Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Barefoot Controversy...I AM a Barefoot Advocate!!

Over the past 300 years (or possibly longer) a recurring debate has smoldered: to shoe, or not to shoe?

Believe me, when Nike starts making technically advanced, anatomically considerate gel running shoes for horses, I'll be placing an order. But as long as our best attempt to shoe our horses involves a hammer, nails, and a hunk of steel (or aluminum, for that manner -- oooo, how very advanced!), and the individual applying the apparatus belongs to an association that holds championships for the "best" among them -- (how appalled would we be if surgeons held championship surgery competitions???) -- well, I'll kindly ask the farriers to keep their mitts and their steel off of my horses' feet, thank you very much.

I have a very open mind when it comes to the health of my horses...I think the bottom line is that horse owners should not buy in to ANY idea without doing their own research. I personally absolutely believe barefoot is better...when done right. I find it incredibly irritating when people tell me they need to see the data and proof that support barefoot, because NO ONE asks to see the data and the proof that traditional shoeing is better. Show me THAT research, show me proof that shoeing DOESN'T create many of the pathologies we see in our horses' feet, show me the studies that prove once and for all that shoeing DOESN'T compromise the natural development of the foot, doesn't contribute to heel contraction, doesn't inhibit blood flow in the foot, doesn't compromise the horn quality; show me proof that a steel shoe doesn't apply unnatural force to the rest of the limb; show me proof that a barefoot horse CAN'T compete soundly. My own six horses, some barefoot from birth and some deshod when it finally made sense to me (one, a 25 year old gelding with confirmed navicular changes, deshod 3 years ago, now sounder than he EVER was in innumerable variations on bar shoes and pads), are my proof that it can and does work.

I do not subscribe to Dr. Strasser's very aggressive trim...but I've read much of what she has to say about the function of the equine foot. Her work resonates with the work of Dr. Robert Bowker, James Rooney, farriers Pete Ramey and Gene Ovnicek to name a few.

The feet of my two barefoot-from-birth geldings (now 4 and 5 years old and ridden daily over miles of varied terrain), trimmed in a manner like Ramey/Bowker advocate, are profoundly different in shape, horn quality, and frog health than any shod horse I've seen to date. I've watched a six year old, barefoot-from-birth gelding that came in two years ago with spectacular, strong, healthy, rock-crunching feet...he was shod (much to my dismay) shortly after he arrived at our facility. His feet have changed dramatically since then. In that short period of time, his frogs have contracted to half their former width, and his feet are now base narrow, where they were distinctly cone shaped before. I will be shocked if he continues to go sound much longer.

People like to argue that we have not bred for better feet. But nor have we bred for feet at all. So it seems statistically improbable that we've bred the feet out of our horses, as some people would have us believe. And while we've certainly done our best to destroy their feet by keeping them in far from a natural situation (stalled, soft footing, lack of movement, etc.), it is astounding how the hoof can not only recuperate but be nearly completely reformed by changing the horsekeeping situation. Not just the hoof wall...but the lateral cartilages and the digital cushion can actually be stimulated and changed.

It does our horses no good to not explore any alternative that MIGHT offer a better way. It does our horses no good to argue about which way is better. The proof is in the horse's foot. All I want is a sound, happy, healthy horse. If I have to go against the grain to make that happen, I am unafraid of being unpopular for that decision...


This post was written as a response to the following:

"Barefoot in the Head"