How it all started....
I started shoeing horses in 1994. I was trained by a local farrier and also subjected myself to the deep study of a dozen farrier texts. As time passed, I became acutely aware of the lack of actual hoof knowledge and trimming instruction to be found in the pages of the farrier texts. Not to mention that there was very little dealing with the issue of pathological hooves. Book after book seemed to be filled with forge work, horse handling, client relations, running the business……..Everything but hooves!!! Refusing to make things up as I went, I picked the brain of every farrier and vet I could find. I started diving into veterinary textbooks. Still, the questions in my mind about how to deal with problem hooves were going mostly unanswered.
As with most farriers, time, experience, and mistakes were the best teachers in the first years. In 1998, a friend started pushing “barefoot” texts and internet printouts on me. I was resistant at first, but in the end I couldn’t resist a possible learning opportunity. Very quickly I realized that I was learning about the hooves themselves like never before, and that many of the unanswered questions in my head were being answered. My shoeing abilities immediately soared to a higher level. Six months later, I was experimenting with riding barefoot on my personal horse. Soon after, I was being blown away by dramatically INCREASED performance of twenty barefoot trail horses at a local public riding facility. These were no pasture pets. They were averaging twenty miles a day of riding on rocks! Their endurance, traction and health were increasing while injury, soreness, stone bruising, and fatigue were diminished compared to the state they had been in shoes. I never meant to be a “barefoot oddball”, but the horses themselves were pushing my thoughts hard in that direction!
What had always interested me the most was lameness rehabilitation. Pretty soon I ran out of lame horses to work on and started pursuing them. I gave presentations of my case studies to local vet hospitals and started buying trailer loads of lame horses from the “killer market” to take home and rehabilitate. As word spread of my successes, my business grew to a point that I was taking care of between 700 to 800 horses at one time and teaching hoof clinics all over the world.
In 2000, I wrote my first book Making Natural Hoof Care Work. I never really wanted to be a writer but was driven by the desire to shorten the learning curve of professionals by providing the how-to’s of hoof care that previous publications seemed to lack. The book was a smashing success and has helped horses all over the world. People love the clarity provided by the simplicity and straightforwardness of the text, as well as 160 pictures.
Then came my beautiful wife Ivy, the best thing to happen to me in many ways. For one, I was ignoring most of the opportunities to teach other professionals and do hoof clinics. I wanted to help everyone I could but was just too busy with such an enormous load of horses. Also, of course, I was driving myself into an early grave! It was Ivy who was intelligent enough to build this website and reach out to help the world while referring over half of my workload to competent apprentices. She is the business manager, the one that can see past the hoof.
Ivy was not new to the horse business. She had managed a riding and boarding facility and later ran her own carriage company. She worked with a draft horse training operation by finishing newly trained carriage horses on the streets. Making a living with tourists and dozens of “green” draft horses certainly honed her driving skills (not to mention her nerves), but eventually she decided it was time to settle in and buy her own horse so she could enjoy the calm leisure of using the same experienced horse day after day, year after year.
She selected a five-year old Percheron named Milo. He was untrained (a clean slate in her mind…perfect) but had horribly split and broken hooves. Her mom, who manages a local vet hospital and was very familiar with my work, suggested she have me rehabilitate the hooves. As Ivy was being educated about natural hoof care by her mom, an idea sprang into her head. Carriage horses’ joints and tendons break down quickly as a result of the concussion on pavement. Why not try working Milo barefoot? It could add years to his life. Ivy presented the idea to me at Milo’s first trimming. I was very skeptical that it would work, mostly because there were no hoof boots large enough to ease Milo into it gradually. I was also worried that the heat from the asphalt could be a problem. Ivy talked me into trying, and as with every other time we have disagreed since, she was right.
Milo performed admirably. The soft “thud, thud, thud” of his hooves on pavement left his body fresh and happy at the end of the day, and his traction was better than anything borium could have ever provided. The heat was no problem (Ivy took her horses off the streets at 92 degrees anyway for the horses’ sake). Meanwhile, I was completely stricken by Ivy, and my professional opinion was that Milo needed to be carefully scrutinized by his farrier on a daily basis to ensure his safety during such harsh working conditions. Hours of consultation would be needed, of course. True love was born.
Ivy and I live in the North Georgia mountains with our three children. Our deepest concern is that Natural Hoof Care, and the benefits it can bring to horses, is constantly being “set back” in the eyes of the public by the lack of competent professionals in the field. There are still far too many people out there who are claiming to understand the principles of natural hoof care but doing terrible harm to horses by improper or invasive trimming. There is no way for horse owners to know if they are hiring a competent professional or not. For that reason Ivy and I are making a renewed effort to reach out and educate.