the horse!
But “barefoot” has now developed its own identity, philosophies and techniques and has become a true alternative to conventional farriery!
“Barefoot” (or bare hoof, really) is
hoof care without horse shoes.
With anything new, we have controversy:
Arguments on either side are flying and many horse owners are getting frustrated with all the different opinions and personalities involved.
As with everything that is related to horses, “experts” from all sides don’t wait long and come forward, offering their advise, experiences and even warnings, which of course results in utter confusion to those who have sound and problem free horses!
Don’t sit back. Usually, where there is smoke, there is fire. Even if you have a sound SHOD horse – or one that never had shoes on before and is “conventionally trimmed”, inform yourself what “barefoot” is about , because the more you know, the better you can judge what you could do in the case of a problem, may it be in relation to your horse’s soundness or in regard to the professional services you are receiving.
To have a certain understanding of the structures and functions of the hoof will enable you to ask better questions and you will be better informed when you seek your vet’s or your farrier’s advise.
Change is never comfortable. But now is the chance to become an even better horse owner! To make educated decisions for your horse is in your interest.
And, of course, because you owe it to the horse in your care.Don’t stop at his hooves: No hoof no horse. You know the saying.
Conventional hoofcare has had a relatively unchallenged domain. The above mentioned statistics and countless stories and experiences suggest that there is room for improvement.
Alternative hoofcare may be for you.
There are so many benefits which start with “lameness prevention”, as it seems that there is a definite connection between conventional hoofcare and the aforementioned statistics.
In order to demystify the principles of “Barefoot Care” as I am practising it, I have put together a few “questions and answers” and discussions as they commonly appear:
What is all this “barefoot” fuss about?
You could say that “barefoot” is around as long as horses are. Yes, of course. But that is not what the fuss is about. The fuss is about a new service – the recent addition – or expansion to conventional farrier services. BAREHOOF CARE! This new additional service specialises in metal free performance horse hoofcare, which may extends into the highly specialized area of barehoof lameness rehabilitation (performed by specially trained trimmers), and, which is fairly new as well: Owner education and personal hoofcare coaching.
Before the so called “barefoof movement” gained momentum (it started less than 10 years ago), we usually referred to “barefoot” (or “unshod”) when we talked about paddock- or farrier trims, which we considered sufficient for non-performance horses and “ponies with tough feet”.
“Serious” performance horses, however (and not so serious ones) were shod as a matter of principle. Shoeing seem to be part of good horse management and desirable horse owner “etiquette”. cont>>>
“If you ride, your horse needs to be shod” was (and still is) an accepted – main stream - statement. When questioned why, we find that the reason for shoeing is usually one of the following:
Looking at history, of all reasons, the need to protect the hoofwall was one of survival (with horses being the essential form of transportation in battles, trade, agriculture) was most likely the original reason for shoeing, not fashion.
The strap-on hipposandal was reasonably effective until someone in the Middle Ages came up with the idea to NAIL an iron rim onto the hoof with nails! Come to think of it, this in itself is an extraordinary idea!! Imagine how many hooves would have been injured before a relative insensitive area was found to drive in nails relatively safely!
Generally, the desire and need to protect the hoof wall so the horse can be kept in work, usually coincides with
the desire to use a horse on terrain that it would first need to be conditioned to (*note: To condition hooves requires time and a situation where the horse would have constant access to the terrain that it is suppose to be sound on…but even the best conditioning effort may have limitations, as there will always be breed differentiations! You can’t change soft terrain WB hooves to become hard terrain Arabian feet!) and drastic changes to the horse’s natural lifestyle
(which is the lifestyle it has adopted over 55 million years of evolution – e.g. herd life, steppe/prey animal, herbivore, grazer, roamer etc.)
Once the horses biological need for movement 24/7 is restricted by stabling and yarding (as a side effect to domestication), the effects on the horn quality and hoof shape became apparent as both progressively deteriorated due to
a) the lack of movement and exposure to breed appropriate terrain that would stimulates horn growth and
b) exposure to ammonia (which forms with the decay of plant material and animal waste e.g. in stable bedding) and
c) lack of water/drying out
d) living on soft pasture/sand only, therefore different dynamics acting on the hoof (lack of ground pressure)
e) unphysiological hoof care (incorrect trimming, shoeing)
f) neglect (in most domestic situations, we MUST provide REGULAR hoofcare)
With inferior horn quality, the hoof wore too quickly on terrain other than soft terrain.
This required measures to “keep the hoof together”.
Shoeing – at one point in history – became THE solution to enable us to use our horses beyond their biological limitations and prevent excessive wear of the hooves when either
- the horn quality was inadequate, or
- the terrain was inappropriate for the particular breed of horse
Unfortunately, with the nailed-on horse shoe, one of the most resourceful and ingenious inventions of the human mind (besides the wheel and the stirrup), also co-incides the appearance of pretty much all “modern day” hoof problems!
Why? Because the hoof can not function if it is nailed onto a brace that restricts its physiological flexibility.
What is the difference between a “farrier(paddock) trim” and a “barefoot trim”?
Until the “professional barefoot trimmers” came along, it were – and still are - our farriers who also trim our horses’ feet as part of their service.
Trimming may be seen as the “cheap version” of hoofcare, quite adequate if our horses “can cope without shoes” – However, it seems that way too many horses can not “cope” walking on their own feet when “barefoot trimmed”! Why? This usually has something to do with the way their hooves have been trimmed.
A typical farrier/paddock trim is one that “shortens” the hoof as part of hoof maintenance when conditions did not provide for adequate wear of the horn.
Hoofhorn is growing continuously, like your fingernail. If the hoof is healthy, the wall will grow at the rate of about 1cm a month and at the sole is produced at the rate of about one third of a cm – also, like the hoof wall, in a forward and downward direction.
Obviously, if the horse lives in an environment where the horn is preserved (not abraded/worn), the hooves will become pathologically deformed as they grow too long. Therefore- and in most domestic situations, we must provide the horse with hoofcare to mimic natural wear as it would be ideal for this particular horse.
A healthy hoof in its natural environment does not just “shorten” itself. It sculpts itself to its physiologically correct and functional form. There is nothing “flat” in a healthy hoof!
The physiologically correct form and the functions that go with it, have been studied by those who saw problems with conventional hoofcare which comes from a mind set that originates from the desire to protect the hoofwall from wear by attaching a flat piece of metal to it.
To securely attach something flat (iron shoe) to another object (hoof), requires the attachment surfaces to be as flat as the attachment itself.
Therefore farriers must prepare the hoof area that will be in contact with the shoe as a plane. Why? Because something flat and level on something flat and level will minimise movement and lever forces.
This “dressing” (preparing) of the hoof for a shoe requires certain trimming techniques:
When watching your farrier at work, observe how he is using the rasp in a heel-to-toe motion. (see pic)
This rasping technique will produce what is called “the solar plane”: It will shorten the furthermost heel tubules and will create a flat area at the heel which is physiologically not correct as it creates forward forces on the hoof capsule) with every step. (which can be a reason for underslung heels, for example)
This rasping technique also shortens the toe area with every swipe, reducing the concavity and thinning the sole beneath the tip of the coffin bone.
The above hooves have been shortened in a “plane” and except the one in the top right corner would be too short to be comfortable barefoot!
A “physiologically correct” barefoot trim is created almost like a “piece of art”, it has “flow” and “balance” and most of all: Function. Its model is a healthy self trimming hoof as we would find it in the wild.
A healthy self trimming hoof has certain qualities. These are:
1.It provides comfort for mobility (no lameness, appropriate traction, tactile ability, surefootedness, correct breakover, balance)
2.It provides function (Hoofmechanism for optimal circulatory and metabolic function, protection of sensitive internal parts, and shock absorption! NOTE: 60-80% of concussion is absorbed by the suspension mechanism and reversible deformation of the functioning hoofcapsule alone! If this function is impaired by a brace, concussion will have to be absorbed elsewhere – joints, muscles, tendon, ligaments….will be stressed, causing problems like calcifications, arthritis, avoidable “wear and tear” )
A ground parallel coffin bone for balanced weight distribution for skeletal and soft tissue health.
A healthy foal is born with the blueprint of hooves that will fulfil all these qualities,
providing it will be able to enjoy a natural lifestyle on breed appropriate terrain.
In a domestic situation we can provide these ideal conditions by providing a breed appropriate lifestyle physiologically correct hoofcare that mimics how the hoof would wear in ideal conditions.
Even though a farrier/paddock trim may look similar at first, the trimming techniques are quite different – and may take the Barefoot trimmer a little longer than it would take a farrier to trim.
Every feature of the hoof has a purpose, and this is what requires the trimming techniques to be different.
Barehoof trimmers have been schooled to specifically recognize and enhance
these structures so the hoof can work optimally and provide all the desirable attributes to its owner, the horse.
Continued next month………….
©2005 Aust Eques