The Equine Barefoot Movement

marquis®supergrip hoofboot pictured here worn in trot
Marquis Hoofboot pictured here worn in trot

We are in the midst of what is being called the Equine Barefoot Movement. Some suggest that the beginning of the modern equine barefoot movement goes back to the years around the turn of this millennium. It is now vigorous and growing in Australia, Europe and North America. In Australia, there are currently two Facebook groups discussing the growing knowledge and newly recorded experiences with barefoot hoofcare: A public group, the Australian Equine Barefoot Movement (AEBM) Inc, and a closed group,  barefoothorseinaustralia.

Here a couple of book references from the growing literature on hoofcare and healing:

Bowe_2014_cover

The Pony that did not die – Healing Laminitis with Barefoot Rehabilitation, by Andrew Bowe 2014

Andrew Bowe is Australian master farrier who specialises in the barefoot rehabilitation of horses that are either suffering from chronic lameness or are not performing as well as they should be. Andrew is also founder of the Australian College of Equine Podiotherapy. In this book he shows “how a fundamental shift in the way laminitic hooves are managed can possibly rectify even the most serious cases; a shift away from traditional treatment with corrective shoeing to ‘barefoot’ rehabilitation.”

Ramey_2007_Cover

Care and Rehabilitation of the Equine Foot, by Pete Ramey 2007, with chapters from eight other authors.

In his introduction titled “Bare vs. Shod?”, Pete Ramey states that this book is about “growing the healthiest hooves an individual horse can genetically grow. What you do with those healthy hooves is up to you. Genetic factors, pathology, environmental factors, intended work and owner compliance all affect the ‘right path’ to take with an individual horse.”

This book is a textbook comprising some 460 pages and 630 images and drawings. It is designed more for veterinarians, farriers and trimmers rather than the owner/trimmer. But for anyone who is interested in current foundational research supporting  care and rehabilitation of the equine foot, combined with extensive practitioner’s experience and knowledge, this book is invaluable. It presents different perspectives, and at times contradictory information. Most importantly, in many ways, the book will help us also develop a new understanding of the hoof. The way we see the hoof, its function and role for the overall health of the horse, also influences how we treat it and care for it. The book presents the hoof as a living, feeling organ; it has a large focus on the most important role of nutrition; it outlines trimming for health and how to treat pathologies. Pete Ramey: “The same things that improve the hooves, also improve every aspect of the horse’s life: performance, immune function, protection from injury, strength, stamina, recovery, longevity, general health, happiness and well being.”

Pete Ramey is farrier and co-founder of the American Hoof Association. He himself has written 17 of the 31 chapters of the book. The other authors include Dr Robert M. Bowker from Michigan State University (Bowker also teaches at the Australian College of Equine Podiotherapy); Prof Hilary M. Clayton also from MSU; Dr Brian Hampson; Dr Eleanor Kellon; Dr Kerry Ridgway; Dr Debra R. Taylor from Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Kathryn Watts, BS.

Bowker has contributed 3 chapters. In the first chapter of the book, “The Concept of the Good Foot: Its Evolution and Significance in a Clinical Setting”, Robert Bowker talks about basic and advanced external and internal anatomy of the equine foot, about morphology, development (or degradation) of the bones, cartilages, ligaments, vasculature, neurology and other tissues of the equine foot. In a second chapter, Bowker presents a detailed analysis of the growth mechanisms of the hoof from the foal to adult horse. In his third chapter, he discusses the horse’s foot as a neurosensory organ through which the horse perceives his environment. He gives a detailed analysis and descriptions of the nervous systems of the equine foot, how they influence the synchronisation of limbs and the body, and how the hoof protects the horse from injury.

Brian Hampson presents the foot of the wild horse. He discusses the results of Australian Brumby Studies. With six different environments, we find six different “natural” feet. He suggests that much can be learned from the study of wild horses, and some of the assumed ideals may need to be re-evaluated.

Hilary Clayton discusses gait analysis and hoof mechanics during locomotion.

Kerry Ridgway, in his chapter “Equine Ulcers: Are We Seeing Just the Tip of the Iceberg?”,  draws a link between equine ulcers and hoof health. He argues that equine ulcers affect, among other things, movement, and thus hoof form and conformation.  He states that GI ulcers are far more common than most realise. He gives detailed descriptions of ulcer diagnosis, prevention and treatment.

Eleanor Kellon has contributed four chapters. She first discusses metabolic laminitis. She presents a history of our understanding of Equine Metabolic Syndrome, and detailed diagnostic and treatment considerations including husbandry, medications and supplements. In another chapter, Kellon gives an overview of specific nutrients and their effects on hoof growth and hoof quality. In a separate chapter, Kellon discusses hay analysis, and how to read and interpret feed analysis. In her fourth chapter, Kellon gives detailed instructions on how to balance the horse’s diet.

Kathryn Watts discusses carbohydrates in pasture plants as “a moving target” and various presentations of laminitic horses and grass sugar effects. She gives a detailed description of grass sugars and how weather patterns, fertilization, and other plant health factors affect them (and fluctuations throughout the day and year).

In two separate chapter, Debra Taylor discusses the veterinary management of the laminitis patient, and radiographic imaging of the laminitis patient.

In his 17 chapters, Pete Ramey writes about hoof care theory. He presents a “brief but critical overview of the trimmer and farrier’s role at the horse”. In separate chapters, he discusses how to evaluate and trim the sole, the frog, the bars, the heel, and heel height. A chapter deals with the care and rehabilitation of the hoof walls and lamellar attachment. He also discusses the distal descent of P3, under-run heels, low/high heel syndrome, club foot, angular deformities, contracted heels, laminitis, and navicular disease. Donkeys and mules find special consideration in a separate chapter.

Ramey also directs his attention to various hoof boots, epoxy systems, casting systems, synthetic shoe packages, and metal shoe packages. He closes the book with his reflections and a call for long-term studies into how to treat healthy and compromised horses and hooves to overcome the current state in hoofcare – a state he suggests is dominated by opinion rather than evidence.

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