By, Georgette Topakas (www.ZephrysGarden.com)
It’s true, for the price I was paying for my horse to be shod every 4 weeks; I could have bought myself a new pair of Jimmy Choo shoes once a month. Nieman Marcus would have loved me, and I would have fondly cared for my multiplying pairs of $300+ shoes. As it was, my farrier loved me and my horse, Zephyr, had no regards for his shoes. He’d knock them off during a turnout, wear them down to nothing before it was time to replace, but the worst part was that I would not keep his front left shoe on. No matter how many times it came off, the farrier could never make it last until the next trimming. What was going on I asked? I was told, “Zephyr has a compressed heal bulb and bad feet, like all Warmbloods. But he’s not lame, so why worry?” I worried even more.
At the same time, I had been reading about horses’ going barefoot. When I suggested it, I was laughed at by my trainer and the vet just shook her head and walked away. Was I crazy? How come so many other people had barefoot horses that did Cross Country, Endurance, Eventing…why not Hunters in Southern California? First, I got new farrier. For even more money (we’re in the Manolo range now) I finally got an answer to the falling off shoes – White Line Disease. But he promised he could cure it and keep the poor horse shod, training, and showing. His feet looked horrendous so I started researching this hoof disease on the Internet. I also spoke to a lot of barefoot people and found an amazing trimmer that hails from Arkansas. Lucky me, he traveled to California every 5 weeks and trims over 100 horses in our state.
This was my “big break”. Mike Lagrone, our trimmer for the past 4 years, took one look at Zephyr and together we worked on a plan to heal his feet, improve his diet, and make him “whole” again. He needed a dry pasture, different feed, a huge reduction of sweets (carrots and apples are full of sugar), and no more alfalfa hay. Much to my trainers’ dismay and against our vets wishes, the horse was moved to a pasture facility, taken out of training, and all four shoes were pulled. This was the beginning of a new relationship and new way of natural horsemanship for Zephyr and me. It also was the beginning of what will probably be a lifelong friendship between Mike Lagrone and me.
It took months to grow healthy feet and there was some pain for poor Zephyr. Mike stated he had never seen a horse with such a bad case of White Line Disease. But Zephyr was happy in a pasture, probably the first time since he was a foal, and he was getting healthier. His diet was completely overhauled – no more grains (only use Triple Crown Lite), no more pounds of apples and carrots, no more alfalfa, and lots of healthy herbs were added to boost his immune system, aid in hoof growth, and increase circulation. In addition, I learned a lot about overall hoof care and White Line. I won’t bore you with the details, but I did a lot of scrubbing of his soles with a Borax solution, I use Oregano Oil to help with fungus, and I concocted a hoof growth salve that stimulates growth from the coronary band. It’s also great for my cuticles!
So where are we now? Zephyr has been barefoot for four years and I still fret over his feet. He’s one of those horses prone to fungus and I take great pains to keep his feet dry and clean. Mike still trims him every 5 weeks and I consider him a “partner” in caring for this magnificent beast. With all the time I spent working on his feet and bringing him back into training, our bond grew amazingly strong. This past November, my daughter moved onto him and competes in Children’s Hunters and Equitation, thus proving that a barefoot horse can show on the A Circuit. Going shoeless saved Zephyr’s feet, enabled me to discover a holistic approach to horse care, and taught me many life lessons. A barefoot horse is not for everyone and you need to be confident in your decision. If you are in a training situation, you will probably be bucking the norm, so be prepared to stand firm and find a supportive partner, like I did in Mike. Good Luck!