Gavilan & The Farrier

How I became a barefoot hoof care provider

Have you gotten good at Horse Whispering? Maybe it's time to take the next step; Horse Listening. Once a horse speaks to you, you never get that voice out of your head.

When my horses, Gavilan, Shatirr, and Kadence, talk... I have to listen. Why? Because they know I'm capable of understanding them. They expect me to pay attention, so if I ignore them, they persistently re-communicate - as if I'm a slow child.

Why am I telling you this? Because we have to listen to the horse as we work with him. If we're trimming feet, we need to work with an awareness that the horse feels it's hoof, feels the consequences of our work. If we're saddling a horse, we need to pay attention when they flinch or pin their ears. Horses are eloquent... humans are the ones with communication problems. We prefer talking to listening.

I started thinking about keeping my horses barefoot when my Arab, Gavilan (AKA Gabby), rebelled against getting shod after a 6 month barefoot vacation.

He was doing fine barefoot, but I scheduled a shoeing appointment because I wanted to start conditioning him for endurance, and assumed that all horses needed shoes for any "serious" work like endurance. I didn't question the assumption that shoes were necessary.

My farrier knew my horses well, so was okay with my not being present while he worked. Two hours after he should have been finished shoeing, I got an irate call from him informing me that Gabby was being hostile and uncooperative.

I was certain that Gab had a physical problem because he's a very honest horse. I've had him since he was weaned, I can ride him bridleless in competitive training situations even though he's a fiery competitor. He's honest. I assumed his sacroiliac was giving him problems.

I met my farrier, Jimmy, the following day to hold Gab while he was shod, and was surprised to find out that Jimmy was right; Gabby was fine for trimming, was fine with having his hind feet picked up, but would pin his ears and glare as Jimmy reached for the hammer. He then proceeded to literally sit on Jimmy as he attempted to seat the first nail. It wasn't sacroiliac! It was Arabian attitude. Gabby threatened to sit on his haunches like a dog, and being agile, was able to look Jimmy in the eye as he did it.

So I paid Jimmy and sent him home. He was a good farrier, but Gabby was through with shoes and I needed to think. I had tried EasyBoots for training, but they didn't stay on the way they needed to for endurance. Barefoot didn't seem like an option, but I decided to investigate it. Several locals were into barefoot, and they struck me as fanatics - really a bit crazy! - but I felt it warranted study. I wanted to know more about hoof balance, anyway, so I tried to look at it as an opportunity.

I was *very* unsure of what would come of this. I'm skeptical by nature, I loved riding 20 to 50 miles at a trot and canter, and I'd heard horror stories about long barefoot transitions with horses being uncomfortable as they adjusted to being barefoot. I wasn't going to hurt my horses or expect them to endure any discomfort.

I was the president of the local riding club at the time, and coincidentally two club members I respected approached me about hosting an "introduction to barefoot" session at a monthly meeting. Clinician Martha Olivo was teaching a 10 day trimming clinic and offered to talk to the club, so I asked that the session be a "Hoof Anatomy" presentation instead of a sales pitch on barefoot trimming. I pointedly asked that they downplay their "Shoes are Tools of Satan" philosophy.

Martha was in great form and gave an absolutely brilliant presentation using a dissected hoof and leg. After captivating us by showing us the various parts of the foot and lower leg and how they functioned together, she proceeded to demonstrate the concept of "hoof mechanism", showing blood being pumped as a hoof is weighted and UN weighted, and explained how the shoes we apply - for protection and as insurance - actually damage our horses feet and limbs.

By that time, we were all listening, most of us skeptically, however we began to understand what "barefoot" was all about and why people were devoted to it.

I began to study with a local trimmer who had a conservative trim style, and eventually was coached by Martha Olivo herself as I took over updating her web site. Martha is a superb anatomist, and I learned more than I can say about hoof form and function. I took a very conservative approach to trimming, and soon was trimming 10 to 12 horses.

I became a certified Hoof Groom, then grew frustrated because I couldn't get Gavilan as sound as he needed to be to do the sort of trail riding that I like to do. At this rate, barefoot endurance was out of the question. I was doing what Martha termed a "Quickie Trim", and Gabby was very sound on easy footing, but wasn't able to fly over gravel roads like I'd dreamed, like he'd done when shod. At the time there weren't many booting choices, so I felt stuck.

I was constantly researching, and soon discovered Pete Ramey's book. I was impressed with his "Less Is More" (LIM) focus on immediate soundness, fast transitions to barefoot and performance.

I called him to discuss business for Martha on one occasion, and got a long introduction to his methods, more than enough information to start applying his trim techniques. His trim sounded like Martha's quickie trim, except he usually didn't disturb live sole, sole callous, frog or bars after a setup trim. Pete continued to coach me, and my horses feet changed dramatically.

My results with this trim - all of my horses rapidly improving ability to handle tough terrain - impressed me every time I rode them. I decided to sell my tack store so I could focus on trimming professionally.

I love trimming ....

So back to listening...

My horses - and my clients horses - understand that I listen, so they attempt to communicate effectively. I "listen to the hoof" - AND to the horse it's attached to!

When a new horse tells me "that's enough", I listen. If they resist picking up one foot, I check the opposite foot for problems, because if one hoof hurts, they can't comfortably pick the other hoof up. I listen. I trust them. I try and ascertain what their problems are and steer their owners towards finding the help they need.

It's all about the horses...