I always find synchronicity a fascinating occurrence. Here is the long and circuitous journey of my trip to Panama to teach the natural trim. In 2007, Mario Chamorro, horse owner, finca (farm) owner, cattleman, engineer and business owner, was moving a herd of Brahman steer one day when his horse threw a shoe. Most horse owners can sympathize; we have felt the same frustration. That event initiated his search for better hoofcare. His farrier pulled the shoes, Mario bought a rasp and based on his research he began trimming. Mario lives at the eastern end of Panama, in Panama City.
Meanwhile, at the western end of Panama in Boquete (pronounced: boo-ke-tay), Carol Delonis, owner of Boquete Mountain Safari Tours, had a similar experience during the summer of 2009. While on one safari tour, one of the horse’s hind shoe became interlocked with the front shoe, same side. The guide eased the tourist out of the saddle and fortunately a local Panamanian was there to help unlock the horse shoes. The fact that the horse remained calm is a testament to Carol’s excellent choice of horses; most in her herd are Paso Fino’s or Paso crosses.
Carol immediately called her farrier, Eliezar, and had him remove shoes on the entire herd before there was a serious accident. A few days later, as synchronicity would have it, Carol stumbled upon an internet photo of mustangs from western United States. In the series of photos, the feral horses floated across rocky terrain. She set about learning how her safari horses could go barefoot as well.
In the summer of 2009, Mario found trimmer Marjorie Smith’s site on-line and began learning the natural trimming style from her, via e-mail.
As luck would have it, several months later, Mario was attending a local Quarter Horse Convention and saw a poster of Carol’s that advertised barefoot horse care. Within a week he called her and offered to help organize a clinic in the Chiriqui Province where Carol lives. Mario immediately contacted Marjorie Smith for her advice for a practitioner.
Marjorie and I, long time friends, attend monthly meetings on equine clicker training, a passion for both of us. I vividly remember chatting with her after the meeting. It was a warm November evening in Elverson, Pa. I recall Marjorie asking me, “I have a crazy question for you. Would you be interested in helping some folks in Panama get started with the natural trim?”
Honestly I didn’t think longer than a few seconds. “Of course I would,” I told Marjorie. I love teaching and offering a clinic to teach owners to trim their personal horse was a perfect extension of the 1:1 training I had been doing for years. And so what became “No Hoof….No Horse, Boquete Natural Balance Horse Week” and my trip to Panama was set in motion.
It was probably foolish but I did no research on Panama, Carol or Mario. My focus was the horses and I let the details sort themselves out. Since I am not under 400 horses a month, who better to travel on behalf of barefoot horses! As my husband and friends became excited about my impending trip, I laughed at them, “How great could it be?” I asked. “It’s a frickin’ canal!” Little did I know the paradise I was about to discover. Panama is a well kept secret. Frankly one I hesitate to publicize here.
I left all the organizing details to Carol and fortunately she proved to be an expert in that area. I focused on researching and designing a one day clinic (I did several of them) based on information I had learned over the last eight years primarily from barefoot farrier Pete Ramey and Dr. Bob Bowker but also Jaime Jackson, K.C. LaPierre and Dr. Eleanor Kellon (nutrition). I pulled together case studies with photographs of the rehabilitation of shod and barefoot horses, and horses with a multitude of pathologies. And much to my husband, Drew’s sagrin, I began busily trimming and cooking cadaver feet transforming them into hoof and bone models for my clinics. I already had a feral brumby hoof from Brian Hampson of The Wild Horse Research Project.
I only asked two things of Carol; she did not let me down:
1) Don’t cost me any money,
2) Let me work with the horse owner on their own horse. For this to work, I think the owner must understand what’s going on with their personal horse. Working on a cadaver foot or a horse at a clinic is not adequate.
Mario, Carol and I picked on a date in January, 2010 before the busy tourist season; Mario booked the ticket. I took a 4 hour flight from Newark, NJ to Panama City; then a puddle jumper to David (pronounced: da-veed) where I finally meet Carol Delonis, an bubbly American from Massachusetts with a shock of white hair. She drove me to my home base, Rancho de Caldera. My stay at Gina McCall’s “boutique hotel” was nothing short of magnificent, ‘a siesta for the soul’, she calls it.
First we worked on Carol’s horses who were pastured on an adjacent farm. I was told the horses had been sore after each trim. Whenever I hear that common complaint, I know they were over-trimmed and mostly probably the heels were lowered too much. The heels should be high enough to keep the horse comfortable but as low as possible. Typically the variance is small; 1/16” to ½” over the sole.
The heels on the Boquete herd had been rasped down to the sole, leaving the horses sore. They were forced to take short steps, landing first on their toes. This is a recipe for disaster. In the traditional world, this is called “navicular disease or syndrome”. In my world it is called Back-of-Foot Pain. Except for making sure the heels were balanced, I left them alone enabling the horses to walk heel-first on everything but the rockiest roads. Lots of heel-first landings will develop the back of the foot: the frog, and internally the lateral cartilages and digital cushion.
Another common problem, the farrier trimmed the bottom wall flat rather than rolling the wall. At home we call this the pasture trim; it’s fast, easy and detrimental to the horse. Because of this the horses were unable to grow out flare, the disconnection of wall to coffin bone. The disconnection is actually ongoing tear of the laminae. In 8 years of practice, I rarely see a horse with excellent wall connection. The horses in Panama could be found in any barn back home.
I applied the mustang roll on the outer and inner walls. (4 photos) I put a bevel or angle on the wall from the bottom. Later I will put a bevel from the top and round the edge off, creating the mustang roll. This simple yet critical roll of the wall is the difference between excellent functional hooves and the lameness. Flare on most of the horses will grow out in 3-4 months.
The untrimmed soles will thicken during this rehabilitation period. The coffin bone will move up in the capsule where it belongs (or capsule will relax down around the coffin bone. Authorities are arguing this point. No doubt it’s a bit of both) and concavity will develop from the frog to the edge of the sole. Concavity is not trimmed, it is grown! And it can be grown on all horses. There are no congenitally flat footed horses. A thick sole mirrors the bottom of the coffin bone. Hooves will vary according to weather, diet, movement and terrain.
Healthy frogs are not trimmed. Over time, especially in the dry season from December to April, they will become increasingly thick and callused. Healthy frogs allow a horse to land heel first and as he does, this correct landing develops the internal structures. With an incorrect trim or with shoes, the internal structures do not develop. This is why we find juvenile digital cushions on a 20 year old retired racehorse who has lived in shoes his whole life.
The feet on most of the horses showed thick walls, some sole concavity, frogs free of thrush. I advised the owners to trail ride in the hills during the rest of the dry season and stay off the rocky roads and paths as much as possible. I expect most of the horses will handle any condition in a few months. Easy Care Epics with half inch pads are always an option for horses that don’t become sound enough for the work required of them.
One horse actually needed boots because she had blown out her laminae on both sides of both front hooves, mostly likely from abscesses. With such an unstable coffin bone, it will take the growth of at least half wall-to-coffin bone connection via the laminae to make her comfortable. Alternatively she could have off.
The hooves of the shod horses I saw on another farms looked pretty bad: thin walls, thin flat soles, small and unhealthy frogs, very long hoof capsules with flare. In one case, we pulled the shoes and I gave his two horses a very light trim, with special attention to leaving the heels balanced but high enough, to protect what little back of foot the horses had. These two active horses were fitted with padded Easy Care Epic boots and they both trotted right off. In fact they trotted off sound on grass, barefooted too. The owner called to report they had a great one hour trail ride the next day and he planned to compete in barrels that weekend! I wouldn’t have recommended that but who listens to the trimmer?
I did see unusual barefeet at one farm and it took some reflection to understand what was going on. They just looked like blocks of wood. The farrier had rasped the entire bottom of the foot by a half inch and had removed all wall flare with the rasp. This had the effect of robbing the hooves of their natural mechanics. Surprisingly, the horses weren’t lame. I demonstrated the basic trim and in a few months the hooves will normalize.
As the natural trim is applied, many changes will occur:
* The owner will see a nice wall connection develop from the hairline, and the flare will grow out.
* The sole will concave, mirroring the coffin bone rising in the capsule/capsule relaxing down.
* The heels will decontract as the frog and above it, digital cushion, becomes healthy and functional
* As the coffin bone rises in the capsule, (or the capsule descends around the coffin bone) the toe and heels will naturally shorten.
In general most of the horses in Panama had the same kind of feet I see at home. It’s all a variation on a theme. On most horses, the foot the horse wants is located at the top of the hoof, right below the hairline. Jaime Jackson called this the “healing angle”. Because of shoeing and unnatural trimming, flares develop and are maintained, never growing out. When the wall deviates from the coffin bone, ripping the laminae, it is called flare. I believe all horses with flare are experiencing pain. It is common for horses getting a natural trim to not only grow beautiful and functionally correct feet but to become healthier and more energetic. I attribute this to the elimination of chronic pain and to the reestablishment of full blood flow to healthy, regrown internal structures in the hooves, namely lateral cartilages and digital cushions.
I probably worked on 15 or 20 horses during my stay in Panama. I didn’t have any time off but I didn’t mind. Rehabbing horses is my passion. Still a girl has to eat! Although it was tough to pass up Chef Craig’s sumptuous ethnic offering for lunch and dinner at the Rancho, I only treated myself to 2 dinners.
What I loved even more was catching one of the horses, the same ones Carol uses for her safari rides, around 4 pm. At the end of my first full day, I hopped on Gina’s personal horse, Shaggy, and rode into Caldera for dinner at Melissa’s Restaurant. It was a 30 minute ride on small dirt roads. Horses are common transportation in this small town in the far west of Panama so I didn’t look too out of place. (Except for the not looking Panamanian that is.) Upon reaching Melissa’s, I removed the bridle, tied Shaggy up to the pole and asked Melissa for a bowl of water!
In baby Spanish I ordered “un comida con polo”, one meal with chicken. That kept our conversation to something I could understand. I will say that I loved every minute of my ten day stay including the 3 clinical presentations, working hands-on with both the “Gringos” and local Panamanians, visiting farms to work on yet more horses and traveling with Mario to the furthest end of Panama to trim his colt, Young Playboy.
But I can’t imagine anything topping my evening dinners at Melissa’s, sitting outside on the verandah, watching the locals walk or ride by and enjoying Shaggy’s whiny to any horse that might be in the area.