The Buddy Story
Editor's note: Dr. Strasser's methods of trimming to rehabilitate foundered and 'navicular syndrome' horses have proven to be very successful in many cases. The recent Tufts University Conference with Dr. Strasser, "Hoofcare for the New Millennium", brought many hoofcare experts together for a review of her methods (see NHM Volume 4, Issue 4). While discussions at the conference raised questions about the consistency of results of this trim method, here is one case where the results speak for themselves, even though the road to recovery was not easy or painless.
My horse, Buddy, is a 17-year-old Dutch Warmblood whom I have owned for two years. He lives happily with his herd over acres of pasture, forgetful of his past and painful experiences with severe lameness. Not many people believe me when I tell them his age (usually considered old, although actually in the prime of life) because he looks and acts so young, and is sometimes very naughty! But Buddy wasn't always like this - he has come a long way since we adopted him, and has gone from knocking on death's door to having many long and happy years ahead of him. Here is the story of how Buddy, my family, and I survived the pitfalls of conventional horse society and all the consequences that go along with it.
Buddy was in the late stages of Navicular Syndrome when my mom, dad, and I adopted him from a mounted police squad in December of 1999. He had egg-bar shoes with eight nails each, raised heels, and pads. It was obvious that he had not been reshod for at least a couple months, as I could see that Buddy's hooves had almost grown over the rim of his shoes. He was receiving cortisone shots "as needed" (about every three months). I was told that on one of these occasions, Buddy's veterinarian mistakenly injected cortisone directly into the navicular bursa. Buddy was always extremely uncomfortable after each injection and lay down periodically for a few days. He may have had a neurectomy (a last ditch effort to remove the symptom of pain) just months before we got him, although we do not have any vet records, which were promised by the mounted police squad, to confirm this. No one was willing to go into any detail with us about Buddy's lameness and the owner who sold Buddy to the mounted police after he was "used up" refused to talk to us.
Buddy was overweight and very out of shape because he was off duty and confined to stall rest and paddock turn out. Partly as a consequence of his obesity, Buddy had a very dippy back (a so-called conformational fault). This label was also applied to his extremely under-muscled neck - a result of trying to take pressure off the painful heels in his front feet. And yet with all this came a very irresistible package: Buddy himself. We were told that I could "get a lot of use out of him for maybe a year or more," meaning Buddy might only live to see his sixteenth birthday. I tried to think only about how special Buddy was and that I could not pass up a horse like this.
It didn't take too long before Buddy lost weight
and gained some muscle. Barn members complemented me on how good
he looked. We even started relearning to jump together. Things were
looking up. But then, on the afternoon of March 6, 1999, Buddy "suddenly"
went lame.* After exercising him in the arena, I noticed a slight
limp on one of his front feet. Then he started pawing. Buddy was
in pain, so we gave him a dose of bute. The vet came the next day
*I say "suddenly" because although we did not anticipate Buddy's lameness, the damage from high heels levering long bars into the sole of the navicular region was years in the making since he probably (as most diagnosed cases of navicular do) had improperly (conventionally) trimmed hooves with shoes for most of his life. Only now had the damage become so great that the anesthetic effect (according to Dr. Strasser) of the shoes, caused by reduced circulation, was no longer enough to cover the pain. It had also been a few months since Buddy's last cortisone shot, and the temporary effect was beginning to wear off.
"The shoes are not doing him any favours, that's for sure," said the vet, as he pulled them off Buddy's feet. We had been hoping that shoes were not necessary, even though it went against everything we'd been told about conventional treatment of lameness. Once the pads were lifted, the stench was awful. The soles on his front feet were the consistency of crumbly chalk with splintering cracks running through. The separated white line was even worse. Then the vet dug out the huge protruding bars of Buddy's hooves, because as anyone who is accustomed to Strasser Hoof Care knows, big bars spell big trouble (i.e., Navicular Syndrome - mainly caused by the pressure from high heels that lever the bars into the region of the Navicular bone, or even pressure from the bars alone). Now had come the first step in Buddy's rehabilitation. His shoes were off!
Just one week before, Dr. Hermen Geertsema, the vet who pulled Buddy’s shoes, had learned about the Strasser trim! He told us about a seminar that was going on that same month, and gave us a book to read, "A Lifetime of Soundness" by Dr. Hiltrud Strasser. Reading this book gave me, my family, and especially Buddy, a new hope that not only could Buddy overcome "Navicular Syndrome" without shoes and harsh drugs, but he could be a sound horse for the rest of his life! This totally demolished my notion that he might only live for a year or so. Dr. Strasser fully explained and demystified the cause of Navicular Syndrome, something conventional knowledge of lameness falls short of. Barefoot just made sense. I knew that this was definitely the way to go.
While I waited to attend the Strasser Hoof Care Seminar at the end of the month, I took Buddy on daily walks for an hour or more. This was necessary to increase the circulation in Buddy’s feet, and to facilitate healing. I would usually have to urge him to get up for a walk while he was lying down, and when he came out of his stall, he would hobble around the corners very slowly, "short-stepping" a bit. The walking was difficult, considering that Buddy and I had to walk along our barn's little loop trails about four times a day to get in the needed mileage (at least 15 km/day). Fortunately, because of our horse to rider weight ratio, I could ride Buddy instead of walk on foot, as my added weight was too little to overburden his feet during exercise. Buddy always felt better after his walks and was less "stiff." Then Buddy was able to turn tight corners more freely, his stride was longer, and he appeared more comfortable.
But the difficulty of Buddy’s daily walks was a piece of cake compared to the many confrontations my family and I would have to face from uninformed and ignorant barn members. All the criticism and lack of support from everyone at the barn made Buddy's rehabilitation process even more difficult. But to give them some credit, I was throwing to the wind everything their conventional knowledge relied on. However, they refused to accept - or even understand - Buddy's process of rehabilitation. Maybe I could have even explained it to them if they had asked me about it in an honest and open way, instead of ridiculing me behind my back. But I believe they would have gone much farther than talking about me and my horse when I wasn't around. I managed to overhear some things about others' "concern" for Buddy's "quality of life" as they called it. Some wanted to phone the SPCA - simply because Buddy was sore after the removal of his (inhumane!) shoes.** Others quietly gossiped amongst themselves. The rest was written all over their faces.
**With the removal of the circulation-restricting shoes that disable the hoof mechanism comes the pain of returning circulation and thus nerve function. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is delivered to the nerves via the blood stream, enabling nerves to fire again and report the damaged tissue and cell necrosis, formerly unnoticed or noticed less because of the lack of ATP supplied to the nerves due to poor circulation when the horse was shod. Thus the unnoticed damage from shoeing becomes obviousin the transition to barefoot. However, discomfort to the horse lasts only a relatively short period of time (weeks/ months) especially considering the amount of time that the damage was going on. Pain can be noticeably lessened by herbal/ homeopathic remedies and lots of walking, which improves circulation and hastens healing (both of which we were doing with Buddy).
One of my worst confrontations was with a woman who was coming into the barn to soak the foot of her lame horse. He had hurt himself while in a trailer by stepping on the shoe of his front foot, pulling it off only to step on it again, shoving the nail straight into the coffin bone. He was being treated with a high dosage of bute every day until it was ineffective, and was on prescribed stall rest. I was going to ask this person if she wanted to turn her horse out with Buddy, since it would do both of them some good. I never got the chance to ask. I was about to, leaning over the bungie on Buddy's stall as she walked by. She looked at me kinda scared and said, "Oh... Fraea, you're here." She had this puppy dog look on her face and an envelope in her hand. "Umm, I was going to leave this for you but, uhh, I hope this doesn't ruin your day. Sorry." She said that a couple of times, "hope this doesn't ruin your day." I figured I may as well pass on the turn out, and I opened the envelope. She had written, in so many words, that it would be better if Buddy were dead. Saying, "It could turn out badly for both of you [i.e.- if I didn’t euthanize him]." She expressed her concern and pity for me. I stuffed the letter in my stall cubby. I was numb. What terrific irony to support the practice of shoeing and improper trimming, which had nearly condemned Buddy - and her own horse! - to the slaughter house and blindly deny the truth (even if out of her own ignorance)!
Obviously, most people's concerns were not sincere. A barn member who worked with Buddy at the mounted police squad remarked just after we adopted him, that she "felt sorry" for Buddy after he received cortisone injections because he was always so sore afterwards. Apparently she did not feel the same sympathy when we were not doing things the conventional way. Again the story changed once Buddy's shoes were off, when the same person told me that resting his front feet (something Buddy did often during the first stage of his rehabilitation) "wasn't normal" and meant that Buddy was in a lot of pain. He had also done this while shod, and because he was otherwise sound, I had questioned the same person about it. She said it was perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. On another occasion, while Buddy was still shod, he had developed a huge quarter crack with no apparent cause. "Knowledgeable" barn members had informed us that he must have bonked it on something and that it would grow out eventually. In reality, these signs had been indications that Buddy's hooves were quickly deteriorating. But we were reassured by Buddy's farrier that his hooves were "in really good shape" - aside from the "Navicular thing."
Despite the deeply disturbing comments and "opinions" of people at the barn, coupled with the unnatural environment of his 10 x 20 ft. box stall and paddock, Buddy was improving very quickly. He hadn't lost his appetite, was still cheerful, and soon didn't mind getting up for walks. However, He was still in obvious discomfort and lay down whenever he got the chance. He continued to constantly shift weight on both his front feet, but by the middle of March (a little over a week after our vet pulled his shoes), Buddy was able to walk slowly without limping or "short-stepping." On March 23, after giving him Yucca, Devil's Claw, White Willow, and Valerian tinctures for the first time that day, he felt good enough to try a canter and even a little buck during a turnout with another horse! Buddy had cantered while shod, but would swish his tail reluctantly when I cued him, as well as stick his tongue out (looked ridiculous but he always did it when scared/anxious - he never does it any more). During turn-out he was usually very calm, and not one to buck and play around, except if he was made to with a whip or waving arms, which other horse owners liked to do to make the horses run and get exercise. But when Bud bucked and cantered in turn out just after the new herbs, he was not provoked at all. In fact I think I remember the other horse owner being very shocked that he did this because Buddy, in her opinion, was "so poor and sore".
Then, at the end of March, I attended a Strasser Trimming Day with Sabine, Dr. Strasser's North American assistant. At first I was grossed out about all the dead hoof specimens used in teaching amateurs to properly trim their own horses' hooves. But then I realised that all these horses have given up their lives in a way, so that others like them might be saved, if we would just learn from them. Even done unwittingly, I think that’s a very brave thing to do. So with that in mind, I put on my gloves, and knife in hand for the first time, walked up holding my breath.
I learned a lot that day, enough to confirm that
this was just what Buddy needed. Sabine came the next day and gave
Buddy an initial trim. This was a milestone in Buddy's recovery.
The Trimming Day I attended was my one and only trimming experience, so with not exactly the "qualification" of a farrier, I managed to keep up Sabine’s initial trim. Trimming was made difficult because Buddy tried hard but could not lift his feet for more than a few seconds, so the trims often ended half done and in frustration. But Buddy is real smart, smarter than most humans, and soon I could trim Buddy's hooves while he was lying down. I'd finish one side and before I could say anything, Buddy would get up, turn around awkwardly, and go lie down on his other side so that I could trim the feet that had been tucked under on the other side! With this technique, Buddy's hooves stayed in pretty good shape, started to expand, and develop hoof mechanism.***
***Hoof mechanism, according to Dr. Strasser,
is vital to restoring circulation in the feet, which is necessary
to repair damaged tissue and facilitate healing. PHYSICS OF THE
HOOF MECHANISM: In a natural hoof, blood in the corium (sensitive
laminae, a network of blood vessels and tissue that surrounds the
coffin bone), flows in from arteries further up the leg during weight-bearing,
while the hoof capsule expands and allows the corium to fill with
blood. During non-weight-bearing the hoof capsule narrows in diameter
and squeezes blood out of the corium and back up the leg. Thus,
natural hooves act as auxiliary hearts by their constant pumping
action with each step. This is impossible in a shod hoof because
the hoof capsule is fixated in a narrowed state, and normal expansion
with a rigid iron shoe is impossible.
To increase the circulation in Buddy's feet, I continued to take him for daily walks, which became longer as he developed more stamina. But Buddy (and I) were both a little fed up with all this walking. He became more and more naughty during trail rides, until the point where I could no longer make him go. He'd only walk so far and then stop, pull his head around like a freight train, and walk quickly back to the barn. Sometimes he'd trot - once he cantered - and so I was encouraged with the thought that he felt well enough to be naughty! But since Buddy would only go a few yards out the barn gate, I had to come up with something else to keep him amused and give him some exercise.
We began to go for little "adventures" around the barnyard to eat tufty patches of grass and messes of blackberry bushes (tasty!). I rode him through the trenches on either side of the barn driveway where Buddy could interact with horses loafing in their paddocks. But at one point I was told by a barn member not to let Buddy walk there. She drove by in her big rusty blue truck and stuck her head out the window. "You really shouldn't do that," she warned me, "it causes erosion and then the barn will have to spend lots of money on a new driveway." I had to keep myself from laughing. Anything to give me and Buddy a hard time!
I even got heck for allowing Buddy to graze on one of the residential lawns just outside the barn. Barn members drove by saying I would get yelled at from the residents and I wasn't allowed to let Buddy graze there. I was always looking over my shoulder for fear I would get caught and yelled at. Then I was caught off guard and met a couple of people leaving the house. I asked them if it was actually all right to let Buddy mow their lawn. The brother and sister laughed and said that their dad might mind running into manure when he mowed the lawn, but if Buddy pooped there, just kick it to the side. I was surprised because contradictory to what my "barn buddies" implied, I probably wouldn't get thrown in jail for letting Buddy graze on someone's lawn!
Buddy's unique recovery plan of walking around
and eating (food is his favourite thing) helped him retain his positive
outlook which in turn, had an effect on me. I could focus on encouraging
him to open his mouth for herbal medicine and get up for walks.
We spent hours just hanging out or lying down together when he was
tired. I was beginning to build a real relationship with Buddy.
On the other hand, I noticed that no one else at the barn seemed
to have this kind of bond with their horses. Equines were more function
than friend. But during Buddy's recovery, I realised that he was
more than just my mount. Buddy was (and is) a real pal.
Buddy's road to recovery was definitely a bumpy one. I still admire his bravery, especially during the two very difficult months at the barn. He was still chipper but had four abscesses that month. They were all characteristically small, but noticeably painful. With each abscess there was a pattern of sore, better, sore, better... which, says Dr. Strasser and Sabine, is a natural part of the healing process because the body is getting rid of old junk (dead tissue).**** Buddy was still off drugs of any kind, but continued to receive a mixture of herbal tinctures: White Willow, Devil's Claw, Yucca, and Arnica. He was also on a little Coke and granola bar, and by the beginning of April, we had started to do a bit of trotting on the trail. But it wasn't all good. We had our own "old junk" to get rid of, and it was going to blow up like an abscess...
****During the transition to barefoot, damaged tissue inside the hoof (such as from insufficient circulation, pinching of the corium, deformation of the coffin bone and cartilage , etc. caused by improper shoeing and improper hoof shape) is repaired. But dead tissue (if there is to much to be reabsorbed into the bloodstream) has to be removed in the form of an abscess. Depending on the amount of damage done while the horse was shod, this process can take a few weeks or many months. Buddy's small abscesses continued for a year.
On the Saturday of Good Friday weekend (very fitting) we received a call from the president of the barn committee. As I eves-dropped on the telephone conversation between the committee president and my mom, I heard the lady inform my mom that the barn committee would "take action" on Monday. In just two days. Buddy's old vet - the one responsible for putting him on the road to the slaughter house with egg-bar shoes and cortisone shots - would be coming that afternoon to prescribe his idea of treatment. Whatever action that "Dr. Death" recommended would be taken, whether we liked it or not. My mom was exasperated. She said, "Do you know what he'll do to Buddy?!" We knew that at the very least Buddy's old vet, having zero knowledge of the barefoot trim, would reshoe Buddy and shoot him up with cortisone. All our efforts would be wasted. The committee president avoided the question all together and began to express her concern (on behalf of the barn) for Buddy's "quality of life," hinting at what could be in store for Buddy. Perhaps this particular vet always carried a lethal injection needle with him, just in case. At the end of the phone conversation we were all at loose ends... we had to do something. Only one option was left: escape.
We called several people whom we hoped could help Buddy: first of all Sabine (who was, at the time, the only Strasser Certified Hoof Care Practitioner in North America). She was also upset and exclaimed, "How can they do that? It can’t be legal!" Sabine said that she would be in our area on Monday for a clinic and could trim Buddy's feet. She suggested we call Lesley, who participated in the Trimming Day I went to earlier. She had several horses making the transition to barefoot living on her acreage. Lesley said she was all too happy to provide a temporary home for Buddy! So we set a time early Monday morning to trailer Buddy to his new home. The owner of the trailering company understood the situation and agreed to transport Buddy, even on a long weekend.
When the trailer arrived two days later on Monday,
April 25, 2000, we loaded Buddy (who walked in very calmly) into
the back. The trailer was as big as Buddy's paddock! I got into
the front seat with the driver and we started off slowly so as not
to hurt Buddy's sore feet. With the old barn behind us, The Buddy
Rescue Mission was underway!
A high-pitched whinny welcomed Buddy to his new home as we drove up to the field gate. It was Dancer, a bay thoroughbred mare that was Buddy's new pasture-mate. Buddy unloaded well, aside from squashing my poor toe, and the minute he got in the field, he was running and kicking up his heels with Dancer.
In the months following Buddy's arrival at his new home, he continued to favour his feet and rest his front feet alternately. He lay down sometimes (but this stopped after a couple months) and had small abscesses every couple of weeks (some of them were like big pimples on his coronet). Buddy was now off all previous herbal medications but was receiving Traumeel Homeopathic Tincture (a mix of different therapeutic herbs) recommended by Sabine. Even though Buddy was not completely healed yet, he appeared much more comfortable now that he had continuous freedom of movement. Sabine and I continued to keep in touch: she giving me trimming tips and I giving her the latest updates on Buddy's recovery process.
In July of that year Sabine gave Buddy a check up trim. She was happy to report that Buddy was coming along very well. The frogs on his front feet expanded by 1/2 an inch each and by 1 inch on both hind feet! The measurements were: FR and FL 2 ½ inches, HR and HL 3 inches. He was still abscessing off and on, but no longer lay down or shifted weight on his front feet. His dippy back, which had been straightening out, was now normal with the help of his naturally head-low grazing posture. Buddy was almost fully usable and was comfortable at a jaunty trot:)
Two months later Buddy stopped abscessing. He became sound and fully usable! He wasn't ready to run any endurance race quite yet and his feet were (and still are) slowly expanding.***** But he was no longer in any discomfort at all. Even his occasional cranky behaviour disappeared now that he wasn't bored in his stall for twenty hours a day. Trimming also became much easier because Buddy was able to lift his feet for longer. With experience I became more efficient in my trimming: Buddy's hooves now stand as a good example of natural bare feet (albeit not fully uncontracted). Buddy, our whole family, and I now reap the rewards of making the transition to barefoot.
*****Buddy's feet (as in all shod feet) were very contracted. Even with a functioning hoof mechanism, the process of decontracting can take a few years before it is fully complete. This is especially the case if the horse (probably such as Buddy) was shod from a very young age, so the palmar processes of the coffin bone couldn't develop properly (the actual coffin bone is also contracted). It can take years for the coffin bone to ossify into its natural shape within the decontracting hoof capsule.
What we knew since reading Dr. Strasser’s
"A Lifetime of Soundness" had proved itself true: bare
feet and natural living conditions saved my horse's life. Facing
ridicule from members of Buddy's old barn was worth it now that
Buddy is alive and well (not to mention pain free). And although
we met with objection from our former barn-mates, it just proves
that the truth made them uncomfortable and they opposed it. It only
makes this statement ever more valid:
"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." - Arthur Scopenhauer (1788 - 1860)
This story is dedicated to Buddy and all the people who made his recovery possible, including my parents, Dr. Hermen Geertsema, Dr. Hiltrud Strasser, Sabine Kells, Lesley Iles, and most importantly, God, who makes all things possible. Special thanks and gratitude come from all the horses who have been helped through Dr. Strasser’s seminars and go to the slaughtered horses who may have died unnecessarily but have generously given themselves to help other horses like them escape their fate.
About the author:
My name is Fraea Bolding and I am sixteen years old. I am in grade ten and have been home-schooled for two years. I live with my parents and seven pets in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Rehabilitating my horse has inspired me to become a Certified Strasser Hoof Care Specialist when I’m old enough, so I can help other horses like Buddy to live a full and happy life without the harmful effects of shoes. I would like to talk to anyone with questions or comments. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested please read Dr. Strasser’s books: "A Lifetime of Soundness" and "Shoeing: A Necessary Evil?" Your horse will thank you for it!