Farrier, researcher and clinician Gene Ovnicek maps out the hoof (with a red marker!) and discusses breakover.


Gene Ovnicek and Natural Balance® Hoof Trimming Come to Pennsylvania

On May 30, 31, and June 1, 2003, Maiden Springs Farm held yet another hoofcare clinic. One would think that after having at least five hoof clinicians in Shoemakersville, and having attended Tufts University’s “Hoofcare for the New Millennium” conference and more, one might have had enough. Well, not so - not in our neighborhood, anyway. Nobody has all the answers, of course, and with every horse and every hoof being different, how could anyone pass up the opportunity to learn more? Being ever open to new and different ideas, our neighborhood continually seeks more information. Our horses demand it. And with the full class plus waiting-list that signed up for this clinic, we know we are not alone. Attendees came from as far as New England, New York, Virginia and Canada.

At Tufts 2002, when the panel arrived at an impasse, one of them called out into the audience, “What do you think, Gene?” When another panel member did the same during another snag, Gene again offered his opinion. Thinking back to that time, Cate Stoltzfus, owner of Maiden Springs Farm (and a horse with a recurring one-foot lameness), concluded, “That’s the guy we need to get to come to our farm.” So Gene and his colleague Patty Stiller were booked for the clinic.


Topics discussed included: basic anatomy and physiology, wild horse research, updated information on hoof biomechanics, hoof distortion, meeting the needs of the hoof, lameness, deformities and pathologies, stumbling, forging, foal hooves, requirements necessary for optimal hoof and bone development, and wild horse hoof and domestic hoof comparison.

The video screen, left background, showed everything close up for the large class.

The Friday night lecture was attended by farriers, a few veterinarians, and a lot of owners. Gene’s interesting slide presentation and lecture offered new findings and old. He demonstrated these ideas through impressive close-up action video and computer animation, and we were anxious to learn more over the weekend trimming days. Much of the information verified and complemented what many of us are already doing, such as the husbandry practices and trimming with a low heel, live sole plane balancing, flare removal, wall rounding etc. Other information seemed to conflict with some details of our trimming practices, but every horse is different, every case is different. It is good to have options and be able to try something different if what we are doing is not working as well as it should. We were open to more information.

Gene was genuinely impressed by how well we had been trimming our own horses – this student got an A+.

Over the weekend, we learned even more and got clarification from the morning demos and lectures. In the afternoons we had hands-on practice to apply the new principles - mostly about the ratio of the front of the hoof to the back of the hoof, and about breakover and determining where it should be for that particular horse and hoof. You see, Gene was surprised and pleased to see that for the most part we were on the right track, and doing a great job of trimming and balancing our own horses’ hooves. He actually mentioned he might not have much to offer us - however he had a lot to offer. (Thanks, Gene!) He had ample opportunity to see several of our neighborhood horses and get a feel for how we trim them and keep them, and there was no avoiding seeing our typical PA soft and wet conditions. (We hadn’t had a dry day in weeks.)

Watching the horse walk revealed if the heels landed first as desired.

Gene and Patty agree barefoot is best, and although many factors are involved, there are certain situations and occasions for which a particular form of structural support or ‘casting’ may be most helpful or even necessary for rehabilitation. These circumstances were explained and discussed. Gene brought along a unique system with a close-up camera (operated by Patty) that transfers to a screen allowing for instant ongoing viewing so that everybody can see what Gene does as he does it, as if they are right beside him. It was a great idea. What happened though is that some wanted to see how Gene positioned himself under the horse, or wanted to see the horse’s stance, so before long everybody was gathered around anyway. So much for well-laid plans. On top of that, the incessant rain beating on the metal roof of the lecture barn brought us all into a cluster, within which Gene managed to demonstrate and teach the Natural Balance Hoof Trimming principles, share his knowledge and expertise, and answer our questions.

Jesse’s X-rays were reviewed as his history was explained by his person.

Gene and Patty provided careful explanations and gave one-on-one coaching for trimming. All those who wanted got to trim at least one hoof. Gene and Patty both have very positive and helpful attitudes, and work together very well. Each answered lots of questions, and their answers were very informative and thought-provoking, referring back to ‘nature’ quite often. What Mother Nature does to maintain a hoof and to heal a damaged hoof is what led Gene to develop his methods.

Assistant and colleague Patty Stiller (right) coaches a student.

Although some of the participants already had adequate tool-handling skills, others did not and still others wanted to know what they could do better, so Gene and Patty provided instruction on efficient tool handling and body positioning, and knife sharpening. Gene also showed us his Styrofoam blocks system (see article in this issue, Hoofcare Highlights, for more information).

Gene and Patty answered students’ questions and monitored trimming.

A foundered pony that attended, Jesse, gave us an opportunity to learn about the need for bar and frog support. Having come a long way in distance and history, Jesse is a trooper. Once rideable, but with ‘special needs’ due to having foundered in the past, Jesse was taken to a university to get the ‘best’ hoofcare. A couple years later, after having had ‘corrective shoeing’ with consistent gradual heel elevating, Jesse went from rideable to knuckling over and walking on his fetlock joints - when he wasn’t lying down. The vet hospital gave up on Jesse, but thankfully his owner didn’t. She researched about barefoot founder recovery and began trimming him herself and lowering his heels. Now, as Gene said, holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart, “He’s this far from a miracle.” Jesse is back to having more normally shaped hooves that he walks on, though the heels lift off the ground most of the time. He lies down much, much less. Jesse’s frog grows rapidly and is very vascular, and his bars grow at a very fast rate, extending all the way around the frog. These had been kept in check when trimming, but Gene offered that nature is probably trying to provide necessary structure. He had suggestions for even this tough case, and commended his owner for her efforts and expertise. Gene and Patty applied specially-fitted pads with frog support, the idea being that heel-first landing and structural support will provide the best stimulus for proper hoof regrowth. We are all anxious to see if this is the additional information Jesse needs to reach miracle status.

A student uses the nippers to remove excess wall.

Two lovely mules attended. As they walked up, Gene asked the class’s opinion on how the feet looked for mule feet. Not being as familiar with mule feet, only a few of us voiced our opinion that they looked great. Gene happily confirmed that they were some of the best-looking mule feet he had seen, and proceeded to explain and point out why. Then the mules’ feet were measured up and lightly trimmed the Natural Balance way.

Even a couple of well-trimmed mules came to the clinic.

The most interesting and intriguing part for me was Sunday’s lecture on laminitis and founder, and why the hoof grows the way it does with founder. I was amazed at Gene’s explanation of what nature is doing to protect and rehabilitate the damaged hoof. Gene continually mentioned ‘nature’s way’ and ‘how nature’s built-in protection system works’ throughout this lecture. (I look forward to more about that - it would be an article in itself.)

A student gets coached on effective ways to use the rasp.

Though most of the hooves walked away only slightly different from how they arrived, we learned a lot. We learned what to look for in balance, front-to-back ratio, breakover, what to trim and what not to trim, and much more. Gene’s research and astute observations of various types of wild and domestic hooves have given him a well-rounded knowledge about the equine hoof. His theories and philosophies are in tune with nature, and therefore in tune with the horse.

Thanks, Gene and Patty!” says Jesse in his new slippers with the EDSS pad and frog insert.

I think this clinic filled in important gaps in many people’s knowledge of the hoof and hoofcare. I am delighted that there were so many attendees and more on the waiting list. It is my hope that more horse owners will realize the importance of a healthy hoof and will want to learn more about what a healthy hoof is. The more one learns, the more one knows what one doesn’t know. There are always new things to learn when it comes to the horse. What do you think, Gene?

About the clinicians:
Gene Ovnicek is nationally and internationally recognized as a farrier, clinician and researcher. With over 40 years of horseshoeing experience and as a member of numerous groundbreaking research projects, Gene is looked at as a key contributor to the ongoing advancement of the farrier sciences. His information-packed presentations have been featured at some of the most prestigious farrier and veterinarian conferences in the world. He is widely known for his research data compiled from wild horse studies done in 1986 and 1987. The information gathered from the wild horse hoof patterns observed from the study led to the development of the hoof care methods of Natural Balance®. The wild horse research material, as well as the Natural Balance® guidelines, are published in the book, “New Hope for Soundness” and on the www.hopeforsoundness.com website. More information is available in the videos, “Essential Hoof Care - A Horse Owner's Guide to Preventing Lameness & Improving Performance” and "Natural Balance Hoof Trimming - A Common Sense Guide for Servicing the Needs of the Equine Foot”.

Patty Stiller attended farrier school in 1982 in California, and has been a full-time farrier since then. More recently she was employed at University of California Davis veterinary hospital as one of their staff farriers. Patty began to utilize Gene’s new methods of trimming and shoeing on her client’s horses, and saw the immediate improvement in their movement and overall soundness. Patty has attended numerous veterinary and lameness treatment forums to continue her education, including many of Gene Ovnicek’s hands on clinics. She now travels and assists in teaching at many of Gene’s clinics. Patty can be contacted at PO Box 142, Penrose, CO 81240, 719-372-6703, calshoer@direcway.com.

For more information:
Equine Digit Support Systems, Inc.
506 Hwy 115
Penrose, CO 81240