I bought Jorgie back in 2012 when he was 5 and he was barefoot. I loved the fact he was barefoot mainly due to the fact this is a natural way for him to balance, plus I felt it would be much less stressful than having a shod horse (been there, done it, got the t shirt). However, I wasn’t particularly looking for a barefoot horse but ideally it would need to have decent, well balanced feet. We all know having shoes on our horses can be frustrating at times with:

The cost of shoes and finding a good, reliable farrier!

  • Removing hoof along with the shoe in muddy fields

  • Cracks and infections

  • Loose shoes and not being able to get hold of your farrier, they always do it just before you go to a competition or want to ride!

  • Sprains and injuries due to pulling shoes

(image taken from google images- under-run heels)

Jorgie had really well balanced healthy hooves so I decided to look in to everything barefoot, feed, turnout, what to do and what not to do and I found it really interesting as I had started the barefoot journey with my horse before him and sadly we didn’t end up seeing all the benefits for her. He had decent hard feed which was low in sugar and as natural as possible which at the time we decided on Thunderbooks, he was turned out as much as possible but as we all know on some livery yards the turnout in winter can be restricted and Jorgie HATES being indoors for any length of time. I like to keep a horse being a ‘horse’ as much as possible. He had a barefoot trimmer who was amazing (Julie Bailey), Julie initially suspected that Jorgie was weak behind (he was young so this was to be expected) and we were confused as to why he had bruising on his hind hoof walls and toes, he was also somewhat of a pain to trim his hinds and not wanting to lift them initially. We hacked a lot to start with so in the first 12-18 months of me owning him it wasn’t that apparent that there was any major issues (I loved the sound of his barefoot hooves out hacking), plus he passed a five stage vetting with flying colours … then what does that actually mean other than he was sound on that day?. We had physio checks and nothing major was found, some tightness here and there but nothing concerning which re-assured me. Julie said he was getting much better to trim his feet so I didn’t suspect much was wrong with him, we put it down to balance and him being a youngster who was building his muscle. After all, he had started late in life and not done much schooling at all before I bought him.

We started to have issues with saddle fit, his saddle would constantly slip but being re-assured by saddlers that they could fix it, it just seemed to become the norm and that’s ‘Just how Jorgie was’. No matter what I seemed to do his saddle would slip, shims, pads, half pads, more flocking in the panels. He couldn’t build muscle where the saddle was slipping as it was restricting his movement. Our flatwork lessons were increasing, at this stage I changed physio as the ones before had re-assured me there was nothing wrong but I was starting to doubt this with the signs that were right in front of me. I was recommended another physio called Emily Sutton, I called her to give him the once over before we started doing even more flatwork. Initially Emily saw some tightness and gave us some exercises, we sent videos to Emily of us doing pole work and this was all in hand work as I was between saddles. I loved how interactive she was with us between sessions and always keeping in touch. Saddle re-flocked/shimmed and fixed but our flatwork lessons were becoming increasingly difficult especially with his canter work, his canter would often be four beat (especially around corners) which initially I was told this was a lack of strength and balance as he was young. However, I wouldn’t have expected him to have a four beat canter as a 7-8 year old even though mentally he was immature. I had never had a horse who’s canter was four beat and I was questioning myself. Emily came back for a follow-up and she showed some concerns about the progress we were making (or the lack of). Emily did some checks and saw him moving and I always remember her face as I trotted him up, she wanted him to go for a scope as he has always been a bit grumpy in the stable and to girth up, these were possibly signs of ulcers and maybe that is why he was struggling to release his muscles and work correctly?.

I stopped riding and booked him in for a scope, he was diagnosed with a grade 1 ulcer but upon speaking to the vet she wanted to investigate further as to why he would have an ulcer. He also showed a couple of scars of ulcers that had already healed. This was the start of the journey to Jorgie having his operation in 2016 to remove bone fragments and damaged cartilage and finding that he had severe arthritic changes to his left hind fetlock and slight changes to his right hind fetlock (our full story about his operation and issues are on the about us)

After undergoing his operation and having months of us going backwards and forwards with his rehab. He was booked in to see another vet (at the same Veterinary Practice) as our usual vet who saw us through the operation wasn’t available on this day. Jorgie at this point was still barefoot, I wanted to do what I could to keep him barefoot as I thought it would be the best for him. Having seen my horse before him (Hollie), who I lost at the grand old age of 28 suffer being shod and having various issues with losing shoes and being chronically lame just after she was shod. I decided to take her barefoot as she was not coping well with having the nails put in and I feared it was causing unnecessary stress to an older horse. She was around 26/27 when I took her barefoot and she was doing really well and was far happier, sadly I had to have her put to sleep due to other medical complaints she had.

I remember the day well at the vets, the Veterinary Nurse lunged Jorgie and we were looking at his foot fall in the school and watching his way of going. It was almost like he was ‘feeling his feet’, I didn’t think this could be true as Jorgie has rock munchers as I like to call them and as we had spent a long time hacking I never felt that he was footy. We discussed the possibility of him being shod, my heart sank… finding a farrier I trust?, will he turn up on the days he says? so after much contemplation I decided to try shoes and see what effect this would have and agreed to come back in a few weeks time with a shod horse.

After lots of searching I came across a farrier who worked with my vet and seemed great, Jorgie was fine to shoe and was fitted with lateral extensions on his hinds to support him and after having his shoes on for 2 weeks and allowing him to get used to them (he loved to cut his own front legs at first) we took him back to the vets. I hadn’t been riding him in this time and so I was interested to prove the vets wrong that this wouldn’t make any difference. Jorgie almost seemed much more grown up somehow as I unloaded him off the trailer at the vets with his shiny shoes on…

He was trotted up and then we popped him on the lunge.. the same vet who we saw a few weeks prior was astonished at the change in his movement and so was I… was this down to just his shoes? or was it down to the fact I hadn’t ridden him for two weeks ? Our vet was convinced it was the shoes and he was no longer feeling his feet and was happy to move freely being shod as the shoes were giving him the support that being barefoot just couldn’t do. I was so happy that Jorgie was feeling well and working far better than he ever had, now I needed to get this in the ridden work. Sadly the farrier we started with was having some issues at the time and not turning up to see us and I was worried about finding another.

I decided under the circumstance I was going to taking his shoes off, it was easier than finding another farrier right? going through all the saga of getting him/her to talk to the vet and making sure he was shod on time ….

BIG mistake ! I was fretting over finding another farrier, I didn’t want Jorgie in shoes and I had them removed and went back to Julie. Julie was so honest and after a first trim she said it wasn’t possible for her to give Jorgie what shoes could. Sadly, she was right and Jorgie went sore and mechanically lame. Back to the vets with my tail between my legs, a lot of explaining then to find another farrier … but it proved to me that the shoes were doing a job that barefoot sadly could never do for Jorgie

I shouldn’t have worried as we started using Josh Manning and we have never looked back, 2.5 years on and we still use him and he has never let me down (yet! ha ha). He worked with my vets and pointed out some changes we could do, better hind lateral extensions and double clips on his fronts as with his last farrier he had lost a number of front shoes. Josh has been amazing with us, along with Julie initially and Emily Sutton who still treats Jorgie to this day, I feel we have had some amazing support over the years to get Jorgie where he is now.

I often question my decisions and I could have made better ones (especially when I removed his shoes). I am not for or against barefoot or shod horses, I am very much for doing whats best for my horse. Ensuring we are giving our horses the very best support, we have to work with what we have, most horses have some kind of confirmation issue or an issue somewhere but as long as we can find out how to support this that’s the best we can do. The issue we all have is realising there is a problem in the first place, how often do you check the balance of your horses hooves? do you just assume they keep losing shoes because its muddy? maybe there is another reason?. Too many of us stick by and fail to question the professionals around us, I think this is because we don’t feel we should as they know more than us?. Remember, you know your own horse. If something doesn’t feel right ask! I have had lots of comments on Jorgies hooves over the years as he is naturally well balanced but he still needs help, Josh is still advising and I still question him about his feet. Emily gets far less questions now as Jorgie rarely has a tight muscle (fantastic from where we started), in-fact I think Emily is almost disappointed when she doesn’t have anything in particular to work on, I always manage to chew her ear about something though!. Jorgie still has regular physio sessions around 3-4 times a year but I also learnt more to trust myself to know when something isn’t right.

No foot, no horse ..

Emily Sutton Equine and Canine Physiotherapist