Ever since the beginning of the Barefoot Movement, horseshoes have taken a bad wrap.
Nails — awful.
Steel — restrictive.
Ruining all our horses with outdated, medieval malevolence!
Yet — please!
Let’s don’t throw out the hoof with the bath water . . .
I’m primarily a Barefoot girl, no problem.
And barefoot is great, under the best circumstances.
I’ve ridden sound, barefoot horses on endless trails, for years.
But I shod my horses last week — and took them on one of the trails we’ve ridden, barefoot, for the past twenty years — and it enhanced the entire endeavor!!!
Bright, springy steps replaced delicate plodding.
Heightened enjoyment, not just for my husband and I, but for the horses — as they didn’t have to bother avoiding sharp, crystalline rocks.
Steel, and pads, and hoof packing — actually saved the day!
So what caused me to add the shoes?
We’ve had a very long, cold and drawn out winter here in the mountainous region of Southern California this year, 2017. In fact it filled our reservoirs, and broke our multi-year drought.
The ground was saturated for more than two months with snow, ice, mud.
Just when it began warming up, drying out — more rain, snow, mud.
It SNOWED 4″ in early MAY!!!!
And just when my horses hooves were developing their hard, dry soles (a kind of callus which acts like shoe protection for the internal structures and comfort of their hooves) the late snow, saturating the ground, caused those soles to slough — the equivalence losing your shoes on a hot day at the beach . . .
And caused those hooves to feel every pebble. Every rock.
Shoes and Pads to the Rescue
Enter steel Natural Balance horseshoes, leather and Shock Tamer pads, and Sole Pack medicated packing material.
As a farrier, it’s something I’ve done for other people’s horses for years: Shoe. Pad. Protect.
But something I’ve rarely needed to do for my own homegrown, four-generation, hardy-hooved herd.
Why? Because my own healthy-hooved horses really didn’t need it. Barefoot worked fantastic for my horses (other than occasional shoes to help with gait issues or overreaching).
So when we rode the top of our local high-elevation (8,000′-9,000′) Mt. Pinos trails the other evening and FELT the difference — same trails, same horses, we’ve ridden for twenty years — I knew I just had to write.
Because theory is one thing.
Reality is another.
Enter Uncle Ink
I agree. Not all horseshoeing is made equal — that’s why I learned to shoe, from my farrier Uncle, Ink Knudson.
I learned to trim my own homebred herd of Arab-cross horses from Uncle Ink in Malibu in 1990.
Great. Wonderful. Sound. No problems.
But by 1996, I’d moved up here to the mountains, and got an Arab-Tennessee Walker, named Max, with less than ideal hooves.
An old barb wire injury to his coronet resulted in a large scar tissue bulb that he would overreach and tear with his hind hoof, causing him head-bobbing lameness.
The hoof that did grow, came in abnormal.
The local farriers up here in our region weren’t able to keep him sound. Even with pads and packing and egg bar shoes.
That’s when I took him down to Uncle Ink .
And Uncle Ink’s shoes made Max sound.
That’s when I realized, the other farriers couldn’t, wouldn’t do what Uncle Ink did.
I had to learn how to nail on shoes — to help Max. To keep him sound.
Bad Shoeing is Bad — Good Shoeing is Good!
But what was it about Ink’s shoes that worked?
Why couldn’t the local guys have fixed Max and made him comfortable?
What did Ink know that the local guys up here didn’t?
That’s the real secret — the real story.
Steel shoes, alone, aren’t the culprit.
It’s how the hoof is trimmed, and how those shoes are applied.
As my Uncle Ink taught me, “It’s art!”
And as with all art, it takes a good eye, a good feel, and a good understanding of why you’re doing what it is that you do . . .
Uncle Ink was a metallurgist in the Navy in WWII. After the war, he went to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo to learn the art of horse shoeing, on the GI Bill.
Then he honed his craft apprenticing with the old Calvary shoers in the LA area.
He worked with famous veterinarians doing specialized therapeutics. He could make any shoe or support apparatus in his coal forge.
He shod every kind of horse for every kind of discipline. He shod for every kind of person, including a cadre of famous actors.
He shod Ronald Reagan’s horses, Roy Roger’s Trigger, Gene Autry’s Champion . . .
And he shod my scruffy first horse, Rebel.
The majority of today’s farriers either studied with an elder, or attended one of the farrier schools.
Emphasis seems more on appearance than function.
How nice the low-nailed clinches appear.
How straight and level the hoof.
(The old question of balance!)
Problem is, high, angled nails hold better.
Heel nails, now out of fashion, hold the best.
Many hooves are, in themselves, not straight or level. The bones have de-mineralized in accordance to the horse’s conformation.
Shoeing those hooves “straight and level” is the same as shoeing a straight and level hoof out of balance.
But how do you teach this?
How do these guys learn what it took my Uncle sixty years under the anvil, the forge, the horse, to gain?
So imagine my bliss in discovering, that the skills I originally learned to help Max with his old injury, actually improved my sound, “barefoot” horses on a real-life trail ride into my own local mountainous back country.
Solid hoofbeats. Solid horses.
We’ve got a great riding schedule planned for this season!!!
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