Lately the pressure at my barn to put shoes on my mare has been ratcheting up to the point where I think if I don’t do it, I might have to move her elsewhere. More on the reasons below*.
As I’ve said before, I don’t have a lifetime of horse-knowledge under my belt. During the short time that I have been with horses, I have done my best to learn as much as possible about all aspects of horsemanship, including the care of their feet. I am well aware that reading hundreds of books and attending clinics and trainings is not a substitute for forty-some years of experience, but it should count for something. I wish that the barn managers would understand that my decision to leave Maira unshod (to have her hooves trimmed naturally, to have her wear boots when we are in the mountains and rocky areas) was a decision made not out of ignorance or unwillingness to part with money but out of a respect for her feet and bones.
In How To Become Your Farrier’s Best Friend, I wrote a little about my feelings on this subject. To me, it’s a no-brainer that if your horse doesn’t have soft, shelly feet or some malformation that needs a shoe correction, or if you’re eventing at a high level or racing, then you should leave his feet alone. To the managers of the barn where I keep my horse, it’s equally a no-brainer that you put shoes on horses. Period. That’s the way it’s always been done and that’s the way you do it. Granted, they have little time for getting current with new trends in horsemanship. They are busy. They work hard. They have a lot of horses to ride and lessons to teach. Why fix it if it ain’t broke? But I am the lone boarder who says, “it’s broke.”
In the year and a half that Maria has been there, she has been lame twice. Once was an abscess of unknown origin, and the second time I believe she had what was maybe a light a stone bruise. She was fine the next day. Horses with shoes get stone bruises too. But the pressure was on to put shoes on her because both problems were thought to be due to her barefootedness. I have a million arguments as to why and how this is not true, but they don’t stand up because I’m not a lifelong horsewoman. I don’t have the clout. I lack the deep lines in my face, the calloused hands, the blue ribbons by the thousands.
In today’s blogpost, my friend Dogo Barry Graham told a story that perfectly captures my frustration and I wanted to share it. Maybe get his work to an audience who doesn’t ordinarily read the word of a Zen monk. He is a wonderful writer and I encourage anyone interested to read his blog.
When I was in my teens, living in Glasgow, Scotland, I developed an interest in fishing that lasted a couple years, though I only ever went fishing about a half-dozen times in all. There was nowhere to fish in the inner city housing project where I lived, and I could rarely afford the bus fare out of the city. Sometimes I’d walk north for two hours until I was in Milngavie, where I’d fish the River Allander (never catching anything) and sometimes illegally fish the reservoir.
Occasionally, I’d take the bus all the way out to Stirlingshire, to the River Forth. Twice I met a man there who had been fishing for more than ten years. One of the times I met him, he was annoyed because he kept catching eels, which he didn’t want. (I’ll never understand this aversion to eels, which are delicious; maybe it’s because of their snakelike appearance. Then again, I’ll never understand why people don’t like snakes.)
Even though I had only been fishing a short time, I’d read enough and talked to enough people to know that eels are bottom-feeders. I could see that this man had so much weight on his line that it was lying on the river bed rather than drifting in the water. I could tell this because the line was slack and curly, rather than being pulled tight by the current. Since the bait was on the bottom of the river, it was in the perfect position to catch eels, and the man caught plenty of them, which he gave to me and grumbled that he wanted trout.
I politely told him he had put too much weight on his line, and that he should take some off if he wanted to catch fish that weren’t bottom feeders. He shook his head. “I’ve been fishing for ten years,” he said, making it clear that he didn’t need to be told anything.
He had been fishing for ten years, and in that time he had doggedly continued to do the same thing, over and over, not getting the results he wanted, complaining about it, and never considering changing his methods. Young as I was, I was shocked. As I got older, I learned that most of us live our entire lives like that man.
I don’t want to live my life that way, and I don’t want Maira’s care to be determined that way, either. I”m still trying to decide if it’s worth staying and fighting the battle, or if I should just knuckle under and shoe her. What would you do?
* Wizard Liz, whom I respect greatly, has suggested that the boots will not hold up under trail riding conditions, and that she does not want to ride Maira using them. While I’m gone to work in Hawaii for the fall and winter, Wizard Liz will be riding Maria every day. This poses a problem.
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