Martha Olivo and the Strasser Trim - The Best Barefoot Trim, Bar None

Martha Olivo

It was a brisk but sunny morning in October and we gathered in anxious anticipation to listen to Martha. Some of us came to find out more about the Strasser trim and others came with foundered horses in need of proper hoof care. Not one of us left as the same person; we all learned a great deal and came away changed for the better.

Martha clearly explained that she is NOT (yet) a Certified Strasser Hoofcare Specialist, but is in the process of studying Dr. Strasser's course and working toward earning her certification in 2001. Because there are no Strasser Certified Hoofcare Specialists in the US, and because there is such a recent demand for one, Martha is giving clinics on her own method of barefoot trimming (and how she implements what she has learned of the Strasser method so far). Though Martha clarified that she has a long way to go in her studies and does not yet represent the Strasser name or method, she has been a horse trimmer (and shoer, though not anymore) for many years. Upon learning about Dr. Strasser's methods, which Martha says are the best she has ever seen, Martha gave up the shoes and hammer and began doing things a new way – barefoot, naturally. Martha, a very active and capable hoofcare provider and seminar instructor, has devoted her time and efforts to sharing her knowledge with others around the US.

Nearly everyone was already familiar with the idea of the Strasser trim and had read Dr. Strasser's books (English translations, "A Lifetime of Soundness" and "Shoeing: A NECESSARY Evil?"). A few had come to learn fine-tuning of barefoot trimming and to get verification that they were indeed doing things correctly. These people, males and females, of varying ages and sizes, had already been trimming their own foundered horses. Having learned the basic trim from reading Dr. Strasser's books, by shared written instructions and drawings, from consultations with Sabine Kells through mailed correspondence and pictures of the hooves, and by just DOING it, these brave people - never having wielded a rasp before - made the monumental effort to learn the art of hoof trimming to save their horses' lives.

For one attendee, conventional care had been given every chance and failed. The veterinarian and farrier literally gave up on the horse and euthanasia seemed to be the best option. But to an owner who knew and loved her horse, and was in tune to its feelings and wants, euthanasia was not an option. (And the most important thing I realized that day is that euthanasia in most founder cases is a ridiculous option. It is as ridiculous an option as trying to rehabilitate an unhealthy hoof with a shoe, a rigid, non-yielding, pressurizing, torture device that is mistakenly believed to be of help to hooves.) Euthanasia was indeed not an option for this brave woman who had come to share her encouragement, the pictorial documentation of her horse's progress, and her tips on how she helped make the healing and rehabilitation process easier. She and her daughter had searched and found this barefoot trim option, and like many other horse owners in the same situation, decided to give it a try. As a result of her diligence, her horse is enjoying life on happy, healthy bare feet. The hooves, once shod with rotation and dropped soles, have been de-shod, regularly trimmed as closely as possible to the Strasser trim, and now have correct coffin bone position and alignment inside new hooves that can now function properly.

Bo, retired at 17 because of navicular syndrome, may soon be sporting healthy hooves.

With a bag of bones, a small stack of photos and x-rays, hooves for dissection and live subjects for trims, Martha imparted her knowledge to us all. She taught us the parts of the hoof: what parts are bone, cartilage, laminae, blood vessels, nerves, how the bones are aligned and suspended inside the hoof wall, and how a healthy natural hoof is meant to operate. She explained the mechanism and proper function of the hoof and all its parts during both weightbearing and non-weightbearing stages, as well as the importance of hoof flexibility and traction. She demonstrated the position of the coffin bone and how it should be within the healthy hoof, and she showed us by comparison non-healthy hooves and the distortions of the coffin bones and other parts. It quickly became self-evident that horseshoes greatly interfere with the hoof mechanism and function, and work against the horse.

Martha explained that what we are doing by trimming the Strasser way is doing a physiologically correct trim. We are mimicking the natural wear of the horse in nature, who travels about continuously over about 15 miles of various types of terrain each day (see NHM Vol. 2, Issue 6, Natural Horse Care – The Strasser Way). This trim allows the hoof maximum function and therefore good health (see NHM Vol. 2, Issue 7, Natural Hoof Care – The Strasser Way).

Dr. Strasser explains in Shoeing: A NECESSARY Evil?, "It is known from the basics of medicine that reduced circulation results in nerve impulses not being conducted normally, if at all. This is similar to 'freezing' used in dentistry and minor surgery to reduce pain. This means that the horse feels little or no pain, or any other sensation, where decreased circulation exists. Horses with shod or contracted feet can move initially well because the nerves are actually anesthetized," she points out. "The horse is basically walking with its feet asleep – the real reason why a ¼" metal rim added to the hoof wall can make a horse impervious to 2" gravel, among other things," says Dr. Strasser. "This numbing effect of the shoe is also what makes it possible for a horse to move well despite pathological changes and damages inside the hoof, and for such damage to continue and increase for a very long time without anyone becoming aware of it."

"This is redefining soundness," said Martha. "What people think of as soundness is when a horse goes solid on his feet, sound and square at the trot. However, you can shoe a horse into 'soundness' but you can't shoe a horse into health. You take the health FROM them when you put the shoes on."

As Dr. Strasser explains in Shoeing: A NECESSARY Evil?, "Another misunderstanding is the conviction that, 'since the application of a shoe can make a lame horse walk better, the shoe has instantly healed the problem that caused the lameness'. This totally disregards the anesthetic effects of the shoe and leads to grave errors in the treatment of lameness through the mistaken belief that, if the pain is gone after shoeing, the hoof is healthy - or if the pain does not disappear, then the problem is not in the hoof. Severe misdiagnosis and the not uncommon prognosis of 'incurable lameness', often with unnecessary euthanasia, are the results." 

Martha explains the importance of knowing how to correctly groom the sole, bars and heels.

We learned that common veterinary procedures, such as for navicular, founder and other supposedly incurable hoof-related problems, are not effective for restoring health and function because the function and structure of the hoof is misunderstood, or is simply not considered. Martha explained about navicular and what's really behind it (or more correctly, beneath and beside it!), about laminitis and founder and why jacking up the heels, using pads, gel pads, and a sandbox environment, and even backing up the toes, etc. are counterproductive, about the lateral cartilages and why they become distorted and develop ossifications, and about contracted heels. We also learned what CAN reverse such problems. Martha taught us about the entire operation of the foot - concavity, soles, bars, frogs, heels, moonsickles, tendons, and so much more. We learned what IS necessary for the proper function of the hoof, such as the ability to expand and contract, stimulation, moisture, movement, and proper nutrition. She taught us what angles of measurement need to be paid attention to when viewing the hoof, and which ones mean nothing.

We also learned that just going barefoot is NOT enough. The hoof must be trimmed correctly, and the horse must be maintained with a proper trim unless he is living in natural conditions in which he can keep his own hooves trimmed by natural wear. We learned that the transition from shod to barefoot, founder to sound, and barefoot to Strasser trim can be a painful process, especially after having been shod for a long time, and if the hoof had been grossly distorted from the type of shoeing performed. But we learned that it is a change for the health and betterment of the horse, and a transition well worth undertaking, providing there is full commitment on the part of the caretaker.  

When the horse has gotten to the point where he has these problems, it has been a long time coming. Reversing these problems isn't going to happen overnight. Nor will it be a painless or easy process when there have been a lot of structural changes imposed upon the hoof. The hoof adapted to its forced environment as best it could, which is why it has ended up the way it has, and now that needs to change back. It takes time - anywhere from six months to 2 years is the average, with periods of lameness and abscessing, though they are not necessarily lame all that time. The horse in transition will go through a lot of changes.

Before trim: Shenna's shod foundered hoof (15 degree rotation) had a nearly ground-parallel hairline as opposed to a healthy 30 degree incline.

Martha says, "Bear with it. In transition, when helping a hoof to expand, regenerate and flush out dead tissue, we have abscessing. Abscesses are a beautiful thing of nature. A lot of people panic when they see their horse abscessing, but they should celebrate. Also, celebrate yourself as a healer. Don't think of it as 'hurting your horse because your horse is in pain'. He's gotten to this point where he has to have repair in his foot, and the transition is going to be painful, or at least uncomfortable. But bear with it. KNOW that in time your horse will become whole and well. Follow the process and DON'T STOP if you want to be successful with it," she emphasizes. "Instead of picking feet, you can use a rasp and knife instead and keep up with trimming on a regular basis. I call it hoof grooming," she said.

She adds, "Deal with the pain your horse is having with such things as alternative medicines and therapies. DO NOT give 'bute' because 'bute' interferes with circulation. There are some wonderful alternative remedies on the market; if the horse is sooo footsore that he can't put his feet down, you still need to move him. The horse needs to keep moving."

Martha explained that there is a place in the transition for hoof boots that allow the hoof to expand while giving some relief and temporary protection, but they should never be left on - just used when riding or hand-walking. "Use motivation such as other animals and putting the hay in various places so he needs to move to get to it. If he's alone in a pasture he's going to stand around and feel sorry for himself, but if you have a pony in there that hounds him to go play and move around, it can make all the difference in the world," she says. "And you must follow the entire prescription. You still have to have the moisture, movement, the whole program. First you have to admit you have a problem; then you follow the 12-step trimming," she laughs.

Martha finds the real hoof in Shenna's foundered hoof.

"One really needs to understand the process. Get the Strasser books," Martha advises, "if you love the horse and want the horse to be well, and as an ethical human being want to do the right thing by the horse - not mask the problem but truly heal the horse - and help him have a lifetime of soundness. And help him live to be over 30. Xenophon," she adds, "talked of horses over 50. They were used hard in those days. Today, we think our horses are old at 20; typically they are so lame we can't use them after 15. Some incredibly talented horses are retired at 12 to 15. They're passed on to kids who don't use them as hard and don't weigh as much. We're killing our horses, folks," Martha emphasizes.

The afternoon was spent on trims. A lovely black mare stood patiently and contentedly while Martha trimmed each hoof and explained every step. Next was a foundered filly who could not bear her own weight on one front foot so the use of the temporary sling, much appreciated by this filly, was demonstrated. It was interesting to watch the licking and chewing when expansion and ability to function were restored to the contracted hooves in the horses being trimmed.

One of the watchers asked about conformation differences. Martha pointed out, "Many things that we view as conformation problems are not conformation problems. They are a result of the way the horses are kept. If a horse can get his heels down he can use his body correctly. If he is stood up on his toes, he doesn't have the ability to really get in there and use himself like he should, and every joint in the body is affected," says Martha.

At the end of the clinic, Martha performed a dissection. The shod hoof, looking rather 'normal and correct' (in terms of what we typically see) from the outside, was deshod and dissected part by part. With each part, Martha showed us the evidence of the internal damage. We were able to see bruising, coffin bone destruction (including a worn-off tip from high heels and having to walk on the toes!), and the effects of contraction. Everything that she had taught us about the hoof and the ill effects of shoeing was confirmed.

After trim: Shenna's hairline is now at 30 degrees and the coffin bone is ground parallel as it should be.

But that clinic was not the end. By popular demand, Martha was called back to the state (we begged and pleaded) for a second round of trimming and teaching at the same farm. This time, with new awareness, I brought my 'navicular' horse, a friend and her high-heeled, contracted, formerly shod horse, and a mare with a foundered right front, 15-degree rotation with a poor prognosis from the veterinarian. Other horses-in-need were waiting at the farm for trims as well. Several farriers attended, and some cancelled afternoon appointments so they could stay longer.

Bo, with a history of navicular syndrome and corrective shoeing, had gotten to the point where his hooves broke up so badly he couldn't keep his 'corrective' shoes on (lucky for him). He had then been trimmed and left barefoot like the rest of our horses, and the condition of his hooves improved greatly. (The farrier even said that pulling the shoes was the best thing we could have done for him.) Bo had been barefoot for several years but was still contracted upon meeting Martha. Martha trimmed Bo and restored concavity to the sole, trimmed back the excess frog and the invasive bars, made opening cuts to allow for expansion/de-contraction, and lowered the heels. Bo is walking better around turns now and we will see how he progresses.

Fabel had a history of illness as a foal and a number of injuries since then. Corrective shoeing was part of the prescription for his 'crookedness', and we learned that his feet were long, high-heeled, and contracted. His hooves had been recently deshod, and he seemed to enjoy the results of Martha's correct trim, even though there was some blood brought forth in the process. We gasped, and Martha calmly told us that was to be expected at times, depending on the degree of deformation.

After a correct trim, Shenna's heels can now expand and the hooves can function properly.

Martha explained that when a hoof is allowed to grow so long and distorted, the blood vessels will migrate to the new areas, just like when trimming a dog's nails that grow too long. What was interesting was that the horse did not mind the 'quicking'. She explained that the wayward blood vessels were not supposed to be there (and I remembered the dissection in which they were not there). Soaking the hoof in apple cider vinegar was recommended. It was also interesting to see the change in the shape of his feet when the 'real hooves' were brought forth. Fabel is doing fine and adjusted well to his new feet. We will see how he progresses too.

Next some brood mares were trimmed, by Martha and the attending farriers, who were each given a hoof to work on. Each farrier grimaced when they too saw a bead of blood appear, and Martha reassured them that it was OK and was the best thing to do, and that it wouldn't happen next time they were trimmed. The mares were not bothered by it at all, and Martha advised apple cider vinegar soaks for them too. Martha fine tuned the hooves and pointed out specifics as she perfected things, and later the mares were galloping across the pasture as if their hooves were better than ever.

Martha said, "Remember that the first trim is the biggest change. Know that it IS ok to drop the heel. We are told by veterinarians and farriers that the tendons will suffer damage from a big change. The fact of the matter is that when we put a shoe on after a big change, the horse can't feel his feet, so he's going to move flamboyantly and he IS going to wreck a tendon, where with a barefoot horse he can feel his feet and legs and he will adjust himself accordingly to the change. And we should RESPECT horses when they say, 'Let's not do that today,' and don't do it, even if YOU want to. If they are acting owwie, instead of making them do something, give them the day off. Be fair to your animal."

And last, Shenna was trimmed. Shenna's hind hooves, unshod, were not contracted but needed proper trimming. Her front hooves, shod for many years, were contracted and long-heeled. One was foundered and x-rays showed a 15-degree rotation. From the side, the hairlines of both front feet were ground-parallel rather than a healthy 30-degree slope. This meant she had a lot of extra heel and that neither coffin bone could possibly be ground-parallel.

A foundered mare gets some support from the sling while Martha trims.

Martha excitedly said, "Now watch how the real hoof emerges. If there is any healthy hoof left in here, I'm going to bring it out." And that she did, step by careful step. Shenna did a lot of licking and chewing during the trim, stretching her tongue out longer than I've ever seen a horse stretch its tongue.

The end result was amazing. Shenna's 'good' front hoof looked beautiful and comfortable, and the 'rotated' hoof looked the same except for a missing toe. (Martha had trimmed back the separated, dead wall to the good tissue.)

I think that each farrier there learned a great deal. Nailing on a shoe constricts and distorts the movement in the hoof. That shoeing greatly inhibits expansion and function is fact, and it has been documented for centuries. A horse's hoof is designed to expand on weightbearing, thereby pumping blood throughout the entire hoof unimpeded, and back to the heart in the chest. (The horse has five hearts – one in the chest, and one at the end of each leg.) Each step the horse takes on a bare foot that can expand and function properly creates circulation in the hoof, leg and throughout the body. If this expansion is inhibited, the whole horse is adversely affected.

What is the first thing that happens when a hoof is shod? The hoof is picked up. That is, the hoof off the ground is not in the weightbearing, expanded state. When a shoe is fastened to the hoof it cannot possibly be in the expanded state. When it is put back down and stood upon, it cannot expand. Even if it were possible to fasten a shoe onto the hoof in the expanded state, the hoof would then not be able to contract as needed in between each step. A shoe is a rigid clamp that literally puts the hoof in a vice.

The farriers expressed concern about how they would tell their clients about what they learned, and Martha recommended that they just tell the clients the truth - that they learned something new that they didn't know before. She empathized that it might mean a change in their clientele, and that it would probably show who did and didn't have concern for the horse's best interests. Martha had been a farrier herself for many years. She just tilted her head and tapped on it, saying, "I emptied out all that old incorrect information and refilled it with the new, and I will not go back." She also warned that they educate the clients on what to expect after the trim and about everything that is involved in the transition to barefoot.

As Dr. Strasser explains in Shoeing: A NECESSARY Evil?, "In the horse world, widespread ignorance and misunderstanding of the true nature of the situation often lead to falsely placing the blame for the 'damage', the sudden lameness, on the head of the person who revealed it (i.e., pulled the shoe)."

I empathize with the farriers too. In my opinion, becoming a Hoofcare Specialist instead of a farrier is the best option because it is the best interests of the horse that matter to me. I hope the farriers know that there are a lot of people all over the US (and elsewhere) looking for someone who can perform a barefoot trim correctly.

Natural and/or orthopedic hoof care is a highly specialized skill that should be practiced by trained and certified Hoofcare Specialists or persons under their supervision.


Martha Olivo is not yet a Strasser Certified Hoofcare specialist, but is enrolled in the current course and hopes to be certified May 2001. She may still be available for clinics (her schedule was nearly full at the time of this printing) – contact Tara Felder, 360-647-7503 or barefeet10@home.com

Natural Horse Magazine thanks Dr. Hiltrud Strasser and Sabine Kells for their valuable assistance in preparing this series of articles.

Graphics in Volume 2 Issue 7 were reproduced from "A Lifetime of Soundness" by Dr. Hiltrud Strasser (Fig. 55, page 95, and Fig. 71, page 132), courtesy of Dr. Strasser.

Dr. Vet. Med. Hiltrud Strasser operates The Institute for Hoof Health and ESHOP (European School for Hoof Orthopedics) in Tuebingen, Germany, a center for study and learning in which the hoofcare specialists in Europe obtain their schooling. In this first holistic hoof clinic, equine patients from around Europe are routinely healed and restored to a fully active life after being given up as hopeless and incurable by conventional veterinary medicine. Dr. Strasser has authored several textbooks on lameness and healing, reference books on natural boarding for horses, and many articles for both horse and veterinary journals. Only two books have been translated into English.

Sabine Kells, translator of Dr. Strasser's books, is currently the only Strasser Certified Hoof Care Specialist in North America. She is based in British Columbia, Canada and is available for consultation at PO Box 44, Qualicum Beach, BC, V9K 1S7, Canada.


For more information:

Martha Olivo – contact Tara Felder, 360-647-7503 or barefeet10@home.com

A Lifetime of Soundness by Dr. Hiltrud Strasser

Shoeing: A Necessary Evil? By Dr. Hiltrud Strasser

hufklinik@t-online.de (Dr. Strasser's email)

Horse Owner's Guide to Natural Hoof Care by Jaime Jackson

Star Ridge Publishing, 870-743-4603

www.alltel.net/~star/index.html

Newsletter: The Horse's Hoof

www.thehorseshoof.com (Books by Dr. Strasser are available through this site)

editor@thehorseshoof.com

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