I first learnt about about barefoot when my first horse, Harley was diagnosed with multiple issues in his feet (navicular).
Extensive research into his issues had brought up Rockley Farm – a rehabilitation centre that has successfully helped horses with similar issues return to sound, useful lives.
They are getting these results my removing shoes, creating an environment with stimulates healthy hoof growth and function, and providing a nutritionally balanced diet. It made sense to me. Horses in the wild not need or have shoes so why do we put them on our domesticated animals by default?
The biggest advantage seemed to me to be the improved bloodflow associated without allowing the frog to function as it has evolved to.
Sadly my vet wasn’t supportive and I wasn’t confident to discount his advice so I used remedial farriery to try and help Harley. We had limited success, only extending the periods of time he was sound before he became inconsistently lame again, and ultimately very lame and very unhappy. I have always wondered whether going barefoot would have extended his life.
So when Abbey arrived with me, I was delighted that she’d not been shod and had beautiful rock-crushing hooves.
Soon after Abbey arrived her hooves were due for a trim. I booked her in with my farrier. He is well known, has an excellent reputation and specialises in remedial work, which by most standards puts his knowledge and expertise above and beyond a regular farrier.
However Abbey was always footsore post-trim. Three trims in a row I asked him about it and suggested he left a little more hoof, and each time he ignored me. Abbey was also developing flare and it was was getting increasingly worse. I talked to my farrier about this too. He was answer was always to put shoes on her.
Eventually I asked Abbey’s previous owner (luckily I know Abbey’s history from when she was imported from Ireland at the age of two). Abbey had never been footsore before and while she’d worn the outside of her front hooves more than the inside, it had never developed and flared.
More internet research taught about the importance of a trim and how it can affect the shape and function of the hoof, and ultimately, the horse’s health. I needed another option and the farriers which I contacted didn’t fill me with confidence, they all seemed to want to put shoes one.
But then a friend put in touch with an equine podiatrist called Jenny Parsons.
We talked, I sent her pictures and she spent ages explaining how the hoof works. From the the biomechanics to the ‘flight paths’ in the various gaits (and the effect of different abnormalities). She asked lots of questions about Abbey’s way of going, her diet and how I keep her.
Jenny’s passion was unmistakable. The depth of her knowledge and attention to detail was almost forensic. So Abbey got booked in for a trim and we’ve not looked back.
Online you’ll read that equine podatrists/barefoot trimmers don’t have the levels of training and consequently the knowledge or experience of farriers. I have not found this to be the case. In fact, I think the opposite is true.
By only doing barefoot trims, Jenny is a specialist. She’s more experience and more knowledge on how trimming affects hoof health and function.
There are warnings that by choosing an EP (equine podiatrist) you could be getting an charlatan. However, there is now a body that represents equine podiatrists in the UK (www.epauk.org). They have a standardised programme of training, ensure registered EPs undertake continued professional development, set standards and conduct research.
I choose an equine podiatrist to care for my pony because: I’ve found one that is more knowledgeable and experienced than any farrier I’ve met in maintaining Abbey’s hooves, she cares about Abbey’s diet and environment and is supportive in keeping Abbey barefoot.
Today Abbey has amazing hooves, they are almost text-book perfect. She rarely develops any flare between trims and she is never footsore (even when we inadvertently cantered on a stoney path while out drag hunting!).
So if you are looking for someone who cares as much about your horse and it’s health as much as you do, I’d highly recommend getting in contact with the EPA.