I began to study barefoot trimming because a friend was interested and shared her books with me. If it really improved my horse’s health, as the books said it would, I was all for it. My retired steeplechase, Banjo was 12 at the time. No doubt he had been shod at 1.5 years old. He came from a large local racing barn. I knew that he was one of the few fortunate racehorses who was “rested” from shoes on a regular basis, given time off, had turnout with a herd during the off season. As far as racehorses go, his life was better than most. Not great, but better than most.
Horse #1 Big Band Show, Banjo
After reading several books and studying with K.C. LaPierre for a long weekend, I returned to the farm, new rasp and Dick knife in hand. I could swear that Banjo’s eyes bugged right out of his head as he saw me dressed in my brand new farriers apron, knife in hand. “Jesus, Joseph and Mary, what is she up to now?” his expression seemed to say.
Having written out the 10 steps of a balanced trim on a steno pad that I had propped up in the corner of the wash stall, I applied rasp to hoof and labored through the front hooves of my first trim. It took an hour. I saved the hinds for the next day. This was my routine for many, many months.
I am not sure whether the barn’s farrier, Trevor Sutherland was being kind, encouraging or enjoyed my travails for his personal amusement. Regardless, he was kind enough to look over my trim during his visits, and show me how to sight the bottom of the foot for balance. He gave me many pointers and free touch ups, as well. I was off and running.
Most farriers know that barefoot is best for horses; sadly most don’t know how to transition the horse so he is comfortable. I also think many farriers don’t care for all the “owner support” that is sometimes necessary. That is one reason I encourage all clients to get educated. Then when the hoof chips or the rare abscess pops, all hell doesn’t break loose.
9 months later, I paid Marjorie Smith to visit for a full day of private tutoring. She further improved my trim and understanding of the hoof. Her bag of coffins bones is a treat no one should miss.
Banjo was trailing out nicely on everything but gravel. Since there was no gravel in his soft Unionville pasture, I didn’t expect any improvement there. In fact he gave me and my riding buddy many light moments (sadly at his expense) when he crossed a patch of gravel or rocks. I swear he furloughed his brow with concern.
Just before he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly during the summer of 2004, he was truly magnificent. His barefeet were highly functional and getting better daily. His back, newly improved with the addition of a Balance Saddle from the UK, looked like that of a warmblood.
Horse #2 Sunny Days (by Not for Love out of Best Terms)
In August, I adopted “Sunny” from the Lost and Found Rescue in York, Pa. Sunny had arrived (initially as “Mean and Lean”) via the Slaughter Pen at the New Holland sales in Pa., truly a horses’ hell on earth. He was the first crop of foals (1999) from “Not for Love” who stands at the Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City, Maryland. The last time I checked, “Not for Love”, was the highest producing stallion outside of Kentucky. His stud fee was $25,000. His weanlings now bring $30,000. Sunny’s former owner skipped town after a run-in with a group of owners he was working for. All his horses were sent to the slaughter pen.
I adopted Sunny because he was the most personable horse I had ever met! The other thoroughbreds, also from New Holland, had Alydar and Seattle Slew lines. But they seemed cold and uninterested in me. Sunny definitely wanted a good home and I wanted a lovey-dovey companion. I bought him that day for $900 and he arrived in Unionville the next day.
He was a nick off at the rescue so I was not surprised that he walked off the stock trailer lame at a trot. His soles were so thin and flat that after running around the pasture that first day, he rested in founder stance, back on his haunches. This kept his coffin bones off his thin soles. As Pete Ramey likes to say, “His coffin bones were nearly out in the great outdoors!”
In spite of that budding abscess, Dr. Alec Jorgenson of Field Service at New Bolton gave him the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on the New Horse Vetting, short version. Unbelievably his legs were “clean”, i.e. no bowed tendons. He had been pin fired for bucked shins, a malady of young racehorses ridden too hard and too early; they had long since healed.
Sunny actually dozed off during the examination by Dr. Alec and his visiting vet friend. “Well I guess we know now why he didn’t do too well on the track,” said Dr. Alec laughing as Sunny feel sound asleep. He wasn’t your typical, wired thoroughbred. “No doubt he will make a super trail and pleasure horse,” he said in his floating South African accent that was sorely missed when he returned home shortly after this visit.
“I will be riding him barefoot in no time,” I said.
To which Dr. Alec responded, “This horse will never go barefoot.”
Looking back with an eye, untrained by natural trimming, Dr. Alec and probably every vet at New Bolton would have agreed. Sunny’s front toes had been dubbed “to move his breakover back”. (Later I would discover they did this so that he could race on an injured high suspensory tear.) He was fitted with shoes that were too small, resulting in front hooves that looked as if he were standing on ice cream cones, with the small end on the bottom!
He had stress rings up and down all walls. All the soles were thin and flat. The frogs were pencil-thin, diseased with thrush. Viewed from the back, he had major “plumber butt cracks” between each pair of bulbs. His outer and inner walls were so thin I wonder how a farrier ever got a nail in the right place. The bottom inch of his hooves was cracking as the useless, old wall broke under the stress of his 800 lb body. This is a fine example of self trimming.
In the hind he had two bullnose hooves. The hoof takes this shape when the coffin bone, rather than sitting correctly in the hoof capsule at approximately ground parallel, tilts with the heels down and the front of the bone up. We call it a negative plane. You can easily imagine how this position stresses the tendons and ligaments of the legs.
I actually offered Dr. Alec a bet that I would be riding Sunny barefooted this time next year. But as luck would have it, one ride in the sand ring (a year after adoption) and Sunny came up lame with an old, high suspensory injury. With time, patience, shock wave therapy, limited turnout and a detailed rehab program, he was ready to start his new career in July, 2006.
I rode him in Easycare Bare boots with half inch comfort pads for two months. During that time I also hand walked him on the rocky terrain which we now called home, Valley Farm in northern Wilmington, De. By September, I was riding bootless, comfortably at a walk first for 30 then 60 minutes. As I write this in early December, 2006 we trail out almost every day for anywhere from 1 to 4 hours on all types of terrain, ranging from sort of rocky to really rocky. He walks comfortably everywhere and trots in most areas. I expect that by the spring of 2007 Sunny, the rescued racehorse will be a certified, top notch rock cruncher, a popular trimmer term. Please go to Case Studies to see that indeed the thoroughbred foot is a beauty.
(Update: due to new information from Dr. Bowker’s research on blood flow in the hoof, Sunny is back in padded boots all around. Now his hooves offer no resistance to the blood flow from the large arteries running down the leg, into the tiny vessels embedded in the soft tissue in the back of the foot, then back up the large veins in the legs)
Next Step - Professional Training
I began training with the American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners, helmed by Jaime Jackson during the fall of 2005. When I started trimming Banjo, I vowed to just trim my own horse. When he did so well, I agreed to trim a friend’s horse, for more practice. Of course with training, working with top trimmers all over the country, my confidence grew and I decided to find my niche in this grass roots movement of barefoot horses and natural care.
I believe that going barefoot is the best thing you can do for your horse. With this in mind, I put out a shingle and began trimming clients’ horses in late 2005. I took my time. I was honest about my experience. Over time, my trim and my understanding improved. Horses recovered from founder and navicular, much to the surprise of the attending professionals. Some horses just got happier, more willing, better gaited. Some went from hard keepers (in pain) to moderate or easy keepers, happier in their feet and skin.
What can I say, when a three-legged lame, 12 year old thoroughbred who hadn’t walked comfortably for who-knows-when, gallops off, bucking and farting, right after his first natural trim and boot fitting? It happened. I saw it.
I have decided to do what I can to help as many horses as I can. I would like to teach owners to trim their own horses. Once the hooves are going in the right direction, every owner is shocked at how little there is to be done. My own horse pretty much self-trims.
I enjoy working with pathological horses that everyone but the owner has given up on. Founder and navicular are so treatable. Even shoe-induced pathologies like ring bone and side bone sometimes demineralize.
I enjoy writing articles for clients and, one day, magazines to educate other owners about going barefoot. The work of trimmers is beginning to influence vets and farriers, encouraging them to learn about this new (truly ancient) hoof treatment called the natural trim and natural lifestyle.
In the end it’s for The Horse.