My farrier came out today to trim Jasper’s feet. She’s a barefoot trimmer, and I’m so glad I found her. One of Jasper’s more notable qualities are his big, heavy, hairy feet. Another quality of his is a strong dislike for being bullied by men. Just a whiff of dominant energy from a male human animal, and that horse turns from eager puppy dog to angry and defensive beast. He needs a firm hand, but positive feedback and a kind voice go a long way with him. This is all to say that a macho male farrier used to shoeing little quarterhorses is just not a good match for my boy.
So what is and why use a barefoot farrier? Well, first off, you know what an iron horse shoe is, right? People use them on their horses the way we use shoes on our own feet. The idea is to protect the horse from stepping on something ouchie. But because horses’ hooves grow, just like our fingernails do, your horse will need a trim and a new set of shoes every couple of months. Many equestrian folks will tell you that it’s just part of the cost and hassle of being a horse owner and any attempt to shirk this responsibility is tantamount to animal abuse. But, if you’re like me, after you’ve written a hefty handful of checks to your horse shoer for his services, and watched your horse stress out every time a hot metal shoe is nailed onto his foot, you might find yourself asking the sacreligious question: Is this really necessary?
I mean, think about it. Horse shoes evolved over millions of years to achieve this foot design. And horses the world over, from the Mongolian steppes to the Scottish Highlands, to the Nevada Desert are galloping hither and thither without bent iron bars nailed to their feet. When did horses’ feet become such fragile and delicate things? Or…could it be that horseshoes are a people-made solution to a people-made problem?
Well, dear readers, once you questioning the status quo in this way, you’ve gone rogue and there’s no saving you. You might as well see where this madness will lead.
Getting free of the vicious cycle of iron shoes for a draft horse has really been a relief for my bank account. They cost a fortune! But it’s not just about foregoing shoes. You can’t just tell your regular average horse-shoer to give your horse a barefoot trim. Probably nine times out of ten that well-meaning bloke is just going to trim those hooves like he always does, and simply skip the part where he nails shoes onto them. That’s what happened to me. Then all you have is a sore, unshod horse.
If you’re going to try and wean your riding horse off metal shoes, you need to find someone who understands what a horse’s hoof should look like in its natural state, and how best to gradually get your horse’s feet there after probably years and years of being shaped for shoes. It’s a whole different ballgame. While shoers tend to carve away a lot of sole and frog and shape the hoof wall to conform to metal shoes, the barefoot farrier tries to build up the sole and frog, the horse’s natural shock absorbers, and shorten the toe so the horse’s step will come down on the heel, where he can bear his weight the best.
My farrier, Lenora, has been working on Jasper’s feet for about a year now, and I am thrilled to say he is in great shape. We can ride down a gravel road without issue, and even when he spooked and bolted right into a field of sharp rocks that would have bruised and battered the hooves of a horse wearing shoes, he came away unharmed.
He also behaves so well for her. When she first started working with him, he treated her like he treated the macho shoer who came before. That is to say, not well. He fidgeted and fought, fussed and fretted. But her approach is so much like mine, in that she is firm but not mean, and ready to praise good behavior, than he has grown to be totally comfortable with her. He offers his feet up willingly and stands still like a good, big horse. Well, mostly. Anyway, going barefoot has been a wildly successful bit of rule-breaking for us, and we’re never going back.