Barefoot Hoofs

The Sound Horse Conference 2010 on November 4, 5 and 6 was one of the best educational events I’ve ever attended–and I have plenty of experience to go on. The conference was beautifully-planned, with the emphasis on education about horse welfare. These are a few of the talks I appreciated: “Chemical Warfare;” “Pressure Soring; ” “Life Impact and Unknown Dangers of Breaking the Law By Soring Horses;” Trainers’ Philosophy for the Balancing Act;” “Second Careers for Show Horses;” “Judging Perspectives;” and “The Tennessee Walking Horse Industry: Path to the Future.”

Of all the rich presentations, the one that held me motionless in my seat was given by Jaime Jackson, who is a natural hoof care pioneer. An expert on domestic and wild horses, Jackson originated the barefoot hoofs theory. To read a lot more about him and his work, you’ll want to go to his website at (Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices.) For this talk, he concentrated on the hoof of a horse and what happens when a sorer gets at it.

For readers who don’t know what soring is, here is a description from a FOSH (Friends of Sound Horses) pamphlet: “Soring is the use of chemical and mechanical means on a horse’s front legs to make it painful to bear weight.” The horse lifts his legs in what is called “The Big Lick” to avoid that terrible pain that his handlers have inflicted on him. Besides burning chemicals, the handlers use nails, chains, screws, and pressure shoeing to get the results they want.
Here are several of the points Jackson made. They were graphically illustrated on a screen and through the speaker’s words.

1. Trainers, hoofmen, riders and owners who are guilty of soring work to get the horse’s body into an abnormal axis. The aim is to get the horse to lift his foot and fling it so that he moves forward with a snap: the Big Lick.

2. One method is to bolt “stacks” of shoes to the bottom of the horse’s feet. These sometimes cause the horse to trip and fall as he lunges forward to maintain his balance. The rider of such a horse, who often looks unsmiling and poker-faced, yes, even villainous, as you watch videos of such a performance, sits forward to maintain his own balance. Obviously there is an unequal weight balance on the horse’s back so that the rider’s own balance is compromised.
3. Forcing a horse to ride with this “hollow back” can bring about nerve damage, bone damage, and calcification of joints. The tendons swell up in a horse’s back. One of Mr. Jackson’s slides really unnerved me, an image of a horse who had fallen forward because he just couldn’t keep up the abnormal body position his rider put him into. When horses are ridden to the extreme all the time, sometimes they just give up and lay on their faces. What happens to them then? Often they are shot.

3. What are other effects of this abnormal gait? Grooves in the hoof; hoof contractions; shut-down hooves; clubbed feet; oozing-out dermis; structures inside the hoof jiggling around; the nails pounded into the hoof becoming transducers; and horribly, sometimes the hoof coming off.
We are used to seeing horses moving naturally like the beautiful jumper above. When you see videos of a Walking Horse show and observe horses that have been sored, tortured that is, to make them move in an unnatural, grotesque way, and realize that they have been condemned to lives of pain and misery, you want to stand up and scream at those who have done this to innocent creatures. Lori Northrup, FOSH president, reported that in five years, there have been 1,157 repeat offenders, those who routinely sore horses for glory and prize money and keep it up even though it is illegal, and yes, many would say “immoral.” If you asked these people why they do it, their excuses are many: “It’s us against the government” (see the Horse Protection Act), “The Bible says we can do anything we want to horses because we own them,” “It’s my horse, I bought him,” and “That’s the way Tennessee Walking Horses have always been trained.”

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