The reason my business is called The Whole Horse is obvious – nothing works in exclusion. In addition to the other horse services I provide, I am also a barefoot trimmer. I’d like to clarify the context of that a bit here; as I’ll be taking on a limited number of new clients this summer.
I was always a fan of the foot. I love the shape, the function, the symmetry and… the puzzle. When I ran a sales barn I was blessed with the very best farrier in the area; he routinely worked magic on the horses that came in. No left lead? Let’s look at how this horse stands. Doesn’t want to use the shoulders? Let’s consider why. The list went on and on but he always began from the bottom up. This was my initial education on a proper trim and shoe job, even though I didn’t know it was happening.
When I moved to my farm, I was out of his travel range. This was when things got a little weird, so to speak. I met and worked with a number of farriers but they were never able to achieve the seemingly effortless work he had done and my horses began to subtly suffer the consequences. Training problems. Joint issues. Back problems, hock problems.
At the same time I was receiving great encouragement from my new hoof care providers to take things into my own hands. I had a yearling who snapped off a toe; I was handed a rasp and taught to keep his heels level. I’m proud to say he does not have a club foot – not because I was particularly skilled but because I was given the knowledge and tool to prevent it by a generous farrier who didn’t feel threatened by my interest.
Then I had a horse with a laminitis episode. Again, out came the rasp and an earnest conversation about how if I kept his heels level and short the outcome could be very different than getting into a shoeing package. I was asked to have a little faith, ride it out and monitor it closely with him. The outcome was fantastic; the horse never rotated, had very little hoof distortion and recovered completely.
I was intrigued. I began studying.
The next horse came with a bucking problem. Four shoes, four sheared heels, four contracted feet. Off came the shoes and he handed me the rasp again. Once his feet were fixed, he stopped bucking. It was that simple.
My personal horses.. off came the shoes. Sometimes things were hit or miss. I was studying Pete Ramey and Jamie Jackson’s work and some of it made sense and in practicality worked and some of it didn’t. I kept what worked, filed the rest for possibility and kept going.
At this point my personal horses and sale horses were now all barefoot and sound. Of course I had also began feeding them differently. The elements were coming together.
I began riding with farriers. A pivotal moment was when I was asked by one to draw a picture in the dirt of an ideal foot. He nodded at my little dirty sketch and said “yes, you see it”. I am deeply grateful for the time, interest and effort the people I have worked have given me.
The foundered horses and ponies came POURING in. I learned to cast; a skill I am particularly proud of as I can keep a cast on a horse for 4-6 weeks and use them to create nearly any situation without damaging the foot or causing pain by nailing an already sore foot.
I kept studying. Anatomy, physiology, practical purpose. KC LaPierre’s dissections. Fran Jurga.
Along the road I learned that the battle between barefoot trimming and shoeing is not productive at all and I refuse to engage in it.
I will continue to hope for a better dialogue about what is best for the horse at any given time; but the people I work with don’t seem to be interested in anything else. I refer horses to farriers often when I believe that the horse would benefit from shoes. I often rehabilitate a horse for a client with the goal of making a foot that is easy for the farrier to shoe and maintain. I never have been and never will be anti-shoe.
I like the problem feet, I like solving the puzzle. I love to rehabilitate a horses feet and watch the other issues evaporate, just as my original farrier showed me so many years ago.
The journey of fixing a horses feet is often long. In consult with my vet over a horse a few months ago she commented that it takes a year to grow a new hoof entirely but the process of healing the inside is much longer than that.. the second year is when you develop sole depth, stabilized internal structures, strengthened collateral and medial ligaments, and the tendons and ligaments in the leg regain their correct support systems.
I’ve always been a fan of the Thoroughbred and hate that most hoof problems in them are blown off as being breed inherent. Sometimes this is true; my personal horse has thin walls that he inherited from his TB mom. He’s sound barefoot as he has excellent internal structure. Occasionally I cast him for extra wall support. However, I trim many many TB’s and OTTB’s that have excellent feet in every way. The idea that all TB’s have crappy feet and will be hothouse flowers on them is always a time bomb ticking. No hoof, no horse is true. Horses need to stand on four balanced feet in order to have sound upper body structures. Putting a bandaid on a horses hoof problems will only lead to unsoundness in the rest of the horse. The time you take working on the bottom saves you time and money working on the top and isn’t that what we want? A sound horse.
If your horse has problem feet, consider thinking out of the box and looking at solutions that are customized to YOUR horse. Nutrition, management, expectation during rehabilitation and proper trimming and/or shoeing is a package deal. Find someone who is interested in your whole horse. If that’s me, great. If it’s someone else who can do the work, that’s great – it’s the horse that matters. I wish for you all and your horses four happy feet. If you’d like to contact me about your horses feet, fill out this form. I’ll be adding limited clients in the Garner/South Raleigh NC area this summer and some in the Chapel Hill/Mebane/Durham areas.