Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Equestrian Lifestyle at Freedom Farm: Feet First

By Jerry Schmidt and Mary Gallagher

A natural lifestyle is the foundation of our horses' health at Freedom Farm. Foundational to that is the care of their feet, which are, without exception, barefoot. It's a great first topic of this series on natural equestrian lifestyle. -MG

Our boarding and training business, dedicated to keeping horses in a more natural environment, is a huge undertaking in the horse industry today. The way our horses live – moving barefoot with a herd, enjoying access to natural grasses and hay 24/7 – is not how horses are typically cared for, especially if you have competition aspirations. Yet that is how our horses live and compete: barefoot and in a herd environment.

Fifteen years ago, we decided to improve the life of our horses by having them go shoeless and stall-free. Friends and colleagues said it wasn't doable, that it wouldn't last. We knew we could achieve our dream, but there was a lot to learn. After years of work and the daily experience of keeping a large number of horses healthy in this manner, we can confirm that it's a great way to keep horses! And we'd like to help others step through the door to a new way of caring for our four-legged athletes.

About shoelessness.
The hoof boot industry’s technology is becoming more sophisticated every year; they really understand the importance of a healthy hoof. As horses transition from shoes to barefoot, protection and support is right there for every adjustment along the way. A pair of boots can last 6 months to a year, at $150 a pair versus shoeing at $200 every 8 weeks.

There are many health and soundness benefits from keeping a horse barefoot. A healthy foot flexes, acts as a pump for circulation, and connects the horse solidly to the ground. A shod foot can't flex, circulate well, or sense footing. Lay ups due to ligament and tendon injuries keep the vet visits a regular routine. The horse's suffering, along with the cost, argues for removing the shoes and increasing the horse's movement with herd interaction in an open space. In our experience, doing so lengthens their life, supports their soundness, and multiplies the successes we share with our horse partners.

We have come a long way since the shoes came off our horses fifteen years ago; there were some real learning curves. I am glad we stuck it out, and so are our horses.

Feet First: A Hoof Care Class with Jerry Schmidt (2016)

This month, as a part of our winter Second Sunday Series of classes, we are going to feature barefoot hoof care education. What does it take to go bare foot and how you can get started?

Our first session will cover:
  • General anatomy, health of the foot  
  • Transitioning strategies (How can boots help?)
  • Trimming maintenance—a grooming skill
That's Sunday, November 13th, 11-2 pm. Jerry will teach anatomy of the foot, then hands-on with our lesson horses, or your own horse. Bring your own tools. For beginners, you can get by with just a rasp, and we have a few rasps to loan. Cost: $55. Bring a snack/drink.

[SECOND CLASS ADDED SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18th!! Missed the first class? It's okay, everybody welcome. 11-2 pm, same price.]

This is the first of our special Second Sunday Lifestyle series classes this winter. Other topics to follow!

We want to help you care for your horse's feet naturally and still compete, pleasure ride, or do whatever you do with your shod horse, but without the shoes. If your horse is already barefoot, but you'd like to review the basics, you are welcome, too!

Going barefoot should be easy for all horse lovers to understand and do, and we're here to help. All November, we will keep natural hoof care educational materials available for browsing in our (new!) library.

We want to answer your questions and concerns, so ask them here, or shoot us an email.

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