Friday, December 3, 2010

The Journey from Bare, to Shoe, to Bare Again

I'm all about hooves. It's something I'm passionate about. Which is why my 4H public presentation coming up in February will be about hooves-as it was last year, though that was an impromptu- and it's going to essentially be what this post ends up being. So here we go, my presentation.

When I purchased Daisy, coming on 4 years ago now, she was barefoot. I had her trimmed every 6-8 weeks, and she remained barefoot that entire first year I had her, all the way through a summer riding season, though I wasn't showing yet at that point. We road all over roads and gravel and she was pretty fine. There was one time where she went lame on a front, but it seemed to be from a deep cut in her frog. That was my first experience with treating my own ill horse, and though it was a barely noticeable lameness, it stressed me out. I ended up soaking her hoof in epsom salts twice a day for a week, and she turned out fine. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of her hooves during that first year, because I didn't know at that point that in the future I'd wish I'd taken those photos.

The following year (2008) started out barefoot. Early into the season, she went dead. lame. and I couldn't ride for at least a week.
This is what her poor hoof looked like.

You can imagine that, after seeing that, I no longer felt she could go barefoot. And I bought into my farrier's ideas. Now, I have nothing against traditional farriers. I just think they're mislead. And at that point, I didn't know any better, few people do, and so I agreed with everything he said. He said that because she had white feet, her hooves were very weak, because 'all white hooves are weak'. And he gave the whole "we've bred good hooves out of horses" spiel. 

And so on came the shoes on all fours, with barium. And pads and silicon on her fronts as well. 

I shudder looking at this picture. Can you imagine having steel on your foot? 
Gee, sounds comfortable.
So no, she was not lame with the shoes on. Of course, now I know she didn't feel much of anything, but that's fine as long as there's no pain right? Ummmm.....

Moving right along...
Christmas 2008 I received a copy of The Soul of a Horse: Life Lessons from the Herd by Joe Camp. And I was hooked.
The section that got me hooked went like this (copied from the Soul of a Horse website):
Have you ever crossed your legs for such a long time that your foot goes to sleep? It's because you have cut off the blood circulation to your foot. Essentially that's what's happening when a metal shoe is nailed onto a horses foot. The hoof no longer flexes. Which means a substantial loss of blood circulation in the hoof. Which mean the nerve endings go to sleep. And the ill health the hoof is suffering from lack of circulation is no longer felt by the horse. In other words, the "ouch" never reaches the brain.

That made a whole lot of sense to me. I kept reading. I learned about how it's not enough to simply go barefoot, but you have to have the proper trim. A traditional farrier trims a hoof flat as if they were going to apply a shoe. This puts pressure on parts of the hoof that aren't supposed to face that pressure; like (almost ironically) the sole.
It's all been completely and utterly eye-opening. I started Daisy with a local 'natural trimmer' July 2009. She took about 6 months to completely change over, but by 3 or 4 months she wasn't at all sore or visibly off anymore; I simply noticed that her conformation still improved even after the 4th month.  I wish I'd taken shots of her hooves pre-first trim, post, and monthly afterward, but I didn't. Now, it's been over a full year, and she is never. ever. lame. She prefers grass over stones most days, but if I truly ask, she'll walk on stones without being very careful about it, unless her hooves are soft due to particularly wet ground.

And so, I present, Daisy's current hoof. No wait! Go back and look at that poor bruised hoof. I'll wait.

TA-DA! Is that not a gorgeous hoof? Nice wide heels too. Lots of flexing goin' on there.

When Daisy was trimmed with a traditional farrier or when she had shoes, our appointments were always two months apart. Now it's between 4 and 6 weeks, mostly 5 weeks. When we had the traditional farrier visiting to have shoes put on, Daisy always had to be held, with a chain lead rope. She hated. shoes. She would rear and hit her head on the barn ceiling, and rear and rear and rear up to avoid having them put on. I started truly dreading farrier visits.
Now? She likes my trimmer, no doubt about it. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that he bothered to learn her name and actually socialize with a her a little before even gets to her feet at each appointment. He brings her carrots, and gives her moments to rest while he trims. In return, he doesn't even have to touch her leg and she picks up her hoof for him already.

Traditional farriers are also hesitant to take any toe off the hoof, and often times hooves won't have the proper hoof angles and look like blocks standing upright. Depending on the season, you can pick up one of Daisy's hooves and actually pull them around the heels and see them truly flex. Pretty cool.

I know I've shared this thermograph before, but it just gets to me so much. Check out this page to see it:

This is Daisy's hoof a few weeks after a trim...if I had to guess, I'd say about 3-4 weeks into the trim; her bars don't look as long as they do when she gets them trimmed. I make appointments that are flexible; Whenever I see that Daisy's hoof needs it, or will need it in the next week, I simply make an appointment.

This year, I purchased EasyBoot gloves for Daisy's fronts. Though she doesn't truly need them, and I don't use them every ride, she does definitely appreciate them when I do use them, and she steps confidently.

I've received a fair share of ridicule for going barefoot in the past. But the last few months, there have been no comments. Because what is there to comment on? She has beautiful, strong hooves.

Just like God intended. 
Obviously, the good hooves haven't been bred out of the horses.


allhorsestuff said...

Loved this post, and it will be a great shared lesson on some truly awesome facts.
You've done amazing things, learned so much, and applied it all- to that cute Daisey Mae.

I too am a barefoot horse owner. My mare has been barefoot for 13 yrs.
Though a TB, she has great hooves. I ride hard and there are some pretty nasty rocks (not plain gravel).
Just this summer, after using most of the EasyBoot models and trying so many other hoof boots that rubbed, twisted, and eventually-flew-off-the mares hooves, I decided to try the synthetic shoes, EASYWALKERS. They absorb the shock by flexing with the hoof. The hoof can contract, so I feel its the healthiest choice, for wearing shoes.

It was extremely difficult for me to they are applied with nails. But after wearing them for 12 weeks, I realized, her turnover and action- was almost pure, with out the boots!!!

I believe in barefoot, and I will keep her that way most the year.

Looking foreward to hearing how it goes ~

Mrs Mom said...

Nice job Mel!! Thats one nice looking hoof there too ;)

Give Daisy a smooch from us, and keep up the good work girl!!!

Sydney_bitless said...

I'm converting Indigo back over to a barefoot trim from what I have learned myself. I am doing it slowly (I am going to school in Jan to become a farrier) so it's not drastic. Her angles were not that far off and her toe was the correct length. I find I have to balance her often because of her conformation or she gets flares. However for Indigo and our carriage horses pulling bigger vehicles I do use easywalker horse shoes. This is our second year. They flex like the hoof and in tests done on traction they best mimicked a bare hoof in concussion and friction created.


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