Today’s subject line is a quote from a news story you’ve probably all long-since forgotten: Man Mauled At Bronx Zoo Wanted To ‘Be OneWith The Tiger’; Charged With Trespassing.
That statement has become something of a meme on the websites I frequent, since it is such a perfect answer to all questions. It works great in the horse world too.
Why don’t you ride in the rain? Everybody in life makes choices.
Why did you buy a truck that can’t tow a gooseneck? Everybody in life makes choices.
Why do you use a martingale? Everybody in life makes choices.
Why do you ride a mustang instead of an Arabian? Everybody in life makes choices.
See how easy it is?
But there is one question that relentlessly dogs the endurance world online. And this time of year, when it’s the off-season for the majority of us, and people are online instead of riding, it is virtually inescapable: Why do you/don’t you shoe your horse?
Elsewhere on the internet, we call that kind of question Troll Bait. You are asking for a war. People are oddly passionate on the topic. And if you’re a Midwesterner like me, all that conflict and raising of voices (even when they’re typed) makes you really uncomfortable. Anyone who has done endurance for a while and spends time online can spot the battle starting from miles away. We quietly step out of the line of fire and let the newbies and the loudmouths fight it out. (Admit it, the carnage was amusing the first time, but now it’s just sad.)
Anyway, I wanted to talk a little bit about hooves because Blue’s are terrible and have been since the day I got him. But first, a mountain of background about choices…
I have owned seven horses in my lifetime. The first three (Gazab, Jake and Jethro) were never shod—not once—in the time that I owned them. Living outdoors full-time in the flat, rock-free environment of central Nebraska, they didn’t really need shoes, especially for as little riding as I was doing. I might ride once a week in the summer and barely ever in the colder months, and most of my riding was in flat, grassy, rock-free pasture and the occasional dirt road.
|Gazab and Jake|
But even when I took Jake with me to work at a summer camp that had both hills and rocks, I didn’t bother with shoes. I didn’t want to try to find a farrier there (before the days of Google), and I didn’t have any money anyway. I brought along my rasp and nippers in case I needed to clean up any chipping, but otherwise, nature took its course.
The rented camp string horses were all barefoot, too. Their owner subscribed to the “crazy” notion that the hooves would take care of themselves, so these nags arrived at camp with overgrown, chipped, ugly-but-basically-functional feet. As head wrangler (OK, the only wrangler), I requested a morning off my other duties to do some very basic maintenance on the string and get them presentable for the campers. I knew nothing about barefoot trimming, mustang rolls, breakover or balance, but I trimmed seven horses that morning just to knock off the rough edges. Everybody stayed sound all summer, even on the gravel roads.
|Part of the camp string. (Casper, ????, Thunder, Jake)|
|Chief and Casper (camp horses)|
|Camp string butts. (Jake, Smoky, Thunder, Casper, Chief, Buck and ????) Look at all that grass!|
I suppose if I had been a student of equine locomotion at the time, I might have gleaned some useful information about horses that got lots of work (a hilly, 40-acre pasture plus four hours of trail riding six days a week on varied surfaces). To wit: They were sound, moved nicely and grew TONS of hoof (I trimmed them all three times in three months) despite having no nutritional support beyond pasture grass and the oats required to catch and saddle them all.
But I was just a kid working at camp so I didn’t learn anything about anything.
My next horse, Rusty, stayed barefoot because he came that way and I was too poor to seriously consider other options. By then I was working at an AQHA breeder’s barn in exchange for board. The horses I was caring for were elite reiners (multiple world championship placings) and they were all shod with sliding plates and lived in stalls, under bright lights for 23 hours a day. This was all new to me, since none of my horses had ever lived indoors. The clean cement floors, hot-water wash racks, and groomed arenas were very appealing. The horses were just as immaculate as the setting. This seemed like it must be what was best for performance horses—to be safe and snug in their stalls. And so convenient!
|Linus, the sweetest horse you ever met. I saw him out of the stall maybe twice in the year I worked there.|
|Sneakers, too stinkin' cute. (I only knew everybody's barn names, so I have no idea if he ended up being a big-name show horse...)|
|The Great Kid (TK for short), the first stallion I ever worked with.|
Not being an elite reining horse, Rusty still lived outdoors. He shared a gravel drylot with the babies, who picked on him mercilessly, something he tolerated with characteristic grace.
|Rusty, indoors for a much-needed bath.|
|Rusty's tormentors, Sunny and Shrimp. (Again, I wish I knew their registered names!)|
A smarter rider, more interested in her horse’s welfare, might have noted some correlation between her horse being chased around a gravel pen by those babies and his ability to trot down a gravel road without flinching. But I was too dazzled by those fancy reiners to notice.
|Look at the reach!|