Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The dilemma of a foot care provider and 'value for money'.

As we discover more about true foot function, we learn what is correct stimulus for health and what is not.  We categorically know now that shoeing is not good for hoof health and neither is conventional trim methods.

As an applied equine podiatrist, it is my job above all else to protect the horse from harm and I do this by providing information to the owner so they can be responsible for making informed decisions regarding their horses health and welfare. 

Every horse and horse/owner relationship is unique.  Some owners only want the very best for their horses which often means they want the shoes removed and will do everything they can to improve foot health.  However, sometimes these owners simply cannot provide the ideal environment for their horse and finances and other resources come into play such as time, energy and available environment........

Some owners have everything at their disposal but would prefer to put their own needs first and would like to continue riding or feeding what they want to feed for example so in doing so they decide they won’t provide the environment required for healing and rehabilitation.  Sometimes it is simply in the best needs of the horse to remain shod, no matter how committed the owner and what resources they have available.  I know this may come as a shock to some purist pro-barefooters out there but with correct and in-depth knowledge of foot function you can understand when a horse will suffer more for having shoes removed and sometimes it is just best for the horse to leave things as they are.

So when I get called out for an initial consult, I try to ascertain the commitment level of the owner and ask many questions.  What is their motivation to improving their horse’s health?  How do they imagine I can help?  What knowledge do they have about AEP and caring for the barefoot horse?  What vet tests have been done?  Was there a diagnosis?  I also try to find out how committed they will be and what resources they have, which is not always just about money.  Going barefoot responsibly can seem to be expensive at the start but pays off long term in health benefits.

So, after in-depth discussions with an owner and full evaluation of the horse’s current foot health and environment, I may actually come to the conclusion that removing shoes and going barefoot with a particular horse is inappropriate.  Or I may feel that it is appropriate and will help the owner make informed decisions, but ultimately it is the owner’s choice and I always respect their choices. 

If I feel that the owner wants to go barefoot but is making choices that will compromise their horse’s welfare, I will politely say so and I will make the decision not to support that owner with their choice and will not remove the shoes or continue as their foot care provider. 

These are tough choices and this has only happened once to me so far. 

Incidentally, the question of value for money sometimes comes into play when I talk about what I do.  The local farrier might only charge £20 for a trim, but what is that trim doing to the short and long term health of the horse?  That depends on the current health of the horse and what is being asked of it.  I know from personal experience that removal of my TB’s shoes a few years ago lead to chronic laminitis.  My farrier at the time simply did what I asked, no questions and no comments but the removal of the shoes left the weak foot vulnerable to stress and strain and within weeks she had an attack of laminitis and I was completely shocked!  Now, because of my education and knowledge, I know that if the roles were turned and I was the foot care provider for that horse, I would have been able to assess the health of the foot and more accurately predict the consequences of removing the shoe and applying a grass trim so I would be able to treat the foot accordingly, apply the HPT method to properly balance the foot/hoof, apply perfect hoof wear and condition the foot accordingly to improve on health, spectrum and performance.  In other words, I could recognise in the first instance that the foot health was poor, I would know how to balance for health, what tissues and structures needed to be improved and how to stimulate improvement of health; all by providing THE CORRECT ENVIRONMENT FOR THE RETURN OF HEALTH! 

Just doing that would have saved several thousands of pounds on vet bills, supplements and remedial shoeing, which incidentally did not improve on the overall spectrum other than to slow down the rate of deterioration.  But most of all it would have saved on an immense amount of pain and distress on behalf of the horse and on the heartache experienced by my whole family as we watched her in so much pain.

I am not saying that all farriers are not doing a great job, but I am saying that the £50 I charge in an initial consult is money extremely well spent and considering it usually takes me about 3 hours for the first consult, that works out at only £16.60/hour.  So when your farrier does a barefoot or grass trim without completing a spectrum of usability, without applying hoof testers, without ascertaining what level of work the foot is capable of, without ascertaining what structures require improvement, without giving guidance on what is appropriate stimulus for health, without advising you how to properly treat infection and taking photos, and then not providing you with a written copy of your horses evaluation and guidance, then the £20 for a 15 minute session doesn’t seem like such great value.

((Incidentally, repeat consults are £40 or £37.50 if you have more than one horse done at the same time and multiple horse owners can always negotiate more discount!))

But my horse is fine you say and he is trimmed every 8 weeks by my farrier?  And that’s great, but would you like them to be finer? 

Do you have a horse on retirement because the vets and farriers say it will never get better?

I’m not saying I can work miracles and that I do the healing.  I don’t and I can’t.  Only the horse can do that.  But until you provide your horse with the proper environment required for the horse to self heal, you will never know if you horse can get better or sounder.

Happy riding/caring!

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