Sunday, January 3, 2016

Barefoot Success at Horse Shows, 2015

by Mary Gallagher

Back in July, I wrote about Freedom Farm’s barefoot, herd-dwelling horses. With the end of the year fast approaching, it occurs to me that we’ve had quite a year outside the Farm, at a number of horse shows with our young riders in the Hoof Beats competition team. Looking back on their consistent success, I just wanted to bring our readers up to speed on our experiences showing, as possibly the only barefoot, natural-lifestyle competition stable on the circuit.

By any measure, you could say our riders had a phenomenal year, bringing home multiple wins, championships, reserves, and high point awards at every outing. With the consistency of their success, something had to be working in their favor. A few things were, actually, though here I want to focus on the barefoot aspect.

At the shows, I noticed that my riders stayed balanced on their horses, as well as out of their horse’s way as they rode the courses, allowing the horse freedom to negotiate the task at hand. I also noticed how cooperative and calm our horses were, as if they understood their purpose and were there to give 100 percent at every show. The kids and the horses were real partners.   
[pictured at left: Grace Niemeyer, right: Jasmine Itti, below: Ben Robertson]

This is my dream come true. 17 years ago, when we first began our natural horsemanship, barefoot, natural lifestyle trek, I knew in my heart that the horses were going to be happier and healthier, but no one I knew of in the equestrian world was doing it, so I was going on faith. It has definitely been an adventure in learning, but we’re on the other side now. At this point, we’re fine tuning what we know instead of blazing a trail.  Today I can say we are proving it on the road, and that is good news for horses everywhere.

What’s it like to ride a barefoot athlete? 

I want to say there is no comparison between jumping a barefoot horse and a shod horse, but in fact there is a very favorable comparison to make: the barefoot horse is lighter in the bridle, faster and cattier across the ground, and they are balanced and quick with their knees in the air.

Because my horses live in herds and are moving on many kinds of terrain and in all types of weather, I am confident that they can handle trappy ground. I don’t worry about injury due to bad footing. And the generally excellent footing in show arenas is a treat to my horses.

I’ve always had the sense that barefoot horses are better grounded (no pun intended) and sure of themselves. Their feet are, after all, designed by nature for direct contact with the earth, to pick up vibration and provide non-visual information about the terrain as they move.

Okay, but are there really no concerns re the barefoot show horse….?

With barefoot horses, we do have concerns showing. For example, at one large regional show, although the footing in the show arena was better than expected, some of the footing between the barn area and arenas was very harsh, much of it crushed rock. We came prepared, though, with custom fit hoof boots for the horses to wear in those areas. Our horses do walk on crushed rock at home in places and are adapted to it, but we wanted to preserve our horses’ hooves at the show, anticipating that the extra work would cause more wear than usual, outpacing normal hoof growth. Some of our horses that are still in transition from shoes wore hoof boots in the schooling arenas as well, and only went barefoot in the show arenas.

How do we maintain our horses’ healthy bare feet at home?

Our show riders maintain their horses feet at home, for the most part, with some coaching on what to look for in terms of wear and balance, as well as additional trimming by me, Audrey Bryant, or Jerry Schmidt. Hoof care is a crucial part of their education and responsibility as Hoof Beats students.

I am very much looking forward to next season, when our riders and horses move up into tougher divisions!

We’ll keep you posted.

       The author at the Pacific Crest Open, with her horse Reagan.

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