A Barefoot Horse's Success Story

One Horse & Rider reader shares the story of how natural hoofcare put her horse, Smokey, back on his feet and back in his role as king of the herd.

No matter where Smokey goes he is always the king of the herd. A blue roan 7-year-old, he was a good looking, hunky well-bred Quarter Horse and working cow horse. Smokey would outwit every horse in the herd, get scary tough when he needed to and be really fair when making decisions. Smokey was–and still is thanks to the notion of barefoot horses–a special horse and he deserved every bit of effort and resource we could muster for him. He was my primary horse, my main squeeze.

Smokey, fully recuperated–and barefoot. | Photo courtesy of Laurie Windham

While generally cooperative and willing to go on the trail, Smokey had an increasingly noticeable problem of stumbling on the trail and protesting (often crow hopping/bucking) going down hills. He seemed to have a problem with proprioception–knowing where his feet were in space.

This led him to be tested for several problems: navicular syndrome and EPM. Radiographs revealed there were subtle changes going on in the back half of Smokey’s front hooves. These changes were in the navicular bone and in the surrounding vascular channels.

Smokey was given the classic treatment for navicular syndrome, which consisted of medical therapy and corrective shoeing. He was prescribed Isoxuprine and Aspirin to increase circulation in the hoof, and wedge heel egg-bar aluminum shoes to elevate the heel to take pressure off the deep digital flexor tendon. He was also positively screened for having been exposed to EPM. While we didn’t do the more rigourous testing for EPM, we treated him for EPM in case he actually was carrying the disease. Subsequent to those findings, Smokey was also found to have problems in his stifle area (bi-lateral tears in his miniscus and medial stifle areas) and was confined to stall rest with limited movement for six months.

The net conclusion of several skilled veterinary medicine professionals was the same: Smokey was used very hard as a youngster doing rodeo work–so hard in fact that it put too much stress on his body and therefore burned him out at an early age. On top of that, he was asked to work with tight and most likely incorrect shoeing. His prognosis for returning to work was poor. In fact, his prognosis for living a comfortable life in the pasture was somewhat doubtful.

While on stall rest, his mental state deteriorated dramatically, as he was very unhappy with being confined, and was still very uncomfortable in his legs and hindquarters. In fact, he was so angry about being confined to his stall that it was extremely challenging to help him with his physical therapy. I used many Parelli Natural Horsemanship principles and games to engage his mind so that I could safely assist him in his physical therapy.

It was during this time that my horse program manager Joel Means, now a practitioner in the American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners (AANHCP), started learning about the benefits of allowing a horse to be barefoot.

Both being students of natural horsemanship, we had a good understanding and deep philosophical belief in how important it is to keep horses as close to their nature as possible. When we stray from what nature intends for these horses, we encounter more problems, both mentally and physically.

As a last ditch effort to help Smokey, as well as the other dozen horses at my Ranch, we invited Pete Ramey of the AANHCP to give a clinic at our ranch. During that clinic Pete evaluated Smokey, pulled his shoes and said that Smokey had some significant problems with his feet, mainly softness in the front heels and a moderate quarter crack in a front hoof due to an apparent injury on the coronet band.

He trimmed his hoofs to begin the correction and prescribed boots for Smokey whenever he had to travel on rough or hard terrain. The idea was that we needed Smokey to shift his weight to the back of his feet so that the heel and navicular bone would get the appropriate amount of circulation and impact. We got the boots, but never had to use them on Smokey. While he was a little ouchy on gravel, he was OK.

It’s been over a year since Smokey went barefoot. His heels have hardened. His white line is no longer separated. Recent radiographs show no sign of inflammation around the navicular bone area. The quarter crack hasn’t totally healed, but it hasn’t created any further problems. The flare in his hooves continues to need to be corrected–which is fine. He’s now back to cantering with ease, can cross any terrain at the ranch and behaves nicely on trails. While he still gives a little buck now and then, it seems to be in celebration of feeling better, rather than a protest of pain.

Laurie Windham is the proprietor of Mayacamas Ranch, a guest ranch and conference center, in Calistoga, Calif. A Level 3 Parelli Natural Horsemanship student, Laurie owns 11 horses, “most of which are either Quarter Horses or Paints–and all of whom are ruled by Smokey,” she says. She escaped the hi-tech, dot-com craze and bought her ranch in 2001. She is the author of two business books, was a columnist for several business/technology magazines and traveled the world as a speaker specializing on the impact of the Internet on our lives. “My conclusion after all of this,” she says, “I’d rather be with my horses.”

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