Whether it's Hooves or Training, Horses Need Many Methods

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Trimming and shoeing horses? hooves and training them to perform?two of the most debatable topics in the horse world. So I thought I'd jump into them this week.

I recently was talking with a young acquaintance who had gone for a brief working student stint with a top international-level rider. She was complaining that the horses she rode at this trainer?s farm didn't feel like their own horses, she hadn?t enjoyed riding them very much.

My thought, being old, was that if the products of such a successful training program felt that much different than my own horses, I'd want to know why. Is there something I could learn to improve my training, to create a better performance'

Ultimately, I may or may not want my horses to feel like that, but I'd at least want to understand why there was a difference.? But the young person's thought was, ?Well, this is the way I know, and it must be the only way.?

You know that saying, ?the exception that proves the rule?' I often think that if you looked up that phrase in the dictionary, you?d find a picture of a horse. After 40 years spent with horses, the one thing I've learned is that there are no absolutes. No hard-and-fast rules, no black-and-white rules.

And yet it sometimes feels like the entire horse world is colored only in black and white. I'll be honest; it's starting to grate. There are a million shades of gray.

For instance, many horses are fine to live barefoot. But some can never be barefoot and be ridden. Almost all horses that compete at a reasonably high level?in any discipline?will require shoes. Not all of them, but almost all.

Still, the important thing is to evaluate YOUR horse and YOUR goals, and to consult with YOUR trainer, veterinarian and farrier about YOUR horse. Just because you?ve read some ?expert?s? writings and believe that barefoot is the way to go, doesn't mean your horse has the right kind of feet to go barefoot. He will likely need shoes if you want to do more than trail ride him. (And, yes, it could work the other way too).

On this farm we have 23 horses at the moment. Five wear four shoes, four have front shoes only (but one will need four shoes by this summer), and 14 are barefoot. Five of those are 3-year-olds who haven't yet entered serious work, and I'm sure that, within about a year, three of them will be wearing at least front shoes, because they're big and they?ll be starting to compete. We start trimming our babies? feet at weaning, and we keep them barefoot and balanced with trimming every six weeks until THEY tell us they need shoes to stay comfortable.

My point is this: We're neither ?all-shoes? nor ?all-barefoot? people. We give each horse what he or she needs, depending on their feet and their level of work. And those needs can change, depending, primarily, on the footing and the level of work you're doing with the horse.

Mother Nature designed the horse's feet to move almost constantly, but at a slow speed, usually while grazing pm soft ground. When we require horses to stand in a stall and to gallop, to jump, to trail ride or to do serious dressage, they almost always need the support that shoes provide, especially if they're full-sized horses. But we regularly encounter people who insist that shoeing is the root of all evil and that all horses should be kept barefoot. That would be nice (and less expensive), but?

When it comes to training, you'll meet even more of the black-and-white crowd. You want to really get a rise out of a group of strangers on the Internet, start talking about the use of draw reins. you'll need goggles to defend your eyes the venom-filled spittle spewing at you. But again, experience has taught me that this is a grayer area than most people will admit.

A perfectly conformed, perfectly started horse may never need draw reins, and they're not something we use de rigueur. But when you are attempting to fix a problem someone else has created, or trying to help a horse with significant conformational limitations learn how to use itself, often a training tool like draw reins is necessary. That, of course, does not mean that every horse, or every rider should be using them (and most riders should not use them). But deciding to use them requires you to evaluate YOUR horse. With YOUR trainer.

Finding what works best for each individual horse?whether it's training, care and management, medical treatments, or other lifestyle choices?should be the duty of every owner and every trainer. You can't cookie cutter horses, and you can't start living in the world of ?shoulds.? (He should jump better, because He's bred for it; she should be quieter; he should be fancier; she should be barefoot, etc.).

Of course, this is the time-consuming, slow and often frustrating process. (Have you tried asking a horse how they feel lately' they're dreadfully poor communicators). This is why a life with horses means always being open to learning new things, and putting more methods and tools in your tool kit to help the horses?who have not read their owners? manual?find a happy life.