Going barefoot: a new lease of life

by Karen Gunn
(France)

Anibal arrived on a hot sunny day, full of arrogance. He came to me as his previous owner had problems with his behaviour - bolting had become a regular feature of their rides together.

His owner was losing confidence, and something had to be done. In his youth Anibal had showjumped and, in semi-retirement, he became a dressage horse, competing throughout the south west.

He had a swan neck, dipped back, jumpers bump - and the tiniest feet I'd seen on a 16 hand horse. He looked as though his feet had been tightly bound to ensure they remained dainty, like Chinese women of ancient times. He had the same shuffling, pottering movement of those women. His lower legs were cold to the touch and he didn't seem to have much idea as to where to place his feet when he moved.

When he was being led, he'd barge into me, through me, over me, anywhere but in a straight line beside me. Walking was difficult to watch as he picked his legs up, only to trip over them once he'd placed them on the ground. Trot was no easier.

He'd been stabled all his life - fields were apparently out of bounds for a competition horse, and he was supposed to be aggressive to other horses. How was I going to cope with this horse when my whole philosophy is for a horse to live out as much as possible, be with other horses - and be barefoot?

I wasn't sure where to begin. Firstly the shoes came off - how could he move with feet that small? This was a big decision as he was 21 and had been shod all his life. His feet were malformed,he had flat soles, contracted heels, flaking hoof walls and signs of laminitis. The right hind was especially nasty with a coronet that bulged over the top of the hoof wall. The inside wall was upright with the outside badly flared, and he couldn't put weight onto the outside edge. But the shoes came off - if he was to stand any chance of freedom of movement they had to.

For the first 3 months he could barely move and every day I questioned my decision as he hobbled to the paddock. We paved the route to the paddocks with straw, wrapped his feet in bandages and cosseted him with super soft boots.

His feet were trimmed with expert guidance and slowly he began to walk more freely and a hint of a smile appeared on his face. Slowly over the next three years his feet transformed. They've widened, become stronger, tougher and completely changed shape from narrow oval to round. He has concave soles with a proper shaped frog. The right hind foot will take longer as this had the most damage, but he can now move freely with a lovely length of stride.

He knows where his feet are now and, importantly, can feel them. Walk, trot and canter are easy. As soon as his feet were changing his body began to change shape, his personality changed and he charms us all being the perfect gentleman. That's another story......

His recovery hasn't just been about removal of shoes, but it's been the biggest part. I can't say that it's been easy, and I've had to stop listening to those who were insistent that I was being cruel and should put shoes back on to alleviate his discomfort. But we stuck with it and he made it - he's a happier, healthier horse.

I kept the shoes he arrived in and put them up against his new feet - I'd forgotten quite how small those shoes were. They certainly don't fit him anymore.....































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