More than one hundred years ago farriers were confronted with the same problems as farriers are facing today. The “shoeless experiment” was then proposed as a one size fits all solution by “the barefoot people.” (See page 2 of William Hunting’s, The Art of Horseshoeing, published by W. R. Jenkins in New York, in 1898).
It was a con man’s dream. It seemed too good to be true. No longer would horse owners have to pay to have their horses shod. Little training was necessary. The horse owners themselves could simply round the edges of the foot.
For inactive pastured horses it probably was all that was necessary to maintain the animal. But, for most other domesticated horses, that had a job to do, it was probably cruel. Well trained horses were plentiful then. If one went lame, they could simply get another. Heroic measures to save expensive animals were unheard of.
The experiment didn’t last long because:
1) People had a fairly high level of equine knowledge due to the widespread use of horses in the city as well as the country.
2) Emotion didn’t enter into a decision as much as common sense.
3) Common sense was more common than it is today.
4) Con artists hadn’t thought of the natural wild horse model to sell their ideas.
5) Even if they had, people didn’t see wild horses as an ideal.
6) People weren’t as consumed with the idea of avoiding learning and hard work as they are now.
7) If a horse went lame after being so treated, it was recognized immediately as an ineffective and cruel practice.
All that is necessary for a “trimmer” to start in business today is to read someone’s article or book, create a clever (and misleading) brochure, and advertise to often unsuspecting horse owners. The promoters say anybody can do this. No qualifications or experience are necessary [to cripple horses]. Certification is given to future practitioners by those who sold the con.
Twenty-five years ago, the AFA (American Farriers Association), would not allow me, as a horseshoeing instructor, to certify my own students. The reasoning was that this would be a temptation to certify my own students to make my program look good. At the time I felt they were questioning my integrity, and I was not pleased.
In retrospect, I believe it was the right thing to do. These “trimmers” or “barefoot people” are doing that very thing now. They are telling their disciples to watch a DVD, or read an article/book, or attend a short course. Then, pay a fee, and they will be certified and added to a list of certified “natural hoof care practitioners.” It’s brilliant!
I recently gave a presentation at a horse expo where I pointed out the flaws of so-called natural hoof care by unqualified persons. A local farrier came up to me later and told me how the natural trimmer in his area was good for his business as he was called to redeem horses that she had crippled by using her technique of cutting the heels down until they bled.
Trimmers, and other fad promoters, will go to great lengths to justify what they do. The founder and chief executive officer of an association of barefoot people sent me an email in 2001. He was very critical of the German veterinarian who advocated radical and inhumane hoof trimming techniques. Yet his disciples and “certified practitioners” are now advocating and practicing the same things this veterinarian does. They are crippling horses that a qualified professional farrier has to try to rehabilitate.
Why would horse owners hire an inexperienced, unqualified person to trim or shoe their horse? 1) Perhaps no qualified farrier is available; 2) Perhaps they want to believe the appealing marketing story told by the con artist; 3) Perhaps their previous hoof care provider had done a poor job of educating his or her clients; 4) Perhaps they think they will save money; or 4) Perhaps they are ignorant of the damage that can be done.
I’m willing to believe the reason people buy into the natural trimming idea primarily goes back to the widespread ignorance about the foot and shoeing that exists among both the farriers and the public. I was raised by a mother who instilled in me a soft heart for abused horses. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to warn others of things that will cause unnecessary pain and suffering to our equine friends.
This near perfect barefoot con allows its promoters to take no responsibility for their mistakes and errors. They deny individuality of horses when they say one size fits all. They use the term “natural” to sell their “new and improved” technique. They simply blame the horse’s lameness condition on the shoes the horse used to wear.
What ever happened to “first do no harm?”
Our society is rejecting science and education as a whole. We are willing to pay more for entertainment than education. We value glamour more than substance. Emotional appeal is more convincing than scientific proof. The insanity of animal rights has replaced common sense. The prevailing attitude seems to be, “My mind’s made up – don’t confuse me with the facts.”
Who do you trust? Do you believe those who have experience and a track record over several generations of doing what is the best for the horses in their care? Or, do you believe those that have made up their own rules, even their own vocabulary, while ignoring anatomy and physiology, so they can sell their radical ideas and practices?
It comes down to making a choice. It’s wonderful to have the choice. But, with that choice goes the responsibility for the welfare of your animal. It’s a question of stewardship and trust.
Of course, some horses can’t tolerate shoes. Some people can’t tolerate them either. I’m not one of those. I want to get up and go again tomorrow. Yet, some people do fine without shoes. Does that mean that all of us should go without shoes under all terrain conditions and in all kinds of weather?
Of course not – we must account for individual differences. One size does not fit all. We are not all the same. Each horse is unique. That is why you need the services of a well trained and experienced professional farrier to help you decide what is best for your equine companion’s welfare.
Butler Professional Horseshoeing School
495 Table Road
Crawford, NE 69339
If you think you want to become a farrier (or know someone who does), this book can help you make that decision. Horse owners will learn the importance of choosing a qualified farrier and how to select the “right” one.
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