Why I chose to stay "barefoot"…

I mentioned in my previous post that my mare, Reannon, was my reason for getting into hoof care. Let me elaborate.

In all my years of horse ownership ( which was about 14 or so years, and 5 different horses,  at the time Reannon started having issues) I had always had horses who didn’t “need” shoes. I didn’t particularly know a lot about hoof pathology or why horses would “need” shoes, I was just happy that I had never had a farrier tell me shoes were necessary until my previously sound barefoot horse started having issues.

What were those issues? Well first it started off as tenderness on the trail, especially any gravel. My little mare would plant her feet and refuse to move if we went on to a gravel path. The next issue was tripping. Along with the tripping, she was chipping and cracking the heck out of her toes. I asked my farrier “why?” this was happening and his response was ” Well, some horses just need shoes.”

That really wasn’t an answer to “why?” in my opinion. That may have been a common solution to the issues I was having, however, I wanted to know why my previously comfortable horse, who had decent feet, was all of a sudden having these problems. So I started to ask around, and thankfully was part of a mailing list at the time where a long time barefoot trimmer, Gwenyth Santagate, was also a member,  and she offered me some REAL answers. Answers that made SENSE!

So what were the real issues? Lack of callus in the sole and frog, a long, underrun heel and toe, and a toe first landing. Why were those things causing those problems? Well… let me tell you!!

1. Reannon was living in a hog fuel (bark mulch essentially) paddock (worst possible footing for horse’s feet btw, just DON’T), being ridden in a hog fuel ring, and so her feet were soft and lacked appropriate callus for her to be able to walk comfortably on anything other than soft footing.

2. Because of the lack of callus on the frog, and an under developed frog and heel ( unfortunately due to lack of movement as a young horse) she wasn’t comfortable using her heels to land on. So, every step she was taking was on her toes. That creates a whole host of issues that I was unaware of. Each toe first step pulled the hoof capsule forward instead of under the horse so it compounds the issue of lack of support at the back of the foot. Those toe first steps were causing her to trip and chip her toes on hard surfaces because it was distorting a natural/healthy breakover. Each toe first step also bypasses the strengthening of the heel and frog because that area is not getting the proper stimulation, expansion and pressure needed to create and maintain those things. A toe first landing is also very hard the entire horse because the back of the hoof is what is meant to be the biggest shock absorber, and she wasn’t using it!  It was a vicious cycle that was just getting worse the longer it was being allowed to continue.

So, I asked my farrier about shortening her toes and trying to get her heels back where they belong. He said “sure” and I hoped we were on our way to her having healthier feet!

But as the months went on… nothing changed. In fact, my normally compliant, eager to please, never put a foot wrong, young mare suddenly started exhibiting back pain! Her loin was tight and sore, her hamstrings were hard as a rock, and she actually started to let out little warning bucks at the canter to let me know she was NOT comfortable.

I asked my mailing list friends again for help and was asked to see photos of her feet. That is when the real light bulb went off for me and I decided with the help of Gwen, to try and help my horse before things progressed any worse.

What was causing this new behavior and why was it related to her feet?

Those are photos of her hind feet. She was exhibiting a negative coffin bone angle. In a healthy hoof, the coffin bone in a stationary horse is usually close to parallel with the ground with the the tip of the coffin bone angled slighting towards the ground. This allows for a parallel position when the horse is moving heel first. Reannon’s coffin bone was being forced with the BACK of the coffin bone angled towards the ground. A little visual… green = normal angle, red = her angle (approx…my art isn’t a science lol):

This angle was forcing her to stand under herself in order to relieve the leverage on the toe, and of course her movement was being altered for the same reason. Because of those her back and hamstrings were being stretched beyond their limits and becoming VERY sore.
So what was my plan of action? First… start working on backing up those toes and getting a more natural angle. Second, lots and lots of massage, and time off from any riding so not to stress her already stressed out body any further or create any resentment towards riding because of the pain.
Because I was just learning the ins and outs of trimming it took me a lot longer, and not such a pretty process to get her feet feeling better, but after 5 months her angles were better, her back was no longer sore, her hamstrings were loose and no more bucking!
I also moved her somewhere that had a sand footing in the paddock and ring, which helped with conditioning her feet to have a good callus and allowed her to be more comfortable on a variety of trail surfaces. No more stopping on gravel, no more chipping or cracking of toes and no more tripping.
Getting the answers to my questions, and SEEING the results from using common sense is why I chose”barefoot” and eventually turned to a full time hoof trimmer when I started to see similar issues and questions being left unanswered time and time again. Would putting a horse shoe on my horse made her less tender on gravel? Probably. But that wasn’t the real problem, that was a symptom of many problems which would not have gone away with the application of a shoe. Why cover up the problem when you can fix it?
My mare’s story is not an unusual one.. if you are noticed similar issues with your horse and aren’t getting the answers you need… keep searching! Your horse will thank you!
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Why Twinkle Toes?

Those who know me, know I’m not a girly girl, far from it. So Twinkle Toes sounds a little out of character for me…

So why Twinkle Toes?

Because of this lovely lady:

That is my 13 year old Andalusian/Arabian mare, Reannon aka Twinkle Toes. When her and I came to be, she was a 2 year old, virtually untouched and full of personality. One of her quirks is that she is absolutely anxious about food and does quite the little performance at feed times. Piaffes, head flips, side leaps, paws, caprioles, and some impressive cutting moves. We had a wonderful old man who used to care take at one of the first barns I kept her at and he quickly named her “Twinkle Toes” because of her dinner dances.

A few years later, Reannon started having hoof issues that I really wasn’t getting any good answers or solutions from the traditional farriers who were working on her. With some encouragement and guidance from Gwenyth Santagate  I started trimming her myself and finally got the answers and solutions I was looking for. I credit Reannon for starting me on my journey of barefoot/natural hoof care, and she has been my teacher ever since. I think it’s only right to pay tribute to the toes that got me in the business!

Heather Nelson

Matters of the Hoof, Because Hooves Matter!

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