Project Equus

Project Equus On Barefooted Equines

Since its first printing ten years ago, The Natural Horse: Lesson From The Wild for Domestic Horse Care, continues to be the "bible" for the natural horse care movement. Written by Jaime Jackson, this eloquent treatise warns horse owners about the mental and physical afflictions of overly pampered equines. Keeping domestic horses as close to their wild counterparts is healthier in the long run. Thousands of horses have benefited from their companion humans' enlightenment. Many, for the first time in their lives, were liberated from their monotonous existence in stalls to become full-time herd members and were allowed to grow winter coats and roll in the mud. Some people even permitted their mares to foal in pastures with their herds, and eschewed intervention with the weaning process. However, this popular movement has been plagued with controversy since its very beginning over one aspect: The barefoot horse.

In a recent Journal of the American Farriers Association, AFA President Emile Carre writes, "Today, more than ever, the farrier industry needs to come together for its own protection." To this, Project Equus asks, "Protection from what?" Rather than embracing the barefoot horse as a new frontier for farriers to provide good hoof care, Carre sees it as the beginning of the end; an economic threat to conventional farriery. (We will concede that as unnatural as iron shoes are to the equine foot, they serve a purpose for farriers lacking the finesse of properly preparing a horse's foot for "de-shoeing.")

Perhaps what Carre is lamenting over is the recent onslaught of natural hoof care practitioners who have strayed dramatically from what nature had in mind for horses. Sadly, what is so apparently simple in Jackson's book has become obscured, if not downright ignored by those seeking a cult following, notoriety and money.

Three are a few subtle differences, including one big difference, between barefoot according to the laws of nature, and pulling a horses shoes and trimming at a prescribed angle. First, and foremost, unless a horse's foot has already been seriously compromised, no natural trim should produce bleeding. Project Equus has already heard some horror stories about a few "certified" barefoot practitioners declaring that the resultant bleeding from their trimming is necessary in order to create a healthy hoof.

If producing blood is one of the upshots in a natural hoof trim - and it is not according to Jackson - then no hoof care practitioner, unless her/she is a licensed, practicing veterinarian should be trimming horses feet, period. Here, Project Equus and AFA may have some common ground. People with common sense know that a bleeding hoof signals some form of trauma.

The controversy has pushed the normally quiet and reserved Jackson to defend the natural hoof. In a special edition of his own publication, the Natural Horsecare Advisor, Jackson says, "I use the wild horse hoof as my model because these are healthy, sound hooves at their optimum. Beware of any model not based on sound, healthy hooves."

How did such a concept once hailed as having great possibilities for improving the health and well-being of domestic horses suddenly become a pariah? When Jackson first detailed his observations of wild horses in his book and applied his theories to domestic horses most farriers thought he spent too much time in the sun. Undaunted by his critics, he stood by his research.

Jackson noted that lameness and other maladies associated with certain shoeing practices, selective breeding and unnatural equestrian pursuits, are virtually non-existent in wild horses. In the years succeeding The Natural Horse, popular equestrian magazines like The Western Horse and Equus began featuring articles written by farriers lauding the virtues of the barefoot horse. The way some presented their information bordered on plagiarism of Jackson's work. No credit was ever given to the only farrier who actually spent time in the sun quietly studying wild horses.

During the 90's, the idea of de-shoeing horses was beginning to look like an idea whose time had come. Many farriers took up the barefoot banner and ran with it. Unfortunately, things have run slightly amok and a few transgressors have decided that the wild horse model is not compatible with their pet theories about what should be natural. This may be why Carre and others are taking a dim view of the barefoot trim. With charlatans trimming hooves and drawing blood, it is no surprise that the barefoot trim has lost its distinction as a valid procedure for keeping hooves healthy.

There are two barefoot schools of thought. One appears to advocate the same trim for every horse; the other looks at the individual horse and the natural angles that are unique to his feet. Project Equus makes no bones about supporting the latter - the Jaime Jackson camp.

If you count yourself among the barefoot advocates, you owe it to your horse, pony, mule ot donkey to critically evaluate a natural trim before you subject your equine to de-shoeing. If a hoof care practitioner tells you that bleeding is often a result of the trimming procedure, is an advocate of one angle for all equines and says that your horse may experience temporary soreness as a part of the healing process, these are not natural trim procedures; they are acts of abuse.

From Epona™ The Official Newsletter of Project Equus, (Epona, Number V)

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updated April 23rd 2010