The Natural Barefoot Horse Movement

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Believe it or not, they are calling it a movement. Barefoot, natural trimming franchises are the new hot trend in horse care. It is a beautiful scam that has been developed specifically to target the inexperienced horseman or horsewoman. The fad has swept the horse world off its shoes and into new barefoot ground where lots and lots of horses are gimping around wishing the pain would stop.

How this movement came to be is a mystery, but Dr. Hiltrud Strasser, a German veterinarian, has been credited as the first to develop this new, radical, strong woman craze on “natural” holistic hoof care. Dr. Strasser has been described as “a rebel”. A woman who isn’t afraid to stand up to conformity. A woman who created a system, of hoof care conformity, to break conformity. A woman with a method, no, a state of mind, that asks all horse owners to think alike on the care about their horse’s feet.

Of course, those in the barefoot movement believe if you aren’t following this new, trendy, horse care method, you must be abusing your horse (for more on that concept, if you haven’t already, stop by the pro-clicker training comments). People who are completely brainwashed by a method or system see only black or white. Of course, if you aren’t clicker training, you MUST be training your horse by brutally beating them. Again, if you aren’t using natural barefoot trimming, you MUST be torturing your horse with horseshoes. Oh the humanity!

Farrier work should under no circumstances cause lameness, footsoreness, shortened stride, or any other displays of pain or discomfort.

As another genius horse person marketing scheme, the target audience, once again, is middle aged women who are hypersensitive to notions of bad things happening, anywhere. The Strasser barefoot method, the clicker training method, and the natural horsemanship method all exist, thrive on, and cultivate scare tactics to further their followings and resulting profits. That sound familiar to anyone?

Yet, do any of these people realize that fitting their horse into this Strasser method of trimming, or any other natural “balance” barefoot trimming method is like making every person wear the same size shoe? How is that correct, or natural? Or pain free?

The Barefoot movementers say trimming every horse foot exactly the same is the way “nature intended”, but yet, they call it abusive to nail a shoe on a horse’s foot, a shoe that fits that horse and enables comfort, traction and shock absorption?

Dr. Strasser has stated herself that her trim may cause death to a horse. What??? Oh, right, but it’s because the horse’s heart cannot heal from the abuse of shoes and a stall. What reasonable person reads that and thinks, “Yes, I need to free my horse from the abuse of a stall and shoes, so I will trim my horse with this method. If he dies, at least I freed him”?

That’s just nuts.

Don’t get me wrong. Dr. Strasser has some good points outside of actually touching a horse’s hoof. Yes, some horses, and almost all pleasure, pet and/or trail horses should live outside 24/7. But, a few of my own horses who lived their first 3 years outside 24/7 would not be happy being outside 24/7 now. No matter what, not every horse can be cared for the same.

Let’s say that again.

Not every horse can be cared for the same.

This is where the “nuts” part of the natural barefoot/Strasser trim comes into play. Each horse’s individual temperament, conformation, health, and job necessitate different care.

And long before Dr. Strasser hit the foot care scene, fore-thinking equestrians knew frequent trims (meaning, weekly, every other week, etc.) and low angles could be beneficial to keeping a horse’s foot balanced, most especially for corrective shodding or treating, for example, navicular and founder.

But, NOT EVERY HORSE’S FOOT IS THE SAME!!!! There is a lot more to equine hoof soundness and happiness than just cutting off so much hoof that the horse’s body has no choice but to increase bloodflow to the region.

Dr. Strasser no doubt has credentials to back up her hoof anatomy knowledge, but all in all she has zero practical, statistical data proving successes of her methods. As stated elsewhere, her insistence that horseshoe nails numb the equine’s foot is so off the wall unproven or tested that it doesn’t even rise to the level of hypothesis. The Strasser trim is also often marketed as a do-it-yourself system (just the right confidence builder insecure women need!), but hoof care is a science that can not be taught by reading one book or attending one clinic. Doing so, buying into a DIY “natural” barefoot trim attitude gives one just enough knowledge to do serious damage.

Trimming a hoof should never, ever leave a horse footsore.

Many horses have been euthanized after a Strasser trim, and horse owners and natural barefoot “farriers” alike have been charged in animal cruelty cases for using the Strasser trim and causing pain and suffering to horses. Horses dying and owners being charge for cruelty themselves should be enough of a red flag for everyone to stay away from Strasser’s naturally balanced, hoof care trimming method. Yet, there are still many advocates for Strasser’s scheme, and even more Strasser franchises going up around the world.

Some barefoot, natural horse care fanatics do actually see the Strasser trim as not only too radical, but also risky for their horses’ health. But, even these natural barefoot fanatics still don’t see any other option besides “natural” balanced, barefoot horse trims. Now available WITH shoes! Adding shoes to a naturally balanced, barefoot horse trims is like adding a McDonalds meal to your vegan, organic diet!

Now, the other methods of “natural” hoof and whole horse care have involved many different “developers”, thus creating different factions of followers. The common thread with each, “unique”, best-ever-everything-else-is-murderous-system is that they are all following the word natural. If barefoot trimmers are following “natural”, wild horse practices, why are they trimming their feet at all? Are there wild farriers that live out in the plains where the wild horses stop every once in a while to get their feet trimmed (and what’s natural about a horse sitting, or playing with a rubber ball?)

Moreover, susceptible people often forget that horses are no longer wild. You cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Just willing your horse’s foot, with a knife, to take the shape of a mythical, perfect, naturally existing horse hoof of yesteryear will not make it so. Taking a horse with horrible feet and cutting them with a stencil does not make them perfect, great, or natural, no matter how long you try.

So many inexperienced backyard breeders have produced so many terribly conformed horses; a special barefoot hoof trim will not conquer their genetics. In many cases, it may be your responsibility to put shoes on a horse with foot problems instead of mandating the horse conform to your needs as a system follower.

“I don’t see any lameness, he just doesn’t like to walk on rocks.”

The fad within this barefoot market is so strange to me. In so many ways, why not just find a great farrier? A great farrier is going to leave a horse barefoot if that is what is best for the horse. I have had many barefoot horses, some of which competed through 4′ jumpers barefoot even, only to get shoes on for bigger fences, for better traction, or for shock absorption. Since all of these horses that were able to live and compete barefoot also had awesome feet, my farriers would leave them without shoes until needed.

The most memorable experiences I’ve had with natural barefoot trimming, or natural balanced trims, were witnessing the soreness the horses experience after a trim, even after receiving these trims for over a year. These horses would be footsore for over a week AFTER a barefoot trim. The horses were in agony when walking through rocks, or walking on concrete.

Are there no hard surfaces in the wild?

I would be told, “Oh, that’s normal”, or in some cases, “I don’t see any lameness, he just doesn’t like to walk on rocks.” No horse my farrier has ever left barefoot has ever, ever been footsore. Not on rocks, not walking to and from pastures, not on any surface at any point.

Having a farrier work on your horse, whether you put shoes on or not, should under no circumstances cause lameness, footsoreness, shortened stride, or any other displays of pain and/or discomfort. You should be able to get on and ride your horse with no problems immediately after your farrier works on him. If you can’t, have a lengthy conversation with your farrier. If it happens a second time, find a new farrier. If that farrier is you, please stop playing farrier.

The number one most important element in horse care, and horse training, is uniqueness. Every horse is unique and must be treated and cared for as an individual. Following methods, fads, or systems limits the ability to tailor for your horse’s conformation, temperament, personality, and health. Why do all these radical people think that every horse should fit into a mold? What is even more interesting is that these are the people who claim other horse people are just scared of change or something new. When it comes to “natural” horse practice dissident, fear of the new is not an issue. Most good horse people take knowledge from every reputable source, method, and system, pull out what might be useful, and apply it when it is applicable. But above all, responsible horse people know THERE IS NO MOLD.

There is no magic button, no magic book, no magic savior, or no magic set of beliefs that will cause a horse to bond with you. Your program of beliefs are not special, and you are not suddenly rising to the top of all whom ever cared for horses, simply because your system title includes a derivative of the word “nature”.

And in this world, there are a lot of conventional farriers that shoe horses who don’t necessarily need it. It is also very true that a horse that has worn shoes for a long time will need time to adjust to being barefoot. Without the accustomed support of a shoe, hoof walls may chip and crack for a few trims until the nail holes grow out and the hoof becomes stronger, but never should this adjustment period include footsoreness.

And though it’s obvious the closed minded nature of anyone buying into these “natural” themed horse care/training, marketing schemes bothers me, the natural barefoot trimmers actually make me angry. Natural trims cause pain and suffering for far too many horses.

One thing is for sure, I’ll never give up horseshoes. I absolutely love torturing my horses by mounting, cold, cruel metal to their feet. The classically trained, traditional farrier and I have such a laugh at all the discomfort the horses experience while being shod! Oh, and the hot shoeing!

The courtesy and manners my horses show the farrier are surely just done out of fear; their blackened hearts singed from years of unnatural hoof trims, metal tearing their mouth apart, and all the abuse from spurs, whips, and nosechains. In fact, one of my horses is so dull and hates the farrier and the evil shoes he tacks on so much, that he stands perfectly still and tries to play with the handkerchief in the farrier’s back pocket!

Silly, tortured horse!

Shoes or no shoes, lets work away from the marketing schemes. Horse people are already crazy enough without all this bad propaganda.