“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” - Arthur Schopenhauer
One day, while I was surfing the internet looking for information, I ran across the above image. It is a thermographic image of a horse’s feet. What is peculiar about this horse is that while three of its feet are barefoot, one has a shoe.
The picture is originally from Dr. Strasser’s “The Hoof Care Specialist’s Handbook” Section III -20 with the following caption: Thermographic Image of the legs of a horse shod only on the front right: darker colors indicate colder areas. Circulation in the front right is severely disrupted (*thank you Claudia for researching this for me!)
I find this picture quite powerful. It is amazing how one picture can drive a point across within a fraction of a second. Of course, I am already convinced all horses should be barefoot so the effect is sort of lost on me, it’s like preaching to the choir. But when I showed it to someone who thinks taking the shoes off a horse is like asking humans to start breathing under water, the person flipped out.
“That can’t be real,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked
“It just can’t be. I know my horse has circulation in his legs. That picture makes it look like there is no blood at all.”
“Of course there is some blood. This just shows that the circulation is impaired.” I was calm, but I could see the steam starting to build up in this woman’s head. I could see an impending explosion, but I decided to grab the bull by its horns, nevertheless.
“Imagine what that does to the hoof. Reduced blood circulation means reduced nerve function. Reduced nerve function means – “
“That makes no sense,” the woman interrupted me. “Why would we put shoes on horses if it would be that harmful?”
Our discussion went on for another three minutes but it didn’t exactly lead anywhere apart from the lady getting very, very hostile towards me. I admit, I did set her up by showing her the picture in the first place followed with my remarks, which – no matter how much I tried to tone them down – made me sound like a “know-it-all”. I believe the last thing I said was: “That’s why the hooves are so cool when a horse has shoes, there’s no circulation. You know, barefoot horses have warm hooves.” The next thing I knew I was looking at her back walking away from me.
That didn’t go too well. And I had so much more to say.
A year and a half ago I attended a weekend course with a French horseman called Donald Newe. He, too, believes in barefoot horses and a non-traditional approach to horses where the use of force and dominance are unnecessary. Although I was definitely able to absorb his teachings, others in the course were not. Donald Newe, who is neither diplomatic nor subtle about delivering his message, commented on that fact by saying that for the information to hit home, the person must already be “pregnant” with it. In this respect he did not call himself a teacher, but rather a midwife who delivers the baby.
What Donald Newe says appears to be true. Sometimes people are just not ready to take in the information, no matter how convincing the facts are (i.e. they are not pregnant). Sometimes people feel downright threatened by the information (i.e. they don’t want to be pregnant).
The subject of barefoot horses seems to be one to raise blood pressures. Just a little over a month ago a friend of mine, who at the time was still boarding at the next door stable, took the shoes off her young Hannoverian gelding. My friend asked me to put her horse out in the paddock in the afternoon so he could get as much movement as possible. Movement is crucial for all horses, but especially a horse that has just become a barefoot horse.
When I arrived at the barn, the horse was waiting at the stall door, ready to get out. In fact, when he saw me, he started kicking his door as if to make his point clear. I found his eagerness a bit strange as he had surely been outside in the pasture in the morning, like all horses in the barn. I haltered him and walked him outside. He was walking very well for having just been de-shod the day before, perhaps a little tenderly with his fronts over a few stones on the ground, but that was to be expected. He could, after all, feel the ground under his feet for the first time in years.
The moment I popped out of the barn, the barn worker, a man in his thirties, stopped the tractor he had been driving and waved at me from across the property. He was yelling something to me in French, but because it was a bit windy, I couldn’t catch a word of what he was saying. I put my hand to my ear, to communicate to him that I couldn’t hear and continued walking the horse down the paved street towards the paddock some 70 years away. When I saw the barn worker jump off his tractor and run towards me flailing his arms, I stopped. Was something wrong?
The man ran towards me, his face beat red. All the while he was yelling at me. My French is fairly good, but perhaps because of his emotional state, the man had reverted to his native dialect, which is barely comprehendible even to a native French speaker. But I did understand enough to realize what this was about.
“Where do you think you are going with that horse?... Are you crazy?... that horse has no shoes and should stay in stall… you are abusing this horse… he is in pain… people like you don’t care about animals…”
By the time the man got to me and the horse, he was shaking with anger. I tried to get a word in.
“Yes, I know he has no shoes. That is why I am taking him out, so he can move and get his blood circulating. The last thing he should be doing is standing in a stall.” I wasn’t sure any of this registered with the man.
“It is animal abuse to take the shoes off,” the man screamed. “He needs to stay in his stall!”
I see. I guess it was pointless asking him if the horse had been out in the pasture that morning. I tried to ignore the man and lead the horse to the paddock, but he blocked my way.
“If you move that horse another foot, I will call the SPA and make sure you will be prosecuted for animal abuse!” He took a threatening step towards me.
Excuse me? I stared at the man, someone I had known for the past five years as a calm and quiet individual. Again I tried to explain why the horse’s owner had taken the shoes off, how at first this might feel uncomfortable for the horse when the blood started to circulate again, but how with movement and proper care, he would get through this initial stage and live a healthier life. The man would not hear a word of it. The more I said, the more aggressive he became. Spit flew out of his mouth as he shouted at me, flailing his arms in front of my face. I can’t tell you everything he said, but the word stupid occurred in his speech several times.
It didn’t seem like this man was about to calm down and it crossed my mind that he might actually physically attack me, if I didn’t back off. Finally, with my hands shaking, I turned around and walked the horse back into the barn, hoping this would relieve the situation. It didn’t. The man followed me into the barn and even after I had put the horse in his stall, kept verbally attacking me. Finally I got in my car and drove home, as I realized that he would not leave me alone unless I left the property.
At home I tried to understand what had happened, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. I had heard of similar confrontations from other people who had “gone barefoot”, but this was the first time I had been on the receiving end of such anger and hostility. What was it about taking the shoes off ones horse that so threatened people? Had I taken a whip to the horse in the name of training (as many do at this barn), the barn employee wouldn’t have batted an eye, but because the horse was shoeless, he had a meltdown. Where was the logic in this? Why was it alright to hit a horse, but not return it to the state in which it was born?
Obviously the horse’s owner, a young girl, was shocked, too, when she heard. She talked to the barn owner, who also didn’t agree with taking the shoes off (he made his point clear), but had the sense to realize that his employee was a bit out of line. The next day, after being stall bound for 48 hours, the horse was allowed to go outside in the pasture. The horse owner, however, did have to listen to sneer remarks made by other horse owners and the employee, but she held her head high and stuck with her decision to go barefoot despite the majority vote against her. She has since moved to another barn, where her horse now is part of a herd of horses living outside.
I am no longer pregnant as the baby has been born long time ago. This is great, but I’m not going to lie; there are days when the weight of my newly found knowledge drags my usually optimistic mood down. I spent thirty years not seeing, not even knowing there was something to see, but now that I can see, I am aching to share this knowledge. However, I like to keep a low profile while I operate at a barn where I stick out like a sore thumb. Showing the above picture was definitely not something I usually do, it was more like a bold experiment. In an environment where even your benign actions (like walking a barefoot horse to a paddock) speak volumes, words (or in this case, pictures) can cause a war of resistance. I try hard to understand these people, because I, too, once did not know any better. But sometimes I am at a loss with the amount of anger and aggression people possess.
I realize this is another lesson for me in patience. I am convinced that science and research will eventually catch up with veterinarians and farriers and horse owners. Once people see pictures like the one above and really absorb the information it is giving them; once people start thinking for themselves (and their horses) and actively searching for solutions, things will start to change with an ever increasing pace. But it will take time. In the meanwhile, I will watch life unfold and hope for a better future some day, a future with lots of “pregnant” people, a future where allowing your horse to return to its natural state, hooves and all, will be the norm, not the cause of an attack.
“Barefoot is for all horses, though it may not be for all horse owners.” - D.E Hufford
For those who are interested, the internet is full of information about the barefoot movement. Here is a link to one of many pages that explains why and how it will benefit your horse to take the shoes off: http://www.hoofnexus.com/Whybarefoot.htm
If you are on the fence about taking the shoes off, seek more information, educate yourself. Go to www.equinesoundness.com for online courses. Your horse will thank you for your effort.
Also, to find more about Donald Newe, go to www.equinebehaviour.com