26 Sep 2017

Dare to go Bare?

   There has been a lot of hype over the wonders of "Barefoot" versus shoes and it has become a fad in North America. Panama, not so much, even though all our BEC horses are sans les steel. While there are all sorts of groups and barefoot forums in Canada and USA, crickets here in Panama. That was until BEC decided to hit the Barefoot Panama campaign!

   Everyone is programmed that horses have to have shoes. They will DIE without shoes, apparently. Everyone, that is, except a small handful of farmers and ranchers who always went barefoot, save a long cattle drive, immediately pulling their shoes upon completion of task. Meanwhile, we equestrian types are told and retold that hooves can't support added weight of rider with saddle and for that, one must shoe. This is how it was, is and will always... not so fast!

   This is how it was... in Roman times. This is how it is, still in certain parts of the world. What will be is absolutely mind boggling and incredible, and can be seen in Europe now. Take for instance, the savvy harness racer who lost the shoes and won!

   Our saying is, and we repeat it over and over and over until it becomes a mantra for some- "Had God wanted His horses to wear shoes, he would have had them come out at birth, shod." So just what happens to His amazing hooves from time of birth and to when they get their first set of shoes? Let's have a look...

   At birth, babies emerge with funny looking almost pickled pigs feet for hooves, very soft and feathery at the end. As soon as oxygen hits their placenta covered little hooves, they start to harden, and soon a foal is transformed from a feathery soft hooved creature to a hard hoof that supports its wobbly weight. As baby grows, of course bones, cartilage and all the wonderful other sensitive structures increase in size. The equine hoof is a very misunderstood and amazing work of art and wonder to the senses. Now, we take this amazing, flexible, blood pumping and monitor of overall health and we say, "OK, my little pet. I am going to ride you now, so here is Mr. Farrier and he is going to give you your first set of shoes. Isn't that wonderful? Babies first shoes!"

   And a baby it is, at only 2 years old, when most of us break out our babies and introduce work to the baby lives. Now then, you have taken a marvelous health support to the equine and bound it with steel, taking away proper hoof function, removing frog from ground by the thickness of the shoe and increase in heel height, and preventing this incredible biological entity from performing its duties. Expanding and contracting, flexing, bending, giving to ground pressure and worse of all, the cartilage that is still growing had now been arrested and can no longer continue to grow and find its full size in the hoof capsule. To bring this home, you have just bound your horse's feet, as a Chinese girl gets the tortorous foot binding wrap. Your horse will never fully mature and find the correct cartilage size to fill out the hoof capsule and support its weight and load bearing demand.

   So now you've had your horsie going well. His feet are so pretty and perfect with those shiny shiny shoes and you love hearing that clip-clop on the pavement as you ride to the pub. Such a lovely, metallic sound. Fact is, every time your horse steps, a shock wave is running up its leg from impact of metal to hard ground or concrete. Over the years, they build up and start taking their tole on the horse.

You admire his feet. So round and pretty and well manicured with shiny shoes. Each nail hole perfectly placed in an ascending pattern. By piercing the hoof with nail holes, we humans have just introduced a lifetime of grief for our animals. Water, moisture, bacteria, etc., now can filtrate down and settle in the structures, provoking primarily White Line Disease, among other hoof problems. Every nail hole driven into a healthy hoof wall weakens the horn exponentially. Over time, the hoof will begin to fade and require supplements and oils, etc.

   Now your baby is a middle aged mount and you notice he just doesn't have as much pizazz as he once had. He used to love to run and romp and jump in the arena or chase ponies. Now, he seems a little stiff and you just can't put your finger on what it could be. Surely not those shiny shiny shoes, that make such a lovely sound as they clip-clop. You notice he seems a bit grumpy and seems to be experiencing pain. You give him a few days off. He'll be fine.

   Every 6-8 weeks you get his shoes changed at your barn, on rubber mats. You take impeccable care of him. He is balanced, his hooves are in great form and your farrier is top in the area, so why has he been diagnosed with Navicular.. or what did they say, Pre Navicular? Treatment says the farrier- eggbar shoes, aluminum so as not to exasperate the problem. Light weight and Kerckhaert is a trusted brand, unclipped, as he can no longer have those flashy clips, his hoof is no longer viable on the sides where he had clips for his entire jumping life.

   You go over the radiographs with your Vet. He points out the areas of degeneration and yet, some remodeling. Navicular- you try to let it sink in. Your horse just lost his usefulness as Amateur Hunter. He was only 14 and was running strong until... you think back. Until what? When?

   This is the last chance a horse has. Navicular is one of the worst enemies we know out there, as far as hoof ailments go. Continue shoeing this horse and you will get no where even with nerve blocking, until he eventually succumbs to the degeneration in tissue and bone and loses his usefulness and spends the rest of his life as a glorified pasture ornament, until the inevitable. Farriers can only do so much to add support and comfort to the hoof.

   Enter Barefoot. Remove the shoes. Bring that all important life blood of the horse (frog) to drop back in contact where it belongs and do its job. This is why we chose a heart as our logo for Barefoot Panama. It is essentially little hearts on the end of your horses extremities for all intents and purposes, as the frog promotes health and vitality to your horse, alieviates all hoof issues, as the frog promotes circulation, circulation increases healing, healing reestablishes health and your horse is back on track. No great secret here. Barefoot has been around for all the poor farmers and ranchers out there across the world and they don't have half the problems the human interference has heaped upon the domestic horse.

   If you horse has Navicular- ditch the shoes. If it has White Line Disease- ditch the shoes. If it has any one of the hoof diseases and ailments, ditch the shoes. Now, if you love your horse, ditch the shoes.

   I went to school to learn how to care for my equine friends to the best of my ability. I was good. It took me 2.5 hours to shoe a horse, as I constantly assessed. I measured twice and cut once. I never took shortcuts and always went the extra mile for my horses, as well as client horses. I started shoeing my AQHA gelding at 2+ years old, when he was broken out. He was big, ready to ride, so I did. He is now 20, been barefoot for 5 years and when I go to get him at his stall, he is a little stiff from an injurt he sustained many years ago. He does not, however have Navicular or any lameness whatsoever, and he was just retired from barrel racing this year.

   I refuse to ever shoe another horse again. It goes against my ethics. My oath as a farrier was to help the horses to the best of my ability. Horseshoes are damaging and more than that, dangerous to the overall health and well being of a horse. I saw the way 5 years ago and stored my anvil and parked my forge. I use my horsehoes as decorative art now. All sizes.

   If you are on the fence, I hope this helps. There is a lot at stake in the equine industry, should horsehoes become hated as more and more people are doing now. Tool companies, forge companies, horseshoe manufacturers, nail companies, supplements, etc. Think of how much would be lost, not to mention the farriers. Althought the good farriers will see that barefoot is the way. Barefoot people are making a good living.

   Many people ask my opinion on boots, composites, glue on shoes and such. My one and only answer is, "if the frog is not in contact with the ground, it's the same as a shoe."

   Technology offers us alternative to shoes- boots, expensive composites and now the amazing Hoof Armor, a protective barrier between hoof and ground all aleviate the need for steel.

   God made His horses and he knew exactly how to care for them. Just how they come out at birth, with their feathery little footsies.


Jessica Schrock

Farrier of 20+ years


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