Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Thoughtful Horseman Newsletter Debuts This Week!

Our first issue will be making its way to your email inbox or tack room door this week! We hope you will find the barefoot, horsekeeping & horsemanship facts, news and tips useful and informative.

A big thank you goes to my editor and all-around assistant, Kristi Inzunza, for working her tail off to get the newsletter off the ground!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What part of I DON'T TRIM LIVE SOLE didn't you understand?

I guess a red flag should have popped up in my head when the subject line of the email included the phrase "high performance barefoot trimmer". That was exactly the terminology used by the last Strasser follower I crossed paths with. But this individual had found and, a logical person would have presumed by what she said in her email, read my website, which describes in detail my trimming philosophy and mentors. She was looking for a trimmer, was already on the barefoot path, and had some doubts about how her current farrier was trimming her horses. I got her on the phone and we had a fairly lengthy conversation, which included the subject of trimming toe from the bottom (bad) and beveling the wall, among other things. All tenets of a good barefoot trim. Her main concern was that several of her horses seemed to have gone flat footed after recent trims, which sang to me of a sole carved too thin, and a toe trimmed from the bottom.

It never crossed my mind to ask specifically whether she subscribed to Dr. Hiltrud Strasser's techniques; most of the folks I encounter have already ruled her ideas out. It's not a battle I generally expect to have. Why shoeing is unhealthy, well, now, that battle I have every doggone day. Why the typical pasture trim is not much better, except for the lack of nails, yep, I'm pretty used to that one, too. But my screening of new clients has not historically included a question to reveal Strasser devotees.

Now it will.

The first 3 minutes of our visit went pretty well. And then she whipped out Strasser's "text book". I immediately recoiled (lest I should turn into a pillar of salt on the spot) and explained that I find Strasser's invasive ideas unnecessary and at times quite detrimental to the comfort of the horse through the transition, and that her technique thins sole dangerously. I even warned her at that point that I might not want to get involved with trimming her horses if Strasser was part of the equation. But this gal had impressed upon me how badly she needed competent help trimming her horses, and my conviction in my trimming style is resolute, so I thought perhaps I could teach her. So I offered to at least evaluate one of her horses, explain what I saw, how I would trim and why.

The second red flag actually DID pop into my head when she brought the mare in and anchored her with cross ties. *Sigh*. Apparently the natural horsemanship aspect of my website was lost on her, too.

I then spent the better part of my afternoon being sneered at when I explained why I rarely invade the unexfoliating sole plane (sneer), why the heels and bar on a hoof with a diseased frog will grow back with a vengeance when lowered too aggressively (sneer), that treating the source of the discomfort was the most logical way to achieve healthy heel height in the shortest period of time (double sneer). I went through three of four hooves this way, doggedly ignoring her sour facial expressions and protests, pointing out what was good and bad; overall, the first three feet had adequate sole coverage; both hind feet were slightly imbalanced, but not badly; heel on the left front was a bit long, but not radically, with some contraction (hello, chlorine dioxide), and all in need of a serious beveling job.

Then I picked up hoof number four, the right front. Now, don't misconstrue this paragraph as a critique of this lady's trimming skills; my point is only how Strasser's technique struggles against what the hoof is trying so very hard to tell us. And this hoof was screaming. Aye, yay yay. Horrid contraction. Poor, sad, scrawny little blackened frog giving up the ghost in the middle. Pronounced mediolateral imbalance. Heels trying hard to touch each other, except for the fact that they had been trimmed literally almost to the bottom of the collateral groove, swooping like the runners on a rocking chair from the quarters (where she could rasp no further without quicking the horse) to bring the "length of the heel" into Strasser's parameters. The mare literally had no point of heel purchase. Opening cuts had been used to cut away and forcibly, artificially widen the heels. Aaaarrrgghhh.

I expressed concern over the way the heel had been trimmed. (Sneer.) I could not, due to the overzealous and unrelenting weekly-or-more trim jobs, tell where the hoof was wearing naturally, and suggested allowing a little more time between trims to listen to the hoof. (SNEER.) I quietly reasserted the effectiveness of chlorine dioxide soaking to eradicate chronic frog infection. When that again met with the impertinent little sneer, I cut my losses, gathered my things, and left. Enough time wasted for one day.

Much of Strasser's work which focuses on healthier horsekeeping and the evils of horseshoeing resonates with my philosophy. However, her aggressive "carve the foot you want to see" methods completely ignore the basic principles I believe are the most important to creating a truly healthy hoof, including doing everything humanly possible to make the transition comfortable for the horse. And above all, not invading the sole!!! No, you CANNOT carve concavity into the sole, unless you happen to own a mini, or a long ears, who just don't shed sole on their own. You can try, but until the sole plane reaches a healthy depth and mirrors the bottom of P3 on its own, you will fight a losing battle.

Not every horse trimmed a la Strasser will suffer. But too many do. A far less invasive approach works beautifully, with far fewer risks. Why fight what the hoof is telling you? Instead, read it, and gently fix the problem.

My new "Potential Client Questionnaire" will be available on my website soon...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Your tender-footed horse and that occasional pasture turnout..

I know I harp on feed issues a lot, and I'm sure plenty of you shake your heads and mutter "it's just ONE molasses cookie", "but he LOVES to be turned out to eat grass all day long", or, "she needs alfalfa to keep weight on her". I'm also sure that there are plenty of vets and trainers who will blythely tell you a little bit won't hurt.

But what we're seeing in the field, and what current research like that done by Dr. David Hood at the Hoof Project at Texas A & M is confirming, is that a little bit can hurt...quite literally. Horses that were toe flicking sound all winter are suddenly tender on hard ground or gravel; transitioning horses who finally have adequate sole coverage and healthy frogs start to tiptoe again. Trimmers across the country have seen it enough to know the solution: stricter diet. For committed barefoot horse owners, the solution is a really honest evaluation of what the horse is eating.

Those of you new to barefoot horses will inevitably wonder whether your horse really just needs shoes after all. The truth is shoes will only mask the underlying problem: too much sugar or non-structural carbohydrates in the horse's diet, causing inflammation of the laminae that bind the hoof wall to the coffin bone. Linda Cowles, a noteable and talented trimmer in Northern California (see her website, ) had this to say on the subject:

"People who aren't committed slap shoes on their horses when the trainer or vet suggests it, in essence ignoring a vital warning sign that could have long term consequences [laminitis, founder]. This happened at a stable I work at recently, where a known IR (insulin resistant) horse who had been barefoot for 8 years became tender and was shod. Her small paddock was surrounded on all sides with lush grass that had been nipped down methodically, and the base of her paddock had a liberal carpet of tightly cropped grass. When she became tender, the trainer advised shoes and she got shod. Is she sound? No, she isn't landing heel first, but her toe first landing is less pronounced, and the trainer is satisfied.

It's easier to assume that the horse is unable to go barefoot, or to choose the easy solution of metal shoes to boots and an optimum diet. People who are committed to their horses' health choose grazing muzzles and dietary changes, using diet and boots in conjunction with a good trim to pull horses through these tender periods. More and more people are thinking this way, but because vets and trainers often feel shoes are a very acceptable alternative, it takes nerve for the conscientious owner to go against their suggestions.

The real problem is that shoeing masks symptoms without addressing the cause, which is ongoing grass laminitis, or early onset of Insular Resistance."

I couldn't agree more. Lush pasture, sweet feed (oatmo, grains, ANYTHING containing molasses), and alfalfa are all potential triggers. I have a question for you to ponder: If you had a diabetic child, would you feed that child large doses of sugar on a daily basis??

Barefoot isn't just about pulling shoes. It is a whole horse care choice for the better health of the domestic equine. If you make the commitment....MAKE THE COMMITMENT.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Eight Belles' tragic breakdown after the Derby...

Well, as much as I have mixed emotions about horse racing, I watched the Derby today. Actually, I was very interested to see if they talked about the PolyFlex glue-on shoes worn by Big Brown and Pyro; while it's not barefoot, and still a peripheral loading device, it IS a break from the traditional nailed on aluminum shoe, and bound to make people -- even non-horse people -- think. Eight Belles' tragic breakdown was, I thought, rather downplayed...tough for the industry after all the negative publicity with Barbaro, I guess.

There are surely many issues with horse racing, not the least of which are the young age at which horses are raced, the high octane diet designed to grow them BIG at a young age (Eight Belles was a 17 hand 3 yr old filly!), the distance and frequency they are made to run, and the surfaces upon which they compete. But the relevance to barefoot hoofcare is, I think, bound to become a discussion. The horse racing industry funds much of equine research; if barefoot starts to make sense to them, imagine the impact to hoofcare everywhere. Just look at the millions of dollars being spent to resurface tracks across the country. If only that would be applied to hoof research!! The Northern California track vet recently advised the CHRB to consider allowing horses to race barefoot. (I'm sure they all smirked at her and moved on to the next agenda item, but hey, she gets major kudos for broaching the subject!)

That a shoe nailed to the hoof greatly reduces the shock absorption inherent in the bare hoof has been scientifically established. While I cannot find relevant research regarding aluminum racing plates and catastrophic injuries of this type, research does exist supporting the increased risk of such injuries when horses are shod with toe grabs. Is there a connection between shoes and catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries in equine athletes? It's hard to believe there isn't. Now if more trainers would just start training their horses barefoot, the rules that a horse must be shod to race might change, and we might see the can only hope...

Author's notes: reports that Eight Belles "...
suffered condylar fractures in both forelegs. The left was dislocated and opened the skin, contaminating the injury. She fractured "at least one sesamoid' in her right leg..." according to Dr. Larry Bramlage, the American Association of Equine Practitioner's on call veterinarian on site at Churchill Downs

Also from, the following paragraph taken from the article "Broken Legs Aren't Death" by Sharon Biggs, published May 21, 2006:

"The most common long bone fracture that Nunamaker the lateral condylar fracture. "Although this is commonly seen here at the University of Pennsylvania, fractures in other parts of the country and in other parts of the world are in fact different. It's all based on training, the surfaces animals race and work on, as well as what kind of shoes they wear," says Nunamaker.

ESPN ran a story on Big Brown's glue on shoes on May 1st. It quotes the trainer talking about the colt's feet having a heavier pulse and carrying heat in nailed on aluminum shoes -- two classic signs of laminitis. In his glue-ons, Big Brown's feet are cool and calm. It also talks about the flexibility of the PolyFlex shoes. Read the entire article here:

Frog Health Follow Up....

The barefoot hoofcare contingent is talking a lot about frog health these days, and I believe we are all starting to agree it is a MUCH bigger issue than anyone ever suspected. The consensus, after many case studies, is that bacterial/fungal infection attacks the entire hoof capsule, and treating the entire foot with oxine or chlorine dioxide can dramatically aid rehabilation.

In my March 5th blog entry, I pondered just how rampant, underdiagnosed and underestimated the gravity of the problem is, as well as what tools we can add to our arsenal to control it. After much reading and experimentation, my new favorite treatment is soaking with White Lightening chlorine dioxide liquid. The White Lightening chlorine dioxide gel is proving to be a good follow up to the soaking.

Just how insidious is chronic infection of the frog? And how dramatic are the effects of the White Lightening soaking? Have a look...this is my barefoot-from-birth 6 yr old Paint gelding, Mixer. I never really considered his frogs unhealthy until I became obsessed with the subject. On the left, solar view of his right front after his last trim 04-23-08. On the right, solar view of his right front after soaking with White Lightening on 04-30-08. The frog was NOT trimmed prior to or after soaking!

Click image to view full size: