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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Sunday, 22 August 2010

For people considering transitioning 'metabolic' horses - some survival tips

Transitioning a horse with metabolic issues is rarely easy and I believe undiagnosed, misunderstood or hard to manage metabolic conditions are a key driver for why some horse/owner combinations never quite make it to full barefoot, sound, performance.

These same metabolic issues can cause problems for a shod horse too, but the symptoms can be masked by the shoes only to be revealed when the shoes come off. 

The experienced barefooter may have no major issues in dealing with a metabolic horse, having been through the process before, they know what to expect and how to deal with it.  But relative newcomers can be understandably terrified/dismayed/overwrought when their previously shod/sound horse goes lame shortly after having their shoes removed and without obvious or apparent reason. And for some so starts the journey into the upside down world of metabolic disorders of the horse.

I've transitioned a variety of horses with different metabolic issues including HYPP, EPSM, Insulin Resistance and Laminitis.  Along the way I have learnt a lot, not least some very vital 'Survival Tips'; which have helped me save most of my sanity and some of my bank balance.  In no particular order here are some of the things I wished I knew or had done before I took on my first metabolic horse.

Survival Tips
  • Most important of all - take complete ownership/responsibility for your horse's hoof health
    • this will enable you to be a more effective manager of the resources you need to restore your horse and their feet to better health
    • transition can be a roller coaster ride, taking responsibility will help you feel more in control
    • you will be in a better position to understand what works/doesn't work for your horse
    • you will be able to minimise the risk of negative outcomes caused by well meaning, but misguided individuals who want to 'help' by interferring with your horse's management
    • you will reassure all but the most (!?) of equine professionals, they want to know who is in charge and will be happy it is you
  • Educate yourself as thoroughly as possible.  Learn all you can about the management of bare hooves and research your horse's condition.  If you don't know quite what the metabolic issue is, beware of leaping on fashionable bandwagons.  Take a step back and consider all the options, discuss them with your vet, but don't rush headlong into a course of treatment unless a) it is urgently needed for life/health saving purposes or b) you and your vet are certain you have the correct diagnosis. 
  • Talk things through with educated individuals who have no agenda.  Listen politely but do not believe most of what the local 'experts' tell you; likewise be wary of internet sites and wild marketing claims, even those endorsed by vets.  Do your own desk research, read books* as well as websites.  Check sources.
  • Learn to trust your horse and her feet before all others
  • Learn to read your horse and her feet as well as you can read a book, or maybe better
  • Cultivate patience; understanding how to manage your metabolic horse successfully can take time, you will make mistakes and have set backs
  • Cultivate tolerance - for those who don't understand why you have chosen to go barefoot, for those who feel threatened by anything different, for those who are willing, but slower to understand the challenges and benefits of taking a metabolic horse barefoot
  • However difficult, try to keep your vet, yard manager and horsey friends on board.  Largely this involves no preaching to them (wait until they practically beg you for information) and getting very deaf when they start going on........ 
  • Find a decent barefoot trimmer - or invest in a proper training programme for yourself.  At the very least know what to look for and expect from a trimmer.
  • Learn how to distinguish between a functional trim, a 'pretty' trim and a just plain bad trim
  • Take each day as it comes and have no expectations other than that there will be good and bad days with no guarantees
  • Be really strict over diet. Yes really strict, no TGI Friday moments, they can really mess with your horse
  • Do not believe the big writing on bags of horse food.  Get the detailed analysis; protein, sugar, starch, plus a vitamin/mineral breakdown including percentages/quantities per kg.  If the manufacturer will not tell  you exactly what the product is made of don't buy it.  Many bagged feeds are full of cheap and unhealthy fillers like wheatfeed and the dust is kept down with molasses and/or sugar syrups.
  • Take all 'but this worked for my horse' advice with a pinch of salt, all horses are different
  • Don't believe anyone who says they know everything about equine diet or nutrition.  They may have a degree in it, but the truth is the science hasn't been done yet and no one really knows.  Most studies that have been completed have been on Thoroughbred racehorses and do not equally apply to different breeds of horses or those with different lifestyles. Some folk are also drawing conclusions about equine diet from studies done on people.  A useful starting point maybe, but a dangerous place to finish
  • Celebrate every small success or good day and try to view bad days as a reminder of what you are leaving behind
  • Learn deep breathing techniques (so you can walk away from the 'helpful' know-it-alls who want to advise you that you are mad/cruel/blind while their own horse walks around on tin can stilts for feet and colics every few months - and is as fat as butter with all the symptoms of IR)
  • Use any time off from ridden/driven work in a productive way - there are lots of useful 'life' lessons you and your horse can practice on the ground.  eg. standing still by the mounting block, standing untied for foot trimming/washing/picking, backing up/moving over, walk by your shoulder (or however you prefer) - I am sure you can think of many more which can either be done in the stable on on a surface which your horse is comfortable on.
  • Find out which hedge treats your horse likes best; this can be comforting because you are doing something positive for your horse and it can give you 'health safe' alternatives to the sugary rubbish generally sold as horse treats.  But do be careful and make sure you know what you are picking and that it has not been contaminated in anyway.
  • Take lots of photos, whole horse and hooves, and make a photo diary - to look back on in good times and bad. Take video too if you can
  • Keep a diary of feed, behaviour, hoof health, gut health, work load, grass, weather
  • Learn to take a step back and reflect before panicking (very useful skill in true emergency situations)
  • Chat up an independent (of feed companies) equine nutritionist
  • Research the equine digestive system (it is truly fascinating - yes really)
  • Enlist a barefoot friend for support
  • Prepare open, non threatening questions for any professionals whose support or opinion you may need and learn to agree to disagree without falling out, you may need the object of your conflict for something else later
  • Try to avoid just managing symptoms and instead tackle the cause whenever possible
  • Read this blog and for a warts and all commentary on barefoot and all its ups and downs
  • Sell the horse and get a motorbike (ONLY JOKING!)

*Good books, all available from Amazon include:

The Natural Horse: Lessons From the Wild (1992)
Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care (1999)
Founder: Prevention & Cure the Natural Way (2000)
Guide to Booting Horses for Hoof Care Professionals (2002)
Paddock Paradise: A Guide for Natural Horse Boarding (2006)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good advice - I think many horse owners rely too much on friend's stories and the info provided by barn owners, many of whom know little or nothing. There's no substitute for being informed yourself.

I've learned a lot recently about IR and metabolic issues - I have a mare who has had two bouts of (thankfully non-rotational) laminitis and another who has tested as IR. Our vet/chiro is very good about these issues and is in fact an endocrine specialist.

I think in a horse with front shoes, the metabolic issues show up as hind foot soreness - often blamed on a poor trim. Many people think that unless you have front foot soreness that you don't have an issue, but it often shows up first in the backs. This may also be true of barefoot horses.

Keeping weight off an IR horse is so important, and regular work is so helpful too. We've also had very good luck with a chromium/magnesium/selenium (we're in a selenium-deficient area)/vitamin E supplement for helping horses with IR.

I have two horse in front shoes (and until recently had a very old gelding barefoot) and I'm enjoying learning about things through your blog - found through Mrs. Mom. Thank you for your detailed and informative posts.

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