Sana and Barefoot Endurance

Sana_clip_image002Natural Horesemanship Barefoot Copper Sana 1Sana and I are just starting out in Endurance.  Sana is a 4 year old arab stallion and we live in SW France.  We have just gone barefoot (6 November 2005) and this is our story to date.A bit of background…

This year was our first year of competitions and as Sana is a youngster we started off the year with a plan to do approx 3 competitions of 20km each during the season.  And we did manage to achieve this, although we got off to a very bad start.  We still had our shoes on at this point.

Our first competition was on Easter Sunday and was in the Landes region of SW France (near Bordeaux).  It was on sandy flat tracks through pine forest.  However the weather appeared to have forgotten we were in SW France and instead resembled a very wet day in NW England (my old home).   Sana slipped 500 metres from the end of the course, went head over heels and cut a knee open.

Once he’d fully recovered and was back up to fitness again we did 2 further competitions later in the year.  Both went much better …we finished both and qualified to go on to do 40km competitions.

So why go barefoot?

So you may well ask why I’ve deciced to go barefoot given that we now seem to be going along fine.  Well I met someone who has barefoot horses and went out on a 15km hack on the roads with her.  There was no difference in her horses’ hooves after the 15km and the horses seemed perfectly comfortable on the road.  Her horses’ strides were much more forward going and relaxed.  This got me thinking and so I started researching the topic.

The main arguments put forward that convinced me were that:

There is a reduction in heart rate once shoes are off due to better blood circulation..anything that can help with heart rate is key for endurance
Horses tend to trip less and are more surefooted without shoes..given our prior history we need all the help we can get!
Horses have a more relaxed forward going stride…Sana has a tendency to have a very short choppy stride in walk
It’s just better for them

Going Barefoot

We have no barefoot trimmers in our area and I wasn’t prepared to go barefoot without professional guidance (as I’m just a worrier and I didn’t want to hurt my horses by mistake).  Luckily Peter Laidley from Australia was coming over at the beginning of November so I booked in for his training clinic and went along with Sana.  My husband also came along with his horse.

Listening to Peter describe the problems with Sana’s feet as the shoes came off, due to shoe damage, was depressing.  Basically Sana’s feet grow incredibly quickly and we often couldn’t get our farrier to come regularly enough for his feet so there was a tendency for him to grow over the top of his shoes, making things worse.  So he had stretched white line, slightly contracted heels, flat soles, nail damage into the white line….  But Peter assured us that it was all solvable with regular trimming and plenty of work.  Within 8 months he believes we’ll have tight white line and within 16 months super tight white line and fantastic endurance feet.

After practising trimming on many dead horses feet, having watched Peter and looked at the theory I felt much more prepared to take on the job of trimming my horses from that point on.  I can send photos of the feet to Peter for his advice on how the trimming is going and we now have a network of people in our area that did the course to consult when I get worried about something.

The aim is to be ready for competitions again by May 06.  We may not be ready as this is only 6 months away but it’s good to have a goal!

So how’s it going?
Week 1 & 2

On getting home from the clinic we put the boys out in the field and they gallopped about like lunatics.  So they clearly weren’t sore and in fact we’ve had no issues with them on grass at all.

The first week we mainly worked in the arena.  It’s fairly soft and again we had no issues at all.  We just lunged for about 20 mins each time.  We also did 2 x 20 min hacks.  Once on grass tracks he was absolutely fine at all paces.  However on the road, even in walk, he was sensitive and he couldn’t go over stones at all.  I walked next to him while we went over the road areas.  But I wasn’t surprised as Peter had said that we’d need 3 months for him to grow new improved soles.

My husbands horse, that is used for hacking and dressage, was a completely different story.  When his shoes came off Peter had said that his feet were already in a great state, and indeed he was absolutely fine on the road and was just a bit tender over stones.  I’m very jealous!

In Week 2 we continued as for Week 1 but increasing the length of the hacks to 40 mins and Sana started to become more at ease on the road.

After each ride I sand his feet with a cloth sander just to avoid any chips etc starting on his feet.
Week 3

We continued as before but included a 1 hour hack with more road work in it (15 mins versus 5 mins).  He definitely is becoming more at ease on the road and his hooves are starting to sound different as they hit the tarmac.  Previously, we were on “silent mode” but now the sound is a little bit like we’ve got shoes on.

We did our first trim at the weekend.  He was very well behaved which was a blessing as I was all over the show.  I promised him that I would only get better with time!  The lady that already has her horses barefoot also had a look at the trim and made a few minor adjustments which was great and helps me stay on the right track.

My concern at the moment is that his frog on his off hind looks quite messy (a big hole in it and it’s soft).  It certainly isn’t the best time of year to go barefoot as our fields are soaking.  They normally live out 24/7 but for the next week they’ll be in for the nights and we’ve moved their hay onto hard standing to try and encourage them not to stand in the wet.  I need to give the foot time to dry out and heal.

Photos can be seen at:

(click on “Sanadick” for Sana’s feet!)