Wednesday, 28 October 2009

I'm on commission from the farriers...

I seem to be recommending that a lot of people try shoeing their horses at the moment, particularly after this post only a few days ago ;-)

Of course, this isn't because I WANT the horses back in shoes, but I feel the need to present it as an option for some owners.

Partly this is because I am very conscious that getting a horse's hooves good enough for barefoot performance can be a tough choice for owners, and sometimes shoes make life much easier.

Its also partly because "barefoot evangelism" does nothing to endear barefoot to horse owners, or to other equine professionals, and I don't want to join that clique - if we can't be open-minded about shoes, why should we expect anyone else to be open-minded about barefoot?

The other practical issue is that, because barefoot horses are a rarity, and because the most "noteworthy" point about these horses is their hooves, if there is a problem with a barefoot horse its human nature for the vet, owner, trainer, yard owner and anyone else involved in the horse's care to focus on the feet - even if its highly unlikely to be the feet that are the problem.

I think the nearest analogy is probably with the first women in the workplace - they were under enormous pressure not just to achieve, but to over-achieve, to out-perform their male colleagues because any failure would have been "because she's a woman".

So for instance I talked to an owner a month ago about trying front shoes on her horse. In fact he has great feet, and her management of him is good, but he can be a bit of a plod and the other members of the family thought he was slow because he didn't have shoes on.

I didn't think that was the issue, but let's be realistic, a set of shoes wasn't going to do him any harm and it was the only way they could bottom out for themselves whether that was the problem. They had him shod, and it made no difference to his energy levels (!) and they hated the fact that he tripped and slid on the roads, so after 6 weeks his shoes came off again, and glory be, the owner, the farrier and I are all still speaking to each other ;-)

Then yesterday I talked to another client about shoeing her horse; again its someone whose horse has great feet (after more than a year barefoot!) and who has seen the effects of diet in action - her horse went very lame after a grass flush in August, but has recovered well since she drastically restricted the grazing. However, the horse is generally not as forward-going as she would like, and has become short-striding over the last few months as well. The vet's opinion is that the horse is overweight, but its become very much fitter recently but is still not moving as well as it did in the Spring.

My own suspicion is that the horse has a knee problem, as she has restricted carpal flexion in both front legs and moves better on a softer surface, but I am no vet, and there is a possibility that the horse still has sole sensitivity as well. The owner doesn't want to keep the horse off grass completely, and restriction has not made further improvement, so all I can do is suggest that the owner try shoes or hoof boots to eliminate the possibility that the feet are the problem :-) If it IS the knees, then shoes really won't make a difference, and the owner is smart enough to realise that. We shall see :-)


cptrayes said...

I think you are probably the best person who could be doing your job. You are phenomenally intelligent compared to most of us, with a "past life" which taught you just how to get people to fit in with your point of view. Having been a lawyer is a definite strength in being a leading barefoot light! I couldn't be half as sucessful leading the UKNHCP as you Nic, I take my hat off to you.


Nic Barker said...

Thank you, Caroline, but I'm not sure I really deserve that ;-) UKNHCP is the most fantastic support network and I think we do generally keep each other on the straight and narrow, with the odd glitch :-)

Sometimes I feel as if I am slightly playing devil's advocate, but thats not the intention, its just that I want owners to have made their own decisions, rather than doing what I think is best. Barefoot has attracted too many "gurus" in the past, and like you, I prefer independent thinkers !! :-)

cptrayes said...

It still makes me smile to know that when we started we were the biggest sceptics the world had ever seen!