|A large chip out of Coriander's wall, note the underrun heels and long toe|
|All of Gwen's hooves were self trimming|
It might have been kismet, but at the this time I met Marjorie (Barefoot for Soundness). I told her how the farrier had said Coriander would need shoes if I ever wanted to trail ride but that I really didn't want to have to do that. She explained to me about how barefoot trims are different from pasture trims and assured me that with the correct care, he wouldn't need shoes for trail riding. I went home that night and read through her entire website and decided then and there I needed a new hoofcare provider. That proved to be a fruitless search, good barefoot trimmers are few and far between, and out of desperation I ended up taking the rasp into my own hands.
I started out VERY conservatively, taking a swipe here and there. I didn't touch the bar or frog at all in the beginning, that was WAY too scary. I also embarked on an educational voyage to learn as much as possible about healthy hoof mechanisms. Fortunately I am blessed with excellent reading comprehension and logic skills (I was a straight A student for a reason), so it wasn't long before I had a basic comprehension of hooves. I might sound cocky right now but I am well aware that I have a TON more to learn, as our recent battle with thrush proves.
The result is that my horses are now fantastic about their feet, I just park them in front of a pile of hay and then go about my business, no tying necessary. For the record, horses have no problem picking their feet up when their heads are down on the ground eating. Gwen did knock me on my butt once, she had a knot on her cannon bone from a kick and objected very strongly when I pressed on it. I growled at her for that, but recognized that it was a pain reaction and avoided that spot on her leg from then on.
I admit I have drunk the barefooter's lemonade. I am now a firm believer that horses are healthier when left barefoot. But I understand that not all horses should be barefoot depending on their circumstances. You have to make a special kind of commitment when you decide to keep a riding horse barefoot. You have to make an effort to educate yourself about the trimming, nutrition, and lifestyle changes you will need to make to keep your horse happy. Some people simply can't, or won't, commit themselves to it.
If you are thinking of going barefoot and are considering doing the trimming yourself I have some advice: (Disclaimer: remember that I'm not a professional and I still have a long way to go myself)
- Take a really honest self appraisal: Trimming is hard work, are you physically up to it? It can also be scary, do you have the guts for it? Are you willing to immerse yourself in the constant education you'll need to make sure you don't screw up?
- Take pictures of your horse's hooves and compare them to healthy hooves you find online. Learn what underrun heels look like, what flares are, and how to spot a long toe.
- Find a good consultant before you pick up the rasp and share your before photos with them (I use Jenny at All Natural Horse Care), this way you can develop a plan before you touch the hooves and can get an informed reaction to your work.
- Take your time: When you first start trimming you'll get tired fast. Plan to trim only two hooves at a time and take frequent breaks. Your horse will appreciate this more than you know, I think a lot of hard to shoe horses would be a lot better about it if the farrier would just put their foot down more often.
- Avoid the farrier hold: My horses would immediately start fighting as soon as I tucked their hoof between my knees. I don't know if it's the feeling of confinement or what, but they really hate it. What I've found works best is to get down on one knee, this way I can use a knee as a hoof stand or for leverage and can still get out of the way fairly quickly if I need to.
- Hold the hinds lower to the ground. Many horses, mares especially, are uncomfortable holding their hind legs really high.
- Quarter relief, quarter relief, quarter relief. Learn it, live it.
- Buy some hoof boots, you will need them at some point in time.
- Buy high quality tools, they make one heck of a difference. I bought the trimming package from The Horse's Hoof and haven't regretted it for one second.
- Most importantly, if you find yourself getting upset at your horse STOP. Go grab a beverage and come back later when you've cooled off. Horses don't get better about their feet when you get in fights with them about it.