|Ben Robertson, 14, on Joy Ride, Oregon Last of Summer Show, 2017|
Our Freedom Farm Hoof Beats Horsemanship Team has competed successfully in a number of
A-rated shows around the Pacific Northwest this year. It has been a pleasure to watch these young people come into their own as competitors, and I am super proud of their horsemanship, sportsmanship, and superior talent. I've also been reflecting on the part that our horses’ herd lifestyle has played in their success.
|Gracie Niemeyer, 15, on Code Breaker, Oregon 2017|
Lifestyle, as we define it, begins with the barefoot horse. Don't get me wrong, I do think our coaching has played a big role in our riders' success. But with all my heart, and in my personal experience, I believe our barefoot lifestyle gives us a substantial edge.
Over the past few years attending these shows, I have had ample opportunity to observe all manner of training approaches in the arenas as well as the schooling rings. The main thing I noticed, right off, is the extra effort that shod horses make as they approach the jumps—their knees hiking up high, and their pasterns over-flexing with every stride before they jump. I also heard the difference in the sound as their heavy feet pound around the course.
|Me back in the day on Jimmy William's horse, Fireside.|
My history—shod. I was trained in traditional horsemanship and rode for many years in every kind of horse show. I never questioned that the horses I rode were shod—of course they were. And it felt perfectly natural because that’s the only way I had ever ridden.
Fast forward to now, 15 years past the choice to transition to the barefoot lifestyle. When I ride shod horses today, I feel the difference:
- The connection to the ground is lost;
- The horse feels a little clumsy;
- The response time to the feet is slower;
- Stumbling is more dramatic;
- The horse’s feet feel numb.
The unshod present. By contrast, our unshod horses are:
- Quick across the ground;
- Quick and careful when folding limbs and getting out of the way of rails;
- Connecting with their riders in a soft and seamless manner;
- Stable through turns on many different types of footing, and fast because they feel the ground under them when making changes of direction and speed.
|Maddie Niemeyer, 7, on Nicholas, Bainbridge Island, WA|
"My horse can't go without shoes." In principle, if you asked a rider if they were interested in a method that would give them cleaner, faster rides in the jumper arena, they would say 'yes! What is it?' But sadly, that is not the case when you suggest going without shoes.
It's part of our culture as horse people. Right there in the Manual of Horsemanship, under “Health, Conditioning, and Exercise,” it says your horse needs shoes. And veterinarians will agree.
At Freedom Farm we say there is a smarter, more effective way. We have all heard the saying, "no feet, no horse." It's very true, and we take it seriously at Freedom Farm.
Our mission. Many of our horses have been barefoot since birth. For those who come to us to transition, rubber pens and removable boots help protect and condition their feet as they grow stronger, and eventually they join a herd. The more active herd life gets those feet strong, flexible, and that holds true all the way up the leg.
On the human side, we have made a point of learning how to care for our horses’ feet on a daily basis. Our students and many of our boarders are instrumental in hoof health care and trimming. Their participation helps manage all aspects of our horses’ hoof health, recognizing issues and addressing them early. We are all learning what it means to balance a foot, deal with issues as they arise, and support our horses so they can support us.
We don't have all the answers, and we are always learning from others in the barefoot and natural horse care community. We feel pretty darn good that our barefoot horses have been top performers at every show this year. So we will continue on this path, keep learning and growing, and try to spread the word about what we see as a new age in horse health.
A big part of our mission at Freedom Farm is to help and support people who would like to take that next step in their horse's health. Sign up for our newsletter, subscribe to our blog, or come out to the Farm for one of our classes or clinics! Such as...
Feet First! Hoof Care with Jerry Schmidt.
Sunday, September 24, 2017 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. $50
Class will start in the library, with review of hoof anatomy and discussion with Jerry. Then we will head straight out to work with our horses. Bring your own horse and rasp, or work on one of our school horses. (Rasps available to borrow.)
Equestrian Lifestyle at Freedom Farm, Part One