Assessing the horse – and human
by Judy Van Put
At a Barefoot Hoof Trimming clinic held Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, at Hoofbeats Holistic, Clinician Geri White gave an in-depth introduction of the barefoot trim — and utilized many resources to clearly show the differences between the natural hoof such as wild horses exhibit, vs. the ‘manmade’ or shod hoof. Some attendees of the clinic were interested in becoming barefoot trimmers themselves, and Geri also explained the process of not only how to trim, but how to take on new customers.
Before taking on a new customer, Geri assesses the situation by utilizing a four-step (she calls 4 Dimension) process:
First she explains how she works and what she will do for the horse, and then determines if the customer wants her to work with their horse. She asks the customer to fill out a 3-page intake form that compiles an evaluation of the horse’s lifestyle, environment and diet and asks a number of questions about the horse and rider — such as the horse’s age, breed, health history, use, hoof care history, lifestyle and diet, in order to get as detailed a history as possible. Next involves the use of X-Rays or ultrasound pictures that may have been done on the horse, which she describes as “two-dimensional.”
The 3rd step occurs when she visits the barn and studies the horse and the human and the relationship they have with each other. She compiles all the information she’s received from the previous two steps into this evaluation.
The 4th step is when she puts her hands on and has contact with the horse, picks up a foot asks herself what does she feel. “That’s the door to the real information — without that 4th dimension it will only be guessing. Now you’re expressing that energy — we all have healing energy… if you don’t believe you do, it will come! Having that helping energy puts icing on the cake to put all four dimensions together and work.”
She stressed the importance of movement in the horse’s life. Movement is critical for equine health and soundness — it is important that they have the opportunity and motivation to move as much as possible each day. Even in small spaces, horse keepers can be creative in managing the environment in such a way as to encourage as much natural movement as possible.
Next on the list is diet — clinic attendees were somewhat surprised to learn that what the horse eats directly affects his feet, good or bad. Geri explained that “the horse that is in front of you is a lesson” and that you can learn a lot from each horse you work on. She recommends always keeping your energy positive — things can drag you down in life, but you need to keep yourself positive, as horses will thrive off your positive, healing energy. She stated that if you don’t get the diet right you’ll never get the feet right. A good variety of food is key — no one knows everything that horses eat in the wild in various regions, and for our horses it’s important to keep it simple, giving forage first, and offering as much variety as possible. Horses are prey animals, and should have forage available at all times, not just two or three “meal times” a day as in the case of predators/carnivores.
Observation is key — it’s important to watch the horse move — such as how he places his feet and how he carries the rest of his body. Geri introduces herself to the horse and runs her hands over his body noting his posture, musculature etc. (She stresses the importance of always greeting a horse — “don’t just walk up and grab his feet — introduce yourself to the horse! Ask to see his foot and don’t forget to say thank you after” and says as long as she follows that protocol she never has trouble working with horses.)
She assesses the entire horse, stating you have to look at the whole horse and his condition. The majority of problems in the horse’s hooves have genesis in other parts of the body — the hoof is the symptom, not the cause, and you cannot expect to solve the problem by simply trimming. When leading the horse, you pull his head and his body needs to follow. If he has a major tooth problem, for example, and he can’t make a turn by leading, there is a bio-mechanics error. Dental care is important for the mouth to move properly; if there is a dental problem it very likely could show up in the feet!
She looks for symptoms and checks the horse’s neck, back and spine, looking for and asking if there was an injury if something seems wrong and the horse can’t move correctly. In addition, saddle fit is extremely important, as a poor-fitting saddle can actually cause damage — you want the horse’s shoulder blades to be swinging freely under the saddle, and the long muscles in the back to be able raise up — as much as two inches. There is also side dominance to watch for, whether left or right, as well as injuries, which could cause flares on one side of the hoof to show up suddenly — you may trim the flare off but if you haven’t corrected the problem causing the flare, the next time you trim you’ll find that it has come back!
An important consideration she points out is to always remember that you are trimming THIS hoof on this horse at this moment in time. Everything is constantly changing and adapting; the horse calls the shots, not you, as those are his feet, not yours. You need to respect that and avoid forcing your notions or newest ‘theory of the month” unless you are sure it is appropriate for that horse at that moment.