In all my years in horse journalism, I've never seen anything like this. Not even Burney Chapman, Hiltrud Strasser or Gene Ovnicek has ever received publicity like this.
Blog readers will be well-advised to pick up a copy of the December 2007 issue of Horse and Rider magazine. Sit down for a while and read all the way through the eight-page interview with barefoot's de facto spokesman, Pete Ramey.
Horse and Rider has been promoting barefoot hoofcare for some time now, and Pete Ramey in particular. I can't think of anyone who doesn't like Pete and I'm delighted for his success.
I think the barefoot-shod debate, if you want to call it that is evolving. Pete Ramey and other barefoot leaders endorse new generation hoof boots as "the horseshoes of the 21st century", to quote Pete. I cringe when I hear this. Such a statement places even more of a stigma on traditional horseshoes and a lot of peer pressure on owners from "barn nazis" to pull those evil shoes off a horse.
To be successful, the barefoot option has to be more than fashion, and saddling up a lame horse to go riding in hoof boots that may or may not fit is a new form of equine abuse that no one is talking about yet. I'd like to see people like Pete encourage boot use for long rides or rough conditions, not for every day use on a sore-footed horse as an alternative to traditional shoes and certainly not for turnout. A "2 butes + boots = ok to ride" formula is not much of an improvement.
I think of barefoot horses as the equine equivalent of hybrid cars: it's not enough just to have a car that saves gas, especially if the rest of your lifestyle includes an energy-guzzling home, boat and RV. Some people buy a hybrid to look cool or to save money for the drive to work in the morning without buying into the bigger commitment of living more lightly on the earth in terms of energy consumption.
Hoof boots are cool now. They also hide the hoof they are designed to help and no one but the rider knows what lies beneath or how raw those heel bulbs will be when the boot is finally pulled off. I've seen riders trade boots between horses that didn't have the same size or shape of feet. I've seen people put them on without cleaning them out. I've seen hairless coronets, dangling straps, and boots left on for days on turned-out horses.
One of my favorite stories is from years ago when I was at a boarding barn. The Old Macs boots had just come out and a wealthy boarder had bought four, to go all around her sore-footed barefoot horse. The boots seemed to fit and she rode off one afternoon.
She came back quite soon and seemed visibly shaken. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “It’s those boots. He was raring to go. Geez, you know, I don’t think I’m a good enough rider to head out on a sound horse.”
A sound barefoot horse should always be the goal and I hope that part of Pete's message doesn't get lost. Read this article, it is important. Horse and Rider should be available on most newsstands and in tack shops.