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What are the issues surrounding the barefoot vs. shoes argument?

By Deane Gebert cfp

Barefoot trimmers have been changing (not always for the better) the landscape of the hoof care world.

Unfortunately farriers, until now, have been deafening in their silence on this matter. It is perhaps useful to keep in mind that this situation, in general, was created by poor workmanship from unqualified and uneducated people passing themselves off as farriers. Unsatisfactory results caused some owners to look for alternatives and so the Barefoot Trimmer was born. The animosity that has surfaced between the two camps since then has been simmering away for several years. So let's take a look at the participants and the differing philosophies of what has become a very partisan spat.

Qualified farriers undergo four years of intense training with a strong emphasis on hoof assessment, both static and dynamic. Hoof preparation, including a balanced trim. Forging and fitting of shoes and the theory of equine farriery. From the beginning apprentices are utilised in the day to day work of the farrier business and are under the guidance of a master farrier. They will be exposed to remedial shoeing techniques and be expected to study horse anatomy and physiology. Eventually they will become expert in the workings and care of the equine distal limb. Apprentice farriers are required to attend practical courses every year with the national trainer and are also encouraged to compete at the various farrier competitions. These competitions are held throughout the year and give the apprentices the opportunity to sharpen up their forging and shoeing skills. It's a great chance for them to watch senior members forge and shoe as well as receive feedback from the judges on their own work. Nothing else highlights weakness or skill deficiency like competition. This helps prepare the apprentice for their final exam. The exam is made up of several parts namely written, oral and practical. The practical portion consists of hoof preparation including the trim, which is judged prior to hand forged shoes being fitted to the horse. The apprentice is also expected to present the examiner with a display of about a dozen therapeutic shoes that he/she has personally forged to the best of his/her ability. Failure can occur at any stage.

Barefoot trimmers must complete a training course of varying length depending on which protocol they adhere to. The Strasser Method pioneered by the veterinarian, Dr Hiltrud Strasser who coined the phrase 'The Strasser Trim' has her acolytes complete a two year web based course with a weeklong practical 'apprenticeship' (her words). Her method however is somewhat controversial. After reading a couple of her books it was difficult to find proof that her method is any better than the normal trim that a farrier would use. Likewise there is no proof to her claims that horseshoes cause health issues, kidney disease being one of her allegations. It is alarming to note that she does mention that her trim may cause the death of a horse. (I'm not sure I'd want that on my business card). My overriding feeling, after wading through two of her books I've read, is that she has an overwhelming contempt for farriers and that she focuses too heavily on recruiting new members. Her campaign sounds more like something that an Amway franchise sales person would be envious of. Consequently I decided to search for Barefoot Trimmers who were not using the franchise business model and who were more concerned about blackening the name of the farrier profession (Farriers are quite able to do this without anyone's help - thank you very much!) than providing a professional service.

This was not as easy as I had expected. I trawled the websites of several Barefoot Trimmers and was somewhat amazed to find similar views to shoeing as those of the virulent Dr Strasser. There was also lots of web space dedicated to recruiting new converts. Perhaps barefoot trimmers, or at least those with websites, would be better employed writing spin for politicians as some of the drivel that they pedal is truly spectacular in its fanaticism. I decided that perhaps books were the way to go. After lots more reading ...

It appears that you can become a barefoot trimmer, with as little as two days training, try googling Naked Horse. The main emphasis though seems to be on pulling at the heart strings of horse owners by using emotive words like 'natural' as often as possible, or 'your horse will love you for removing its cruel steel shoes'. The other obvious and somewhat more disturbing feature is the proclivity of some exponents of the trimming sorority to claim paternity to well established knowledge by rebranding it. For example renaming the hydraulic shock absorption formed by the hoof's vascular plexuses, 'haemodynamic flow' does not make it a newly discovered fact.

I think that farriers and barefoot trimmers have loads in common when all the rhetoric and marketing that bloats the literature and websites of the barefoot trimmer's missives are pared away. They both consider heel height to be important. The bearing surface, according to farriers, should include the hoof wall, frog and to a less extent, the sole. This is in accord with the trimmers. They both agree that the wall itself should be bevelled or chamfered. Barefoot trimmers like to be somewhat more aggressive than farriers who consider a good bevel should only extend through to the waterline. If this then is the crux of the argument, it appears to be very minor indeed.

Where it all comes unstuck though is the differing philosophies on horse management. The trimmers would like to control all aspects of their 'client's relationship with their equine friends.' (Barefoot trimmer speak). Where and how the horse is kept seems to feature highly on the wish list of the trimmer's sphere of influence. They want the horse to be continually on the move. (Reference; J Jackson, Paddock Paradise: A guide to Natural Horse Boarding, 2007). Likewise how and where the horse is ridden appears to take up a considerable amount of line inches in the barefoot trimmer narratives.

Here then, as I see it, are the differences. Farriers shoe horses so that the customer can ride their horse, more or less, at their convenience. After all it's the customer that pays the bills. These days most owners ride for pleasure and frequently their leisure time is at a premium. Barefoot Trimmers want to monopolise their client's free time while restricting their use of their horse for up to a year or more. Initially they schedule trims as frequently as every two weeks. Farriers trim those horses that can manage without shoes, on average every six to eight weeks. These horses don't need to 'transition' for a year. They don't go lame as they are typically turned out or only ridden once or twice a week. It is largely in this later group (the happy hackers) and somewhat to a much lesser extent, the group of horses that are unshod and used in competitions, that the Barefoot Trimmers have gained a toe-hold in the farriery world. If you are unhappy with your farrier's job, talk to him/her. Find out if he/she is qualified. If he/she is not qualified then try and find a qualified farrier. If your farrier is qualified ask them if they are a member of the NZ Farrier Association. This controlling body is happy to help out if you have no joy with resolving your issues with its members. If you are thinking of using a Barefoot Trimmer then try it. See if it suits you and your horse. You may be required to purchase boots for your horse and these come with their own challenges. (But surely this should be abhorrent to your Barefoot Trimmer as boots are in fact just a different sort of shoe.)

This advice however comes with a warning. If your horse goes lame don't accept the trimmer's excuse that it's due to previous shoeings. This is absolute rubbish and just sounds petulant. Horses should not be lame from trimming, regardless if they have had shoes on or not. So if you are still in two minds, let me spell it out. Lameness from trimming, no matter who trims it, is NOT OK!


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