In today’s article, I’ll be sharing my two cents on what has become somewhat of a controversial issue in the barrel horse and performance world. Before I begin, I’ll say that it’s not my goal to specifically determine what’s best for you and your horses but to share what I’ve learned as licensed Vet. Tech., a long time barrel racer, and a natural trimmer for over eight years.
My education in this area began at a young age. Barefoot horses suited my needs as a youngster, and with corrective trimming even my foundered rescue pony was brought back to complete health.
Many years later when my horses were shod (mainly for protection from rocky trails in the Big Horn Mountains), soundness issues started coming up. This also happened to be when the natural hoof care movement was gaining steam. After quite a bit of research backed by my already existing education, I decided to be my horse’s advocate, and took matters (and a rasp) into my own hands.
I restored my horses to soundness and continued to learn, trim and compete barefoot for many years with great success. I appreciated how effective natural hoof care was for completely eliminating cracks, chips, flares, and for supporting and maintaining truly healthy feet from the inside out.
After all, even most farriers will say that one of the most damaging things you can do to a foot is nail a shoe to it. It makes sense – the lack of circulation, limited weight bearing surface, the ridged metal that restricts expansion (which can contribute to wear and tear throughout the rest of the body), the potential for contracted heels, etc.
Going “natural” just made sense to me, and if you love your horses, and want to do what’s best for their overall health, AND if you REALLY research and understand the anatomy and function of the equine foot and how the health of the whole horse depends on the health of the feet, you’re likely to agree with many of the philosophies surrounding natural hoof care as well.
On the other hand, there are certain reasons natural trimming doesn’t work for some people. I say people, because for the most part, that’s where much of the problem lies.
One reason “barefoot” doesn’t work, is that some folks going au natural aren’t necessarily naturally trimming their horses, or they aren’t being trimmed properly. “Barefoot” and natural hoof care aren’t one in the same, and not all trimmers/farriers are created equally. On top of that, even within the world of natural hoof care there are different techniques and methods that exist.
Just like any tool or method can be used for good, if it’s not used properly, it can have negative effects. It’s not so much whether someone holds a rasp or a shoe in their hand, but what they DO with it that matters most. When something isn’t working, it’s not always that the technique is bad, but the way it’s being applied.
A second reason natural hoof care doesn’t seem to work has a lot to do with management, which is the human’s choice and responsibility.
If your horse is being properly naturally trimmed at regular intervals, but is kept in a stall most of the time, fed high amounts of sugary feed, and is rarely if ever given the opportunity to build healthy internal structures of the foot, including callused soul (through plenty of movement and some on rocky ground), a horse is likely to continue to be ouchy on hard surfaces or have intermittent sore feet.
Sometimes the time and management practices that come along with making natural hoof care a success are more involved than most PEOPLE are willing to commit to, even if they do positively impact their horse’s well-being.
Unfortunately, human convenience often trumps horse health.
Because healthy feet and healthy horses are a top priority at our place, my husband and I have a couple inches of pea gravel under the overhang of our barn where the horses come in for shade and water. Our horses live primarily on pasture at home – during the afternoons, and especially during the times of year when sugar content is high in the grass, instead of being penned up, the horses are turned out on a paddock paradise (track system) so they can keep foraging in limited amounts while also being naturally encouraged to move.
When it comes to tender feet, it’s important to realize that a horse who is only sound on soft ground is NOT a sound horse. A horse that gets “ouchy” on and off or is gimpy only when crossing gravel parking lots is also NOT a sound horse.
This doesn’t mean they’re not ridable necessarily, but it’s certainly reason to pay attention, take note, and start learning and working toward building healthier feet.
Where there is inflammation and pain, you can bet that something on the inside is compromised. Obvious or not, where there is inflammation, bony changes are likely to follow. With good hoof care and good management, inflammation and pain can be brought under control and in many cases, internal damage can often be healed.
Sometimes a horse’s feet can benefit greatly simply from more use – just like exercise builds strong muscles, a horse that doesn’t move very much will tend to have poor circulation and therefore atrophied and unhealthy internal structures of the foot. Adequate movement can really help build stronger, more resilient, healthy feet (and is also great for a horse’s mental health).
However, if your horse is very tender with bare feet and you’re entered in a big race in two weeks, although it’s a good idea to make management choices that will help build a healthier foot in the long run, you may need to protect that foot or get existing inflammation under control ASAP, that’s where shoeing, supportive therapies and your Vet’s recommendations come in.
Depending on what’s going on, sometimes more movement, or ANY movement on hard surfaces creates even more pain and inflammation. In these cases, it’s helpful to get a clearer picture of exactly what is happening inside the foot – possible through an MRI.
While complete healing and soundness restoration may not always be possible, it’s important that we do all we can to understand what’s really going on with these chronic cases. Diet is a huge factor and bone density formulas like Equi-bone and CalDensity are bring horses back to the arena, even after all hope has been lost.
As mentioned, there ARE are basic management practices that will generally help support healthy feet in all horses, but when there has been a specific injury or pathology for example, it may require a more involved and very specific treatment plan to address it.
Unless we get a view of what’s truly going on inside the foot, which is limited through x-ray, this process can become an expensive and experimental, time-consuming crap shoot.
A third reason certain hoof care practices don’t work is that it’s common to fall into a rut of treating symptoms vs. getting to the source of the problem. Even if the symptoms need to be treated, and are relieved, the damage will ultimately continue if we don’t also work to discover and resolve the root cause of the problem.
Again, this often goes back to diet and management. Not only must the trimming OR shoeing be correct and supportive, but we have to consider and possibly change how the horse is ridden among other possible problem areas, such as mineral imbalances, saddle fit, restrictions in the horse’s body, poor riding habits, etc.
Giving your horse time off can be a great thing too of course, but if the hoof care, the management practices, or the way the horse is ridden and used, that contributes to the problem aren’t changed or if the inflammation isn’t addressed and truly brought under control, you’re likely to continue running into more and even greater problems as time goes on.
Next, let’s consider a few basic reasons horses are shod:
1. Protection from the environment
2. Improve the stride/flight of the feet
3. Correct and support healthy posture
4. Relieve discomfort caused by pathology
The thing is, we can protect a horse’s feet from harsh environments with hoof boots (great for trail riding, not so great for competing), and to a great degree, trimming can also improve a horse’s movement, encourage good posture, correct imbalances and even help relieve discomfort, but only if it’s done properly.
Despite the draw backs that DO come along with shoes, they can allow us to make corrections and offer adjustments to horses in a way that can be faster and more effective than trimming. Often in the performance horse world, it’s a convenience and time factor.
Many natural trimmers tend to primarily concern themselves with what’s happening below the coronary band. A great farrier OR trimmer will take the entire horse into consideration.
Pathologies, such as soft tissue damage and bony changes are major consideration as well, especially for performance horses. I’d venture to say that there are many more foot pathologies existing than there are those that are actually known and properly diagnosed.
Truth be told, even after some intense healing therapies, time and slow and careful reconditioning, my gelding Pistol is really not the same as he was before he damaged the collateral ligaments in his feet in 2012. As the Vets. expected, he would make a recovery as a performance horse but would likely need special maintenance, which brought me to the situation I found myself last weekend.
I was fortunate to be in the presence of horse shoeing master who uses his art (and science) to correct posture imbalances, improve stride, and restore soundness in high level performance horses of all kinds. Pistol wasn’t holding up so well to the stress and demands of the road.
Because his FEET had changed, my MIND changed in order to do what I felt was best for him under the circumstances, and I don’t remember a time when he traveled better, more athletically and comfortably.
This doesn’t mean he’ll ALWAYS be in shoes, or that I can’t apply much of what I’ve learned to my future trimming.
The most important thing is that ultimately, the feedback Pistol is offering me is positive. It’s not so much the shoes that “fixed” him – it was the expert eyes that analyzed him – his gait, stride, posture, muscular balance, conformation, etc. and then the hands that applied them.
I still believe there are drawbacks to shoes, just as there are drawbacks to natural hoof care. I also believe they both have positive things to offer, but only IF we are open-minded, and if the concepts and techniques are applied in the right way, for the right reasons, at the right time.
Whether you prefer shoes or going au natural, keep these tips in mind:
1. A horse that is only sore sometimes or on some surfaces is NOT a sound horse – consider getting a clear diagnosis of any chronic or lingering foot issues with an MRI.
2. No matter what trimming or shoeing technique is used, they won’t improve or support the health and soundness of your horse if they aren’t applied properly.
3. There is a difference between going “barefoot” and natural trimming, do your home work (see links below).
4. Natural hoof care (or shoeing) is less likely to “work” if you’re not also committed to general management practices that support healthy feet.
5. If you are easing symptoms with anti-inflammatories or corrective shoeing/trimming, ensure you are also working toward healing the foot (if possible) and genuinely resolving the actual cause of the problem at it’s source.
6. Performance horses and horses with previous injuries or pathologies can be healed and/or brought back to soundness, but some may also (or always) require special, additional considerations and care.
In the comments below, I’d love to hear YOUR experiences with shoeing OR natural hoof care?
This can become a heated issue, so while I invite you to share your opinion, remember this is positive, supportive place where barrel racers unite to learn, share and grow.
Enjoy these additional resources to further support you in providing the very best hoof care for YOUR barrel horses!
A few weeks ago I scheduled a Vet. check for my gelding in preparation to hit the road this summer and get his travel paperwork updated.
Because it was my first time going to a new clinic, I quickly mapped out the best (quickest) route for the 1 1/2 hour trip.
I left that morning with plenty of time to spare, but it turns out that the fastest path between two points is NOT always a straight line.
No, sometimes the fastest path is a major highway – something I’d wished I’d stuck to that day when I came upon a downed bridge on a narrow road with a 32 foot trailer.
After getting out of the truck, and venturing down to the river bottom only to discover that the bridge workers didn’t speak a word of English, I got back behind the wheel with no other choice but to back up over a mile until I came to an approach wide enough and a field dry and flat enough to get turned around.
Once I was moving forward however, something felt dramatically wrong. Either I had a flat tire or my truck (trick) driving and off-roading had caused some damage.
I turned off in (what I thought was) a convenient pull-over area next to repair shop – only to realize it was indeed NOT a repair shop AND the exit path out of the small pull-over area was gaited shut.
After calling the clinic to inform them I’d be late and confirming all systems were “go” (it was just mud in the undercarriage), I again slowly started maneuvering my way back out onto the road, and eventually forward toward my destination.
When I arrived at the clinic, my morning continued to unravel in much the same way when I pulled into the parking lot where there were already more than a dozen trailers crammed like sardines and one very frantic horse not so successfully attempting to be loaded.
At this point, late or not, I couldn’t pass a stressed horse and a frustrated owner without helping them. A half hour and a more than a little sweat later, Pistol and I were finally waiting in the breeze way for a trot.
Everything went really well on the way back home, until I realized I had completely forgotten to get blood drawn for a coggins, or have a health certificate written up – one of the primary reasons for the trip!
Ughhhh….. Read more… »
When I was 12 years old, I connected with a neighbor who turned out to be a very influential friend and mentor and. I was fortunate to have this amazing horse(wo)man help me sort out countless problems with my first “real horse.”
Gypsy was a 14 hand step-up from my pony, and at 10 years old was “green broke” and had more issues than you could shake a stick at.
I didn’t have a set of wheels back then (a truck and trailer) but with my mentor’s help, I was able to prepare my mare to show at the county fair, AND hitch a ride to get there.
I didn’t just enter the speed events – she encouraged me to learn about, AND enter every single class.
Even though I didn’t LOVE the idea of showing at halter especially, because I trusted her (and just plain LOVED horses), I did it ALL – and learned a ton. Read more… »
What is your default response is when faced with a challenge?
I’ve personally found that changing my perspective to be highly effective for problem solving (in any area of life)!
Take my verrry laid back gelding, Pistol, for example…
On one hand, I appreciate his easy going tendencies. He’s confident, comfortable and content in nearly all situations, and I can haul all over the country without becoming overly stressed or losing weight. He handles the pressure of speed event competition like a champ.
Of course, I’d like to take a little credit for him being so solid, however I have to admit it has a lot to do with how he’s wired by nature.
It’s probably accurate to say that the majority of barrel racers don’t have a problem with “lazy” horses, but yet perhaps you’ve had moments when you’ve needed more electric energy and quickness from your horse. There’s no doubt having a burst of energy available in the split second you need it most can dramatically affect your success!
Truth be told, it took me quite a while to effectively and authentically motivate Pistol.
You see, he’s not really “lazy.”
He was just unmotivated.
In other words – I was too boring.
How’s that for a change in perspective?
Read more… »
Do you ever get frustrated because you can’t seem to carve out enough time to FULLY apply yourself to your barrel racing?
Ever feel like you’re short on funds, but you have to WORK to make money – which takes up TIME, AND takes you away from your horses? Not to mention ALL the other life responsibilities you have outside of work and riding?
Here’s the honest truth – it requires a significant amount of TIME, FOCUS and FINANCES to climb high on the ladder of barrel racing success.
But don’t let that discourage you, let it MOTIVATE you.
First though, a reality check is in order.
Barrel racing itself IS a FULL-TIME JOB. Becoming and being a high-achieving professional at anything is a “full-time job.”
So is owning and maintaining a horse property, so is being a student, a wife, and a mother. So is just caring for horses and other critters.
They are ALL full-time jobs in and of themselves.
So it’s NO WONDER we’re overwhelmed and struggle to balance it all. We’re trying to do TOO MUCH – the impossible, really!
To start the journey toward creating more barrel racing/life balance, the first step is to Read more… »
A few months ago, I introduced the concept of RSPA or “rate/shape point anxiety” and it’s damaging effects.
I also shared a video post in which I walked through the process of acing the first barrel with my simple 3×3 Troubleshooting Plan.
The second barrel turn on the other hand, creates a challenge unlike any other, thus making it the most commonly tipped barrel.
This is in large part because we have the shortest distance between barrels and happen to be running straight into a wall – which often doesn’t have much real estate behind it, contributing to horse’s tendencies to “get short” and anticipate the turn.
There’s so much more to resolving this problem than “picking a horse’s shoulder up,” however. If you take the right steps, you can blast across the pen with speed and good timing to nail your second barrel without stutter steps, hesitation, dropping in, or all the other unpleasantries that are SO common.
As you’ll learn in the video below, anticipation at the second barrel can become a thing of the past, but only if we take two steps back to intelligently consider the problem as it’s source AND solve it in a complete, thorough, and multi-faceted way.
Read more… »
As I’ve been riding my superstar gelding Pistol again this spring after a LONG year and a half of being sidelined due to an injury, I’ve noticed that he wasn’t the same horse I left off with.
But things had started to change even before he got hurt.
You see, a few years ago I had started learning more about what true leadership REALLY IS (which wasn’t what I thought).
I’d started learning about the difference between a horse that is quiet and calm vs. quiet and withdrawn…
A horse that performs based on desire vs. avoidance.
A horse that responds vs. reacts.
A horse that yields to pressure (and can even come toward pressure when asked) vs. run away from it.
The vast majority of timed speed event horses are withdrawing, avoiding, reacting, and running away.
And the vast majority of timed speed event horses could perform even better and faster IF they were operating from a foundation of calm, connected, responsive desire. Read more… »
It’s that time of year!
A new barrel racing season is under way and “inner perfectionists” everywhere (who may have been laying low throughout the winter months) are rearing their ugly heads!
No, it ain’t pretty. And when it happens, our riding sessions and our runs aren’t likely to be either. Unfortunately, the damaging effects of having unrealistically high expectations of ourselves and our horses go well beyond the arena.
It’s not that being a perfectionist is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s easy to take it too far.
If you can relate to any of the statements below, you might be a perfectionist.
- You suffer from “paralysis by analysis” and hesitate, question or second-guess yourself.
- You ride just a little bit different in public then you do at home.
- You compare yourself and your achievements to other barrel racers.
- You prefer to ride alone verses in a group.
- You’re either quick to point out your flaws, OR you rarely, if ever admit to them.
- You get extremely nervous before a run.
- Thoughts of what you said, did, or how you performed consume your mind.
- Your riding at speed lacks fluidity; having good timing is challenging.
- You make assumptions about what other people think of you, assuming it’s negative.
- Competition triggers an unexpected and unpleasant roller coaster of emotions.
- You expect a lot from your horses and tend to over work, train or drill them.
- You put unrealistically high demands on yourself to perform well.
- You have a hard time receiving criticism or get emotional when you do.
- Sometimes you find it hard to find the motivation to really focus on your barrel racing.
- You’d rather avoid situations where you’re the central focus of other people’s attention.
- You safety up or hesitate to “leave it all in the arena” in a competitive run.
- You find preparing yourself and your horse for competition to be stressful.
- You’ve been working hard for years, but still haven’t achieved your barrel racing goals.