For decades I was called in as the "last resort" for hundreds of horses.
Horse who had been diagnosed with "Navicular Disease", "Founder", "White Line Disease", "Thrush" and more ... calls from people who were desperate to save their best friends, their horses.
People who had spent thousands on veterinary and farrier care only to hear the words, "Best to put him down."
And some, after one visit where the horse was deemed "Laminitic", the veterinarian or farrier would hold no hope for the owner and say, "We can't save him. Put him to sleep."
Such words to hear ... such heartbreak that didn't have to be. Such pain the horse didn't have to go through and such despair the horses' humans did not have to endure.
I've seen all sorts of iron contraptions on horses' hooves ... rocker shoes, heart bars, reverse shoes, half-shoes, Egg bars, Pads, Wedges ... you name it and I think I've seen it. And, I think I've pulled it.
I was called in to see horses that had been through hell and back with all sorts of different shoes because the horse had been lame for 7 years and "didn't grow any heel" ... when I pulled the shoes that were complete with pads and 1" wedges I saw that the horse, indeed, grew heel and had been growing heel for years. In fact, the heel was so run forward that it covered almost the entire sole with the bars to the toes. The heels were smashed down and the toes were stretched so that the white line was a solid inch thick. It was deemed the horse was 'old' at 23 years old and probably was best to euthanize him humanely. The owner was hesitant but willing to 'give him one more chance'. I pulled the shoes and embarked on a 4 month project whereupon at the end of the 4th trim the owner rode his horse for the first time in all those 7 years.
The horse felt so good, was moving so well, the owner said he couldn't ride him at the sitting trot any longer! He continued to ride his horse for another 7 years until I then moved location and could no longer care for the horse.
That horse had 7 years of chances and he was on his last 'leg', so to speak.
The shoes were wrong for him ... ALL of the shoes that were 'tried out' on him and they were many including, but not in totality, egg bars, rockers, 1/2, upside down, pads, wedges and more.
More importantly, the TRIM was wrong for him. The trim was wrong, period. The TRIM will make or break the hooves regardless of whether or not the horse is barefoot or shod.
Unfortunately, that horse was not the only one I worked with that was in such dire straits over the years. And, over the years, the results were the same ....
Take off the shoes.
Trim the hooves properly.
Feed the hooves properly.
Exercise the horse properly.
The horse went sound.
"Properly" is a subjective word, of course ... because it all depends - Each horse, each hoof, being totally unique to itself and needing individualized attention.
The common denominator in all these horses?
TAKE OFF THE SHOES!
Now farriers don't like to hear that. Neither do the owners who have been totally brainwashed to believe that a horse cannot possibly be ridden without shoes. And sometimes, RARELY, orthotics ARE needed but again -- that is so subjective, so individual, so unique. I cannot say that shoes are NEVER needed but I can say they are usually NOT needed to remediate a pathological hoof.
It all depends.
But wait, you say ... MY horse cannot be without shoes!!!
Or, so you've been told.
Why? Why can your horse never be without shoes?
If you can't answer that question with other than a FULL understanding of the equine digit anatomy and physiology and remediational treatments that are possible to restore full hoof function and soundness, then I say you are really doing your horse a disfavor.
And you horse deserves more than that.
So much more.
Hey, bottom line -- if you have your horse's shoes removed and, after several months, it is "deemed" he is not getting any better and you are DETERMINED that he just can't go without shoes? A simple fix to that -- go ahead and have them put back on again!
That's all. Simple.
But, I've found, over 30 years, that the horses have let their humans know that they are more comfortable, safer, and more agile and athletic without their iron constrictions. Their hooves have room to de-contract, to be stimulated for healthy new hoof growth, have better proprioception of the ground on which they run and move, the horn becomes tighter and stronger giving more protection to the inner foot, angles between the individual bones in the lower limb are corrected, hoof wall angles are corrected, digital cushion and frogs are stronger and better equipped to withstand the force of hoof landing and dissipating the energy from hoof landing, traction is increased on all environments, and, as the hooves are connected to the rest of the body, overall, the horse's joints and limbs become stronger and former issues are commonly 'fixed'.
The last resort?
No -- I would say that iron shoes should be the "last resort" ... and BARE HOOVES should be the FIRST consideration.
Yes, I say the word ... ALWAYS. Always the first consideration.
Then you, most likely, will not have to face the 'last resort' decision when it comes to your horses' hooves.
Your horse will not have to suffer discomfort of different conditions and pathologies of the hooves that will, most likely, afflict him at some time and arise from being shod in iron shoes.
YOU will not have to endure the heartbreak of hearing the words, "I'm sorry, we can't fix your horse's hooves. It's best to put him to sleep now."
Last resort hoofcare?
I only wished that the thousands of horses I've seen over the years had owners who would have considered Barefoot Hoofcare to be the FIRST option; not the last resort.
The following links tell of 2 of the worst pathologies over the years ... alot of sweat, blood, tears went into the rehabilitation of these horses but ... we won! We, meaning the owner, the horse and the vet and me as a team! Just 2 examples of the exceptionalism of the Equine Hoof and how it can be restored through barefoot hoofcare. (click on the links below)
Please --- don't wait to explore barefoot hooves until it is a "last resort" for your horse.
MAKE IT YOUR FIRST CHOICE!
Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 20 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here: www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf