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2004 Endurance Nationals - 100km Barefoot
By Alison Higgins

I have a seven-year-old Arab mare, Desert Star Sensation, (Cynai) who up until a year ago (April 2003) had had traditional hoof care.

I wanted to get into endurance riding late in 2002 and was all ready to do the scheduled ride here, on our 3,500 acre property in the Nelson Lakes area, when my horse went lame. Shoes off and left alone, cynai still took around four months to come right.

When she was sound again my husband decided he wanted to learn the art of shoeing, so contacted our farrier asking for some books on the topic. We promptly got two books on bare footing. Having been involved with sheep, cattle, goats etc for years as a farmer, after reading this literature it was obvious to him that he would probably never put a nail in a hoof.

The 2003-04 season started with us having been barefoot trimming for only about 3 months and in a very cautious way at that. My daughter also started to ride about now and so we bought an Arab/ Clyde cross and started bare footing him as well. He was used as the guinea pig as far as how extreme the trims went. Not once throughout the season did we have a vet-out for lameness, and some of the tracks were far from friendly.

As the season went on, my husband felt he was being too cautious especially around the quarters and so started rolling right into the edge of the sole as to try and stop the white line stretching that didn't seem to want to stop. As soon as the weight was taken off the walls everything started to really tighten up, old sole fell out etc.

The Wild Horse Trim
We decided that the technique to use was the wild horse trim. We feel that in theory, the Strasser trim (which we have only read a little bit about) seems far too invasive. One statement that seems odd to a farmer is that abscesses are part of the transition. We feel that leaving the sole pretty much alone is a better option. Slower is quicker.

Hoof Boots
We purchased some Swiss hoof boots but had trouble getting them to stay on. After borrowing the Booting guide book off Natural Hoof we had no problem getting a perfect fit. The Swiss Horse Boots are a brilliant boot. A couple of changes we made were to put sheep skin around the back strap to stop rubbing and also to cover the rivets inside the boot as they rub into the coronary band.

The Ride
We had one last ride for the season and that was the 100kms at the Bankhouse endurance nationals (April 2004). Our main aim was to complete this ride but we also hoped for a top 10 finish. Getting reports from the 160km riders on track conditions we decided to use the boots on the first 30km loop.

The first lap started at 5am in crystal clear conditions. At completion of the first lap it was obvious that I wasn't going to win as the front runners were fair flying.

The track surface was not as bad as had been described so boots off for the remaining 3 loops. Things just got better and faster for us. The last vet in completed, Cynai gave the impression that she could have done it all over again.

Anyway, we were rapt as we had finished 9th out of 26 starters at our first nationals and first 100km ride at that.

Loop 1- 30km - 2:22:32
Loop 2- 26km - 2:13:14
Loop 3- 25km - 2:05:50
Loop 4- 20km - 1:20:10
Total time - 8:01:46

Our last loop was the 3rd fastest time for everyone competing. In hind sight I wish I had gone faster at the start because I now know it was a doddle for her. Cynai did 570kms in competition in this, her first season.

We have been covering the horses this season, but that is going to cease from now on except for at rides where I?m sure that if you didn?t, you would get some traditional thinkers telling you off.

A couple of observations that we have made during the season that I think are worth mentioning are:
  1. If you are considering bare footing then you have to realise that it is going to take time.
  2. You are going to get a lot of people trying to put you down, but you will notice that if you debate the issue with them you will soon realise that most of them are very uninformed on the workings of a horse's foot. Some vets we have noticed are the worst. We had one instance at a ride vet in, where the vet wanted to put the horse out, but after 4 trot outs, she couldn't. At the end of the ride we got another person to present the horse and as a result the vet never realised that the horse was bare foot. We ended up getting best conditioned.
  3. When discussing the track surfaces either pre-ride or post-ride, the people with shod horses seem to be more paranoid than us.

We believe that once someone wins some of these big rides on a barefoot horse, then people will give it some thought, but in the meantime we just have to keep our heads up and stick with it. One thing we are keen to observe is whether in the long term we can get a horse to perform at a high level for longer.

Alison Higgins

For more information, email Alison

Coming soon, Sheryl Campbell's success at the 2004 Endurance Nationals barefoot . . .

Related endurance article: Thorsten Kaiser Endurance Nationals 2003.

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