Terrie establishes communication and mutual respect through natural horsemanship methods before trimming - here, Spirit was such a willing partner she couldn't help getting on for a little extra play at liberty.
Natural Hoofcare and Horsemanship: A Good Find
Serendipity largely is responsible for both horses and natural horse methods entering my life. The barefoot trim is just such an alternative technique that I've recently discovered and had the opportunity to provide for the horses here.
Growing up on a large dairy farm in Virginia that had a few horses, and later living around thoroughbred racehorses for a time, kept them in the periphery of much of my life. But two years ago…BAM! Niji, my wife Carol's sorrel gelding, fell into our lives and soon after, Sokeri, my then pregnant mare, found me.
Carol had owned and bred horses for many years before we got together, but circumstances had torn them from her life. It is she who discovered Terrie Wood, a local natural horse trainer, as she began to look for a new way to train Niji, different from the mainstream methods she had used in her former life. Terrie, generous with her time and library, had us up and running with several elementary maneuvers in short order. For Carol there were years of mainstream ways to reconsider, but for me, other than a few English riding lessons and sporadic 'kick-to-go, pull-to-stop' rides, I was learning it from scratch, my mind as a child's discovering something new.
Terrie cleans and assesses each hoof before beginning to trim. Here she removed dirt with both a pick and brush and sizes up the hoof's general condition.
Terrie worked with us for months before the term 'barefoot trim' ever came to my attention, let alone the fact that she was an able trimmer promoting the health benefits of the method. Carol and I both used a good friend as a farrier, who handled the horses well. Both horses arrived with shoes, which we immediately had removed as we intended to stick to ground work for some time. Neither had any problems with the shod-to-barefoot change and regular trim they received from our farrier. After about a year, Niji began to toe-in on one of his front legs. Curiosity had been building for a time to see this barefoot trim we had heard about - was it really all that different? Then opportunity arose - the horses were due a trim, I had to go out of town, and the regular farrier didn't make it out. When I got back to town we had Terrie come over to trim both horses.
Terrie's approach had a different feel. She seemed to connect with the horses, not just to look at the hoof in front of her, but somehow bend her tactics to the needs of the whole horse. While I never was displeased with how the other farrier handled the horses, the process was more of a job with him. Each foot was taken in the order he chose, regardless of how the horse felt about it. This may be a small thing, but Terrie took care, with Niji in particular who was more finicky about holding up his feet, to start with a leg he felt the most secure about, then building confidence with the others as she made her way around. This and similar considerations required extra time on her part - her concern wasn't simply to get a decent trim done, but to make certain the whole horse was well, to work towards increasing the horse's relationship towards the human (particularly where picking up the feet is concerned), and even to take time with us to better our technique of using pressure and release to get some finesse into our horses' leg lifting.
Terrie says a large percentage of her business comes from horse owners who either no longer can stand the battle they have with a heavy handed farrier or whose horses simply are troubled and the regular farriers have given up on them. It's poignant to consider Terrie, a thin, small framed woman with an easy demeanor, coming in to trim horses that big, burly experienced male farriers won't touch. It's proof that the relationship with the horse is paramount, and that the horses aren't 'troubled'…rather it's the understanding and communication on the human's end that is lacking.
With proper preparation and Terrie's natural way with horses, it's not unusual for them to stand politely and willingly for her while getting a trim without being tied or held.
A recent incident explains this perfectly; Terrie drove a couple of hours to trim several horses new to her, and a barn manager was supposed to be on site to assist. She found the stable, but no help, and she couldn't raise the owner on the phone. Rather than quit and drive all the way back, she decided to go ahead and trim. The first mare she attempted was not about to let her get a halter on, let alone trim her hooves, so Terrie retreated. Another mare and a similar situation awaited in the next stall. She was about to call it quits, but went for the third stall - a gelding who behaved perfectly for her. Terrie made her way through the other horses and back to the two mares.
'They were so sensitive,' she explained. 'But I listened to those horses until they gave me permission to work on them. If you listen to the horse and adjust with her, eventually she will work with you the best she can.' Terrie believes many of the problems farriers have result from them not listening to the horse or not having the patience required to establish the relationship necessary for a good, safe trimming experience. She went on to explain that often after an initial visit of working through a trim with a horse who is challenging, follow-up visits rarely present any behavioral problems for her.
Aside from Terrie's good feel working with our horses, the barefoot trim itself was a curiosity for me. The horses had been trimmed several times without shoes since arriving; how could simple trims vary enough to have their own titles? Terrie would have the horse lift a foot, she'd hold it against the thick farrier's chaps, then remove one tool or another from the various pockets and point out to us what was going on with the horse in that foot and how the new trim would work.
The idea for the natural trim is derived from studies of horses in the wild. Sometimes the trim also is referred to as a 'wild horse trim' or a 'mustang trim' - slight variations of the same theme. For the barefoot trim, the farrier essentially mimics on your domestic horse what its hooves would do naturally if it were running in the wild, the theory being that Nature works out what's best for the animals. The findings were, and Terrie nipped and rasped great examples for us, that the heels need to be kept short while the rest of the hoof excess is trimmed away proportionally.
Finishing touches… Terrie's work is consistently excellent - the feel, generous amount of time, and concern for the whole horse she provides each trip out always impress us. She's truly there for the horses, and it shows.
The finished foot looked oddly petite to me at first. The regular mainstream trim leaves the horse standing high on the heel while shortening the forward hoof growth. A hoof with the barefoot trim provides a more natural and therefore healthy angle of foot placement. This translates into less stress on bones and tendons. I'm a very hands-on horse owner, and I've found in picking Sokeri's hooves that this trim has maintained better. There's less cupped area for stuff to get crammed into, and the hoof even seems to remain harder, which was a miracle in the deplorably wet conditions spring brought us in these Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia this year.
After having its shoes removed, any horse is likely to be tenderfooted. It seems that after toughening up though, that keeping shoes off works out well. There's been no trouble keeping and riding the horses on the semi-rocky pasture and gravel roads on our farm. I hear many people never worry again about shoeing their horses after going barefoot. Certainly staying away from shoes is less time consuming, avoids piercing the hooves with nails, and reduces some potential hazards during riding. Boot technology has advanced well too, enabling one to safely ride a transitioning-to-barefoot horse on rougher surfaces by simply slipping boots onto the hooves at such times.
It could be simply that Terrie works exceptionally well for us, but my notion is that a natural horse person with years of experience begins innately to develop feel for horses that carries into all dealings with them. While our other farrier did fine work, and we wouldn't hesitate to call him in again if Terrie were unavailable, or to recommend him as a capable mainstream farrier to anyone, Terrie's way and trim has impressed us to the point we will be sticking with her. In fact, Terrie's work has improved Niji's toe-in problem substantially, further exemplifying the benefits of an appropriate natural barefoot trim.
About Terrie Wood:
Terrie Wood lives on Whispering Spirit Farm in southwest Virginia. She likes helping folks develop leadership skills to better communicate with their horses. She also believes keeping a horse mostly barefoot is important to its lifetime soundness. ELITE with Horses and TW Trimming: 540-357-0109.