Thursday, 22 November 2012


Is anyone else, besides me, wondering if we really have our 24 hours daily and an average of 30 days per month? It feels like it was only a moment ago that I had the last sip of bubble to celebrate the New Year - and soon it's coming up again!

Kerstin Kemlén is a good friend of mine and as a person she is one that goes to the bottom of all issues she is faced with. She is a owner of harness horses with a strong focus on performance. It was a question of performance that led her into the subject bits and bitting and its consequences for horses. In the beginning the question was one of solving a problem for a specific horse in her stable which drove her to explore the topic, but now it has become a question of  horse health in general.

Early on Kerstin came in contact with Dr. Robert Cook, who developed a bitless bridle, and they have had an extensive email exchange over the years where Kerstin has raised questions and Dr. Cook answered by the best his of understanding and ability.

The essence of Dr. Cook's research is that bit, regardless of form, material or the quality of the riders hand causes damage to the horse. The damage can range from physical injuries from bit on bars, tongue and teeth into njuries that take a little more time to develop such as breathing disorder and behavioral disorders.

Just as traditional horse shoeing affects the horse negatively the tradition of brideling does the same thing. This colorful image taken from Dr. Cook's website shows by the scale the relative sensitivity to touch the different body parts of the horse have. The red areas represent the areas with the highest amount of sensory nerves. As you can see muzzle and mouth are areas very sensitive to touch.
Being a horse owner is to be aware of what you compromise with and why. I myself have chosen to shoe my horses this fall, and although I know that it costs in the form of hampered hoof mechanism, I´d take it rather than to have a horse rip itself.
I have bitted bridle in the tack room, but I ride using Dr. Cook's bitless bridle. And of course there is a difference in experience! The horse is a good deal stronger in bitless, 16 times stronger compared to a bitted horse according to Kerstin (who happily and readily calculates everything). Such a difference most certainly have an effect on the relative balance of strenght (if I can use that word) between horse and rider.
So when my horse gets Mr Hot in the Hat, that strenght it's really apparent ... but I have not felt unsafe despite some lively gallops. It is possible to make a one-stop rein with the bitless bridle and there is every opportunity to get a low-key communication via the bridle.
The difference is the feeling in the hand, there is no sensory feedback via the reins as one gets when the reins are attached to a bit the horse's mouth. It's actually quiet in the reins ... no chewing, no movement and it's really how it should be according to Dr. Cook. When the horse is working it has its mouth closed and it is still, it is only when the horse eats it should open the mouth and chew.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The hoof - a genious invention

Last fall, I was down to Iotas Hovbalans in Dalarna and took a course in Applied Equine Podiatry with KC LaPierre.
It was an interesting and thought-provoking course with many, for me, new perspectives on how the horse's hoof works and how it responds to the load that the horse is exposed to.
In the middle of his career as a farrier takes KC a place as an apprentice in a forge. The intention was to become such a skilled blacksmith that he could form any kind of horse shoe that he needed. During his two years as an apprentice the foundation for what would become KC's mantra was created: structure + function = performance. When he completed his apprenticeship period and returned to his profession as a blacksmith, he could really forge any shoe  atany time but there were still horses that he could not help. It led him on the path he walks now.
KC seeks to shift the focus of farriery from craft to science. Farriery became a profession that ceaced to develop as a new era of technological development began, and this in turn makes today's farrier trained with knowledge from the day before.
The basic thesis is that a healthy horse is dependent on healthy hooves whose function is to manage and distribute and utilize energy. Farriery in turn is designed to neutralize energy. This leads to a collision between nature and human demands and leaves the horse's hooves trapped in the middle.
KC has defined every part of his mantra: structure + function = performance. The structure is the internal components of the hoof and each component has a specific function that will work in harmony with all the other parts. Within the hoof there are several different types of tissue; blood-filled, not blood-filled, soft tissues and bone. The performance refers to how well a hoof can meet the requirements that the chosen activity imposes on the hoof. A recreational horse can function with lower demands on hoof performance than a racehorse in full racing condition. It may seem like a given truth, you do not drive Formula 1 with a SAAB V4 and hope for a top position, but according to KC lacking that insight is nonetheless quite common.
Domestic horses are living under very different premises than wild. It allows KC sometimes choose to talk about shod and unshod horses to emphazise that shoes may actually be the best compromise for some horses. Barefoot is always best for the horse, provided that its hooves have the qualities needed for the task. In shoeing the horse the hoof's natural mechanism is always adversely affected but if the job the horse is expected to perform also affects the horse negative, it may be better to have the horse shod.
Today there is are alternatives to iron shoes in the form of boots, various two-component gadges as "hoof wraps", plastic shoes and sole guards. A remark KC made is that, according to him, some of them does not take sufficient account of how the hoof defacto is built and that, indeed without nails, still hampers a proper foot function.
I have had my horses unshod in the summer but has been, because of lack of an alternative to shoes with studs, shood my horses now as the ice came. My horses are out 24-7 in a hilly forest pasture with a creek that runs through the pasture. When the creek begins to freeze and the water from the overlying wetlands continue to flow it floats out of the stream bed and freezes to ice on the ground. Our place is  popularly known as Märsfallet just because a mare slipped badly in the wake ice.

Personally I'm hoping for a snowy winter without periods of thaw because then I can take off the shoes at the end of December and then put them on again in March /April when spring with its icy periods comes. It is a compromise with the desire I have, but it's a conscious compromise, and I have (thank goodness!) a farrier that is open to dialogue.
KC comes to Boden in June and to give a 5 day course, read more about it on Kerstin's website. I recommend the course strongly!