Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Time for Change...

Well it came and went.
That inevitable breaking point where my students and I faced our last straw.
And so begins our march for change.

Karen Rohlf, Dressage Naturally

We have started the Ontario Bitless Organization.
A group where bitless riders, trainers, owners and supporters (yes even those who ride with bits!) can come together to start discussing how on Earth we are going to change our Equestrian community to allow the inclusion of bitless into the show ring.
This is a group who will be inclusive of all in favour of excellent horsemanship regardless of their tack, training methods or husbandry. Because at the end of it all; as long as the horse is healthy and happy.. we are doing it right by them.
The horse comes first.

Bitless in the Jumper Ring

So I am writing this blog as an outcry to my fellow bitless supporters.
There is an entire community of riders being excluded from show.
They are a large group of horsepeople who want the ability to enjoy showing just as much as the rest of us already do.
They want to be able to go into the show ring without dirty looks, off glances and rolling eyes; to showcase the hard work they have put in with their horse.
They want to be represented by a governing body in the Equestrian world who believes in them.
They want to represent a larger group of individuals; be a part of a community.

Bitless Dressage

And right now they are being told that they cannot do that.
They have to change how they have chosen to train their horses, because an old rule book, in desperate need of updating, tells them that's the way it is.
This is the way it's always been.

Research into classical dressage will tell you otherwise.
As far back as the 1600s horses were started in a bitless cavesson and trained without a bit to "save the horses mouth" for finer movements and finesse. A bit was not introduced for a full year; so the horses would learn self carriage, confidence and body aids. The bit was added as a finesse tool for refinement of these teachings; not as control.
Many forms of horsemanship follow these same principles now.

Karen Rohlf trains her dressage horses first in bitless to encourage confidence and natural self carriage before introducing a bit for refinement. Though many of her horses she states she would never start in a bit as they don't need it. This is a phenomenal article on why the choice needs to be allowed; to use a bit or not.

Parelli encourages using a natural hackamore (bitless rope hackamore) in freestyle riding before introducing a bit for refinement.

Josh Nichol encourages use of bitless sidepulls to find softness and feel with your horse through rein aids.

Wrangler Jayne supports an entirely bit-free horsemanship practice by using horse psychology to motivate the horse to want to work, bringing out extravagant and exuberant movement the horse naturally has.

These are only a few examples of many horse trainers from around the world who recognize the need to allow bitless riders into show. At the end of it all; it needs to be the educated choice of the trainer, rider and horse of what tack will be used for show. Exclusion of a choice that affects thousands of riders is not the community I want to support. Changing one sentence in a rule book, removing one tack exception and continuing on our merry way seems a lot easier and more beneficial to our industry than vice versa.

Please help us in our fight to end the exclusion of bitless in showing!
End the Exclusion of Bitless in Show
We need everyone to sign this petition, and join our Bitless Organization!

Monday, August 17, 2015

One Year of Barefeet

We just marched happily over our one year anniversary here at Nature's Run Equestrian; and among the list of improvements we've successfully added to our farm and the livelhood of our horses... rehabbing all of our horses barefoot has been the most rewarding test of time!

While I wish we had been better at taking pictures throughout the process I want to take this day to celebrate our hard hooved graduates!

First and foremost, the main event who started it all.
Marry Me Johnny

I purchased Johnny in the spring of 2012 after he was left neglected over the winter with poor nutrition, poor hoof care and zero rehab from going barefoot the fall before. We went through many different rehab ideas for him; we even tried shoes! We spent 6 weeks in shoes before I couldn't handle the stress of it anymore. He was throwing shoes almost every 3 days, hurting himself in the process and ripping more hoof away than if we had left him barefoot. So I looked into barefoot specialists. I went through a long list of different specialists before a chance meeting with Kaileen at our boarding barn in the spring of 2013. We've never looked back. Though we have changed a lot along the way!
In the beginning we had Johnny on a 6-8 week schedule. He was living in a smaller dirt paddock and was eating from a round bale; with daily grain and mineral supplements. In this approach we managed to fix some of his major flaring/quarter cracks; but were unable to fully heal his hind quarter cracks. He also remained very flat footed; which made hard ground a very difficult adventure.
We then moved for almost a year to another facility with very similar living conditions. We saw little to no change in his feet.
After moving to our farm things changed the most. He was off of round bales and onto hay nets scattered throughout a large, hilly pasture with mixed terrain including pea gravel. We added black sunflower seeds to his diet. At this point in time we had to start changing his trim schedule. He was growing more hoof in 4 weeks than he was in 8 before this.
This was the changing factor.
4 week schedule of trimming and his angles started to change with each trim.
Now a year later, he has almost completely grown out his platypus feet and is now able to not just walk, but run on gravel without issue. We can hack out on the gravel road and back forests without a misguided or ouchy foot. He even started to grow new concavity in his soles! No more duck feet.
Now we are excited to document the growth of callus on his soles.

Next is Floyd.
Floyd came to me with chipped and flared long toe thoroughbred hooves. His previous owner gave me hoof hardener treatment to paint his soles with as he has always been very sore on hard ground.
We immediately put him onto a 4 week schedule; and the results have been incredible! He received his one year anniversary trim with us on Friday, and his feet are gorgeous! (I promise I'll post pics as soon as I get them) No more flaring, no cracking, no chips, holes or markings. They are the right size and finally at the right angle.
From here our next goal is to help him grow a stronger sole, and allow callus to grow in and help him over tougher gravel. While he isn't as ouchy as he used to be, he is still needing more rehab into conquering gravel roads.

The most surprising thing to me with him is his ability to move now that he has better angles. Over the winter I was worried he may be suffering early effects of arthritis as he was very stiff in his hind end. But with proper conditioning and now proper hind hoof angles, he is a beautiful mover; even over fences!

My favourite story of all is of our boarders!
How many we had coming into boarding skeptical of how we could bring their horses around from years of shoeing to be comfortable and forever sound barefoot.
Convincing them of a 4 week schedule, showing them how much faster their horse's hooves were growing in this new environment.. it was all part of the master plan!

Now we have 30 barefoot horses roaming our pastures over sand, gravel, rock and grass without issue. Many who hack out on to the gravel and asphalt roads daily.
No their hooves aren't waring away from the hard ground.. in fact, they are growing faster! Their hooves are adaptable. And giving them the chance to grow with the right environmental influences is so important.

I hear about it all the time; how not every horse can go barefoot. And yes, I am sure there are few who need shoes for corrective purposes from time to time. Just like we need casts or supports from time to time. But going barefoot is not about taking off shoes. It's about management, nutrition, conditioning and movement! You cannot take shoes off of a horse, and continue managing them in the same manner and expect them to come around eventually.
You need transitional varied ground types, sources of natural biotin minerals, lots and lots of movement and TIME.
It's taken us over a year to get some of our hardest cases sound again. But once they are fully rehabbed, they will be sound for life.
And that is the most important aspect of it all.

I owe my start in barehooves to Kaileen entirely. She has continued to educate me and my clients throughout the years; and I am happy to call her a friend and fellow equine enthusiast. She is here weekly to keep all of our horses on track; and is a key element in our decisions for footing and nutrition towards sound hooves!

You can check out Kaileen's Facebook page at:
Empathy Equine Natural Hoofcare