After ten years of being the owner of barefoot horses it seems very obvious to me why body work goes hand in hand with looking after my horses’ feet but I realise that it may not be so obvious to everyone. Because it is so obvious to me it’s not the easiest topic to blog about.
When a horse has issues such as a tight pectoral (chest) muscle, and is without shoes then this will be reflected in the gait and also front feet with the corresponding hoof being worn unevenly. Equally if the horse does not have balanced feet this can set up muscle imbalances. When a horse has hind limb issues then this can be reflected in dragging toes or heel balance or lateral and/or medial flare. Hind foot imbalances can also contribute towards muscular issues.
The body and foot conditions are inseparable so that when I massage and trim a horse on the same occasion I am constantly surprised at the great results that I see with horses moving much straighter and evenly post session.
Horses are so honest and clear about bodywork too, they immediately tell me where they like to be massaged, where they do not need massage and areas that need great care. When trimming they also clearly say when they have difficulty in holding their leg up and having the patience to return their foot for 30 seconds reaps great rewards in terms of ease of handling.
Nutrition is vitally important to the condition of the feet as we all know, but bodywork can also give a good idea as to whether the horse has issues such as ulcers and having had my own horse diagnosed by Dr Kerry Ridgway, and later confirmed by traditional gastroscopy, I am familiar with the acupressure points that signify ulcers (for more information here)
Other influential factors include saddle fit and rider position and technique. There is never an end to our learning and looking at every horse from a holistic perspective is essential.
Recently an experience with one of my clients took me back in time to about 10 years ago, when I was considering the removal of my horse’s shoes. At that time less was known and I was given the advice that I could only remove my horse’s shoes if he lived out 24/7 and was rug-less, something that was not possible as I kept my horse at livery and he was in a competition yard. In the end my horse transitioned ME to barefoot as it turned out because he simply refused to be shod any more, but that is a different story.
Nowadays I live in Lincolnshire, an area of the UK which has lower property prices, and many of my clients own their own land or rent a yard and have rather more control over their horse’s environment and are able to have their horses partly on hard standing areas or variable surfaces even if they do not have a paddock paradise. Social media may also show barefoot horses that can spend much of their time free to roam outdoors 24/7 with access to shelter and owners having the option to reseed paddocks to grow more barefoot friendly grazing and have a track system. Nowadays specialized barefoot yards are springing up.
My client M keeps her horse (who has the unusual stable name of Laptop) in a conventional livery yard, there are turnout paddocks and a school and access to hacking. M often works 12 hour days in the care sector and has a good friend (A) who also keeps her horse at the same livery yard and both support each other, taking it in turn to care for both horses on long working days. The horses are currently stabled overnight. Laptop has previously been worked very hard as a riding school horse and was adopted by M when he was about to be discarded. He is a very easy horse to work on with a lovely nature.
At my second visit to trim Laptop I became concerned about him, he was not moving well, appeared sore on his feet and had a digital pulse all around. His hoof showed signs of bruising and separation. His coat was dull and he found it difficult to stand and lift his hind legs for the very light trim that I gave him.
My advice was to change his diet completely, to remove all sugary foods and concentrate on a mainly fibre diet with added linseed and a balancer. Although M was very concerned that Laptop would drop too much weight, she trusted me and followed my recommendations. When the diet had been changed, next M started to work Laptop, she did not have a suitable saddle and could only work in hand, on the lunge or lead from her friend’s horse. M has worked Laptop regularly and consistently over the last 6 weeks.
At my third visit Laptop was a changed horse, moving much more easily, with no digital pulses and a shining coat and he was happy and alert with a glow in his eye. M had changed his feed and worked him regularly. This was all it took for a complete turnaround in Laptop’s welfare.
I am grateful to them both for reminding me that with a little extra work and attention to detail and some support from your friends that being barefoot CAN work well in a traditional livery yard.
Well done M and Laptop!
I asked on my Facebook page yesterday what people expected from a barefoot trimmer and promised to blog about the trimmer's expectations of their client. I did find that this has partly been covered in this easycare blog "Who Really Heals a Horse's Feet" but here goes:
I would like the owner to be there when I arrive or let me know in advance if they will be late so that I can let clients know that I will be seeing after them. I like the owner to watch the horse move before and after being trimmed.
I expect the horse to be in from the field, catching horses isn't part of my service (!),have its feet picked out and legs and feet to be as clean and dry as possible when I arrive, I know that's not easy if you only have a field but to see that some effort has been made is sufficient. Rasps are ruined by mud and are costly.
I expect owners to follow my recommendations and pick out their feet daily, look out for and treat infection and importantly exercise to condition their horses as I have advised so that the horse is fit for purpose.
I hope that owners will work with me on handling issues and give their horse handling time in between visits.
I hope that owners will let me know about any issues or questions in the first instance.
The trim schedule varies at certain times of the year - some trimmers will advise 4 or 5 weeks all year round when in reality this is not always achievable, but in the spring when new grass is about to come through it is a good idea to have your horses feet in tip top condition. Extending the trim schedule at this time of year is not advisable and very long trim schedules can mean that your trimmer is not able to look after your horse's feet. I do currently keep a schedule for many of my clients but as my business is rapidly growing I need to mention that ultimately this is the client's responsibility. In a nutshell it is not as simple as handing over a cheque - a barefoot owner needs to take responsibility in a way they may not have done for the farrier.
Oh and that reminds me - I would like you to pay me on the day that I do the work please!