Trimming a horse's foot is traditionally the job of a farrier who then customizes iron shoes for the horse's hooves. Today, there is a new move afoot, the idea that maintaining a barefoot hoof may make for a healthier horse.
"I think I read in an article that horseshoes were first designed when people brought horses into cities and out of more natural settings in pastures where they had movement. (They) stabled them in small stalls and pulled them out to work on city streets," said Lyndee Orpen, a certified hoof groom.
"I have been taught to do what is called a whole horse hoof trim to restore proper hoof function," Orpen said.
Giving a brief anatomy lesson, Orpen explained what she does.
"When we look at a horse's leg, we see a leg that ends in a horse's hoof," she said. "On the inside, there are structures that are very similar."
Having had to dissect horse hooves as a part of her training, Orpen found the coffin bone, an often cited but rarely seen key piece to the health of an animal who spends a majority of its life on its feet, to look very like a small hoof.
"That is at the very end of the horse's leg -- the bony column," she said. "That coffin bone needs to be parallel to the ground for all the intricate structures inside the leg and for the whole body to work correctly."
When the whole body is working correctly, you have a sound and healthy horse.
"Horseshoes have traditionally been used for what is perceived as protection for the hoof." Orpen said. But today people are more concerned about being good stewards and partners of their horses, and some are looking at traditions and asking, why?
"Six years ago I started watching horses' feet," Orpen said. "Horses who were more often barefoot than not healed very quickly from hoof problems that I thought could not be healed that way."
That led the horsewoman to ask more questions and do research on the feet of wild horses.
"I started asking questions four years before I started doing my own trimming," she said. "I guess it's the concept that anything closer to its more natural state is better. So what did that mean in particular for horse feet?"
What she found changed the way she cared for her own horses' feet and led her to seek certification, enabling her to offer an alternative to other horse owners.
"The foot is not as static as it looks at all," she said. "It is meant, at every step, to flex and move. So horseshoes are actually doing damage by reducing circulation, reducing flexibility, and therefore, reducing the ability to deal with concussion."
Orpen has seen results.
"I have seen almost immediate relief of stress in the foot area itself. I've seen vertebrae in the back adjust themselves into place, freer movement, tougher hooves and actually horses that might have had to been put down restored."
She quoted Martha Olivo, her instructor: "Please consider the true nature of the horse, especially when dealing with poor attitude and lameness. Horses thrive without interference from man in open spaces with other horses. Ask yourself; does my horse have these elements in its life? Horses suffer chronic and frequently undiagnosed lameness, when the cause of the problem is not bad shoeing, but shoeing."
"There are elements that are necessary for a horse to respond well to this method," she cautioned. "It is not just a matter of pulling horseshoes off and leaving your horse. There is the proper barefoot trim and then movement," --hich to Orpen means access to a large turn 24 hours a day.
"Movement restores proper mechanism to the horses' foot and therefore the whole body," she said. "Horses are not ATVs. They are not biomechanical toys we can store somewhere until we are ready to use them. They have very unique needs of their own in order to stay sound and healthy."
And this trim can work for any horse. There are endurance riders out there running barefoot, she said.
But there is a transition period, she cautions. If your horse has had shoes, then there is a commitment required to get you both through that transition period.
Orpen is passionate about her topic and can supply interested parties with lots of reference material.
"This trim is physically difficult, but I love it. It is the most satisfying thing I do and I do it for love of the horse," she said.
For more information, call Orpen at 476-2502, or go online at www.marthaolivo.com.