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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Horse Magazine Puts Spotlight on Barefoot's Pete Ramey

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.


Nick said...

I'm a subscriber to the magazine and agree that the article was a great read. I'm not familiar at all with hoof boots so it was doubly interesting to me. I can think of a few trail rides where it would have been nice to have them.

The issue of rubbing and chafing was on my mind as I read the article as well. For properly fitting boots, how much of a concern are these problems?

Sally said...

Hi Nick -

The older model boots had a rubbing problem for sure, but the newer boots have virtually eliminated that. No more of an issue than potential rubbing problems from ill fitting tack or blankets. Proper fit and finding the appropriate boot for the horse and it's job is the answer. I boot many horses for both riding or therapy (including turnout), and rubbing just doesn't happen. I advise owners to check the boots frequently during the first few rides, just to make sure that all is well. If you decide to try hoof boots, seek the advise of someone who is trained to fit them (just like finding a competent farrier). Hoof boots and pads have given many horses in my care a new lease on life.

Nan said...

I agree. The newer hoof boots fit MUCH better. Also where boots really come into their own IS turnout of sore footed horses.


Boots are more trouble, no doubt about it. You can't just slap on a piece of metal and forget about hoofcare for 6 weeks. It will need to be removed, at least daily and the feet carefully checked. Some stables simply refuse to offer that service or put dirty and/or badly fitting boots on and when rubs occur intone that all boots are bad.


The advantages are multiple. The greatest one is the absolute joy the horse experiences when he "feels" the ground for the first time without metal and therapudic pads making his foot numb.

My horse, shod for 20+ years, insisted upon walking out of the barn immediately and "feeling" the ground the day he got his first "barefoot" trim. It was miraculouis to observe him..feeling for the first time in years. (Not to be confused with the pain they feel when a recently shod hoof loses a shoe and with a typical farrier's shod-hoof trim breaks off and is bruised. (and is unbalancedd by the still shod mate foot with its wedge pad and clips.)

There was a time and place for shoes but the time is coming when NO horse will "have" to wear shoes to perform ANY athletic pursuit. Better and more user friendly boots are coming out every month and more competent barefoot trimmers are becoming available. A number of veterinary hospitals are now routinely putting therapudic boots on foundered and sore footed horses, rather than insisting upon ultra expensive shoes and pads applied by "master" farriers.


Fran Jurga said...

Nana, the therapeutic boots for foundered and sore-footed horses that you mentioned were actually developed by farriers, did you know that? And they are routinely applied by farriers, too, as recommended by speakers at vet and farrier conferences.

What's a master farrier? I've never met one in the USA. It's not a term used here, that I am aware of.

Fran Jurga said...

Sally, I am pretty sure that a large number of hoof boots are sold by mail order. How can you be sure they will fit? I've had people fax me tracings of their horses' feet and ask me which boots to order. I've written articles encouraging tack shops and farriers supply stores to have clinic days with manufacturers for horseowners to haul horses in to be fitted. Or maybe a mobile van could go around visit barns to assist with fittings, the way that saddle fitters do it?

A friend of mine gallops her horse on the beach here in EasyBoot Epics, in and out of the ocean, over dry and wet sand. It's amazing.

Sally said...

Hi Fran -
You are correct - many models of boots can be ordered from a catalog, just like saddles, bits, blankets, and other items that require a good fit in order to function correctly. Frankly, anyone can walk into a farm supply store and purchase horse shoes, nails, and the tools to apply them without any knowledge of how to do it. A person's chances of ordering a correctly fitting, appropriate hoof boot without an expert fit is about as likely as ordering a saddle from a catolog and expecting it to fit the horse. Add to that the need for a well trimmed hoof and you can see where the problems arise. Some hooves are so distorted (i.e. high heels, flares, or long toes) that few stock boots will accomodate that hoof, even after a good trim. Some models fit certain hoof shapes better than others and some are more suitable for rugged riding than other types.

The new Renegade hoof boots are only available through hoof care professionals - you can't buy them directly from the manufacturer and I doubt if you will ever see them in a catalog. It's the same with Swiss Horse Boots - selling them directly to the consumer resulted in rubbed heels and other problems from improper fitting, so they are only available through certified fitters. EasyCare would much rather sell their products in the same manner, thereby saving them much headache, but there is a real shortage of knowledgable people who know how to fit these boots. At this time they are working on the situation, but as long as boots are sold directly to consumers, there will always be problems.

In addition to hoof care, I offer hoof boot fitting to the public, not just my clients. I also give demonstrations to owners, vets, and farriers. Just like my farrier counterparts, I stock my truck with a half dozen
different kinds of boots in all sizes, plus various therapeutic pads. I also carry repair parts and can fix anything that goes wrong on the spot. That is called "service", something that catalogs and tack shops cannot provide. I don't sell anything that I have not personally ridden my own horses in and found satisfactory. I carefully explain the pros and cons of each type of boot to customers so that I can help them chose the one that is best for their horse.

The benefits of hoof boots are enormous and the technology is improving by leaps and bounds. I'm eagerly awaiting more information on the new German boot you posted about recently. It's all for the benefit of the horse.

nan said...

The hoof boots which I was speaking of are Soft-Rides and I did not know they were developed by a farrier, but my point was NOT to knock farriers but to praise boots.

The "master farrier" term was only one used by the clinics I've been at who had a farrier come in. They were always spoken of as "masters" of their craft.

One such "master" worked on my hapless horse for a year and if you want to see what his feet looked like after one year of intensive "corrective" work (at GREAT cost) go to Monica Meer's (barefoot trimmer) website and look at case study "Thomas initial trim. " The final straw in my shoeing saga was when the farrier put on"clogs" and Thomas could barely walk out of his stall.

The clogs were pulled and Tom went to boots since his feet had been trimmed literally to blood to squeeze in the "clogs." I cried when I saw his feet when they were removed from the "clogs".

Good farriers are out there, even great ones are, but nailing iron on a foot is NOT always the best way. Boots give you flexibility and for elderly horses who have trouble standing for their therapudic shoes and wedge pads to be nailed on, trimming and boots are a godsend. One old QH I knew personally was put down because the farrier could no longer nail on the ultra expensive corrective shoes he "had to have" because f his athritis. The horse up til that time had to be literally beaten to keep him standing theree legged while the farrier methodically applied those shoes to one foot thenanother. A trim and boots (withpads) and that old guy would still be with us.


Fran Jurga said...

So sorry you had a bad experience, Nan. Most vets and farriers I know love boots for laminitis therapy. My long experience with horses is that there is no one answer for any problem. I hope you will try to keep an open mind. I think it is encouraging that horse owners are starting to take more interest in their horses' feet and I hope that vet and farrier education will include exposure to new ideas and stress the importance of experience and high degrees of skill in treating horses with lameness problems.

I hope you rode your recovered horse "Thomas" today and that you both enjoyed it!

Barefoot Horse Mom said...

Hi, I have a few comments and questions regarding the whole barefoot phenomenon...

I just wanted to share my experience in taking my daughter's 16-year old TB from shoes to bare feet. My daughter competes in the hunter/jumper ring, and her trainer had always harped on our farrier about what he was doing. The trainer claimed Mickey needed lifts, pads, egg bars, etc., etc. Mickey did have problems with his feet, and consequently, his back. However, our farrier always resisted the trainer's advice and asked me to allow Mickey to naturally correct some of the problems with his feet. He took the pads off that Mickey came with, and then slowly improved Mickey's feet with very little radical work. "Slow and sure,' always seemed to be the farrier's motto. He is a certified journeyman farrier, and I always respected his thoughtfulness and wonderful care of Mickey. In fact Mickey's feet did improve. When we parted ways with the trainer, our farrier's first request was to allow him to take Mickey's shoes off. Then, he proceeded to tell me that most of his own horses were barefoot all the time, and he was certain Mickey was a great candidate for going barefoot. Weird huh? Needless to say it was just what Mickey needed to really make some progress with his feet, and wonderfully his back!
The only downside is, with Mickey's improvement, I have noticed my daughter's reluctance to have us select another trainer, and go back to the hunter/jumper ring. She loved competing (she was her division champion in 2006 at the year's end) on our local circuit, but even at 12-years old she understands that a barefoot horse in a hunter ring will draw criticism. I think she's afraid that if she goes back into the ring then she won't be able to resist the lure of winning if judges, etc. feel proper turn-out includes new shiny shoes on her TB. She keeps delaying going back to taking lessons so Mickey can jump barefoot. She is certain if Mickey shows even one moment of sorefootednes (is that a word?) a new trainer will insist on shoes. We know it takes a year to grow a new hoof, and I think my daughter is afraid she won't be able to deal with the hunter/jumper world until Mickey's year is over with... we're 4 months into our barefoot experience.

Our questions regarding barefeet we need to put him in boots if he does not show signs of soreness, etc.? My daughter is afraid of rubs, etc on Mickey's heel bulbs. Is there something we can put on the sole of Mickey's feet to toughen it even more? During winter rains, what to people do about thrush being aggravated by a boot? Does anyone have any advice regarding jumping and sore bare feet?

I am not able to help out much with these issues because when I took my Arab mare barefoot, it was so easy. My horse walked out of her shoes and never looked back. She thrived barefoot, and I just felt silly for all the years she had shoes on. However, I just ride for fun and would never consider pointing my horse at something and then asking her to jump it when it would be so easy to just go around...I don't want my daughter to give up something she loves, but she won't risk her horse's welfare.

Is there a way to balance these two things? Anybody?

Thanks so much,
Barefoot Horse Mom