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Leading by Example: Barefoot Endurance in New Zealand

By Sheryl Campbell

On the 27th October, 2002, during an 80 km Endurance ride, my horse Pendell Solma tripped over his feet, fell down a hill, tore his hamstring, and quietly carried his lucky-to-be-alive but uninjured rider (me) back to the ride base.

The following day, I removed his shoes (the far too big and far too heavy ones that my unqualified farrier had "made fit" for the ride one week previously). I had been tossing over whether to go barefoot for the previous year. At the Annual General Meeting of 2002, New Zealand Endurance voted in the right to ride barefoot. After the accident, I decided the time had come.

Initially, I had no idea what I was doing, and with the help of a neighbor, I started trimming my Solma's feet myself. Ten weeks later, on the 28th December, I rode in my first barefoot ride. Four weeks after this, I competed in the 80 km ride at the North Island Champs, and came in fourth place. I was hooked, and I took off as the new promoter of barefooting in Endurance.

Unfortunately, not everyone was supportive of this-in fact, I would say that 99% of riders were unsupportive, and I ran headfirst into negativity. One person made it their mission to tell me, in front of a crowd of people, that my horse's feet would end up with "bloodied stumps"-I decided, there and then, to lead by example instead of my over-zealous mouth!

Within about 6 months of going barefoot, things started to go wrong. My horse short stepped, started having a jilted action, and was starting to look strained in his face and muscles. Something was not right. I read all I could, and immersed myself fully into getting Solma going freely again. I knew I was on the right track-all his metabolics and heartrates were improving noticeably-but I just could not figure out where the problem was.

We had new neighbours move in, and I had heard that they "knew something" about feet. Little did I know that an SHP (Strasser Hoofcare Professional) had moved in next door, and knew a bit more than "a little something." By meeting Teresa & Glenn Ramsey (and, consequently, Penny Gifford), I had found my answer that I had been searching for. I needed a "high performance method," a "total lifestyle" method, a "scientific and researched approach" and I badly needed support.

I threw myself into learning. Teresa answered probably ten million questions-some really stupid, and some not so stupid-but I started to see that there were so many issues that I had not been dealing with.

Slowly, but surely, Teresa (and eventually Penny) worked on Solma, and I started work on myself. When I think about what was the hardest thing in transitioning from shoes to barefoot, I would have to say that, although Solma went through some big changes, he took it all in his stride (excuse the pun). I, on the other hand, was the emotional case. However, I pushed through. Off with the covers, out with the chemical wormers, processed feeds, martingales and kimblewicks, and in came the herdlife, oats, bitless bridles, and the endless day after day soaking of hooves, and let's not forget-movement, movement, movement.

I would have to say that this has been a real emotional roller coaster for me, and a major learning curve in my life. When you do Endurance, you spend a lot of time in the saddle, you build a very strong partnership with that horse-and you believe that everything you do for your horse, you do with their best interests in mind. To suddenly find that everything you have been doing is wrong-and that it is actually potentially damaging to your horse-is a really hard thing to come to grips with. Knowledge is everything, and I try to learn as much as I can.

To date, I am trimming Solma and my other horse myself (having done the Basic Hoofcare Seminar), using the Strasser Method, and this is overseen by Penny at about 6-week intervals. Teresa and Penny have always made themselves available to me for questions, study, etc., as well as the odd reality check.

One more interesting thing: Solma had been kicked in the knee as a colt, and this resulted in a fluid build up around the knee. Although unsightly, it had never caused a lameness issue. Since taking his shoes off at age 10, the swelling went down approx. 1/2 cm. Today, 2 1/2 years later, the swelling has 95% disappeared, and even the vets do not pick it up anymore.

No one can tell me that horses cannot go barefoot-I feel Solma has proven that on many occasions now, and on varied terrain, without any use of boots or hoof protection. Metabolics and lag times have improved easily by 50%. People are not so negative towards barefooting in Endurance now, and tend to be more open to asking questions. In fact, they have a good laugh at me soaking Solma in his portable footbath between loops! It is generally accepted that I ride barefoot, and no longer do I get, "oh, be careful out there Sheryl, it is really stony, and he probably won't get through." My little white horse has tough little WHITE pigmented feet, not the bloodied stumps as predicted.

Thank you, Solma, for teaching me that I was the one with the problem-not you. Thank you, Teresa and Penny, for being my hoofcare team. Thank you, Dr Strasser.

It is hard to put so much blood, sweat, tears and hope onto one article. Below are Solma's successes, and I have picked out 5 of my most favorite moments of success:

Solma's Ride History after going barefoot
Kilometers to date: 1144

1 x 20 km ride
2 x 40 km ride
1 x 48 km ride - vet-out, blew an abscess (movement, movement, movement!)
1 x 41 km ride
1 x 50 km ride
1 x 60 km ride - did not qualify, overtime (yes, okay, I rode too slow)
1 x 65 km ride
6 x 80 km rides - 1 withdrawal mid-ride due to bad weather storm
3 x 100 km rides - 1 vet-out, horse fell and ended up in electric fence 1 km from base, went on heartrate.
2 1/2 years barefoot, and only 2 vet-outs, with only one of these due to lameness. Pretty good statistics!

My favorite rides since going barefoot:
Jan 21, 2003, North Island Championships 80km - placed 4th
Feb 16, 2003, Whongamongama 80km - placed 6th
Jan 25, 2004, North Island Championships 100km - placed 25th
Apr 11, 2004, New Zealand Endurance Nationals 100km - placed 16th
Feb 20, 2005, Te Miro Points Ride 65km - placed 2nd

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