Friday 27 March 2015

How to amaze a farrier

There was an article in Horse & Hound this week which caused a certain amount of mild irritation among barefoot horse owners.
In it a remedial farrier talks about barefoot - from his vast range of experience (I don't know of any high level barefoot horses for whom he is the farrier - he certainly doesn't mention any) and with the benefit of his many years of expertise in adhering steel and plastic to horses. 

He says:

"I am an advocate of barefoot, where circumstances allow."

What circumstances are these? Sadly he doesn't enlighten us but perhaps its where the owners have no ambition to do dressage  - bad luck Blinged-Up Bullet Dodgers, your days of success must be numbered - or are just too cheap to buy his services.

"Without a shoe the foot works slightly differently - the surface area is reduced to the solar plane whereas a shoe can be made slightly wider."

Erm, if you load a horse's weight onto a shoe you are actually reducing the surface area to much, much less than the solar plane, Haydn. In fact its a fraction of the solar plane. So if you think a greater surface area is better then barefoot beats shoes every single time.

The second farrier quoted in the article is similarly sceptical of a horse's ability to grow decent feet without a lot of help from the steel and alloy industry. His view is that:

"If the horse has a slight conformation problem, the shoe can create the correct platform. You can extend it at the rear to provide support for piaffe, for example, but you can't do that barefoot. "

First off, as Steve Leigh would say, if you look behind the horse (as well as to both sides and in front) you will see that he already has something called the ground which extends for miles in every direction and provides fantastic support. So I am not sure a bit of metal out the back of the foot is that relevant.

Secondly - and you'll love this, farriers - prepare to be AMAZED - the horse can make his own support!
The very thing you were talking about - a horse with a problem (actually a shoulder injury rather than conformation) and look - he has created his own platform to provide the support he needs. 

And here is the cool thing - its in exactly the right place, its a medial extension (which you could never provide with a shoe - all you could do is a lateral extension which would unbalance him further), and if he doesn't need it any more he can get rid of it. 

Fancy that - horses can grow the feet they need and can adapt them perfectly to the load of the limb above and they don't need us to do it for them. A sobering thought. 

"I've yet to see a horse able to do grand prix with bare feet that can support fully loaded limbs."

Now that's just provocative, boys, as well as ill-informed. But just because its Friday, here's a bit of free CPD for you and your colleagues.


BruceA said...

I love the sound of a deflating argument. :-) Does anyone actually read the content of H&H articles any more? I've only ever looked at the pictures.

Horses and other general ramblings said...

Ohhhh.... I better tell Eager she can no longer do Passage! She may not be happy with that :-)

Unknown said...

very well put Nic! I intend to be one of the first to do higher level eventing barefoot!!

Unknown said...

Love this Nic!!!!! Cant wait to share this lol :-)

Ali said...

:D :D :D

Unknown said...

Hi Nic great post and I do agree with everything you have said after over 30 years as an equine vet with the last 6 heavily involved in natural hoof care, a whole new range of treatment options has opened up when clients and farriers dare to be bare with hoof management.

Each of these farriers quoted should spend a few years applying natural hoof care into their practice ( remember the devil is in the detail ) and then re write the article. Many of these truths in the traditional vet and farrier world are urban myths.

My road to Damascus transformation was a horse called Victor with awful feet and cripple lame every time he lost a shoe, now barefoot in his mid twenties he is sounder than he has ever been. I would not have believed anyone if they had told me this could happen as I have looked after him for over 20 years. Being a hoof geek we had tried every shoe, nailed and glue on we could think of, but he still had poor, weak feet, until he went barefoot with a proper transition period.

By the very nature metal on the horse foot must weaken it and the default should be barefoot. Then we apply shoes or boots in specific circumstances as need be! However it took me 25 years to learn this ��
Also it has never ceased to amaze me why any Dressage horse needs shoes on! This discipline celebrates movement, always on a surface so why shoes?

Love the blog and real world examples and your willingness to share.

We must continue to strive for what we think is best for the horse and as we all say "no foot no horse..."

Paul Proctor MRCVS

Wayne said...

Dear Paul Proctor

You have fallen for the classic scientific fallacy of small sample size. While I have no doubt your Damascus Road conversion event was real, it is one horse.

IME hoof rehabilitation is not nearly so deterministic.... I admit viewing from my practice of farriery, and yes in many cases rehabilitation has been better sans any sort of appliance. But equally, rehabilitation has benefited from the application of one or another artificial construct... AKA a horseshoe or other farriery related application.

Horses for courses... but elimination of a whole host of opportunities to help the horse on narrow philosophical grounds is asinine IMO

Wayne said...

I also believe a portion of your argument scientifically, pragmatically and demonstrably fallacious.... FWIW

BruceA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BruceA said...

I don't want to be fallacious (are we allowed to use that kind of language in here?) But LServ, the whole point is that sadly many of these horses that have passed through Rockley have undergone the "application of appliances" and it hasn't been particularly helpful and in many cases made things much worse for the horse. Don't be so contemptuous of another's experience, it undermines the impression of the intelligent person that I think you believe that you are.

Wayne said...


I take your point, however, doesn't that intrinsically introduce a cognitive bias into the sample?

In my practice, I use whatever modality I see fit, including barefoot, including application of appliance.

I don't have any intrisic bias one way or the other. Nic however, takes on failed cases from other modalities... equals unintentional (or not) bias.

Also, the not so subtle comment with regards my level of intelligence is not cool and argumentatively fallacious in istself ;)

Nic Barker said...

Thanks for all the comments. Paul, if you drop me an email I will send you a copy of the research results updated in PDF form. I've sent it to a few vets and you'd be welcome to a copy (as would anyone else who is interested).
LServ, you are of course welcome to comment but you are mistaken in a number of your assumptions. If you'd like the detailed results for the rehab horses (including details of which "modalities" have been tried on each before) you can also email me or you will find a copy on the Booted Out of the Barefooters Facebook page, as one of its members has posted a copy there.
All the best,


Fi said...

I don't do technobabble or speaking in riddles (attention span of a goldfish when it comes to things that you need a degree in codebreaking to understand I'm afraid) thus can't really comment on the conversation going on above. Anyhow I also hate generalisation. It is true that not every rider and every owner is willing and able (and I fully sympathise with making do with what livery yards are available or having time constraints... I work 40 hrs a week at least and keep some rather odd hours and am rather limited in suitable yard choices!) to provide their horse with an environment in which they can be comfortable barefoot. But equally it is ridiculous to suggest that to compete to a decent level in dressage horses MUST wear shoes (Also silly that they MUST wear bits. I'm not bitless myself but think it's plain daft to alienate those who are for no good reason!) It has been suggested that weighting shoes in a certain way can exaggerate / change the way the horse moves (especially if put on just before an event) but surely dressage was designed to show off the natural movement and paces of the horse?

Unknown said...

I think this seems fitting:

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

George Bernard Shaw

Tim said...

I'm not sure Pauls' sample size was that small.
He seemed to imply that he understood the concept of using barefoot better when he saw one extreme horse recover. However he then went on to say that he had been treating horses in this fashion for the last 6 years. I'm sure that was on multiple horses. If a significant proportion of them had failed to improve, as a good scientist, he would have reviewed the evidence of the small initial sample size and revised his treatment of subsequent horses.

MegF said...

Love the article! As a barefoot trimmer I hear the same thing all the provide more distribution of energy (whatttt???) and that horses can't do any real work in them! Loved the part about upper level horses can't do it barefoot....guess I'll just have to tell my boy that he shouldn't be able to piaffe or passage because evidently he doesn't have enough support...poor guy...he'll be so sad!