Friday, 27 June 2014

Belief and doubt and all about learning

I saw a fascinating quote this week which really made me sit up and take notice. The full article is on this website and I've picked out the words which jumped out at me.
"The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because “strength of belief” is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself.

As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you’ve made it a part of your ego...It is gratifying to speak forcefully, it is gratifying to be agreed with, and this high is what [you] are chasing."
This is something I've been mulling over a lot over the past few years - in fact in some ways the whole experience of working horses barefoot and rehabbing horses has been one of beliefs being turned upside down, preconceptions being challenged and hard lessons in what we do and don't know. 

Of course, we all have beliefs and if we had none we would probably just be floundering around, completely directionless, like a lot of headless chickens. Beliefs (like most things in life) aren't the problem - its what we do with them that counts. 

Do we hold doggedly onto them, rigid and unquestioning, because it makes us feel secure? Or do we test them regularly and see whether we can find ways of learning more and having a deeper understanding even if that means changing or abandoning our beliefs in the face of improved knowledge?
I will freely admit that I need the regular kick-up-the-backside, stop-being-complacent, actually-you-know-nothing, keep-watching-and-learning that the horses here provide to keep me from getting stuck in a rut with what I believe and understand. 

After all, when Andy and I first kept our horses at home, some 20 years ago, we wanted the best for them - we wanted them to live as naturally and heathily as possible (doesn't everyone?) but we truly, honestly believed that horses couldn't work on roads without shoes and that horses with "navicular" needed the "support" of bar shoes.  
Luckily our horses were on hand to educate us, and when the shoes were failing we eventually opened our eyes and started learning. 

Once we had taken the shoes off Felix it became clear that horses with properly healthy feet were incredibly capable barefoot on all surfaces, mile after mile, day after day. Then we realised that horses with "navicular" actually developed stronger hooves without shoes. So our first 2 beliefs went by the wayside.
Clearly though lots of horses, including our other horses, weren't as able as Felix. As all the horses were on the same management regime we then believed that some horses just couldn't cope without shoes

This belief was (inadvertently) reinforced by the barefoot regimes of the time which were all about trimming. There were myriad courses out there and gurus who would teach owners to trim over a weekend. Hooves would be sculpted and rasped and by the end would look absolutely textbook. If that didn't work and the horse was footy the only solutions available were boots, pads or shoes. 

Well, we'd already realised that shoes weren't doing our horses any favours so we tried boots and pads but the endless problems with lethal lack of traction, poor fit, spinning off, rubbing, incorrect breakover, reduction of stimulus to the foot and sheer clumsiness were very off-putting - never mind that on Exmoor even brushing boots never stay on, let alone hoof boots. 
It was only when I started getting really focussed on diet and nutrition that we got over the footy/boots/shoes problem. Initially I experimented with chucking in some minerals, particularly magnesium, which worked well up to a point but didn't solve the footiness of Bailey, our worst problem child. So we were still stuck with "some horses just can't cope without shoes". 

However a friend was experimenting with grass intake and the effect on feet and she suggested I take Bailey off grass and see what happened. It took 2 weeks completely off the grass but then gradually the sensitive princess became a rock-crunching legend*. So then that belief went by the wayside. 
At this point the horses were all regularly trimmed and I still believed that "trimming was an important part of keeping a horse barefoot". It didn't seem to do them any harm but equally it didn't seem to be revolutionising their lives either. 

From about 2007, I started questioning this belief too. Horses would come for rehab with bizarre feet and as I failed to improve them with trimming I gradually learned to look more at the biomechanics of the whole horse and less at the hoof; as the horses taught me more, I discovered that true soundness was less and less about trimming

As regular blog readers will know, I now trim horses extremely rarely, and in most cases not at all. So that belief has gone by the wayside. 
Don't misunderstand me - I have an enormous, probably never-ending amount to learn about horses, hooves, biomechanics and the best way to do things. 

But all my beliefs are up for grabs and will be discarded if I find something better - the guiding principle is horse soundness and horse health, not whether a belief reinforces me or anyone else. The one belief I haven't shed yet, because its stood up to every test so far, is that the horses know best when it comes to their hooves.

*10 years on, Bailey is still sensitive to sugars but can cope turned out on grass overnight, off during the day, all spring and summer and has been sound on all surfaces for season after season. 


J. Grünewald said...

Amazing feet in the picture above, despite 'no trimming' or because of it, who cares? Love those feet.

But one of the greatest impediments to great feet is feed, and boarding stable owners are slow to change their ways...


BruceA said...

And I have been privileged to have you Nic as a friend and sounding board on my own journey of questioning everything I thought I knew, and trying to understand why the things we do are not working and not doing seems to work better. You only need to read BOOB to understand why folks are reluctant to challenge the "accepted wisdom" in the horse world. It takes courage to put your head above that parapet.

Nic Barker said...

Let's grab a tin hat each Bruce :-) Its much more exciting especially with mates like you for support!