Sunday, February 21, 2016

Shoeing my Barefoot Horse

Steward clog

When I got my Quarter Horse, Candy, in 2001, she was five years old. I was determined to give her the best care I could. There was a lot of talk at the time about the value of keeping horses barefoot. I bought in. My brain told me that barefoot was the natural state of the horse and my heart told me there was something wrong about nailing a piece of metal to an animal’s foot. The clincher was that slip-on hoof boots could be used in rugged terrain. For some reason, the fact that horses had been shod for centuries did not strike me as important. 

 

Ten years later, Candy started showing signs of lameness. No amount of natural trimming or boot wearing relieved her discomfort and I couldn’t in good conscience ride her in that condition. Seeing her limp around her turnout area tore me up. About this time, I got to know farrier and inventor Gene Ovnicek. We had many conversations about lameness, how it can be analyzed, and how it can be treated. I realized that helping a lame horse is different from maintaining a healthy one. I thought enough of Gene’s approach that I did a TV episode about it, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPDOZITaPeU

 

Gene suspected that Candy's soreness came from soft-tissue strain but he couldn't be sure. This is often the case with lameness since the structures involved are buried deeply inside the hoof capsule. Even without a definitive diagnosis, he was able to find a position in which Candy was comfortable and he built an appliance that would allow her to use her foot in that orientation. Sometimes it was a shoe. Other times it was a Steward clog. He told me something I’ve always remembered: “You can’t fix a problem while the conditions that caused the problem are still present.” By unloading the strained tissue, he was not only giving her pain relief, he was creating conditions under which healing could begin. In time, I was able to ride Candy again and she rarely showed signs of discomfort. There was something else I liked about Gene’s method:  he relied on Candy’s body language to tell him when he had a found a comfortable position for the foot. I saw him use this leverage-testing procedure on numerous horses and was always impressed with how he tuned in to what the horse was feeling and how grateful the horse was when relief came. Some went to sleep almost instantly.

I still believe that barefoot is the ideal state for a horse. Gene feels the same way, as do other fine horseman such as veterinarian Bob Miller. But we are all committed first to making the horse comfortable. Sometimes that means using shoes, at least for a while.