I wanted to take the shoes off my horses because instinctively I thought it was unnatural to nail an iron shoe to a horse’s feet. In preparation of going barefoot I did a lot of research and I realised how little I had known about how horses’ feet work. How detrimental the effects of our interference with what nature intended could be on our horses’ health and wellbeing.
The research on going barefoot led me to reconsider my horses’ diet. I cut out all starchy sugars in preparation of the shoes coming off. They now have a forage based diet, with a balancer to make sure they get all the necessary vitamins and minerals. To my eyes, it doesn’t look as nice as a bucket full of grain based feed, but Minnie and Cassie are both in excellent condition. In fact, Minnie has never looked this well. She was very thin when I got her and I always considered her a ‘poor doer’, as it was almost impossible to keep the weight on her. Now, by not interfering anymore with her diet and feed her as nature intended, Minnie looks a different horse.
We do that a lot, interfering. We put shoes on, because horses won’t be able to cope with the roads without them. We feed them buckets of starchy, sugary feed because they need the energy. We put them in stables to keep them warm and dry. We put rugs on them in the winter.
I have done all of these things. Last year, I fed Minnie buckets of a performance mix, she was stabled at night and I have more rugs in my tackroom than winter jackets in my wardrobe. I felt I was doing the best for her, not realising that I was denying her need to move, her ability to regulate her own temperature and upsetting her digestive system.
What I was giving her was what I would want and I never thought to ask what she wanted and needed. I don’t want to be outside on a cold and wet night. Cold and wet make me feel miserable. I want to be warm and dry, curled up on the sofa with a crackling fire in the hearth and a glass of wine in my hand. So I put a warm rug on my horse, bring her into a stable and then when the wind is howling around the house and the rain lashes the windows, I feel reassured that my horse is comfortable.
Now I feel different. I want my horses to live their lives as natural as possible, because it is the best way to keep them healthy. No more shoes. No stabling. They have access to the stables and the shelter so they can choose to go in, but they will live out through the winter. And no more rugs, except light rain sheets when it is very wet. Rain scald is a real problem here.
It was cold last night when I went out. Minnie and Cassie were grazing, I could see their breaths as white puffs of steam. I nearly ran to the tackroom to get the rugs. But they were fine.