Friday, April 30, 2010

Spooking Horse? The One Type You Can't Desensitize

Got a spooking horse?

Well, for every way that your horse can find to spook, there is a cowboy way to fix that spooking horse ... and some of them are downright scary.

The milder versions, which involve sacking out the horse with a burlap bag, often work just fine. It's the wilder versions that involve tying a horse under a set of train tracks for a day that scare me. These methods can be dangerous or life-threatening to the horse.

And then there's the spooking horse that you literally can't calm down by using desensitizing techniques. Which horse is that?

The Shao Yang personality type horse.

Forget trying to de-spook a horse of this personality (learn more about horse personalities here). Trust me. I have a Shao Yang, a lovely mare named Sammie Joe (that's her picture). My neighbor has a Shao Yang mare, too. De-spooking doesn't work.

Why You Can't Sack Out the Shao Yang Spooking Horse
Shao Yang horses are, according to the horse personality typing system developed by Dr. Madalyn Ward, a combination of Fire and Wood. The Fire aspect of this horse personality type makes this horse sensitive, flashy, and demanding of their human. The Wood part of this horse is competitive, athletic, and often bossy. Put the Fire and the Wood together and you get a horse who often spooks or jumps at the most unexpected moments.

And you can't "fix" this spooking horse with any of the traditional methods because they won't work. For instance, when I first adopted Sammie Joe, a mustang mare, she was spooky as heck. I tried sacking her out, which took a couple hours per session. The next day, I'd go to check the results of the previous day's session, only to discover that it was a whole new day for Sammie Joe. She reacted as if she had never seen the sack before. This happened over and over and over again.

Lesson learned: Every day is a new day for a spooky Shao Yang horse.

My neighbor's mare is the same way. She spooks at the RoboSteer we use for practice in our roping clinics. At the end of the day, she will accept the RoboSteer, but the next day she'll act as if she's never seen it before. Then she goes into the same spooking horse routine as the day before.

How to Deal with a Shao Yang Spooking Horse
The one and only way I have found to channel all that spooky energy, since sacking out doesn't really work, is to give the Shao Yang a job she likes. For Sammie Joe, that job is jumping. Put her in an arena filled with jumps and she stops spooking.

During warm up, she might still spook at all kinds of things, but when she is in the arena by herself, during the actual competition, she's all business. When I ride her in a jumper class, I feel like I'm riding a guided rocket. She'll wait for me to point her to a jump, then she literally "locks on" and starts counting strides to the jump ... and her math is NEVER wrong. She likes to do a challenging job (the Wood part of her personality), and she likes to do it perfectly (the Fire part of her personality). She never touches a single jump with her feet and she never meets a fence wrong. And she never spooks.

The same is true of my neighbor's mare. On the RoboSteer, she's spooky as heck, but put her on a live steer and all of sudden she can focus. She doesn't spook or jig. She goes for the steer. The Wood part of her personality, which really likes to push and chase things, steps up and she suddenly does her job without spooking.

Do You Have a Shao Yang Horse?
If you have a spooking horse you just can't desensitize, chances are that you have a Shao Yang horse. Some other characteristics of Shao Yang horses include:
  • extreme athleticism
  • tough feet when healthy
  • strong opinions
  • more likely to run than buck when troubled
  • love of speed
Sound familiar? If so, then don't bother trying to de-spook your horse. Instead, put him to work in a job he loves. Once he learns his job, he'll do it with style, dependability, and no spooking!

If you're not sure what your horse's personality type is, check out these horse personality testing resources:

Horse Harmony Website
Horse Harmony Test
Horse Harmony Audios

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Photo credit: Barb Young Photography

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Depression and Healing: A Story of a Cowgirl and Her Cowboy

Depression and healing ... those are two words that don't belong in the same sentence because when you are depressed, you can't heal.

How do I know this? Because I'm a cowgirl and I just watched my cowboy (hubby) go through a bout of depression after a long illness.

And you know what?

As long as he was depressed, he stayed ill.

Like I said, depression and healing don't go together.

The Story of Depression and Healing, Part I
The first part of this story is about a cowboy who had a mild stroke. After spending a night in the hospital, he came home loaded to the hilt with prescriptions he didn't want to take. His doctor finally convinced him to take a statin medication to lower his cholesterol in hopes of preventing another stroke.

The cowboy (hubby) took the statin for a few days, and then suffered major side effects. His muscles twitched by themselves, plus it caused a major flare-up of his irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For a month, he could not recover from these side effects, including constipation, cramping, bloating, gas ... basically ick! For a month, he was completely depressed. No amount of holistic healing worked, and he sure wasn't willing to go back to the doctor for more medication.

If he were a horse, he would be operating from his sympathetic, or "fight or flight," mechanism. He was totally depressed. He had the blue meanies. Everything sucked!

So part one of this story is all about depression. The healing happens in part two, so read on!

The Story of Healing, Part II
In this part of the story the cowgirl (yours truly) gets really really tired of watching her cowboy walk around in a blue funk. She's tried everything she can think of in terms of holistic healing for humans, but to no avail.

So she gets this brilliant idea to start treating him like a horse. She calls up her holistic horse vet who is treating a horse with similar symptoms. She asks for the "recipe" being used on the horse, which is a combination of herbs and homeopathics.

Fabulous. Back at the ranch, she pulls out Nux Vomica 6c and the herbal combination called Eleviv. She doses the cowboy every 2 hours with Nux plus 2 capsules of a mood food. She does this religiously, ignoring his complaints.

Amazingly, by the end of the first day, the cowboy is feeling more upbeat, more hopeful. His symptoms are still there but he doesn't feel as uncomfortable. By the end of the second day, his symptoms have improved by 30%, and he's definitely much happier. By the end of the week, his bowels are working normally again, his muscles are no longer twitching like crazy, and he has returned to his usual sunny disposition.

The cowgirl is stunned by this rapid progress after a month a depression. She does more research and discovers that IBS is caused by a problem in communication between the brain and gut. When the gut digests food, it sends signals to the brain, which the brain interprets as pain. So then the brain begins to interpret any digestive process as a painful process, which tends to shut down digestion, causing cramping and all the other side effects.

It turn out that cowboys with this condition don't have enough serotonin in their brains. The herbal supplement Eleviv helps the brain produce more serotonin, which alleviates the symptoms not only of IBS, but also of depression. Serotonin is one of the hormones produced during "runner's high," and who can be depressed when they have the equivalent of runner's high?

So the cowgirl and cowboy remain amazed at the cowboy's rapid recovery, and file away all the information they have learned in case they need to use it on each other or the horses.

Hmmm ... it really gives one food for thought, doesn't it?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Increasing Horse Try: "Hold My Face, Hold My Hand!"

Horse try--or the willingness of your horse to perform for you--varies widely according to the horse you're riding and the task at hand. Believe me, I know! I have 3 mustangs, a QH, and a warmblood. I jump, rope, rein, trail ride, and start colts.

Mixing and matching these horses to the right career to maximize "horse try" is a little complicated at times!

But I have figured out some stuff along the way ...

Increasing Horse Try by Holding a Horse's Face

This is a horse training technique I have come to over time, by riding a bunch of horses who range from pushy types to insecure types. I've discovered that many horses feel more secure if I can establish light contact with their mouth, and then just hold that contact through my ride ... or at least through the scary part of the ride.

Having said that, the words "hold the horse's" face can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, so let me clarify. Usually, when I teach a horse to allow contact with his mouth, I'm riding him in a simple snaffle bit-no shanks, no fancy stuff.

The snaffle allows direct contact without exerting poll pressure. This is important because a lot of horses will "disappear" by tucking their head behind the vertical, thus disallowing the contact. A snaffle, on the other hand, exerts pressure on the bars and tongue, and does not encourage this disappearing act.

To teach a horse to accept contact, I generally simply walk a circle. At first, I take up no contact, and just allow the horse to put his head and neck wherever he wants. Gradually, I increase my contact with the horse's mouth by taking up the slack in the reins. I encourage him to reach down and out as he walks, alternating between medium contact, when I'm asking for more stretch, and light contact when he is stretching. I am using my legs to squeeze him forward into the contact.

Once a horse accepts contact and learns to stretch down and out, his seventh cervical vertebrae, which I've written about quite a bit, is positioned for calmness and relaxation. In turn, the feel of "contact" then becomes a reassuring thing to the horse. The next time the horse is in a dicey situation, then I take up a little contact, and all is well again. I have increased the level of "horse try" even situations are scary.

Three Examples of Increased Horse Try
Here are some cases in point to show you what I mean.

Example One of Horse Try - Neighbor's Horse
I was recently swapped horses with my neighbor on a trail ride. My neighbor's mare is all about speed, didn't know how to walk, and had a Gumby-neck. She could also put herself into a sweat just walking. She's always amped. Her head and neck constantly "disappeared" when she tucked her chin to her chest, and she had no idea how to move away from my leg. Any leg pressure always meant "go faster!"

During the trail ride all I did was pick up and put down contact, sit heavy in the saddle, and constantly encourage her to walk instead of jig. The more I did this, the more the mare stretched out and "looked" for my hands and contact. After a while, we were able to walk peacefully down the trail with me "holding her face" with about 2 ounces of pressure. She LOVED light contact and would walk with a long stretchy neck. I felt like I was holding a child's hand for reassurance, only I was holding the mare's face instead! The mare developed a lot of horse try with this technique.

Example Two of Horse Try - Walker
The second example is Walker, my rope horse. We were at Mary and Dusty's working a bunch of new cattle, and teaching the cattle to run straight out of the chute and down to the stripping chute. We "scored" our horses, which means we made them stay in the boxes until we asked them to leave. We would watch 5 or 6 steers leave the chute before ambling out after them at a walk.

Walker got so excited by the steers he started rearing because I would not let him chase the steers right out of the chute. He's got a lot of cow in his breeding so I'm not surprised. I thought about giving him a couple of doses of Eleviv to help him handle the stress, but decided that he wasn't actually stressed, just excited!

When I finally got him settled again, I tried holding his face lightly while I talked to him. That worked great. He dropped his head low and held it there. He knew, from our previous work, that when I had contact with his face, he was secure. He then waited patiently until I told him he could chase the steers by releasing my contact. This is a case where Walker had too much "horse try" and I simply had to redirect it.

Example Three of Horse Try - Reyacita
Reyacita has also been roping. She's got plenty of horse try, but often feels stressed when new elements are introduced into our training regimen. Being a Metal horse personality type, fond of routine, this isn't surprising. The steers, the chute, and the "scoring" were all new, so she went into her stress response of having COPD and heaves.

I haven't spent as much time with Reyacita in training as I have with Walker, so I did two things: I gave her some Eleviv, which always calms her COPD symptoms right away, and then I backed her into the box and took up some contact. Like Walker, Reyacita responded my breathing deeply, relaxing her neck, and simply waiting for me. In this relaxed position, she was able to take in the new elements in the environment without stressing out.

At the End of the Day ...
My conclusions are that horses, like humans, feel better when they know their boundaries. Holding a horse's face with light contact is one way to give a horse a feeling of a boundary. The contact is so light that it is in no way a punishment or correction, but merely a statement of, "Here I am. I've got you. Don't worry." It's a boundary they can feel, lean on if they must, and definitely trust.

Because of what I have learned about the value of holding a horse's face, and how it helps a horse try harder, I now would far rather ride a horse who takes up too much contact than a horse who won't accept contact. And for the horses who won't accept contact, that's all I work on until they will accept contact.

Pretty cool and simple, really... don't you think?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Horse Health Care: Rough Terrain Benefits Young Horses

In my horse health care regimen, I've been using the horse trailer recently as a means of adjusting my two geldings, one of whom is roach-backed and one of whom is sway-backed.

It turns out that using the horse trailer to elevate the horse's hind end by leaving the horse's back feet in the trailer while placing his front feet on the ground, releases back tension for both horses.

This stretch helps release tension in the withers, spine, sternum, and scapula. The reverse stretch, where the horse's front feet are in the trailer and his back feet are on the ground, is also effective. Both positions help the horse to stretch his top line.

In both positions, it's important to keep the horse's neck down low to maximize the stretch. This trailer exercise allows the horse to stretch his back and neck without me holding the brunt of his weight. Perfect!

Rough Terrain as Natural Horse Health Care
Having done these exercises with my two geldings, Fezzywig and Walker, both of whom are domesticated horses, I suddenly realized something: my mustang mares automatically assume these uneven poses out in pasture. Instead of the trailer, they use the raised banks of the irrigation ditch in the pasture to stand either with their front end or hind end elevated. In fact, they often rest in either posture for an hour or more at a time.

What's interesting about this is that even though both geldings have been turned out in this same pasture before, they have never assumed these poses ... it's as if they don't know to stretch their own bodies. That got me thinking about body awareness and muscle memory.

Here's what I came up with. Because all of my mustang mares had spent at least a year in the wild before being gathered, chances are that they had to move around rough terrain all the time, traveling up to 25 miles per day. This constant climbing up and down over such rough terrain helped them develop a body awareness that my domesticated geldings don't have. My mares learned to be aware of where their feet were at all times, and to use the terrain as a natural form of stretching and bodywork.

What's really cool about this is that my mares require far less bodywork than my geldings. Of course, natural selection in the wild (such as it is these days) has a lot to do with why wild horses can be more resilient and healthy than domesticated horses. Hmmm ...

Rough Terrain as Horse Health Care for Young Ones
The next conclusion I arrived at was that based on the wild horse model, rough and varied terrain is probably a horse health care asset for young horses. If, as in the wild, domesticated young horses learned to use their bodies with greater awareness and variance, might they be healthier and need less bodywork as they grow into adulthood? Might they develop a far wider range of motion, as well as use the natural contours of the terrain (like the ditch bank) to adjust their own bodies?

I think that it has to be true. I obviously haven't had time to test this theory with a bunch of my own young colts, but I do have two pieces of data to throw into the mix.

1. Body Awareness Work Works
If you look at the body awareness work taught by horse trainers like Linda Tellington-Jones in which you walk horses backward and forward through various obstacles, you see that even adult horses can develop new body awareness and retrain muscle memory. This being the case for adult horses, how much more readily would a young horse with the same kind of awareness be able to use this "body knowledge" for his own health and adjustment?

2. The Kitten Experiment
In "Quantum Healing," Deepak Chopra talks about the kitten experiment, which involved three sets of kittens, all of whom were young enough to still have their eyes closed. The first set of kittens was placed in an environment comprised entirely of vertical lines. The second group of kittens grew up in an opposite sort of environment, with only horizontal lines. The third set of kittens, the control group, was placed in a normal environment that had both vertical and horizontal lines.

So can you guess what happened? When the kittens from the first group were released into a normal environment, they could not see any horizontal lines, having been conditioned to see only vertical ones. The second group of kittens had the opposite problem, and could only see horizontal lines (they would literally bump into vertical obstacles, unable to see them). The third set of kittens turned out entirely normal.

So what does this tell us? That certain bodily functions in animals develop based on the environment in which they are raised. So if a young horse grows up in a totally flat environment, wouldn't that limit his ability to move his body up, down, and around in a flexible manner? Whereas a young horse who grew up climbing hills, running down slopes, and generally scrambling around rough terrain would develop an entirely different body awareness.

So my hypothesis at the moment is that rough terrain serves as an excellent horse health care, or horse self-care, asset for young horses. Teach a horse to move his body in all kinds of different ways as a youngster, and he'll keep doing so as he grows into adulthood.

So whaddya think? Bull pucky or possible truth?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Horse Training: What Your Horse's Rear End Can Tell You about His Head

A while back I wrote a blog post about how your horse's tail can tell tales. In short, the flexibility of your horse's tail tells you something about the flexibility of his personality ... or of his ability to transition easily from one activity or career to another.

Now I have a follow up chapter to that story. As I mentioned in that previous post, Walker's tail was unbending, and he very much disliked me "playing" with it. It's now a few months later, life has changed for Walker, he has a new career ... and his tail reflects a fundamental change in his personality.

What's Been Happening with Walker?
Since my first post about the tails a few months ago, Walker has continued to grow and learn in his new career as a roping horse. You might recall that when we first started in roping training, Walker was terrified of the lariat because he had been roped as a 3-year-old, much to his terror.

Several horse training sessions with very slow rope work, along with very regular doses of the herbal supplement Eleviv, have changed Walker. I would give Walker 2 capsules of Eleviv daily, and then 2-4 capsules of Eleviv before we went for roping practice. It worked wonders. He went from bolting at top speed to get away from the rope to simply accepting the rope.

He has also become a thinking horse. Being a heeling horse, it's important for Walker to stop in his tracks the moment he sees me throw my rope. Otherwise, the chances of him getting a front leg caught in the loop are high. Earlier in his roping training, we had not been as careful about stopping as soon as I threw the rope. Sure enough, I caught his front foot with my loop.

What was really cool is that instead of bolting, Walker just stopped. He froze, and waited for Dusty, our instructor, to release him from the loop. That's the reaction of a thinking horse who is operating from his healthy parasympathetic nervous system, not the reactive bolt of a horse coming from his "fight or flight" sympathetic nervous system. I was impressed. What was even cooler was that thereafter, Walker always stopped when he saw the lariat leave my hand. He "learned" rather than "reacted."

What's Up with Walker's Tail
A few days ago, I took Walker to another roping clinic. This was the first time we worked outdoors. We worked on standing quietly in the boxes while watching the chute open and close. The chute is pneumatic so it makes a hissing sound every time it opens or closes. It also clangs like a son of a gun! A lot of horses at the clinic hated the thing on sight!

Since this scenario contained a ton of new horse training elements (including steers at the far end of the arena), I wondered how Walker would be. I tried to give him his Eleviv before we left, but he refused to take it. When I finally forced it into his mouth, he spit and spit and spit. I trust his instincts so I simply loaded him into the trailer and away we went.

I was concerned that with so many new elements in the outdoor arena and no Eleviv, Walker would be a basket case. He wasn't. In fact, it was just the opposite. He was the star of the clinic. He was one of only two horses who would stand quietly and correctly in the box, then move quietly out of the box to chase the Robosteer, and get into position for me to toss the rope. This was the case even when the wind started kicking at gale force winds.

I was amazed ... practically agog with surprise. I had to find out what was going on.

As soon as I had him unloaded at home, I tied him to the trailer and messed with his tail. To my surprise, his previously inflexible "stiff as a board tail" was now soft and flexible. He didn't mind me bending it, swiveling it, or gently twisting it.

I thought maybe it was a fluke so I tried it again the next day. Same deal. Soft tail. So now, I'm beginning to think that with the help of our "going slow is faster" horse training methods, along with the months of Eleviv, Walker has fundamentally changed in character. No longer is he a reactive and fearful horse. He is now a thinking, accepting, and trusting horse.

He was able to accept all the elements of the outdoor arena with ease and grace, and he NEVER lost his cool. How cool is that?

So now I believe that I can "read" more about what's going in my horse's brain by "feeling" the flexibility of his tail. His tail does tell me tales! I love it. Now, of course, I have to go play with all the horses in the pasture to see if this is true, but I am like a bloodhound who is onto a scent ... I won't let go of this topic until I verify my hypothesis.

What about y'all? Have you played with this? Tried it? Gotten any results other than a pile of poop at your feet?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Horse Training: The Extreme Mustang Makeover is Aptly Named

I love reading about, hearing about, and watching the Extreme Mustang Makeovers because I love mustangs.

I've adopted 5 mustangs now, and I still have 3 of them. They are the most versatile, tough, loyal and amazing horses I've ever had the honor to support.

Mustangs are also very, very extreme!

That's why I think the name "Extreme Mustang Makeover" is such a perfect name. Mustangs are like the mules of the horse world. They give new meaning to words like:
  • stubborn
  • opinionated
  • survivor
  • tough
  • heart
If a mustang has an opinion about something (and most mustangs have opinions about everything under the sun) you will know, and quickly!

An Example of an Extreme Mustang with a Strong Opinion
A few days ago I took Reyacita, my 5-year-old buckskin mustang mare (pictured above) to a roping practice. Reyacita and I had had a couple of private lessons with the Robosteer, during which we tracked the steer positioned at its left hip. When you first start teaching a heeling horse her position, you position them at the steer's left hip, because this is the position from which you will ultimately throw the rope.

Reyacita, being a Metal horse personality type, instantly locked onto her position. Metal horses want desperately to learn their jobs, and then do their jobs without further interruption. Reyacita "got it" that her position was by the steer's left hip.

Unfortunately, when you start roping as a team, with another horse and rider in the heading position, the heel horse has to start at the steer's right hip. The head horse starts at the steer's left hip, ropes the steer, then turns the steer. That's when the heel horse turns and steps into position at the steer's left hip.

Reyacita did NOT like this concept at all. When she saw my buddy Heidi and her horse Shady step into position at the steer's left hip, she got upset. She perceived that another horse was in "her position." To correct what she thought was a mistake, she simply side-passed over and tried to bump Heidi and Shady out of position.

It took me quite a while to convince Reyacita that we were now in the next phase of training, and that now we were supposed to start on the steer's right side. She didn't like it, thought very hard about bucking me off, but trusted me enough to try this new position. Once Heidi had roped the steer's horns and turned, then I allowed Reyacita to step into "her position" at the steer's left hip. She was much happier. She also understood this new arrangement, and allowed Heidi and Shady to take up the position at the steer's left hip with no further trouble.

Mustangs are So Extreme!
What cracks me up is that most horses would have simply followed their person's guidance without question. Not mustangs, especially Metal mustangs. When they think they KNOW what their job is, heaven help you if you get in their way. Metal horse types don't like interference at the best times. Metal mustangs really don't want to hear from their riders once they think they know their job.

One thing that has helped Reyacita become less rigid and more allowing is the herbal supplement Eleviv. Although this herbal supplement is usually given as remedy for horses who have been traumatized or who have physical problems as a result of emotional trauma, it also works will with horses who are mentally rigid. Of all the types, Fire and Metal horse personality types can be the most mentally rigid. If they don't understand "why" something should be done, don't count on getting it done anytime soon.

Test your horse's personality type here.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out my ebook for wacky horses and humans, or holler at me if you want to know how I fund my horse addiction ... and you can, too!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Taking Horses Barefoot: From Ow to Wow

Taking some horses barefoot is a simple process: you just pull off the shoes and do a regular barefoot trim, as taught by the likes of Jaime Jackson or Pete Ramey.

Taking other horses barefoot is a complete nightmare. You yank off the shoes, do a barefoot trim, and your horse is completely lame. Watching a newly barefoot horse hobble around the pasture is a scary sight, one that is likely to make you cringe.

Luckily, if you have the patience to "wait it out," and are willing to supplement your horse's diet while he goes through the transition, chances are that you can emerge with sound barefoot horse.

Taking Horses Barefoot: Some Tips to go from Ow to Wow

If you yank your horse's shoes and he screams, "Ow!" don't panic. A lot of horses, depending on their pain tolerance, find being barefoot a bit strange. Some horses feel uncomfortable while others in so much pain that they literally can't walk. So here are some tips to help your horse go from "Ow!" to "Wow!"

1. Proper Footing for the Barefoot Hoof
The easiest footing for a newly-barefoot horse to negotiate is sand. Sand is soft, yet provides support and contact for all parts of the hoof. This support and contact is important because the hoof needs stimulation to grow strong and thick. Studies have shown that hooves that are in constant contact with the ground, not lifted by the shoe, have far more blood vessels, which equals much better circulation. The more circulation a hoof gets, the faster, stronger, and healthier it will grow.

If you can't fill your horse's entire pen with sand, at least put sand in a certain area of his enclosure. That way he has an area where he can stand and rest his feet. Horses that are in pain during the early stages of being barefoot find sand relieves their pain.

2. Barefoot Trim: Do it Right
You can definitely learn how to do a correct barefoot trim from books and DVDs, but if you are new to trimming or unsure of your skills, you might want to seek professional help for the first few barefoot trims. I had my farrier teach my how to do a correct barefoot trim, then read almost every book available on the subject. Over the years (more than 11) my barefoot trim has gotten better and faster. So will yours, if you elect to trim your horse yourself. If you choose to have a professional do the barefoot trim, be sure to choose one who has studied barefoot trimming, rather than one who simply pulls shoes and levels off the bottom of the hoof.

One way to check if a barefoot trim is done correctly is to watch your horse's reaction after each foot is trimmed. If the trim feels right to your horse, most of the time he will lick and chew, or yawn, to indicate that the hoof feels right. If he does not give any of these signals, or even goes so far as to pick his hoof up off the ground, then he farrier probably needs to level out an uneven spot or two.

Every horse is different, so you have to learn his quirks. For instance, I have one mare who likes her quarters hollowed out and her bars to be perfectly straight. If these conditions are not met, she won't leave her hoof on the ground. She'll hold it up until I "fix" my errors!

Finally, the more frequently you can do little barefoot trims, the faster and better the hoof will grow. It's like getting your hair cut. Getting regular trims makes your hair grow faster. Doing regular maintenance barefoot trims, every couple weeks or so, will not only encourage hoof growth but will keep that growth going in the right direction.

3. Feeding Strong Nutrition while Taking Horses Barefoot
If your horse has been wearing shoes for a while, chances are that his hoof wall and sole are not as strong and thick as they should be to withstand the barefoot lifestyle. So while you are waiting for his hoof to grow out, you should give your horse the right nutrition to encourage proper hoof growth.

I love my "horse goo" for this ... it's a little recipe that I mix up at the kitchen table. The goo includes an antioxidant juice and Simplexity Essentials (blue-green algae, enzymes, and probiotics). The reason this mixture works is that the blue-green algae, especially the form that has had the cell wall removed (called Omega Sun), seems to "feed" the hoof in ways that make it grow stronger and faster. The probiotics, beneficial bacteria like acidophilus and bifidus that live in your horse's gut, are also very useful because they produce bioton, the substance that makes the hooves tough yet flexible. Finally, the mangosteen juice as well as the enzymes both have anti-inflammatory effects, which helps reduce your horse's level of hoof pain and inflammation.

The really good news is that your horse's whole body will benefit from this "horse goo." All of this nutrition will contribute to a better hair coat, clear eyes and nose, and a strong immune system. Just compare Walker's look today to his picture from 8 months ago (see above)!

4. Booting the Barefoot Hoof

Barefoot horses need to keep moving to increase the stimulation on their hooves. If your horse is in pain after his first barefoot trim, chances are that he won't want to move ... and that's bad. He needs to keep moving to get his hooves accustomed to the barefoot trim, and to increase circulation.

To help these horses, try booting them. You might have to try several boots before you find the perfect kind for your horse, but it is well worth the effort. Look for boots that will stay on in pasture because nothing sucks worse than walking over a dozen acres looking for a lost boot. I've had good success with Old Macs and Cavallo Simple Boots. Other people seem to like the Easyboot Glove. You can also look for boots that come with gaiters, which are simply straps that attach the boot to your horse's leg. That way, if the boot comes off your horse's hoof, the gaiter will at least keep it attached to his leg.

Depending on whether you live in a damp climate, you may have to put the boot on during the day and take it off at night to keep dampness from accumulating on the hoof. Dampness softens the hoof, which will make it more painful for your horse to walk when the boot is off. Look for the perfect balance where the hoof boot is on for long enough to keep your horse moving, but is off for enough time to prevent the hoof from becoming soft. Normally you want the hardness of your horse's hoof to match the hardness of the terrain on which you expect to ride him.

5. Patience, Patience, Patience!
Ultimately, patience is the name of the game. It's taken me a whole year to transition Walker, my QH gelding whom I affectionately refer to as my "hot house flower," to a barefoot lifestyle. He's been getting my "horse goo" every single day for over a year, and he has finally achieved a strong enough hoof to go out on gravel, rocks, and road base without missing a step. This is a horse who used to wince when walking around a grass pasture ... now I call that improvement! But the process has required a huge amount of patience on my part, and I've lost and found more boots than I care to disclose!

However, I do strongly believe in the barefoot hoof ... I believe it is the healthiest and most natural for horses, and so these days I'm willing to wait it out, feed the right supplements, and trim, trim, and trim until one day, voila! Barefoot horse!

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