Balanced Hooves: Kate & Luis

“My focus with Luis (JC New Prince) up to this point has been balancing his body, hooves and mind. I have had glimpses, small moments, when all the pieces have come together, but we still have a long road ahead. I figure if I help him to achieve balance in mind and body, the riding will just fall right into place.”

For 480 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2021 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, has begun! Over the next eight months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Horse Nation readers. This week, blogger Kate Coldren discusses the beginning of her journey into learning more about hooves and how it will affect Luis.

I keep telling myself, “You are light years ahead of where you were in 2019.” I am not sure I truly believe it, but I do have to say, since my last blog post I have learned vast amounts about equines, body and hooves. Yet, I still feel like I have hardly grazed the surface. This reminds  me of Albert Einstein’s quote, “The more you, learn the less you know.” My focus with Luis (JC New Prince) up to this point has been balancing his body, hooves and mind. I have had glimpses, small moments, when all the pieces have come together, but we still have a long road ahead. I figure if I help him to achieve balance in mind and body, the riding will just fall right into place.

Kate and Luis at the Robbie Potter Clinic in April. Photo courtesy of Kate Coldren.

The age-old phrase goes, “No hoof, no horse,” and I haven’t met anyone that works with horses that doesn’t believe these words. But, why? Why are horse feet so important to the horse? I have always been a perpetual student and this year I wanted to take a bigger step into the management of my horses by taking on their trimming, including Luis, my 2021 RRP prospect, who has been barefoot since his purchase last year.

Thoroughbreds have a reputation for not having quality or easy feet. I think this is 100% flimflam! Hooves are only as good as the nutrition, the care and the body mechanics of the horse. It is very possible their first high impact careers can contribute to pathology, but awareness of common issues is key. Yes, maybe they have long toes or high/low conformation or thin soles, but not one of these issues needs to progress to the point of lameness. It is so much easier to utilize husbandry rather than to put a horse through rehab that could last months or years! In my experience with my own off-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs), they can be very comfortable and happy barefoot. I hear so many people say, “I wish my horse could be barefoot.” And then they are steered down the more traditional path of steel for one reason or another.

Kate and Luis. Photo courtesy of Kate Coldren.

Why did we put steel shoes on horses anyway? It was done to prevent excess wear of the sole and the hoof wall. This came from the days when horses were a mode of transportation. In the 21st century with automobiles, using horses for transportation is much less common. However, tradition has kept things status quo. If it is not broke, don’t fix it, right?

Except, now horses are elite athletes pushing the level to jump bigger, run faster, step fancier. Except, the more I observe equine hooves around me, the more I have realized that “normal” has some sort of pathology that is treated with a band aid of pads and wedges. I am not a person who thinks all shoes are horrible — there is a place for them. Eventually, in high levels of sport, they are necessary to be competitive.

What I hope for is change in the industry driven by owners, maybe some curiosity and a little open mindedness to get better. As Denny Emerson says, “Know better to do better.” Learning from others’ mistakes is what makes the human species so successful, right? Instead of some wedges collapsing the horn tubules of an already underrun heel, let’s try something different. I am probably anthropomorphizing, but wouldn’t it be awesome to see jumping horses in something equivalent to Nike Air Jordan’s?

Photo courtesy of Kate Coldren

Luis has great quality hooves. But, he does have some medial-lateral balance issues that we are looking to improve upon. Currently, I am contributing his current wear patterns to being a large and growing horse, but I hope to learn more about this soon. My goal is to give him the best balanced feet that he possibly can have. And if I trim him myself, I can adapt his trimming schedule to exactly when he needs it instead of having to wait for a scheduled appointment with my farrier.

How did I get brave enough to take on this challenge? I did a few trims on my 2019 horse in between scheduled trims to keep him on track. This got me excited to try more. I began listening to a podcast called the Humble Hoof, where the founder and producer, Alicia Harlov, interviews other equine professionals about hooves. This introduced me to Ida Hammer. When I found a clinic, offered by her located just slightly over an hour from my home, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn more.

Ida has a very similar philosophy to my own in the sense that she does not practice farrier work traditionally with steel and nails. She trims, boots and places glue on shoes, all while taking into consideration the opinion of the horse. Their hooves belong to them after all! Progressiveness in the hoof care industry has been improving with numerous plastic/composite shoes available. These options are allowing more horses to transition from traditional steel shoes, comfortably to barefoot.

Alicia Harlov also interviewed Deb Davies in another podcast episode. Through investigation I found that Deb and Ida have been collaborating with their weekend clinic: The Hoof and Neck Connection (this just happens to be based at the same location as Ida’s hoof clinics). I had many take-aways and pages of hand-scribbled notes, but the one that I wanted to share with you is the importance of all equine professionals working in collaboration. When your farrier, bodyworker and veterinarian all are on the same page and communicating with the feedback of the horse, the results undeniably are better.

Beginner & Intermediate Trimming with Ida Hammer. Photos by Kate Coldren.

Circling back to the hoof, here is a little bit of knowledge I wanted to share: Biomechanically, horses’ hooves are meant to expand and contract as they move. This movement helps the blood fill into their feet. As the hoof leaves the ground,  a vacuum is created in their circulatory system and pulls the blood back up into to their bodies. Sometimes the hoof is called the second heart for this reason. This mechanism allows for the concussive forces of the ground to be dampened and absorbed by the digital cushion (located in the back of the hoof).

It has been found that horses traveling barefoot generally have a quicker recovery time and fewer injuries to ligaments and tendons. Traditional metal shoes limit the full range of expansion the hoof is able to perform, causing vibration to travel up the legs into the body. I still have much to learn about how the hoof aids in proprioception via nerve endings, but I intend to find out how it works! I also intend to understand how adding any type of shoe affects this.

I don’t want this to turn into a term paper, but there is so much information out there and I want fellow equestrians to know that the learning doesn’t have to stop at your discipline. I am going to let those interested research and ask their own questions. I am always glad to have more in depth conversations with others fascinated with the horse.

Beginner & Intermediate Trimming with Ida Hammer. Photos by Kate Coldren.

Yesterday, I completed my first full trim on Luis. The way he walked off after his trim was enough of an incentive to keep on going down this path. He moved off much straighter, his break over was clean and he didn’t catch his toes as I had previously observed over uneven terrain. He quietly made his way to his buddy and some grass. The type of quietness I look for in an OTTB comes from the balance of body and mind.

Photo courtesy of Kate Coldren

Kate grew up in rural New Hampshire where she rode Morgans competitively until the age of 14. She worked at a small private farm caring for Norwegian Fjords and Morgans through high school, while also enjoying her personal horses. She attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and continued her equestrian journey by taking hunter/jumper equitation classes every semester for four years. After college, she discovered her love for the OTTB in 2014 when she purchased JC Trickish, her first mount that started her on the path to become a member of the Retired Racehorse Project. In 2019 she was a first time competitor with JC Somebody’s Beau. They earned Best Conditioned in Competitive Trail while also competing in Show Hunter, placing in the middle of a huge class of over 100 horses. Kate is looking forward to sharing her experiences preparing for the 2021 Mega Makeover with Luis ( JC New Prince). 

Kate Coldren and JC Somebody’s Beau before the 2019 TB Makeover. Photo by Sean Coldren.