Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Church of the Hoof

Lynne White

It’s been an interesting read, this shoe vs. barefoot theme. One truth about endurance is that since it’s a whole horse sport there is always something to learn about and obsess over. I think I’ve mastered the mechanics of the equine gut so I suppose now it’s time to start turning the pages of the equine foot.

I’ve been a shoe fan for years without really knowing why. I always just thought that horses needed shoes and to be frank, it’s easy to just nail shoes on and forget about it. I never had much of a problem with shoes and didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think about the mechanics of lower leg movement, the force a horse exerts on the front end, the stresses and strains of tendons, or coffin bones or any of that soundness stuff. I never had a problem with it so I just didn’t worry about it. I was a default member of the “Shod Denomination.”

Then I watched this old silent 1925 documentary called “Grass” in which the nomadic Bakhtiari people in Southwest Iran migrate over the Zagros mountains twice a year to get to their grazing grounds…on unshod horses. Now that is some serious-ass-rocky-country. Their trip makes the Tevis look like a walk in the park (I think it’s still done, but most the people have moved on to the oil fields). I also have a couple photos from the 1920’s of Kurds riding their unshod horses on some pretty rough looking country. The Turkmen did some incredible things with their unshod Akhal-Tekes. The Cossacks did some major ass-whooping with their unshod horses, and it’s because their horses were unshod that they were able to defeat Napoleon’s shod cavalry during the winter months. Genghis Kahn almost conquered the world with unshod horses. Shoes obviously had their place in warfare, but they were no guarantee that battles would be won. The succcess
of a cavalry all boiled down to how the horses were kept and managed for the climate and type of warfare.

Back off that tangent on on to the subject: What furthered my “enlightenment” was that suddenly my mare developed this rather violent aversion to having nails driven in her rear left foot. She had to be sedated to be shod...and I mean almost falling over sedated. So shoeing became a stressful endeavor of coordinating a vet and a farrier to come to my place simultaneously. It was at this time I started seeing shoeless horses at rides and heard all sorts of miraculous stories about unshod horses from the “Barefoot Denomination.”

This whole debate of the shod vs. barefoot reminds me so much of differing interpretations of the Bible. Anyone that has spent any amount of time in an evangelical church can totally relate to this. It’s just about as emotional. The only difference is the opinion concerning who is going to Hell and whose horse is going lame.

But what it all this has done is resulted in people doing their own research and learning about the huge myriad of variables involved in hoof care. Yes, I am planning on the shoeless route with my mare because she has feet like steel and I live in a pretty arid climate. I’m a mile chaser so placement isn’t a big deal to me. If I need to go slow I go slow. I’ve still got a lot to learn about hoof balance and the mechanics of soundness. But I think we are on the right course. I don’t know if my colt will need shoes or not, but when we get there at least I will have done my homework and will be able to make a pretty sound decision (pardon the pun). I plan on being a member of the “Hoof Health Denomination.” It should be a pretty lively place to be with lots of arguing, and back and forth with everything being subject to question. But we’ll learn a lot I think.


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