Knowledge is needed before taking action
There have always been barefoot horses. We have observed in sport that in jumping fences up to 1.10-1.20m, horses with good confirmation do not experience problems, but when the fences are higher the hooves must be perfect as the energies fielded are immense. Horses, on the other hand, were not selected to jump with a rider on their backs. In nature horses jump if they need to but certainly not in the way sport requires.
Studying barefoot horses has fascinated me from the very beginning and I completed my training with two American diplomas on the study of the unshod hoof’s physiology and how it should be cared for.
Years ago I had contacted Luca Moneta because I knew that, going against the trend of the times, he had started to ride barefoot horses, and so we met. The first horse I looked after was Connery. We started the barefoot process when Connery already had an established career. This meant that it was not easy, because it is one thing to start with a young horse and quite different if a horse has been shod for years. Not all horses can cope. Luca and I always continued to work together and this work is still now a study, involving progress and discovery, which we work on together.
Due to the materials used, shoeing inevitably immobilises the hoof completely and interferes with the way hooves normally work to manage energy. If one understands that hooves are capable of managing tons of weight when landing from a jump, one can understand that this is an extraordinary perfect mechanism, but also a very delicate one. The immobilisation caused by shoeing creates atrophy and prevents the hooves from managing this energy. This is why when one removes the shoes from a horse it needs a period of rehabilitation of the hooves; what is called a ‘transition period’ that at times one manages to complete or at others only partially and not according to the client’s expectations.
Expectations are one of the problems. Everyone expects a horse with quality to constantly provide excellent performances, but we must bear in mind that each horse is different, not only from a genetic point of view, because from the moment it is used for sport, one must take into account environmental stimuli, its entire life, which includes management, nutrition, training and all the rest. All these elements merge in creating a different horse and not what one would expect ‘in theory’.
In more simple term, by shoeing a horse one manages to get every horse to work even if it has problems. Barefoot horses instead will clearly express any problems if not entirely fit. The management of barefoot horses does not only involve the trimmer but is instead constantly evolving, even the most imperceptible changes must be dealt with every day. It is all certainly more difficult. What horses do or are subject to every day affects their hooves. Horses distribute energy differently depending on the problem faced and this is inevitably reflected on the hoof wall.
At this point we must address research and studies. One must be well-informed; one needs extensive knowledge of horses and all their aspects. Riders and grooms have a great deal of responsibility and it is with them that I often interact. They must notice every change and sensation the horse transmits to them. Riders must have a sensitivity that allows them to understand, they must always pay attention. Team work is fundamental, necessary. All those who are part of the horses’ lives must interact, exchange thoughts and agree on procedures. This applies to veterinary surgeons, trimmers, grooms, riders, owners, nutritionists, coaches and so on. It is the work of a team without which no results are achievable.
It is undeniable that healthy horses perform better barefoot, they move in a different manner, they jump differently. There are limitations however concerning how much they can do. In classes with fences below 1.50 there can be quite a large number of horses capable of jumping barefoot. Beyond certain levels it can only be done in some cases, perhaps only at certain times, paying special attention, observing the hooves’ evolution…
Barefoot horses are now the fashion and this terrifies me even more. The example set by Swedish riders has exploded but one must be careful, what happens behind the scenes is extremely complex. One cannot consider this a fashion, that would be extremely dangerous. One must be well-aware of how things work before thinking one can do them. As far as sports horses are concerned, the management of unshod hooves is more expensive in every possible way, financial, mental, organisational and in labour hours. Farriers, on the contrary, shoe a horse and for the following 50 days that is it. Perhaps there might be other concerns.
Nowadays there are many who wish to remove their horses’ shoes following this trend, then they are is a hurry expecting results that do not come. Then they decide to re-shoe them saying it doesn’t work. But this is not true, it is only a matter of how one deals with barefoot horses. The horse must be well and one must be able to ensure it is well.
The absolute priority in trimming hooves is the search for balance and more specifically the balance there is between the third phalange (coffin bone) and the hoof horn.
This is the first thing. For 95% of horses it is the only thing that matters. So as to re-establish the balance of hooves in traditional shoeing there are parameters to be respected concerning the horse’s morphology and posture. In this case instead one starts with the hooves, attention is paid to how the third phalanx has formed compared to the wall. When this balance is achieved all the rest also falls into place and posture improves, muscles improve too as do paces. There is a way of establishing the position of the third phalanx (coffin bone) using observation and analysing tissue.
Through observation and touching I can identify its position. One starts with the concept that all energy is correctly channelled to the internal tissues, which are stimulated and produce a much more efficient hoof wall. The better balance one provides the more one will obtain a performing hoof wall and not only the wall but also all internal structures. When a shoe is applied the caudal hoof can no longer move, it loses its mobility and elasticity. These are concepts that must studied in depth so as to be understood.
Through observation and touching I can identify its position. One starts with the concept that all energy is correctly channelled to the internal tissues, which are stimulated and produce a much more efficient hoof wall. The better balance one provides the more one will obtain a performing hoof wall and not only the wall but also all internal structures. When a shoe is applied the caudal hoof can no longer move, it loses its mobility and elasticity. These are concepts that must studied in depth so as to be understood. My advice therefore is to study, acquire information, work with a team and a trimmer who are well informed and trained. Culture is needed, as are updated avant-garde studies.
In-depth knowledge is needed as is time. We have watches, horses have time.
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