Her Guide: Nature is Always Ready to Heal the Foot

My E-friend and trimmer, Maureen Tierney, has just published Natural Barefoot Trimming: The Hoof Guided Method. She began this journey like so many of us. In 2001, Maureen stumbled on Jaime Jackson’s book in the Loveland, Colorado public library. Then she went on to the Internet to learn more, joined some chat forums and began trimming her horse. Many more books, DVDs, associations and clinics were to follow.

After 5 months of trimming her horse, she wasn’t satisfied with the results, “I was discouraged --- I didn’t see any significant change in my poor horse’s feet, nor was he any sounder, though he wasn’t any worse --- a fact for which I am grateful beyond words now.” Here is where her story takes an interesting twist. In spite of what others told her to do --- Trim More Hoof --- Maureen trusted her instincts and stopped trimming all together! A few weeks after she stopped trimming, she recounts how she truly began learning what the hoof wanted. What a concept! Focusing on what the hooves wanted not what we bipeds think they should look like.

In July, 2002, Maureen purchased a second horse, Huey. “I wanted to record how the feet trimmed themselves without any human interference. The idea came to me when I went to give him his first trim (August 4, 2002), and saw that the bars, that had once covered the entire sole when I first saw him, had already begun to self-trim.” 18 days later, Huey’s frogs looked much better, the false or retained soles had exfoliated on their own and the bars reduced significantly. Except for riding him during that time and 24/7 turnout, Huey was in charge. Neither rasp, knife nor nippers touched his hooves.


Huey's Experiment  Photo 1

Photo 1  August 4, 2002.

Huey's Experiment  Photo 2

Photo 2  August 22, 2012.

By September 2nd, 29 days later, the bars retreated to a near normal position. Remember, initially they actually covered the entire sole. The soles fully exfoliated on their own, revealing a smooth, concave surface. The frogs continued to improve. Yes, the toes are long and some of the walls are too high. But consider all the changes Huey made by simply self trimming. He was sound throughout.

Huey's Experiment  Photo 3

Photo 3  September 2, 2012.

Of the trimmers I know, only Dr. Tomas Teskey supports self trimming as the primary hoof trimming method. Until now, I credited Dr. Teskey’s success to the harsh terrain and hard work his horses deal with on his Arizona ranch. But Maureen now lives two hours west of Lexington, Kentucky, where it is often soft and damp. And most of her forever herd of ten aren’t in work.

Maureen’s journey continued, as she studied more hooves. “After trimming hundreds of horses and thousand of feet, it became apparent that the foot was giving clear indicators of where it needed to be trimmed.” She lays out the details in The Hoof Guided Method, HGM, along with hoof rehab photos detailing the healing journey, photos of dissections and internal structures, and radiographs to support her theories. She explains in terms which are easy to understand, how the hoof functions and why healthy hooves are critical to your horse’s health. On her web site you can read these posts, and more:

The Heels – Innocent Victims

How Fast Can a Hoof Decontract?

Founder – Truths and Myths

Some of the case studies in the book are presented in even greater detail on her site, Natural Barefoot Trimming: The healing power of nature. If you are curious about the HGM of trimming, Maureen will continue blogging on her site. The HGM works on all manner of horse: young and old; huge, tiny and in between; healthy and pathological; sound and lame.

“…a natural trim should mimic --- or simulate – the action of the ground on the hoof, and the true purpose of the trim is to stimulate the foot to grow healthy. Simulate and Stimulate. The more I listened to the foot and didn’t try to do more than it asked for, the faster and better the results of my trimming were.”

In the end, it all gets down to results. Her client horses are sound, no excuses. Foundered horses are recovering quickly with the trim and the necessary change of diet. ‘Navicular’ (I hate that term) horses enjoy a heel first landing after years of toe first, ouch!

How often have we heard excuses about why a horse is sore after a trim? It is unfair and indeed cruel to sore a horse in the name of rehabilitation. Sore = Mistake, IMHO.

Because the HGM is easy to understand and apply, owner-trimmers and newbies, my favorite people, will love it. If you are an experienced trimmer, I can already feel your hackles as you looked at the photos above. None of us are used to leaving a horse with such a messy foot. Still, I hope you will put your assumptions aside and see if even some of Maureen’s suggestions might work for you. The transition may not be as pretty as you are used to, but the end result may just be better? Better results means happier horses. That is something we can all agree on.

Every professional has a horse or two who just isn’t coming along in the rehab process. May I encourage you to give the HGM a try for a few months and see what happens. Even send Maureen an e-mail or give her a call if you want to forgo the book purchase. What do you have to loose? I saw improvement with my OTTB in 2 weeks. The back of his foot further decontracted and I had to remove the Power Straps on his Easy Care Gloves! Another 2 weeks later his long and low right front foot shortened from a size 2 to a 1.5! Our journey continues.


I don’t mind hawking Maureen’s services as they are so modestly priced. She is really about helping horses. End of discussion (I have no $$$ interest in any of this! Just interested in happy horses).

Contact Maureen at: maureen@forthehorse.net

Natural Barefoot Trimming: The Hoof Guided Method is available on Amazon Prime. Yeah! No shipping costs if you are a Prime member. If you are not an Amazon Prime Member, this location may offer a better deal. Compare shipping costs.

Natural Barefoot Trimming: The Healing Power of Nature  is Maureen's web site.

Among her many Services, Maureen offers e-mail evaluations and recommendations for your horse’s hooves, an online course, clinics at her farm in Kentucky, away clinics, and other educational products.

Guidelines for electronic photos.

Maureen just joined Facebook in October. Friend her!

Natural Barefoot Trimming: The Hoof Guided Method is also on Facebook, because every book should have it’s own Face. Friend me.

And don’t miss The Racehorse Experiment, where Maureen follows the natural rehabilitation and barefoot racing of several horses at her farm, Wild Dreams.

And the (infertile) Broodmare Project

Your questions and comments are welcome and encouraged.

Until next month,

Happy Trails my friends,

Dawn, the eternal barnflye

Great Feet Deserve a Great Body: Use the Masterson Method and Watch Your Horse Bloom

This journey never ends, does it? First barefeet, then turnout with a herd, balance the minerals in the diet, throw out the blankets, buy a new saddle. What did I miss? After years of shoes, you can bet there are a host of problems in the body.


During the spring, I stumbled upon a book on equine bodywork that I want to share with you: Beyond Horse Massage: A Breakthrough Interactive Method of Alleviating Soreness, Strain and Tension written by Jim Masterson.


I particularly appreciated the chapter organization where he first presents a Quick Overview: Step By Step. They are perfect crib sheets for the barn. Then Masterson follows with extensive detail about each movement along with many photos and illustrations. He covers every What If situation too. I am really beginning to understand anatomy. Jim offers an excellent DVD where he demonstrates all the bodywork.  On the Masterson site you will find more detailed information about the technique, Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork.


Jim Masterson and world class jumper Sapphire (now retired), ridden by Ward McClain.

Jim and the famous jumper, Sapphire, now retired.


Jim Masterson is the Massage Therapist for the USET Endurance Team and works with equine clients competing in the US Hunter-Jumper Show Circuit, including competitors in the USEF and the Macclay Medal Series, as well as FEI World Cup, Pan American, and World Games competitions. He works on about 600 horses a year.


Riding Anabelle and ponying Jeremiah

Jim on Anabelle, ponying Jeremiah.


And if that weren't enough, Derby winner, I'll Have Another, had Tyler Cerin, a Phase 1 Masterson graduate '08, on staff! (below).


Tyler Cerin checks I'll Have Another


I read the book and began practicing the Masterson Method this April. By June, folks at Tory Hill Farm began complementing my boy Sunny on his physique! Someone actually called him a brick shit house, not a term you usually hear associated with an off the track thoroughbred! At first I reviewed his training, then diet. “Well he does fill out on spring grass,” I thought. What was new? It had to be the Masterson bodywork. By regularly releasing tension throughout his body, Sunny literally blossomed. (And I achieved these remarkable results using only the first step in the program: The Bladder Meridian Technique.)


If you practiced nothing else but the Bladder Meridian Technique on your horse --- on a regular basis --- it would make a noticeable difference in your horse's performance and behavior as a result. The Technique may seem “low energy” but, even alone, is effective in releasing tension in the horse's key junctions.” p.25


I was so impressed with the initial results that I signed up for a weekend workshop in October, 2012.  with a Masterson Instructor and Mentor, Marie Riley, CESMT, MMCP. If I can find some extra moola and they have room, I may even stay for the week long training!


Jump Right In: When doing the Bladder Meridian Technique you can't do it wrong. You can't damage your horse in any way. If your horse doesn't want you to hover around the eyes or ears, move to the neck instead. You don't have to do the entire horse each time.


At Tory Hill, friend Emily Dugan and I recently began working on all 12 geldings. They love it and ask to be worked on whenever they see us! That sure cuts into our riding time but how can I say no?


Releasing Tension Along the Bladder Meridian


With one hand hovered over the 'Bladder Meridian' as pictured on my horse, Sunny, (below) just move slowly along Meridian Line on the left side, waiting for a reaction. This is an easy-to-find line along either side of the body about 3” below the midline. Masterson calls his hand pressure, 'Air Gap'. In other words, hover over the area about half an inch.


The Bladder Meridian End of Meridian is called The Ting Point

The Bladder Meridian from above eye to hind hoof.


The Bladder Meridian begins above the eye, down the neck and body to the 'ting points' on hind foot.


The Set Up


Masterson recommends working in a stall (without hay or grain) where the horse has some freedom. The horse can also be held lightly by someone. I normally have Sunny in the barn aisle where I hold him on a long lead. But honestly after a few moments, he looks like he is sedated, naturally of course.


Sunny zoned while I was working on Doc  Doctor Clayton is processing.

A Two-fer. Sunny zoned out while I worked on his pal, Doctor Clayton. (Two-fers are not in the book!)


The Work: Search-Response-Stay-Release


I began above his left eye, then moved slowly (Search) to the ear and then the poll. I kept an eye on his face. As soon as I saw any reaction like a blink or nose wiggle (Response), I hovered (Stay) until he offered a Release. This normally comes within a minute but there were times I waited longer. The Bladder Meridian Technique is nicely explained in the video collection on You Tube. (See More Resources at the end).


The Release


Normally Sunny releases with a yawn, a roll of the eyes, or a head or body shake. I have seen as many as 6 yawns! After the release I often take a seat, and let his nervous system process. He zones out; his head drops down and his eyes soften. After a few minutes, I resumed the work. Hovering over the next section, moving slowly, looking for a reaction.


Initially Sunny had a release every 2 inches! I didn't have time to do the entire meridian so I just put in a book mark! Over time, he released less and I was able to do the Meridian line on both sides and actually move on to the bodywork.


Other Reactions


Sometimes a horse may start to fidget just before a big release. Masterson says, “Keep him in the neighborhood,” and continue doing the work until the horse releases. Occasionally the horse chooses not to release. It is fine to move on.


Some horses, like our Percheron Daniel who spent the first half of his life with the Amish, are stoic. When I worked on him, I would get a blink but no release; I slowly moved on. After 3 blinks with no release, I walked away and took a seat on the nearby bench. At that point, Daniel yawned and released gas, then zoned out. Stoic horses are not uncommon.


On the DVD, Masterson talks about one of his equine clients who actually hid his head under a blanket to yawn! Phew!


On the opposite end of the spectrum is, Jeffrey, an imported racehorse from Germany, now retired at 7 years. After a few sessions, he dropped his head as I approached. When I began the work his tongue hung out! Once, after a short hover, he blinked and lifted his chest and neck for a huge stretch with sound effects. Another time he stretched his hind leg. I have even seen him do the Yoga pose, downward dog!

Emily working on her new horse, Koda  Emily massages Koda's poll


Emily is working on her new pony/horse Koda who just arrived. He is a 3 year old Arab x Paint.


If your horse won't let you work on his head or poll, just begin in a more comfortable place along the neck. Remember do whatever you can that day. Even in 10 minutes you will see release of tension. After a few sessions your horse will no doubt cooperate. A release in the poll will result in releases you may or may not see, throughout the body.


The Rest of the Work


Beyond the Meridian Bladder Technique, Masterson focuses on these 4 areas. He constantly watches the horse for reactions and works with him.

  • The Poll-Atlas Junction**
  • The Neck-Shoulders-Withers
  • The Hind-End (Sacroiliac) Junction
  • The Back


** Masterson claims that most problems throughout the body, are also reflected in the poll.


Pain and tension anywhere in the horse's body is reflected in the poll. Conversely when tension accumulates in the poll, things start going wrong in the rest of the body.” p.35


It won't surprise any of us to hear that Masterson believes that a majority of equine physical problems begins with the feet, especially the front feet. Working with the USET endurance team, he must be aware of the wonders of great barefeet with Easy Care boots when needed. No doubt that's a hard sell to some of his clients but not us!


There's much more in the book about additional body work. Beyond the book and DVD, you can take a weekend workshop. If that appeals, students may follow a certification program. On the Masterson site, there's a link to a free anatomy course, a monthly newsletter, advance reading and links to Masterson's You Tube series. (BTW, the out-takes in the DVD are hilarious. This fellow has a great sense of humor.)


At the monthly Tory Hill June bonfire (in the boys' field), Sunny was passaging back and forth, trying to make sense of the kids playing frisbee. Farm owner Jill Willcox looked up from the fire and remarked “That's the best moving horse on the farm.” Not bad for a rescue. Thank you Jim Masterson!


More Resources

It stands to reason that one of the inevitable, next steps for us barefoot enthusiasts is to rehabilitate and maintain our horse's body. If you try the Masterson Method, Sunny and I would love to hear your stories.


Until then,


Happy Trails!


Dawn Willoughby and Love Sunny Days


My Educational Site: 4 Sweet Feet


My 3 You Tube Videos on Trimming


A recent article about us: Mean and Lean is Barefoot and Happy


Hot Off the Press: Natural Trimming: The Hoof Guided Method by Maureen Tierney. Just when I thought I had trimming down, I saw some of Maureen's hooves. Amazing! Totally pro horse and pro soundness. Never accept soreness in the name of a "correct trim"!

Money Talkin: Barefoot Thoroughbred to Re-Race in 2012

It may be Derby Days for some, but not for me. I'd rather be following the second career of barefoot, natural thoroughbred, Money Talkin owned, re-trained and rehabilitated by friend, trimmer and I.T. wiz, Maureen Tierney of Harned, Kentucky.


The Racehorse Experiment was one of those 'Ah Ha!' moments for Maureen. “I realized that Dr Fager's world record for the mile set in 1968, and which stood for decades, was 1.32; a good time today would be a mile in 1.36. That's only a difference of 4 seconds. Can a four second difference be made up with feet that 'fit', better diet and more exercise?” I think most of us reading the Easy Care Blog commiserate with racehorses. What about a rehabilitated racehorse. He is definitely happier and healthier but I wonder, could he run faster?


Instead of shod and long-toed hooves, instead of a traditional diet, instead of minimal exercise, instead of being drugged and stalled with resultant boredom, insecurity and pain.


What If?

  • The horse had correct, bare hooves with full circulation and proprioception.
  • The horse ate a diet designed for the Equine athlete.
  • The horse was trained with appropriate and varied exercise,
  • And lived in an established herd 24/7.
  • The only drugs given the horse were those required to race and worming medicine.
  • This athlete knew his job was to come in first.


In sum, what if the Equine Athlete was treated similarly to the human athlete?


Might that racehorse make a comeback? That's the question Maureen asked herself in 2009 when the project was launched. Regardless of the conclusion to this great experiment, lessons continue to be learned and shared and this lovely, bay horse, nicknamed Chance, has found his forever home.


The Horse - Money Talkin' aka Chance


Money Talkin

Money Talkin's photo in the C.A.N.T.E.R. Catalog.


"I found Money Talkin by accident.

I went to the website for Suffolk Downs, a racetrack in East Boston, Massachusetts, trying to locate the phone number of a trainer I used to know. I didn't find his number, but stumbled upon the rescue C.A.N.T.E.R., which took me to horses for sale. There were quite a lot of horses. After checking them all out (viewing their photos, and looking up their pedigrees and race earnings ), the only one that seemed to really suit was Money Talkin.

I contacted his trainer, Pam Angevine, and arranged to purchase him and have him shipped to Kentucky.

He had all the qualifications I was looking for:  (1) A gelding between the ages of 4 and 7,  (2) A horse who had won an allowance race, (3) But was no longer running well.

Chance had won on dirt and the turf.  As an added bonus, he was really bred to run.  His sire, Aptitude, earned $1.9 million, and finished 2nd in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. His dam's sire, Broad Brush earned $2.6 million and was 3rd in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness." - Maureen

2009 Front Hooves       Rehabilative Left Front Foot

2009, Tiny Bit of Connection at the Top.             From Hairline to Ground, the Same Angle.

The Hooves

As with 99% of all racehorses, Chance arrived with typical, shod racehorse feet. His toes were long because it is a common misconception that long toes 'dig in' better! His long, under-run heels were pulled forward by the toes. When the horse lifts his heel, the front of the foot 'breaks over'. With a long toe, the break over is well in front of where it should be. To compensate the horse expends time and energy, getting over the long toe. In the process, it is common for ligaments in the leg to be strained or torn. The 2007 Report from the Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation continues to be ignored by most. Click here and page down to the February 2, 2012 entry to read the report in full.


"Long toes can cause strain on tendons, the suspensory ligament and the sesamoid bones while short toes combined with high heels can cause concussion to the hoof (putting the horse at risk for navicular disease, ringbone, and arthritis). Low toe angles have been reported for horses with musculoskeletal and/or lameness problems.

In one California study, all groups of injured horses had acute toe and heel angles suggesting that decreasing the difference between toe and heel angles should decrease the risk of suspensory apparatus failure for Thoroughbred racehorses and should be considered to help prevent injury.”

Sole right after shoe removal       Sole in 2010 during trim.


2009: Right after Shoe was Removed.                                           A Year Later.


In 2009, the before photo, we expect to see a lot of hoof in front of the toe because the capsule is flared from the hairline. This means that the hoof wall is disconnected from the coffin bone; the laminae is broken. In relationship to each other, the coffin bone is too low and the capsule too high on the leg. I expect a flat sole. I would also expect a small, deformed and soft frog.


Most professionals would call the 2009 hoof, a good one. What they don't realize is that the frog can double in width and that a healthy foot opens up or decontracts in the back. Maureen exfoliated the sole for the photo. It is concaved to the first gray line or laminae. The laminae is tight and narrow, all good.


The next bright white line, on all horses, is the now, much thicker inner wall, often called the water line. And beyond that the thicker outer wall, which on this horse is black. Maureen is preparing to angle the outer wall for the mustang roll.


Maureen credits her ability to quickly rehab horses like Chance and even foundered horses, to the trim which focuses primarily on keeping the toes back, from 10:00-2:00. Other than making sure the heels are at the same height, she usually leaves them alone. Horses need heels to protect the back of their foot while they redevelop it, inside and out. In her trim, she works with the healing power of nature. Her experience of working on 1,000's of horses results in fast and sound rehabs.


Exhausted After the Great Adventure

The horses are exhausted after their Great Adventure around the country. Read more about Farm Drama!


The Diet

From quarts of sweet feed and pads of alfalfa, Chance's diet changed to a horse diet of primarily forage, both grass and hay. Supplementation was based on Pat Coleby's book, Natural Horse Care. Maureen was careful to provide minerals and vitamins that are often overlooked today. Chance's diet also changes in accordance with the amount of work he was doing, so he did receive some grain, but never more than 2 quarts per day.


The Turf Track at the Farm

Chance's Gallop



Most racehorses are stalled for 23 hours per day. Their training is minimal and certainly not enough to insure hard bones and strong tendons. In fact, research has shown that standing in a stall results in loss of bone density in young horses.


You may be surprised to learn that most horses are raced infrequently out of fear of breakdown. And given their feet, living conditions, training and side effects of common drugs which result in brittle bones, the owners should be afraid of disasters. Eight Belles come to mind.


In her previous life, Maureen was a trainer in the northeast, and it was clear to her that Chance, like any human athlete, needed various types of exercise, at various speeds and intensities. His program began with light riding, eventually working up to long gallops over natural, uneven terrain. Maureen created a training track (above) with her mower. Unlike other racehorses, Chance frequently gallops several miles, well beyond what he will face on race day. And like any top athlete, he was introduced to interval training.


Speed Training

Chance at the Training Center Working on Speed.


30-45 days before a race, Chance goes to the track to work on speed. While conditioning, Maureen learned quite a bit from this seasoned racehorse.

  1. He will not run at maximum speed without another horse to compete with. He knows to save himself for when it counts.
  2. He will not jump a cross country course or in a ring. What's the point, he wonders.
  3. He wouldn't consider basic dressage in a ring. Going around in circles is a waste of his time.


Isn't this a good reminder for all of us. Sometimes our horse simply does not share our enthusiasm for a particular discipline. The rider must shift gears; after all aren't we supposed to be the smart one.


After doing speed work at the Training Center, they'll head home. No stabling at the track. Surprisingly, Maureen had no problem entering a barefoot at Turfway Park. It was a non-issue.


“Over the years I’ve come to realize that human nature is a strong factor in horse racing. Specifically jockeys. A common phrase is ‘pace makes the race’. And that is true, but only because the jockeys believe it so strongly."


Maureen favors a more scientific approach:

  • Find the horse’s maximum cruising speed,
  • Ignore pace, and
  • Minimize the distance the horse is asked to perform at maximum ability.


This approach would result in faster times and safer racing. The world record for a mile is slightly over 1:32 but most races never come close. A decent racehorse can run a half mile in 48 seconds (this is not that fast) and most likely could run a second half mile just as fast. That would make a mile in 96 seconds or 1:36 – a time that was good enough to win the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on April 21st of this year, with a purse of $200,000!


"As a rule, cold logic is not involved in thoroughbred racing. Flowing adrenaline and a lack of sport science knowledge result in a couple of horses rushing out first, blazing along until they are spent and overtaken, in the stretch, by horses who are still fresh. The horses held back may well be able to go at a faster, cruising speed than the jockeys allowed.  The front runners were worked too hard (which is risky) when they might have done better if not pushed to their maximum for so long. In my generation there are just of handful of really talented jockeys," she told me.


I’ve often watched Chance galloping with the herd in the field,” Maureen recounted. “He keeps his eyes on the other horses. He knows when to put on the steam and he clearly loves to win. That's one thing I did not have to teach him.” Thoroughbreds may enjoy running, but what horse wants to reach the cougar first? Not too many.


Some of the horses, 12_2011

Winter and the Herd is Foraging.


The Herd

Maureen's established, forever herd of ten adopted and rescued horses provides the backdrop for Chance's recovery. Most competition horses, racing and show, have ulcers. Stall life is the antithesis of what any horse would chose. Chance returned to what came naturally: moving around with other horses, grazing, napping, having a roll in the mud, playing, in short the herd life.


Zola, a baby racehorse!


Maureen and Zola   Zola at 23 months           

Maureen and Zola, 17 Months                                    A Gawky Two-Year Old


Zola Today

 Zola at 4 (April 2012). Good Shoulder, Well Laid Back Withers, Great Depth of Chest for Lungs and Heart, and Plenty of 'Tude.


Although The Racehorse Experiment was originally designed for 1 experienced thoroughbred, Maureen couldn't resist purchasing Zola, Hip #601 for $1,000. The undersized, chestnut filly didn't sell at Keeneland. Even as a small yearling, Maureen saw the potential in the filly. With the carefully designed lifestyle at Wild Dreams Farm, Zola matured into everything Maureen had hoped for. Could any of this happened if she had been stalled and raced as a 2 year old? Not a chance.


And then came the barren brood mares, Tiz Life aka Beauty  (by the world famous sire, Tiznow) and More Oysters aka Maura. Both were free; both have forever homes. Could the right diet, rehabbed feet, and herd (both sexes)  life bring them back in fertility? Read more at The Barren Mare Project, part of Maureen's Horses A Better Way.



Drugs are a poor substitute for proper exercise and a natural lifestyle,” Maureen told me. “Not only that, people seem to forget that drugs have side effects!”


Many racehorses today are on the following three drugs: corticosteroids (for growth and pain), phenylbutazone ('bute' for pain) and lasix (a diuretic). All three are known to cause loss of bone density. “I believe that to be only one reason why horses don't seem as durable today as in the past. And I think drugs may well be responsible for catastrophic injuries such as Barbaro’s and Eight Belles,"  Maureen said. It shocked me to learn that some breeders are now putting youngsters on steroids to bulk them up for the sales.


For the record, Chance receives only the shots mandated by racing. And he is wormed. That's it.

Other Resources

Mangled Horse, Maimed Jockeys. New York Times, March 24th, 2012. "The new economies of horse racing are making an always-dangerous game, even more so, as laz oversight puts animal and rider at risk."

National Thoroughbred Times, The Industry responds to the NY Times story, essentially with agreement and not denial.

Chance at the Training Center

Watch Out You Kentucky Thoroughbred. Neigh to the Butt.


So much more detail is available at The Racehorse Experiment, Maureen's Blog and Horses A Better Way. Please feel free to contact Maureen with moral and financial support. Every little bit helps!


Maureen will be checking Comments if you have any questions.


Until next time, happy trails,


Dawn Willoughby

4 Sweet Feet

Maintenance Trim for the Beginner on YouTube



The Racehorse Experiment

is dedicated to the memory of:

Come Afternoon

Summer Bee

Dixieland King

Calculated Gambler

Power Road

Rhythmic Force

Gran Judgement


Quiet Soldier (Quarter Horse)

Making Your Own Farm Do Dadds: Muzzles, Curtains for your Shed and More

Creating Harmony with Horses is the Tory Hill Farm mantra. Pair that with owner Jill Willcox's favorite saying, Waste Not Want Not, and the seeds of innovations are planted!

Jill explaining how to become part of the horse.


Jill Willcox explains how to encourage straightness. OTTB Sammy Streaker often climbs onto the block for a stretch.


About ten years ago, Jill became fed up with saddles designed for small dogs rather than her rescued racehorses re-developing their muscular backs. Out went the saddles and in came thick pads held on with vaulting girths. For beginner riders, the vaulting handle is a godsend. Everyone should spend some time bareback. It is an ideal way to find a good, balanced seat.


Riding Pads with Vaulting Girth


Several Pads held on by a Vaulting Girth have replaced the Saddle.


A number of years ago, a particularly disturbed OTTB gelding, Runner, arrived off the track with a loathing for bits. Jill began his rehabilitation riding off a noseband. It worked so well that she removed nose bands and reins from all the bridles to create a collection of bitfree head gear. The horses prefer them over bits. I rarely see the horses throw their heads up to evade the bit pressure. Most students inadvertantly use the reins to balance. They also turn with reins rather than the seat, legs and mind. I think sore polls are as common as bad feet.  Advanced riders have challenged whether the horses perform as well; they do! Contact is contact.


First lesson, 11 year old Hannah works with Sam in-hand

Her first lesson: young Hannah works Sam (27) in-hand in his Bitfree Bridle.


Three years ago, Jill added bailing twine neck rings to our tack. By adding some tension on the ring, the horses are encouraged to lift their necks from the base, cervical vertebrae 7, located under the shoulder blade.  Many people play or pull at the mouth to find collection or self carriage. In truth the horse breaks at the poll and often tucks his head further to avoid bit pressure. That is false collection so frequently seen in competitive dressage and elsewhere.


The neck ring became a great tool for Doc who was so leery of anyone hurting his poll. I work him in-hand with just the neck ring and he relaxes into the exercises. With anything touching his poll, his nervous system fires erratically often resulting in head twitching or spasms. The ring also offers a good secondary hand hold for the unbalanced student.


I purchased a firmer, lariat style, adjustable Liberty Neck Ring from Linda Tellington-Jones. I love experimenting with it. Jill has taught me to ignore the nay-saying experts who avoid change. “Be part of the solution,” she is always telling her students.


Last summer, the 6' bamboo pole joined the tool box. As we begin each lesson with work in-hand, next to the arena wall, the bamboo pole offers another reference point for the crooked horse to straighten himself. Finding balance and straightness, at a walk is the beginning of all the work.


Jill working Runner In-hand with bitfree headstall and bamboo pole.


Jill invites Runner to walk in Self Carriage.


Jill's innovations extend to horse husbandry as well. Her (free but formerly broken) Holsteiner warmblood, Charlie, and boarder, Daniel, a Percheron, consume hay like their lives were at stake. Unlike the six thoroughbreds, a pause button is not part of their original equipment. How could we make their 15 lbs of hay (about 5 flakes) last the night?


I printed out all the slow feeding ideas from Paddock Paradise. What a resource! Round bale options, small square bales ideas, even hay cube dispensers are discussed with photos along with construction plans. That really got our wheels cranking!


In the winter, Jill stalls the horses at night. But the set-up is more creative than most barns. Each horse has his own patio. Danny and Charlie occupy the last two stalls in the barn. We keep both their doors open so they can visit each other as well as access their paddock.


To slow their nightly hay consumption, Jill came up with the Slow Feeding Hay Cone. It's a cylinder of (left-over) deer fencing, laced together at the bottom and side with, our favorite, bailing twine. At the top opening she makes 5 circles of (left-over) high tensile wire and knots the deer fencing to the wire circle with twine. She added a bailing twine handle so that we could suspend the cones. Our later, improved models utilized lovely macramé knots with alternating colors of twine. Perhaps there will be bead or chime accouterments for next year's model?


Slow Feeding Hay Cone  Close up of the Hay Cone


Slow Feeding Hay Cone for Outdoors or  Stalls.                               Close up of our early model.


When we first added hay cones to the stalls, Charlie went nuts! He literally rushed over to Danny's stall hoping that Danny had a nice, full hay rack! No darn cone! When it comes to food, horses are geniuses in my view.


Over the following week, everyone except for Sam and Sunny were switched to Jill's slow-feeding hay cone. As for Sunny and Sam, they need all the hay they will eat. Sunny is never blanketed and is ridden every day and Sammy is 27 and thin. Since Sunny hates stalls (he is brilliant in so many ways), I put a traditional, rope hay net with large holes in his aisle/patio, right next to his ever-present 'dunking' bucket of water.


Sunny and 'sister' Annie eating hay

Of course keeping it from his hay-eating sister, 2 year old rottie, Annie, is another matter!


For handsome Sammy Streaker, we soak his hay to soften it and serve it in a muck tub on his patio and in his stall. My equine dentist, Krystin Dennis (the best!) told me that more often than not, older horses do not eat as well because their chewing muscles are weak. I always thought it was worn down teeth.


How could we dispense the outdoor hay? Jill designed the slow feeding hay pocket, in small and large sizes. They are easy to fill and greatly reduce hay wastage. We hung several of them on the side of the arena which seconds as a shed when lessons are finished at noon. Deer fencing is 'sewn' at either end with baling twine. At the top, Jill laced 2 bamboo poles into the fencing. Every farm should have a small bamboo forest! To further slow consumption add hay in pads. To make eating easier, like on a cold windy day, shake the hay into the pockets.


The Large Slow Feeding Hay Pocket Close up


Jill hung several large and small Slow Feeding Hay Pockets on the side of the indoor arena.


March, 2012 came in and went out like a lamb. The warmest March ever and suddenly we found ourselves scrambling for a Pasture Plan for founder-prone Daniel, Charlie and the OTTB from Argentina, Donnie. Jill and her troupe of working students were determined to keep the horses sound this spring.


Charlie, the Holsteiner warmblood, is our biggest challenge, having foundered the last two springs on new grass. The poor guy lived in padded Easy Care Epics, #5, last spring. It took 10 months for him to completely grow out the foundered foot and 4" abscess lines on both front feet. For more detailed information on lamintis and founder, see my June, 2011 post,  The Challenges of Spring Grass.


Fortunately, Charlie now has great feet that are trimmed every week. The students put steep angles on the periphery to alleviate any mechanical stress on his laminae. He gets his supplements in a balancer feed that has no grain or molasses. As for exercise, all three, Charlie, Donnie and Daniel give lessons, 2 hours of mostly walking in the arena. And Charlie will join the thoroughbreds for their daily romps around the large, hilly pastures. All could use more exercise.


Critical to founder prevention:

  • Diet,
  • Exercise,
  • Trim, in that order.


Jill (waste not want not) designed a muzzle for Charlie from a roll of left-over shade material you might use to protect lettuce in the summer. She attached two overlapping squares of deer fence to form the bottom. All but the center squares are blocked off with material, probably one of her old shirts! If you look closely you can see husband, Mark Willcox's suspenders used as the crown piece for Charlie's full head gear. And he is all set for Halloween!


Charlie in his Full Face Muzzle  Close up of the Full Face Muzzle


Charlie doesn't quite have his girlish figure back!             And the close up, showing Mark's suspenders!


Daniel in a Best Friends Muzzle

Danny has a Best Friends muzzle with an added throat latch.



Donnie in a Feed Bag Muzzle  The bottom is made of deer fence and cloth.


Donnie wears a retro fitted feed bag.


Treats likes apples and carrots are off the menu; too high in sugar for these guys. Alam is a good alternative. I have learned that products marked "safe starch" are not necessarily so!  Dr. Eleanor Kellon is my expert of choice in these matters.


Could we finally sit back and enjoy the spring? Of course not!


As soon as thoroughbreds, Sunny and Doc, saw the three muzzled boys, they went right for them. Off came the muzzles, literally in seconds. Doc picked up Charlie's full face coverlet and began bobbing his head to make the muzzle circle! Jill walked over to retrieve what was left when Doc, caught off guard, reared, flung the muzzle 10 feet into the air and took off! “I guess we are lucky it didn't end up in a tree,” Jill laughed as she picked it up.


It won't surprise you to hear that Jill went back to the drawing board, again, to create yet another muzzle style for Doc and Sunny.  And thus was created the All-You-Can-Eat-Muzzle! They look very much like the summer feed bags; duped, Doc and Sunny willingly put them on. Then the awful truth sank in. No food just deer fencing squares!


From the arena, Jill watched the two as they reared, struck, climbed on each other and threw a hissy fit for two hours. On the positive side, they looked sound and athletic! But on the down side, we couldn't afford an accident.


That evening Jill decided that the best plan was to divide the herd. Muzzled and well mannered horses on one half the farm and the bad (curious? playful?) boys on the other. Of course we had to add a string of electric to the bordering fence. You don't think a fence-line would slow down Doc and Sunny?


Sunny, telling his side of the story, and pal Doc

Sunny is telling his side of the story as Doc nods in agreement.


March is behind us. April and May are high founder months in southeast Pennsylvania. We will breathe a sigh of relief around late June or July depending on the how much rain we get. As I finish this post, so far so good! Everyone is sound.


Other Home-Made Do Dadds of Interest:


  Shed Curtains

From the Inside Out. The Octagon Shed.


Wind and snow block

Attached to a sturdy fence, shade material makes a great wind and snow block for the Self-Care Barn.


I would love to hear about your home-made do-dadds!


Happy Trails,

Dawn Willoughby


Educational articles on natural horse keeping at my 4 Sweet Feet.

Free Videos on the Maintenance Trim.

Off The Track Thoroughbreds: All with Beautiful Rehabilitated Feet

Once and for all let's make a concerted effort to debunk a popular myth that thoroughbreds have shelly walls, thin soles, pencil thin frogs and for these reasons they need shoes. "The hell!" I say. Even with wrong hoof care from birth to rescue/career change, the vast majority of OTTBs can be rehabbed to soundness. And gorgeous feet!


When I met him he was 12 years old, shod most of his life. He trained on the track but did not race. Cayuga was living at Tory Hill, a gorgeous farm with a herd of about 10 barefoot geldings, mostly OTTBs, with full turnout on huge and hilly pastures.

Left Front

Too much hoof capsule. Crappy Walls or Horn.

'Beer Can' feet. The heels are almost as long as the toe. This tells me that the coffin bone is  pointing down at a steep angle. The tip of the coffin bone is no doubt disintegrating from mechanical stress. Unfortunately, the farrier can only trim so much and then puts the shoe back on a long, misshapen foot to maintain it.  Rehab demands pulling the shoes.

Left Front Side View

The foot is sweeping forward, in front of the horse.

In a general sense, the green line indicates where the hoof will end after rehab. The Red points out (1) upward pressure of the shoe and (2) a long under run heel

Cayuga's Straight Forward Rehabilitation:

  1. As I applied the mustang roll, mechanical pressure on the lamina was removed and the steep, well connected wall at the top half inch of the capsule grew right in.
  2. As this happens the hoof will get back under the horse. The entire foot will transform as the capsule becomes smaller and the heels shorten.
  3. Transformation is organic. A lot of things are happening at once.
  4. I never force any angle or any particular length because above the hoof is a unique body with unique movement.

Below, in 7 months, the hoof capsule looked more compact.  Soles and walls thicken. Heels open up as the frog and internal structures improve. The more movement and the healthier the diet, the better the foot.

LF 7 months later

7 months later a nicer foot, still on the mend.

Still a long capsule and long heels (as they appear from the outside) but over time it all corrects. Most importantly Cayuga was sound, ridden in padded Epic boots throughout.


This fancy OTTB had been in shoes a long term. Sadly we didn't make it to a full rehab before the owner put him back in shoes. He has some things to show us.

Unraveling Hoof Wall

This unraveling hoof wall with cracks around the nail holes is not being held together by the shoe.

Force comes down the leg, hits the shoe and runs back up the hoof and leg maintaining the cracks. To treat the unraveling wall, I would definitely use White Lightening to insure there is no bacteria maintaining the problem. Otherwise, it will grow out in about 3 months.

Long Heels

Solar View: Under run heels and long toe

From the hairline in the back of the foot to the heel where Smartie lands, you see about 2" of heel length running under the horse. Many people misinterpret this saying their horses won't grow heels. Smartie, and many horses, grow heels that run forward.

If the frog is healthy and can take a pounding from the current ground conditions, I'll bring the heels back, and down, half inch at a trim. By the end of rehab the heels will in the back of the foot, next to the back of the frog. Above the frog, internally, the digital cushion and lateral cartilages begin to re-develop and give Smartie the structure he needs.

Above, the toe wall appears to be about 3" in front of the end or apex of the frog. Much too long. If you wait about a week after pulling shoes, the horse will develop a toe callus and you can rasp the toe, 10:00 - 2:00, back to but not through, the toe callus. The callus looks like a long bump.

Personally I like to pull the shoes, round things up and leave the horse alone for a month. Pulling shoes is traumatic enough for one day.


Smartie feels 100% in Padded Epics.

My Thoughts on Boots: Because Smartie has a long toe, he would not fit into The Trail or Generation 2. The top portion of the boots would rub his pastern. Boots that fit above the hairline are a good choice for the rounder foot that allows the leg to center in the boot.



If it looks like a Duck Foot, is it?

Just because long toes, complete disconnection of hoof wall to coffin bone and under run heels are seen on almost every Racehorse does not mean it's normal! Can you imagine racing in these 'duck feet'? Poor Bugsy was right off the track, shoes a dangling!

Above, if you ran your fingers from the hairline down the wall, you will find where the wall is well connected to the coffin bone. In Bugsy's case there was a hint of connection!

Under run heels

Under run heels and a long toe, confirm what we saw from the top. Nice frog though.


Here comes the foot he wants, growing in from the top.

Don't let the steep angle scare you. It will level off as the foot grows.

Janury, 09

Voila! The foot is now under the horse.

Over time, with lots of movement in a herd, the heel as it appears from the outside will shorter to about half this length. Bugsy still has a lot of rehabbing to do.

Love "Sunny" Days

5 years old. Just arrived from the rescue via New Holland Auction.

Thin shelly walls

Typical racehorse feet: Paper thin shelly walls. Laminitic rings from top to bottom.


Reahbbed Lateral view

Another straight forward rehab.

The black line indicates where ideal wall to coffin bone connection ends. It will take a few capsule growths (7 months per capsule for Sunny) to get things in order. During the spring he will lose a little connection on the bottom. And as viewed from the sole, he will loose a half inch of concavity. However, he does not go lame. Hacking out, he is happiest, in the spring, in his Gloves.

dinner time

Dinner Time at Tory Hill Farm, home to 7 barefoot Off the Track Thoroughbreds.

A Word on Long Term Rehab of Racehorses

As long as the horse has most of his coffin bone and the lamina aren't necrotic, hoof rehabilitation of former racehorses is usually straight forward.

I gave Sunny off one year from ridden work. This allows all the micro tears and chips to heal or sort themselves out and drugs to clear. I re-started him as a colt in training. From learning ground manners, haltering, leading, ponying off another horse, desensitizing and plenty of in-hand work, former racehorses need a complete reboot if you want an exceptional friend.

I tweaked Sunny's diet according to the teachings of Dr. Eleanor Kellon.

As for his body, I made an incorrect assumption that Sunny could fix himself in an active herd on 35 acres. Now I would have jumped on modalities available to me like chiropractic adjustments, accupuncture, Equine Touch, Ortho Bionomy, sports massage, myofacia release. Learn from the professionals if you can.

Currently, unless I am stuck, I do all my own body work. Much more cost effective! There is a wealth of information on the Internet, in books and on DVDs. A horse can't walk around on bad feet for years, ridden incorrectly at the track and not need serious attention to mind and body!

The wonderful thing about thoroughbreds is that they are sensitive, smart and athletic. Most I have met really crave a relationship with good, kind people.

Happy Trails and Give your ponies a big hug for me!

Dawn of 4 Sweet Feet

An Introduction to Trimming for the Owner:  The 'Maintenance Trim' on Sunny, my OTTB  

(1 of 3 ten minute free videos)


Thoroughbred Feet are Just Fine: Meet Garwin

When you peruse 'Practical Horseman', 'Equus' or 'Horse Illustrated', you may find a professional saying, "Well barefeet might work for some horses, but never Thoroughbreds. They just don't have good feet." Or, "We've bred the feet off those Thoroughbreds." If your friend described her new horse's hooves as flat soled, long toed, with thin, shelly walls, don't you immediately think, "Thoroughbred!" I know I do.

With the natural trim, EasyCare boots, good turnout, some body work and a saddle that fits, my friend and former client, Lyndsay, an owner-trimmer brought Garwin back from the brink. This handsome and talented thoroughbred was a few strides short of becoming a lawn ornament.

If Garwin can make a come back, I think you will agree, almost any Thoroughbred can!

Garwin, October 2008

Garwin, 2008.

When he developed debilitating subsolar abscesses in both front hooves, the vet excised the soles. His owner followed the vet's directions for Garwin's daily bandaging. When I met him, Garwin had been on stall rest for 3+ months and remained lame.

"I think the abscesses are the least of your troubles," I said, walking into the barn.

Still shod in back, Garwin had about an inch of good connection between the coffin bone and the hoof wall on the front hooves. You can easily see that steep growth right under the hairline. As the wall grows out, the angle will lessen.

The remaining, severely flared wall is disconnected hoof wall. It is the wall that "rotates" (to use traditional parlance) away from the coffin bone; not the other way around. Without knowing anything more, you could assume his feet are flat. Not congenitally flat as so many folks say but flat because the feet are a mess. The hoof capsule is disconnected and too high; the boney column of the leg too low. Nothing is where it should be. Nothing's working; there is no correct function. You could also assume that the bottom periphery of the coffin bone has become 'moth-eaten'. Coffin bones are not suppose to be on the ground!

If this is all Greek to you, check out Learning to Evaluate Your Horse's Feet (page down to the July 2011 post) for more information.

Why remove of the soles? The vet's concern was that the coffin bone could become infected. Wouldn't removing his soles also opens him to infection? And it appears that the primary cause of the problem, severely flared feet, aka chronic founder, was not being addressed. When I met Garwin in October, he was sore on any surface. And his owner was understandably frustrated.

Right front  Left sole

Right Front Hoof and Leg. Left Front Sole Growing Back, Slowly.

With flare like this, Easyboot Epics are hands-down my top pick. They are very forgiving to get on when dealing with deformed hoof capsules. And the Epics will take the half inch pad that Garwin needed. He walked and trotted off sound so we turned him out in the pasture. First time out in months, Garwin was delerious.

Lesson: Remove shoes before checking for lameness. (YouTube forces the other "related" videos. Not my choice.)

He was a happy guy for sure.

On a weekly basis his owner maintained the mustang roll. The well connected wall grew in, as expected. In my view, having the owner do weekly trims on a horse like this speeds rehabilitation and avoid the set backs of waiting too long between trims.


December, 2008: Looking a bit better.

Garwin progressed nicely. By rolling the bottom of the wall, the mechanical forces ripping apart the wall from the coffin bone have been eliminated. This then allows the well connected hoof wall to grow down the foot. In one full growth cycle of about 9 months, a decent foot is grown. It will take another year or two to get adequate sole and wall thickness. The owner routinely soaked his front hooves in White Lightning as a way to deal with what must have been a large amount of necrotic tissue in these rehabbing feet.

Because Garwin was an extreme case, the owner consulted with a more experienced barefoot trimmer, my good friend Laura Florence. Laura gave her additional insights on rehabilitation: how long to use boots for turnout, when to begin riding, tweaking the trim. She also introduced Garwin and Lyndsay to Zarna Carter and her bodywork, Equine Positional Release.

Lyndsay began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. There was still concern about Garwin ever competing in combined training events - dressage, stadium jumping and cross country jumping. Garwin's feet remained "freakishly flat". Laura invited her back to the Center to have radiographs. The vet was not hopeful. She pronounced Garwin laminitic and recommended shoes. Laura's concerns were allayed as there was nothing on x-ray that she didn't expect to see. It just took an incredibly long time for the bottom of his feet to recover. But he did recover, without shoes of course.

Over time, Garwin transitioned from padded Epics - a different size for each foot! - to Gloves. His sizing has since normalized although I must say they are pretty small feet for such a big guy. This is due to early shoeing of racehorses. The coffin bone on most horses develops until they are 4.

October 2011 at Burgundy Hollow Event

cross country

Cross Country Jumping Course in Gloves.

Stadium Jumping

Garwin Attacks the Stadium Jumping Course in his Gloves.


Back Home, during a dressage lesson. Check out the spiffy transmitter!

The Hero

All he needed was barefoot care from his thoughtful, patient owner. And boots from EasyCare of course.

January, 2012
Lyndsay reports that Garwin has developed concavity all around. Like most Thoroughbreds his wall thickness is about 1/4". The outer horn is strong. Frogs are stellar. He has grown a nice wall to coffin bone connection. What more could you ask for?

Left Front RF

One On-Going Challenge
Rules in eventing do not permit the use of EasyCare boots in the dressage competition. If you are not familiar with this combined training, you might think Garwin should be able to go barefoot in a ring.

But unless you are competing at the highest levels, the surface of the rings are far from stellar. Some are made of stone dust which over time is like riding on cement. Alternatively the organizers might put up a fence somewhere in a field. Unfortunately Garwin does suck back on these surfaces. He needs his Gloves.

I hope an eventing competitor will step up to the challenge of having the rules changed. In the meantime, I am hopeful that Lyndsay can compete in the Glue On Glove. I have learned that in Australia, they are trimming down the outer portion of the Glue On Glove and just calling it a Glue On! (Better to ask forgiveness than permission?)

Better to change the rules!

If you would like to see more photos of this great team, go to Lyndsay Poole's Facebook.

In March, I will feature another story of the Thoroughbred racehorse, Chance and his friend, 2 year old Zola. Check them out at The Racehorse Experiement.

Happy Trails,
Dawn Willoughby
Proud Owner of a rehabbed OTTB

Barefoot or Booted or Booted with Studs: Let it Snow!

Dawn and Sunny  Babe and Heather

Happy Holidays from Delaware.

Garwin and Lyndsay  Kat on Moe in Colorado
 Pennsylvania, Colorado,
And straight from the pasture at Tory Hill Farm.
We need losts of water in the winter.  And lots of hay
In the winter, we need lots of water. Slow feeders for Easy Keepers.
We get our feet trimmed up.  We dress up for the holiday.
And a trim every month, while some of us like to dress up for the holidays.
First day out after surgery. Got kicked by a SHOD horse.

First day out after leg surgery. Whopee.

Garwin jumping oxers.

Garwin, the barefoot champion!
Rolling  The shake

Now your'e talkin'!

Scenery is lovely.  Covered in snow.

I bring out the best in photos. My first winter NOT being a racehorse.
Finale, a Shire will always come in for a cookie. Herschel and Sunny brave the snow to get to their hay.

, the clicker-trained Shire loves cookies. Heading for the hay.

Sunrise and Zana enjoying the view.

Zana and Sunrise hack in Woodlawn Preserve.

After the ride we like to play. Boots still on.

The boys romp, still in their studded boots, after the ride.
Slow Feeder  Fast Feeder

The Human-Created Slow Feeder & the Arab-Created Fast Feeder.

Annie and Sunny      Hay

Dog Created None-for-you

dunking hay

However you eat hay, dunk when you can, to increase water in-take.
Martha and Squire  Heather and Babe's Boots

Bareback keeps me warm, boots keep me safe.
Quick Studs in Glove

Love the Easy Care 'Quick Studs' for ice, wet grass; you name it. From 3:00 to 9:00, I put in 6 studs with a small 'T' socket wrench.

Babe goin wild     Doc and Sunny

Bring it. Wild and crazy geldings.
Happy Holidays   

Happy New Year!
From Dawn and Her Friends

Darn, I Wish My Horse Didn't...

Have you ever thought, "I have spent umpteen hours transitioning my horse to barefeet, fitting him for boots, fixing his body, tweaking his diet, saving up for the best tack, and yet he still" (choose from the following):
  • Shoves me for attention; or
  • Won't stay out of my space; or
  • Jerks his feet away when I am picking them; or
  • Snaps at me, when I put on the saddle (make sure there isn't pain); or
  • head bobs on the cross ties, etc.

Most of us have at least one equine behavioral peeve that we would love to get rid of. And no matter how much you love your pony, having your horse turn into a giraffe during bridle time is just no fun. Yet most of us never take the time to train away these nuisances. For some, it's easier to smack and yell at the animal; but the next day, the behavior is still there. For others, we just don't know how to train him to stop it or chose another pleasant behavior.

Peanut learns to trust again.

Peanut learns to trust again.

Peanut, a Palomino TWH, was so severely harmed in training that he refused to let anyone touch his head. He failed Field Trial Training, returning home with deep halter/bridle sores. When Sara met him he was beyond head shy. It took one week with a few, short lessons each day of clicker training to turn Peanut in a halter-lover. By the end, he offered to drop his head into the halter! Peanut is Sara's first and only horse.

Whether you are into barrel racing, classical dressage training or something in between, I have found that using a marker signal, click, combined with positive reenforcement, a treat, to be a skillful way to work with horses. Coined Clicker Training is the go-to tool in my equine training tool box. You can use clicker occasionally, sometimes or all the time; you chose. There are ways to tell you horse, "We aren't playing clicker now."

Panda, the seeing eye mini horse

Panda's job is a guide (mini) horse. She was trained by Alex Kurland. Her story is now available. All her photos by Neil Soderstrom.

When I found my Sunny (OTTB) at a rescue, I realized pretty quickly that he knew next to nothing. He loved people and wanted to be with them. Beyond that, he was a blank slate. Like so many racehorses, he was muscled and threatened, not trained. A pocket pony was just what I wanted this time around, a best friend. But, a friend with manners and one who lived by the ground rules.

I had some clicker experience training my last rottie, Lily. But as we all know, horses are not dogs. I called my friend, Katie Bartlett, requesting that she bring me up to speed in equine clicker. Katie has been working with Alex Kurland for over ten years. In my opinion, Alex is the premier clicker trainer of horses. She teaches throughout the world and her kindness and patience with horses is without bounds. Just seeing some of the horses she has brought back to sanity will warm your heart. No horse is too far gone. Her introductory DVD will give you a clear understanding of her training style. Whether you are a 50 year old first time horse owner or a competitive rider with a couple of challenges, this training can help you find solutions that work for you and your horse.

I am delighted to say that both Katie and Alex have barefoot horses too. Katie trims her eight equines that range from a mini to a Shire.

Alex often uses people as horses for demonstration purposes.

In a 2008 clinic, on the right, Alex Kurland, as Human, demonstrates a cue that carries through much of her clicker training. In the foreground, as Horse, Laurie Higgins.

A year ago, Katie agreed to take on a pony, Stella, from a rescue. The rescue could not adopt her out because Stella's answer to everything was rearing. Punishment only upped the ante. One of the reasons that clicker training works so well with difficult horses like Stella is because it changes up the game. Clicker training was unfamiliar, more like a game. Stella was glad to play. She had no bad memories of touching a target, for instance. As time passed, more typical horse behaviors like foot care and leading were reintroduced in the context of the now familiar clicker training. These days, Stella is handled like the a regular horse; she is back on track to becomeing a model citizen.

The new, beautiful Stella

Many positive behaviors are demonstrated in the new and relaxed Stella. Relaxed trot. Head at withers or lower. Soft eye. Nice bend on the circle. Previously, any long lining or longing activated her rear response. Look at her now.

It occured to me when watching the new movie, "Buck", that the spoiled stallion that was sent home to be euthanized, could have been saved. With the right, patient person, clicker may have been an alternative.

Clicker was an overlay for teaching my horse ground manners, ground work, in-hand, trail riding preparation, and now, classical/kind dressage. Although surrounded by some of the top riders and trainers in the world (based in nearby Unionville, PA), I decided against sending him to a professional. With the help of Katie, Alex and other resources, I decided early on that Sunny and I would do this together, slow though it might be. Clicker training made it possible for me, an ordinary horse lover and owner, to turn a racehorse into a well mannered companion horse. For us, 'training' continues to be an ongoing process.

Backing with a rein lift. No pressure.

Here (2008), Sunny is backing from a lifted, near rein cue. There is no pressure on the bit. The movement is offered by the horse, not demanded by the person. Introduced first in-hand, I then re-taught it from the saddle. Now, 2011, he easily reads my body language when working in hand or at liberty.

Every journey begins with the first step. For Clicker, the first foundation exercise is Target Training. I think of targeting as a chance for the owner and horse to learn a common language. The second lesson is teaching good food manners. In typical Alex humor, she calls this lesson, "Quiet while the grown-ups are talking." There are a few more foundation lessons that will help turn your horse into a well mannered, curious learner and turn you into a stellar trainer. After that the sky is the limit.

The Foundation Lessons:
  1. Targeting.
  2. Quiet while the grown-ups are talking.
  3. Head Down, the calm down exercises, taught several ways.
  4. Backing.
  5. Happy Face, ears forward for grumps,
  6. Mat work, the clicker form of ground training.

The first offer of a target.

The first offer of a target.

Target Training is how I introduced clicker to Sunny. At its most basic, the target is something you want the horse to touch with his nose. I offered a target, my home-made wand: a short dowel with a tennis ball on the end. TThis toy/tool has no bad associations. When Sunny touched the target, I clicked and rewarded him. The click means "Yes, that's the behavior I want," and the food reward, reinforces the behavior: click and Treat (C/T). Most horses are curious and learn quickly. Everyone I have met is astonished to meet the genius hiding inside their horse.

Target the bag

Can you touch and grab the oat bag?

Of course, initially these horses didn't know the click meant "Yes!". It was just a noise. During the training of the first foundation exercise, targeting, they figure it out. The click is fast, simple and can't be confused with words or other noises you use. After a few weeks, when each horse is clear about the new language, many of us change from the mechanical click you buy at the pet store to a mouth cluck. I get a cluck by putting my tongue on the roof of my mouth. My click is always with me. 

And bring it to you!

Can you bring me the oat bag? Floppy oat bag on windy day: Desensitized. On occasion I can get him to pick up trash on the trail and hand it to me!

As for the relationship between clicker trainers and their horses, attend a clinic sometime. Never have I seen a workshop where every single gelding drops as he works on a lesson. The horses are relaxed and happy.

Along the way, we introduce a cue. A cue initiates behavior. I say "Touch!" (voice cue) when I offer the target. I am putting targeting on stimulus control, "Touch the target only when I ask you to." If you touch when not asked, I won't C/T.

Another foundation lesson: Mat Work - the Clicker form of ground tying, and more.

Tessa's first ground tying lesson.

Diane as Human and Tessa on the first Mat Lesson. She spent a lot of time pawing but now is a stellar student of the mat at liberty.

Tacking up. What a great use for the Mat Lesson.

Here, Sally, the owner, demonstrates a very practical result from the Mat Lesson. Her OTTB, Molly, was a terror to groom and tack up. Assured that Molly wasn't in pain, Sally began daily mat exercises. What pleasure she is now. Note the attentive ears as Molly supervises Sally.

There is another practical result of targeting that might be useful this winter.

Did you drop something?

For those of us who can't mount our horses, how great is this? "Glove please," and point. He hands it to me.

One example of Free Shaping: How Many Things Can You Do with a Barrel? One C/T for each original behavior. Tell me that doesn't blow your mind.

I can push it. And target with my foot.

Practical Application: If we see a monster on the trail, I may ask him to play the same game. He touches the monsters every time.

The absolutely critical lesson on food, Quiet while the grown ups are talking, wherein my horse learns that I am not a grocery bag to be searched. Nor am I a vending machine. When you push my buttons (literally), I will not dispense food.

Horses, like children, can learn food manners. How many people have said, "Don't ever hand feed your horse." Oh Please! Even the greediest horse who inhales your entire arm, can learn table manners for heaven's sake.

This is also first taught behind a stall guard or an enclosed place where the human can control the space. I click and treated for head straight ahead, or head away from me. Over time, I raised the criteria to having his head forward, straight ahead, ears forward.

Because Sunny was excitable in the early days, I added Head Down, the calm down position, to his Grown Ups work. Now whenever I am talking or even just standing still, I have a subtle cue telling Sunny, hang out in your own space. If I want a particular head position - head down or arched neck - I can cue that. If I want feet squared I can cue that. What I do not have is a horse checking out my pockets!

Were are those dang treats?

In the very beginning, 2004 my curious horse during The Duct Tape Lesson. While I took a break to assess our progress, Sunny decided to search my treat pack. Sneaky little bugger.

There are DVDs and articles teaching Grown Ups with the training steps broken down. I encourage you to educate yourself on this one. I hope you won't wing it or ad lib in early clicker training. Frustrated horses are not happy horses. 

My challenge this winter is to work on the foundation lesson "Happy Face (ears forward)". For some reason Sunny's are more often back. Maybe that's how he concentrates? Regardless, it's not pleasant looking and I want people to like him, not fear him!

Rosie offers Happy Face, with the left ear forward.

Rosie learned to put her left ear forward on cue. Doesn't she look pleasant? The pre-Happy Face Rosie was scary. Trainer Katie showed me the cue, a gentle touch behind the ear, for the photo. In reality, Katie can now just look at that spot to cue Rosie.

Common Concerns about Equine Clicker Training
(1) Recently a vet told a friend of mine that he hated clicker training because it turned horses into Pavlov's dogs!
He didn't think it was normal for horses to offer behavior. As you read above, stimulus control is something we teach from the beginning in lesson 1 and 2.

(2) When I reward my horse with treats he gets pushy and nippy.
Thus the reason for "Grown-Ups", lesson two. I am sure your kids were not the best dinner partners at their first restaurant outing. Well just like kids, horses must learn table manners.

Having stellar table manners is a hallmark of a well trained clicker horse. In one advanced lesson, the horse learns to refuse a treat from your hand until cued. Alex demonstrates this exercise with Robin in one of her DVD's. "You can not force me to eat that carrot," Robin seems to say as he arches his neck in 'the dressage pose' and steadfastly ignores the food until cued. In another exercise, a horse at liberty will walk, trot and canter to his person without eating anything from the equine buffet table he must pass. That's Clicker Olympics.

(3) I don't want to click and treat (C/T) all the time.
Depending on your situation, there are different ways to handle this.

In one case, as the behavior advances on cue, you can select just for quality, C/T the best offerings and slowing fade the C/T. I still go back to basics every now and then for a 'tune up' but I don't C/T every cued smile, yawn, Yes, No. That's the old stuff.

Most of us create a 'keep going signal': That's great and please keep doing it.

Or what if I C/T only when we are working in the ring but not when we hack out. Early on, I can teach the horse that we C/T in some places but not in others. (Note unlike kid training!)

(4) I don't want a Trick Horse.
While it's true that I couldn't resist teaching my horse a repertoire of tricks during his 1 year rehab from a torn suspensory, it doesn't mean that you must teach tricks. It is fun though. I know that Sunny loves to make me laugh with his slobbery kisses!

The Laugh, on cue.

First Trick: The Laugh on cue. An aside, here Sunny is dark bay in this recent summer photo because he has had his minerals balanced according to his diet. Thank you Dr. Eleanor Kellon for your online course.

The Yawn.

One of My Most Challenging Tricks to Teach: The Yawn on cue. Here Sunny hasn't had his minerals balanced. In the summer, he used to become a dull, blood bay without adequate copper and zinc.

(5) My horse is prone to laminitis and follows a special diet. This is very common. There are many treats you can use for these horses that are low in sugar, like Alam and hay stretchers.

Red practices Head Down.

Red demonstrates a perfect Head Down, a calming stance taught unmounted and mounted. Red is a Quarter Horse x Belgium. Hay stretchers are a healthy reward.

I hope you will check out this positive way of training. It's fun for you and your horse.

Favorite Resources to Get You Started
Peanut in Head Down, on a mounting block.

When cued to Head Down, Peanut drops like a rock and stays and stays and stays. He has the best Head Down I have ever seen. And doing it on a platform, well, that's just The Nut!

Until next time, Happy Trails!

Dawn Willoughby
, new grandma of Matilda Wednesday Villegas. She is getting Panda, A Guide Horse for Ann for Christmas.

If I Only Had Four Frogs

"If I only had four frogs." Is this your horse's lament?

Pathological frogs are so common, that they have become the norm! Just as long toes and under run heels are normal for thoroughbreds, sick frogs are nearing normal for most horses. What else do we see in my home state of Delaware where we had an amazing 26" of rain in August, normally one of two driest months!

If you have not been following my posts in Notes From the Field, I hope you will check them out. The importance of the frog for excellent, barefoot movement is discussed in detail. When you know what a healthy frog looks like, how bad ones heal, along with the various soaks, topical treatments, and tips for, in Pete Ramey's words, out running thrush, you will have the tools to maintain frog health.

It can be a job, there's no question about that. Gird your loins and let's get to it!

Four Butt Cracks, Four Sore Frogs

Four butt cracks means four diseased frogs.

For starters, my most common errors in earlier days were:
(A) Not cleaning the area before treatment. (Thank you Linda Cowles!)  
(B) Not taking frog health seriously until the horse was ouchy. Then inconsistent treatment.
(C) Stopping treatment too early, only to see the same sick frog in a month.
(D) And ever using Thrush Buster. It contains formaldehyde which kills healthy as well as diseased tissue, according to my chemist friend. Get rid of Thrush Buster!

Just Frogs
  1. Healthy, functional frogs
  2. Diseased and unhealthy frogs
  3. Recovering frogs
  4. Pick and **clean**
  5. Treatment Recipes (Thank you Laura Florence, barefoot trimmer and body worker)
  6. Soaking Recipes (ditto)
  7. Thoughts on Out Running Thrush

1. Some Healthy Frogs

Cadence, a Quarter Horse

Meet Cadence, a quarter horse, on his first trim. Over time his foot became more oval but for this trim, I assumed the frog was where it needed to be, for ideal function. No need to 'pretty' things up. The back of the frog is broad and became even broader over time. What a landing pad! The frog's perfect center, the central sulcus, is a shallow thumbprint. Perfect! The lateral grooves on either side of the frog are about 3/4" at their deepest and they are dry.


I guess Mason, who hides his appaloosa spots, wins the prize on this one. BTW his trimmer is his owner, Carlyn. Massive, robust frog allows Mason to land solidly on the back of his foot. Again this was early in his career from bare to better.

Kay, a large pony

Large pony, Kay, had been barefoot a long time with a pasture trim. Over time, as she grew out her flared wall, her toe shortened significantly. (Knowing more now, I would have brought it back.) Although not as pretty as the preceding frogs, the rear of the frog is wide, the center is free of disease. Looks like some older frog tissue is shedding and new coming in. I didn't 'beautify' it with my knife as there were no nooks or crannies for disease to settle into.

2. Unhealthy Frogs
The most common problem I saw during my years as a professional trimmer, was diseased central sulcus of the frog. It may or may not be sensitive. Doesn't matter. Butt Cracks are not healthy and should be treated rigorously. Technically many frogs don't have thrush; but they have something! Whether it's bacterial or fungal: pick/brush, clean and treat, soak, then outrun it.

The worst frog I ever saw was a puddle of black gooey thrush. The horse was stalled in a Philadelphia 'city barn'  22 hours a day and the stall was cleaned once a day. Standing purposely in urine relieved his itchy discomfort.  The poor horse would never recover in my view. I suggested the owner relocate her horse to the country and field board him near her home. I gave her a plan for daily treatment. I did make the mistake of investigating the frog with my knife and it began to bleed immediately.

Banjo, OTTB

From the back you can clearly see Banjo's (OTTB, my very first trimming guinea pig) 'butt crack' between the heels bulbs. Remember to check the solar (bottom) view of the frog, either side of the frog and the bulbs as viewed here.

Banjo, OTTB

From the bottom or solar view, we see Banjo's pencil thin, deformed frog. It does look like the central sulcus is filling in with healthy tissue. Frog healing and the opening or decontraction of the heels takes time and patience. Banjo was pasture sound throughout. If I could go back in time, I would have put him in padded Epics with lots of Gold Bond Powder and hit the trails. Sound stimulation helps 'outrun disease'.  I only had a long weekend of training under my apron and the occasional help from the barn's farrier when I first laid rasp on wall. Even so, Big Band Show was better off out of metal shoes. The improvement in his health was dramatic and almost instantaneous!
You go Owner-Trimmers.

(Above) The Healing Frog and Contracted Heels: Banjo's photo above gives a nice view of heels that are very close together, contracted. They do this to protect the weak frog and above it, the digital cushion. With treatment and lots of sound, heel-first landings a foot like this recovers, every time. The heels start to decontract when the foot is ready. And internally the digital cushion and lateral cartilages come back to life.

Cayuga, unraced 15 year old TB

Contracted Heels in Shoes:
Just by watching horses pass by, you can tell when shod horses have a weak back of foot. The heels look pinched. The back of the shoe is almost touching. Above the hairline, that bulge pressing up the back of the foot, is the lateral cartilage. It's 100% non-functional. This is Cayuga, an unraced thoroughbred at 13, shod most of his life. Sadly I could go in almost any barn where horses are shod and find a variation on this theme.
Cayuga, unraced 15 year old TB

I gingerly removed the shoe, nail by nail. Can you see how pinched the back of the frog is. The heels too are very close together, protecting the back of the foot. It can get worse; the heels can actually touch. This thoroughbred was not lame in or out of shoes. It took a long time to rehab his feet to health and repair his body. Soundness is a 'whole horse' issue. I fitted him in Epics with black sole pads and black frog pressure pads, to provide stimulation when ridden. He was ridden right out the barn.

The last time his owner tried barefoot, the horse was lame for 7 months before she gave up. The horse was lamed by aggressive trimming. Great hooves are grown. No need to match someones concept of 'ideal'.

For a horse like this, and sadly my own boy at the moment, the owner must make frog care an essential part of daily rooming. If you must, skip something, do not let it be hoof care. After all, no one died from a crappy looking tail!

3. Close to Recovery
Frogs heal from the inside out.

The central sulcus of the frog heals from the inside out.

Now time to roll up your sleeves: I pick and brush each foot, using the combo hoof pick, then clean the foot, treat and boot for riding.  Then and only then, I tackle any remaining grooming before heading out. This way the frog is assured of an hour or more of treatment. Even if I don't ride, I treat the frogs daily, in the field if I am pressed. If you can't visit your horse every day, perhaps you can hire someone at the barn to do it. Or do some swapping. Every other day should do the trick too.
Feet Treatment Bucket

Sunny's FEET Treatment bucket with all his daily needs: "Goop", Tea Tree Oil, Manuka Honey, Cotton Balls, Spray Bottle of Dilute Anti-bacterial Soap, Hand Towel and Hoof Pick.

I found that rigorous treatment was much less of a hassle when I finally broke down and got everything I needed and put it in one place, Sunny's Feet bucket. Note: Check with your vet on specifics on any of the recommended treatments or other ones you might find at the tack shop or on-line. The 'natural' claim doesn't always mean good.

First do no harm. If your horse flinches during care, find another pain-free way to work. Twice now, I have been hired to trim horses who kicked farriers because of previous rough and painful treatment by hoof pro, owner or vets. It took me one or just a few visits to gain the horses' trust using clicker training. Why traumatize the horses we love?

4. The Basics for Daily Cleaning 
  • Hoof pick with brush. Hand towels.
  • Scrub brush, bucket and anti bacterial soap like Dawn dish detergent diluted or,
  • Fill a spray bottle with same or,
  • Fill a wormer tube or syringe with same.
  • All antiseptic liquids are diluted: Dawn, Lysol, etc.
I wouldn't treat my own deep cut without washing it first. Well same goes for my horse. Obviously scrubbing four feet (why not do all four since you are down there?) is much easier if you have a wash stall. Since I don't, I first tried filling up wormer tubes or syringes and irrigating the frog crevices with anti-bacterial soap, Dawn of course. But refilling was a hassle. I switched to a spray bottle and a small towel to 'floss' the area clean. I mixed a milk jug of cleaner for quick refills.

If the central sulcus were more like a deep crevice, I would certainly use the thin tipped syringes in addition to irrigate the wound. Q tips are handy too.

Medium pony, lame in shoes due to sore frogs

Medium pony lame in shoes. The central sulcus was 1.5" deep. First steps were to get her out of shoes, out of the stall and into a daily treatment regimen.

Central Sulcas was 1.5" deep.

Her young owner could ride the pony in Epics with green pads.

One month later.

One month later, the heels are decontracting a bit. The central sulcus isn't as deep.  Full healing just takes time and diligent treatment.

5. The Basics for Treatment  Pick a couple of alternatives. I rotate 3 to avoid tolerance.
  • Make your own Pete's Goop: 50% antibiotic cream and 50% anti fungal cream in syringe.
  • Purchase cow mastitis treatment like ToDay  (12 syringes in a box), available on-line or at Tractor Supply. Recycle the syringes for Goop above or irrigation tool.
  • Tea Tree Oil from the health food store. Mine comes in a handy spray (onto cotton) bottle.
  • Mashed Garlic is anti-bacterial and comes in a jar. Check your grocery store.
  • Calendula Cream (Thanks again to Laura Florence, barefoot trimmer) from the health store.
  • Raw Honey wax free. No Smirks! Honestly! It's used on, among other things, human burn victims.
  • Or even better but more expensive (unless you're a kiwi), Manuka Honey from New Zealand. It has many uses, including repairing wrinkles! (I'll get back to you on that).
  • Cotton balls from the pharmacy. Q-tips are nice but not essential.
For Pete's goop and the others above, I have found 2 methods of application.
(A) The more time consuming one is to mix the 2 creams well. Then stuff into a fat wormer tube and then inject into an Exel 12 cc curved tip syringe. Perfect for deep crevices. Pull apart one cotton ball so there are no painful lumps and gently pack, using hoof pick, into the central sulcus.
(B) When the crevice isn't that deep, I dip the half cotton ball into the Goop or Honey and stuff it into the frog with a hoof pick. This eliminates the syringe filling step which is harder than you would think.

When I can no longer stuff a cotton ball in the sulcus, I spray Tea Tree Oil until 100% healthy.

Soaking for deep penetration of gases with White Lightening.

Bagged and booted for a soak in White Lightening.

6. The Basics for Soaking and Irrigating (Thanks to Laura Florence my favorite barefoot trimmer)
If frogs are particularly bad or you simply have the time, soaking the feet is a great idea to create an environment hostile to bad bugs. I soak once a week when treating frogs. I set Sunny up in his otherwise unused stall with some extra good hay and a fan. I hang out on a straw bale with a horse book. OK, honestly he makes me dip his hay in water and hand feed him. When he's full, we take our naps.

Soaks, alternate or use your favorite:
  • Easy Care Soaking Boots
  • White Lightening and White Vinegar. I use 1/8th cup of each.
  • If using above, sturdy waste bags and duct tape to fully enclose foot and capture gases.
  • Or 50% Apple Cider Vinegar with 50% water
  • Or 10% Bleach and 90% water
  • Or 1-2 Tablespoons/boot of Lysol with water
  • Or some Borax dissolved in water
According to the techs at Grand Circuit Products, makers of White Lightening, you can soak as often as every other day with White Lightening. The dilution is active for 8 hours. If you are short on funds but long on time, you may rotate one boot, 30 minutes a foot, to all feet. The foot must be bagged to capture the gases that provide a deep penetrating soak. I will use it on an abscess, cracks, etc. It's available online or at the farrier supply store. They recommend 1/4 cup but I think that's excessive since it's the gases that do the trick. Gases are released when you combine White Lightening and Vinegar. You can add the same amount of water to increase volume.

The rest of the soaks require soaking boots or buckets if your horse is quiet.

I generally irrigate the frog with the soaking material in a syringe after removing the boot.

  • Q tips for cleaning frog crevice.
  • Gold Bond Powder for riding boots keep the foot dry in many conditions and again, create an environment hostel to bugs.
  • I generally do not recommend the RX boot or Equicast because I don't want to enclose the foot.
  • Thrush Buster has formaldehyde. It kills healthy and unhealthy tissue!
  • Dr. Bowker once recommended leaving dirt in the collateral grooves on either side of the frog as it may have a role in hoof mechanics. But for my environment, it's just not practical or healthy.
  • The Horse's Hoof has an excellent series on hoof treatment.
Whether in field turnout, in-hand, being ponied or mounted, sound movement heals.

In Hand at Walk

Jill Wilcox (80 yrs) work 'in-hand' with Runner (OTTB) at the walk. Working along the wall with a pole encourages, first straightness and then balance. She will progress to trot and canter in-hand. All her students work in-hand before mounting. (Note she uses reins attached to nose band, no bit and a neck band.)
It's much easier for the horse to move correctly without the rider.
7. Out Running Thrush or Bacterial Infections
The first time I heard the phrase, out running thrush, at a clinic, I hadn't a clue to the meaning. I have learned the hard way that we have to grow healthy tissue faster than the bad bugs inflict damage. Simply treating a stalled horse, for instance, might not be adequate. One of our Barefoot Mantras: Sound Movement Heals.

If your horse is sound in padded boots, ride him, even if it's just at walk. If not, consider 'ponying' him, again in padded boots, off another horse. Turn him out with a busy herd or a nasty pony. No standing around in sheds with manure floors. No shoes. No stalling. If you are boarding in a mud hole, leave.

Pea Gravel feels good to even the sorest horse, human or dog.

Pea Gravel feels good, even to the sorest horse. It offers just the perfect amount of stimulation.

I have seen some farms where you just can't avoid a rocky path to the pasture. Consider covering it with cut up stall mats for your sore pony. Better yet, dig it up, add some landscaping material and fill with 4" of pea gravel. Add pea gravel to the loafing areas. It's a miracle cure that Dr. Robert Bowker has discussed in a published work. Make a copy for the owner if you board.

As for the trim, leave a little heel so the frog can get just the right stimulation to grow, but adequate protection. Once you've got a nice frog, those heels will come right down, where they want to be.

I'll trim the frog to remove flaps and hide-y-holes for disease. Beyond that, all I can say is think before you cut or snip. Removing diseased frog can be tricky. If you trim a sick frog and it bleeds, your horse is now open to infection. Cutting open the central sulcus to let the air in often lames the horse which in my view is abusive. I move cautiously and respectfully.

As you can see, I have become a passionate student of the frog! Most of the lessons were learned the hard way. I hope this helped you. Feel free to share and post at your barn.

Happy Trails,

P.S. Find more good reading and free trimming videos go to my site 4sweetfeet.com
P.P.S. For my next post look for Clicker Training Your Horse During the Inevitable Down Time, December.

Equine Movement and the Importance of the Back of Foot

If you have been following my previous posts, you know that I like to provide information to folks new to barefoot. I was a trimmer for 6 years and during that time I specialized in teaching owners, mostly women, to trim. From time to time, I shared an educational handout similar to this post.

This month I've combined what I've learned from Dr. Robert Bowker at several of his clinics with Pete Ramey's discussion on equine movement in his DVD set, #4 Development of the Hoof and Navicular, Under the Horse.  Bowker and many other top notch speakers will be attending The Whole Horse Conference in October 15-16, 2011. Not to be missed!

I first met 'Dr. Bob' at the EasyCare sponsored conference in Tucson in 2007 (my notes). His credentials, scientific insight and affection for the horse convinced me that his research was well worth following. Honestly, in the horse world there are so many egos spouting nonsense that it is hard to sift the proverbial wheat from the shaft. Because I was a small time trimmer, I needed experts I could rely on. Dr. Bob has PhD in Anatomy and a DVM from University of Pennsylvania and taught at Michigan State Vet School. He continues his research at his Corona Vista Equine Center.

5 Hour Old Foal Foot
Here is where it starts! 5 Hours Old. Feral or Domestic? Impossible to tell.

Tomorrow's Olympic Champions at Chesterland Farm, Unionville, Pa.
 With just the right amount of hoof structure (exposure as well as protection), these future eventing champions appear to float in their buttercup pasture at Chesterland. With ample movement, diet and foot care, their hooves could development correctly, right into adulthood. But somewhere along the line, most of our domestic horses loose their 'float'.

This month I would like to discuss equine movement of the 'good footed' versus the 'bad footed' horse. These are Dr. Bob's term and I think they work quite well.

As the good footed horse begins to land, heel-first, the back of the foot expands. He may land heel first or flat footed at the walk but at other gaits, he lands heel first. In most cases, a bad footed horse lands toe first to protect his sore back-of-foot. In the traditional world he may have a diagnosis of navicular syndrome, and if there are changes in the bone, navicular disease. Both are misnomers. In fact the bone loss of P3, the coffin bone, is worse than that of the navicular. Fix the back of the foot, and you will rehabilitate 'navicular'.

As the horse loads his foot, the heels expand, the sole draws flat and the hoof dramatically expands. A huge vacuum (negative pressure) is created within the capsule. Mechanical engineers at Michigan State actually had a hard time measuring it!

From The Glass Horse, 2004
Coffin bone to the right, lateral cartilage to the left or the back of the foot. In the domestic horse the lateral cartilages will be half this size and not as thick. Lack of development is due to care, not genetics. You can see and feel the top of the cartilages on your horse. It's the bulge above the hairline.

Blood is literally sucked into the caudal (back) foot by negative pressure. In a good foot, blood is sucked into the entire foot but of particular interest for us is the filling of the mass of specialized blood vessels in the healthy frog, the lateral (side) cartilages, the cartilage floor and the digital cushion. (The cartilage floor, connecting the lateral cartilages, although common in feral horses is rare in domestic. It is one of the markers of a superior foot. Neither the floor nor the digital cushions were included in the Glass Horse program, above!)

The primary function of the dilated and specialized blood vessels, found only in the foot, is to serve as a cushion for the horse's foot: the back of the foot and the sole. Just like a top athletic shoe with gel pads, the blood-filled vessels or vasculature dissipate or disperse energy.
Total energy from impact as well as from vibration pass through the hoof structures (the frog, the digital cushion, the lateral cartilages and the cartilage floor). The better the back-of-foot, the more efficient the energy transfer.

Mikayla, a competitive, warmblood mare, had always been barefoot. Her hooves became even better when her owner began to trim her. This is a healthy frog, broad in the back, with a disease-free central sulcas that looks like a thumb print. No doubt there's a healthy digital cushion above it.

What of relative energy? It depends on a few factors:

(A) How developed is the back-of-foot: Frog, above it the Cartilage Floor, then the Digital Cushion and to either side the Lateral Cartilages.

The good foot lands on a healthy, robust frog as pictured above. Pressure-release of the horse's weight onto the frog develops an increasingly fibrous digital cushion filled with tiny blood vessels as well as proprioceptor nerves which tell the horse where his feet are in space. Hoof movement from side to side on uneven ground develops the lateral cartilages and the floor.

What's what?
It's hard to tell what's what on this aged Arab mare.
(Ignore letter labels)

(B) Relative Energy Transfer is effected by hoof structure.
  • The energy transfer will be efficient in a well trimmed foot with adequate back of foot structure. 
  • A pasture trim has poor mechanics. So does the horse shod with rubber or metal shoes. The foot will be much less efficient. Energy won't disperse correctly but rather will travel through the tendons, ligaments and bones of the foot and leg. In part this explains the epidemic of lame domestic horses.
Pony in shoes is lamed by sore frog.
Lame in shoes, this pony had an unhealthy frog. My finger on the syringe applicator shows how deep the central sulcas was. Over an inch!
(C) And finally, relative energy is dependent upon the ground.
  • Moving on hard surfaces will generate greater vibrational energy. (Worst case scenario: Amish horses on asphalt.)
  • On soft surfaces the horse will face less impact force. In padded boots your horse will experience low impact force. The correct balance of exposure and protection, will allow your horse to rehab his feet. 'Toughing it out' usually results in the incorrect toe-first landing.

Dr. Bob shared this analogy, another view on energy transfer.
The Good Footed Horse: correct trim, strong back-of-foot
Imagine the lateral cartilages as large, heated (heat is energy) blocks loaded with tiny tubes (the micro vessels) filled with water. As water passes through the tubes, heat-energy transfers efficiently and correctly from the block to the water in the tubes. The water warms; energy is transferred. All is good.

The Bad Footed Horse: incorrect trim or shod in rubber or metal shoes
The heated blocks (ie the lateral cartilages) are very thin with just a few tubes (blood vessels) to carry water.  Little heat-energy is transferred. In fact the water may not even warm. The heat, or in our horse's case, energy, must go somewhere, right? It travels to the bones of the foot and leg as well as surrounding connective tissue. This is pathology.

Pathology: The conditions and processes of disease. Any deviation from healthy, normal, efficient condition.

Back to our moving horse...
As the horse's weight presses down on the entire foot in mid stride, erectile tissues in the sole are stimulated. (This is a new one for me.) They are only stimulated by pressure. No pressure, no function! This is a good reminder to all of us that sound movement, pressure-release, is what develops great feet.

At peak impact the blood is pinched off and the pressure then rises dramatically. At full impact, the pastern descends. In a good footed horse, the pastern is stopped by a strong back-of-foot. In a bad footed horse where the back-of-foot is weak and the tendons and ligaments take the hit.

When the heels lift, and the toe 'breaks over', pressure is released within the foot and the massive force drives blood up the leg. Similar to our legs, as we move, blood travels up the veins through valves. When a valve closes, it prevents the blood from draining down. Horses have an additional mechanism. The veins in the legs pulsate, moving the blood up.

Pete Ramey likens equine hemodynamics to an hydraulic pump which I encourage you to read about in Wikipedia if you don't know how one works. I didn't!

Most of our horses live on uneven ground so they may break over to the right, to the left or at center. Lateral cartilages respond to this movement. The mustang roll enables the horse to move correctly. I routinely rasp a break over on all Easy Care boots from 10:00 to 2:00 by rounding the edge. You could round the entire edge of the boot.

Along with the forward momentum of the horse, the suspensory apparatus of the leg and secondarily the ligaments, spring the pastern back.

The elastic walls of the hoof spring back to the unexpanded position. The bars play a role too. Most of the mechanics of movement discussed above, drive the foot into expansion. At the end of foot fall, there are a few structures that spring the hoof back together. It's critical not to rob the horse of these mechanisms with opening cuts at either side of the frog, digging out bars (they do not impact into the foot) and other misguided attempts to redesign the hoof.

Apply a natural trim, rehab frog, ride in padded boots if you need them and most horses' feet will improve dramatically. Heels will decontract naturally (open up) as the frog and internal structures begin to work properly.

Ideas for rehabilitating the back of foot:
  • Clean and carefully inspect the bottom of your horse's feet, daily if possible. Rigorously treat as needed.
  • Make it your mission to have 4 healthy frog. In a wet climate, it's a job. I know!
  • Find healthy frogs online so you know what they look like.
  • If your horse has unhealthy frogs, leave the heels a little higher to give the frog just the right amount of protection and stimulation.
  • Allow your horse as much sound and varied (hills) movement as possible. No stalling.
  • If lame in pasture, use Rx boots with a half inch pad or Equicastes if you can't remove the boot daily.
  • Ride in padded boots. Of particular concern is padding the frog. Stimulation encourages rehabilitation. 1/4 cup of Gold Bond Powder in the boots will help keep the foot dry.
  • Add 4" pea gravel to your horse's standing areas. It's a hoof miracle cure.

Since frogs are critical to equine movement, next month I'll post some photos of healthy and sick frogs, soaks and treatments. Until then, check out the Equine Frog series in The Horse's Hoof, by Heiki Bean and Dr. Platz, under Education, Articles.

Bonus Babies:

1. A story from the UK of the comeback of Saucy Night, from death row to a champion barefoot steeplechaser.

2. From Australia:

I look forward to hearing from you below.

Until the next time,
Happy Trails!

4SweetFeet.com is my educational site with free trimming videos. Have a visit!