Lucy and her Forever Horse, Ciara’s, Barefoot Transition Story
Are you at your wits end with your horse’s hooves? Does it seem no matter how hard you try or what you do, nothing improves?
Lucy and her black beauty, Ciara, struggled with vicious cracks, multiple abscesses and overall ‘horrific’ hooves for years. Lucy tried everything imaginable before finally deciding to take the plunge into the world of barefoot.
Ciara’s barefoot transition was hard and painful. Some days, Lucy was convinced she had done the wrong thing by her horse. Despite this, she stuck with it. A careful diet, combined with hoof boots and regular trimming allowed Ciara to become a rideable horse again!
Thanks to removing Ciara’s shoes, Lucy was able to have 6 more fabulous years with Ciara, before Ciara passed away earlier this year.
Lucy wants to share Ciara’s story to help give motivation to those who are considering giving up, to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you are struggling with your horse’s hooves and need that push to keep going, this is the blog for you!
Can you Tell us a Little Bit About Yourself and Your Lovely Horse, Ciara?
I brought Ciara as an unbroken 4 year old in 2001, just after I was married. I had an ancient horse on loan as a teenager when living in Scotland and then an ex-racer for a while, who I gave back when I moved to Hampshire, but Ciara was ‘my’ first horse. She had just come over from Ireland and I bought her from a dealer in Pangbourne, Berkshire.
On her passport, she was un-named, so I called her Ciara (https://charlies-names.com/en/ciara/), which is an Irish name meaning small and black. Ok… so she was 16.2hh, but she was black and was born in Ireland! I gave her a registered name of Weavers Tale. Her Great Grandsire on her dam’s side, who had won the Irish Derby in 1973, was Weavers Hall and her sire was Love Tale, who was a thoroughbred of notable bloodlines.
Ciara’s Great-Grandsire, Weaver’s Hall (The New York Times Archives, 1973) & (@AnaglogsDaughter (Twitter), 2015)
When I saw her, she was very shy, I noticed her feet were flared and one had a large crack. She was wearing shoes, but it looked like they had been on for some considerable time. So I felt sure it was just slight neglect, and to my hoof knowledge, with a good farrier and proper management we would sort them out. I now understand where the phrase “no hoof, no horse” comes from! There is no truer saying!
As she was unbroken, I saw her loose schooling, where she sailed over 5ft 5in (1.6m) fences with ease, she was just so beautiful.
Before her journey to the UK, someone had braided a very small plait in her mane, so she was obviously loved. I soon forgot about the hooves and fell in love with her timid nature and beautiful looks, all black, not a single white marking anywhere. I brought her there and then as she was started under saddle by a chap who trained racehorses nearby.
What Made you Decide to go Down the Barefoot Route with Ciara?
Ciara’s feet were originally quite good, she was on full livery at the time so I am unsure as to who the farrier was. There was no school, so it was difficult to school her as a youngster, so we moved to another yard. I changed farriers and I noticed over time that she was not quite right. The chiropractor and I initially thought it was her back, so regular use of the massage machine and regular visits by the McTimoney practitioner were put in place and a saddle was made to measure for her.
Over time, I became unhappy with how her feet were looking. Collapsed at the heel and long at the toe. It was a slow process. Me seeing her every day made it hard to see the difference until her hooves were quite bad. The chiropractor agreed with me as she had not seen her for six weeks and could easily see the difference. I took advice from my vet and changed to the resident farrier from Liphook Equine Hospital and from then on she was shod with Natural Balance shoes every five weeks.
The shoe was set slightly back and her toe was kept short. In the main, this kept her sound, but I noticed when we were competing, that while she loved to jump ‘on a surface’, she was very reluctant in a grass arena, especially if it was raining and/or the ground was undulating. She would also feel the ground if it was stony. I would not have said she was lame, but she did not feel right. However, we managed through, stopped jumping on grass and avoided stony paths, but it all came to a head when I had to relocate back to Scotland.
In Hampshire, she was out 24/7 in a big flat field, which drained well and was mostly free of mud all year round. Scottish weather is a completely different matter. Due to a local strangles outbreak, she went into quarantine out in a field of her own 24/7 away from the new yard. It had not been grazed that year and it was May, so the change in diet would not have helped. But within two shoeings (my new farrier insisted on his method, not natural balance), she had multiple large cracks in both her front feet and ended up lame.
My new vet recommended a farrier who was new to the area and he suggested box rest and put her in plastic moulded ‘shoes’. This resin filled the cracks in her hooves, then set and supported the soles. I tried to keep her turned out but the plastic resin just came off. So for the 8 months of these plastic ‘shoes’, she was stabled. The cracks all grew out and then she was shod again using natural balance principals and turned out. As soon as she was turned out 24/7 in the wet, muddy ground, the cracks returned.
The farrier always said, “if you keep her in, I can keep her sound” but she did not like being kept in and would become stressed and depressed, as well as suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). After battling for a few years and doing some considerable research, I said enough! Take the shoes off! We just were not getting anywhere.
My friend had gone down the barefoot road and I had seen her succeed. Initially, her barefoot trimmer looked at Ciara, but her feet were so bad that she was reluctant to take her on. I was getting to the point of considering putting her to sleep as I was going round and round in circles. We’d get a few sound months IF it was a good summer (remember we’re in Scotland!), and also in the winter if it was icy rather than wet, but most of the time, we battled with cracks and abscesses constantly, as it had been mostly mild and wet for the previous 2 years. At this point, I was given the details of Nick Hill, a natural hoof care practitioner, and he agreed to take her on.
Can you Describe Ciara’s Hooves Before Making the Decision to go Barefoot?
Ciara’s hooves were horrific! She had had plates screwed into the walls to ‘hold’ the cracks together. She had white line separation in addition to seedy toe, the cracks had to be made bigger to help clear out the infection.
On one occasion, my farrier had another farrier with him who had been working in a 3rd world country. He exclaimed that Ciara had the worst feet he had ever seen. I cried.
What Hoof Care Treatments did you Try Prior to Starting Your Barefoot Journey?
I did not know much about barefoot and diet until I met Nick. Her diet was probably all wrong, but she was on a well-known hoof supplement and her feet were regularly scrubbed with a disinfectant solution. I became an expert at poulticing a grass kept horse!
I even looked at Cytek shoeing, but the trim of a natural balance approach worked best for Ciara. At one point, she even had carbon fibre ‘hoof patches’ on to try and prevent the heels from collapsing, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. I am not convinced screwing in metal plates over the cracks had any effect either. Fibreglass fillers merely helped with aesthetics.
What Changes did you Notice in Ciara After Changing to Barefoot?
I will not lie. At first, she was very lame, I worked with the vet to provide pain relief. She also dropped weight as her diet changed from alfalfa and coarse mix to organic chaff, copra and linseed, so that took a bit of getting right!
I kept wondering if I had done the right thing as it broke my heart to see her sore, but gradually this improved and I got her weight back up to what it should be. Hoof boots were not possible at the early stages due to the flaring in her hooves.
Over time, the cracks grew out, but not only that, her whole-body posture changed. She was always a bit ‘cow hocked’ but this disappeared. Usually, when the physio came out, we would be adjusting certain points of her body, particularly her shoulders and pelvis. After transitioning to barefoot, her entire body righted itself, the physio was impressed! Ciara was much happier in herself!
Ciara’s Hooves After Transitioning to Barefoot!
Another thing, she was always difficult standing at the mounting block. You had one chance to get on before she moved off. After going barefoot and becoming sound, I never had another issue at the mounting block ever again, she would have stood there all day, so it must have been to do with the pain in her feet.
What Were Some Advantages of Using Scoot Boots with Ciara?
Due to the flaring, we started with another brand of hoof boots as she was not quite ready to fit into Scoot Boots. They were fine for walking in hand on the road but too clumsy and not practical for riding in due to their design.
Scoot Boots came into their own when she went back into ridden work. I did not have to worry about her tripping in them and they did not twist like her earlier hoof boots. They were a good fit, easy to get on and off, and did not interfere at all with her movement, we were even back to cantering on the beach!
What Were Some of the Challenges you Faced Throughout Your Barefoot Transition Period?
Patience and other people. It took about two years for her to be ridden sound. Other people were the biggest challenge and I started to believe what they were saying. I began to believe that I was doing the wrong thing and that ‘I should put shoes on that horse’s feet’.
By this point, I had known Ciara for well over 10 years, I had tried so many different things including shoeing, diets and supplements. Anytime someone new saw her or we moved to a new yard, I suffered two types of people. People that clearly thought they knew better than me and/or were trying to be genuinely helpful and suggest numerous things I could try that would ‘fix’ her, and people who thought that I was cruel and just did not look after my horse properly.
It was very upsetting as not only had I tried everything and spent thousands, her health and well-being were always my number one priority. I even had someone call animal welfare organisations saying I was neglecting her! When they met her and I explained her background, vet care and trimming along with Scoot Boots when riding, they were more than happy with her well-being and management, which was backed up with hoof x-rays. People who had known us for several years understood and had grown to understand our struggles.
Were you Ever Criticised by Others for Going Down the Barefoot Route?
All of the time, which I think my answer above covers. If it were not for the support of my barefoot hoof trimmer, a few horse friends and my knowledge of how dreadful her feet were, I would not have stuck with it. I lost count of the number of times I printed off the ‘before’ pictures of her feet to show to people that what they were looking at now was a million times better than when she was shod. I always kept a copy in the tack room to justify my management style as and when required!
On the last two yards I was at, not so much. Quite a few of the horses were also barefoot and the people were respectful, so if they thought anything, they kept it to themselves. I do not know if this is yard specific or if over the last 5-10 years barefoot has gradually become more and more acceptable. I have had some unpleasant ‘discussions’ online about it, particularly on farrier’s forums, understandably.
How did Turning to Barefoot Impact the Last Six Years you had With Ciara?
I would not have had Ciara for the last six years if I had not gone down the barefoot path. We did not go on to win Badminton, but we took part in yard shows and training (she was always good at Le Trec obstacles).
We hacked a fair bit and went to the beach a few times and I took her on holiday twice last year and the year before to a barefoot-friendly smallholding with a gravel paddock and track system where she could come and go as she pleased. There were some lovely hacking ponies to keep her company, I wish we could have stayed there forever!
Is There Any Advice You’d Like to Give to Those Considering Turning to Barefoot?
Do your research. Find a good trimmer first. Make sure you can provide the right environment and diet. Do not listen to other people and do not give up after the first few months and say, “my horse needs shoes”. No horse needs shoes nailed on, just time and patience on the owners’ part and help with innovative technologies, such as Scoot Boots.
A lot of time and patience. It would have been extremely easy to give up, going barefoot with a lame horse is not for the faint-hearted. To be honest, had her feet been doing ok in shoes, I do not know if I would have taken them off. What I do know now is it changed more than just her feet. It changed her whole conformation and attitude to life.
I currently do not have a horse, Ciara was my horse of a lifetime! I always wanted a black 16.2hh mare, I found her and I had her from an unbroken 4 year old until she was an old lady with grey hairs. If I ever do find another to steal my heart, he or she will not wear metal shoes. Not ever.
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@AnaglogsDaughter (Twitter), 2015. 1973 Irish Derby Winner Weavers Hall.. [image] Available at: <https://twitter.com/anaglogsdaughtr/status/557677238205054976> [Accessed 19 October 2020].
The New York Times Archives, 1973. IRISH DERBY GOES TO WEAVER's HALL. [image] Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/1973/07/01/archives/irish-derby-goes-to-weavers-hall-331-shot-captures-sweeps-eventus.html> [Accessed 19 October 2020].