Forage Walk at Horse Haven UK – 11 September 2016 (Part 1)

This fabulous walk was hosted by the lovely Suzie and Mike of Horse Haven UK and led by Stuart Attwood of Total Contact Equine Solutions.  Part of Stuart’s role is advising horse owners on natural herbal choices for their horses and so he was sharing his knowledge on the wonderful plants available for free in our hedges and pastures.

Here are some of the plants we covered:

Sow Thistle

This plant can be identified by its hollow stem and the white latex that oozes out when the stem is cut.


  • high in vitamin C
  • good for digestion, especially in the hind-gut





  • anti-inflammatory
  • arterial dilator, therefore helps to lower blood pressure
  • strengthens heart muscle
  • helps to convert Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) to High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), ie ‘bad cholesterol’ into ‘good cholesterol’ therefore helping to prevent the build-up of plaque in the coronary arteries

cut and allow to wilt then leave for the horses to nibble on as they choose


Blackberry / bramble

These two are effectively the same.  They cross pollinate within their family resulting in variations but all have the same benefits.  They are related to roses, as can be seen by their serrated edged leaves, and share many of the same properties.


  • anti-inflammatory
  • high in vitamin C
  • astringent, therefore can be used to stop bleeding
    • crush the leaves and apply to the cut





  • help to remove uric acid from the joints and therefore are good for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
  • blood cleanser
  • help with balancing sugar levels in the blood and therefore can be useful in cases of laminitis




This plant comes in two forms – a broad leafed variety and one with a narrower leaf – but they both share the same properties


  • dried leaves are good for gastric ulcers
  • the small, young leaves are good to eat (can be added to salads)
  • good for digestion (the broad leafed variety is better)
  • seeds are good for adding to soups / stews / breads / salads
  • they are very good at relieving the sting / itch from bites and stings – even better than dock leaves





  • antiseptic / antiviral / antibacterial / anti-inflammatory
  • astringent – good for stopping bleeding, as with blackberry leaves above
    • particularly good with metal cuts so useful if your horse cuts itself on wire out in the field
  • acts as a gentle, background wormer. If it is available horses will nibble on it from time to time keeping their worm burden low throughout the year
  • good for gut inflammation




The whole of this plant is edible and its young leaves can be added to salads or cooked like spinach

If using the roots, soak them in water or milk first to remove the bitterness.  These can then be peeled and roasted like parsnips


  • the latex within the stems can be used to treat warts
  • acts as a diuretic therefore supports the kidneys and can be used to help relieve urine infections



Common Hogweed


  • Not to be confused with Giant Hogweed! However the Giant variety is truly huge, growing up to 9 feet high with flower umbellifers like massive dinner plates, so when fully grown it is obvious which is which.
  • causes photosensitiviy, particularly if picked during hot sunny days


  • good for digestion
  • seeds (taste a little like cardamom) can be calming



Split Willow


  • leaves are good for digestion
  • bark is good for pain relief (we get aspirin from the bark of the Willow tree)




This comes in 2 forms, a larger, white flowering variety that tends to grow upwards in hedges and a smaller, ground level plant with more pinkish flowers.


in small quantities this can

  • help to balance blood sugar levels as it contains inulin
    • this also helps to remove visceral fat (ie the fat that surrounds our organs)
  • act as a calmative

bindweed    ground-bindweed

The challenge of going barefoot with your horse- part 3

In Part 1 I looked at the various elements that need to be in place in order to maximise your horse’s chances of success when transitioning from shod to barefoot, and in Part 2 I talked about some of the issues that might arise after the shoes come off.

So, if removing the shoes brings so many issues, why am I still pro-barefoot?

When barefoot, the hoof acts almost like another heart, helping to hoof-heartpump blood back up the leg. Horses don’t have any muscles in the lower part of their legs (movement here being effected by tendons and ligaments) however the action of the frog coming into contact with the ground and the hoof wall naturally flexing with the impact of each step, forces the blood round the extensive capillary system and back up the leg helping to remove waste products and to deliver the oxygen and vital nutrients that the tissues need in order to be healthy.

Shoes are made of solid metal and are applied to the foot when it is off the ground, ie non-weight bearing. This fixes the hoof in its most contracted form. Now, when the horse moves, the hoof is no longer able to flex, the frog has little to no contact with the ground and the weight distribution on the hoof wall is subtly altered. All of these factors affect the horse’s circulation and the pressure and stresses put upon the foot.

In addition there are increased percussive forces due to the hard metal shoe, which are passed up through the bones, tendons & ligaments to the rest of the body causing additional wear and tear on the joints and back. Try holding an old discarded shoe in your hand and hitting it against a wall. Feel that impact reverberating up your arm and into your back… And, unlike us, horses cannot take their shoes off if they feel tight, or even just at the end of a long day. An alternative, hoof boots, (mentioned above) can be fitted with gel ‘insoles’ and can easily be taken on an off as needed, providing comfort and protection when the surface is rough then removed to allow the hooves contact with the ground once more, helping to toughen them up and allowing them to work as nature intended.


A hoof that has been shod for a long time is generally markedly different from one that has never been shod. This photo (left) shows a hoof that has been barefoot for some time. It has a strong sole, wall and bars. Also the frog looks healthy and there’s a nice wide heel with a shallow sulcus.

In contrast this hoof, which has just had its shoe removed, has a unhealthy-solecontracted heel with a deep sulcus which could allow infections such as thrush to grow. The frog and sole look very different from those in the picture above and the wall appears to be crumbling. There are marks on the sole which could indicate infection or bruising.

I believe that shoes can cause a wide range of health issues, not just to the feet but to the whole of the body. Nature is always geared towards survival and horses have evolved over millions of years to have strong, healthy feet – without shoes. Take the wild mustangs as an example (the model that Jaime Jackson uses in his studies). They have never worn shoes and yet they easily travel over some very rough and abrasive terrain. Some people worry that horses need shoes in order to protect their feet from being worn down when ridden on the road, however this is not the case. Take for example the man who drove a barefoot caravan across the US (Barefoot Horse magazine Issue 7 2015). He actually had to trim his horses’ feet as the wear and tear of the road surface could not keep up with how much the hooves were growing! Also the Houston Mounted Police, who obviously work in urban areas, are now barefoot. As mentioned above the hoof wall naturally grows down about 1cm a month and if the foot is healthy, with a good diet and plenty of movement to encourage good circulation, exercise will actually encourage more growth to compensate for any wear from walking.

Advantages of being barefoot:

  • Shoes numb the feet.
  • o       This means that your horse is less sensitive to pain. This might sound like a good thing, except that pain is there for a reason. It alerts us to a problem and can give an indication of how severe that problem is. Yes, removing a horse’s shoes can make it seem that he is suddenly very uncomfortable, but is this just that an existing problem can now be felt? Without shoes would you actually have earlier and more accurate access to this warning system?
  • o       It also means that your horse is less aware than he might be of where his feet are. This has implications for his balance and recovery from any slips or trips on difficult ground. It also means that if he stand on your toe he might not realise it!
  • Ÿ         Metal shoes can be very slippery, either in wet conditions or even on some dry surfaces like concrete. Barefoot hooves have a better natural grip, combined with the awareness mentioned above and therefore can be much safer for horse and rider. (Shoes with studs might offer better grip but they also alter the balance of the horse’s hoof causing issues for the tendons and ligaments that support it.)
  • Ÿ         If your horse develops some ‘footiness’ you will spot it earlier as mentioned above, and you can opt to use hoof boots for extra comfort. These can be used as needed, and can be in a wide variety of styles, depending on the terrain and type of work being done.



Taking your horse’s shoes off is not always easy but there is plenty of support available. If you are lucky enough to be on a natural livery with other ‘barefooters’ don’t be afraid to ask for their advice. Chances are they’ve already been through similar issues with their own horses. If however, you are on your own land, or at a livery which has not yet embraced the ‘natural’ lifestyle, I recommend joining one of the barefoot groups on Facebook (see suggestions below) where you can ask questions and read other people’s experiences. If you get discouraged, or it all seems too much, remember that this process takes time. You don’t need to do it all in one day, one week or even one month. There will be ups and downs and sometimes it can feel that you’re taking one step forward and two steps back as your horse’s soundness varies from day to day, but remember your goal – the all-round health and comfort of your beautiful animal. Of course it’s hard when you can’t explain to your horse that the short term discomfort is for his own good and will be worth it in the end, but generally, in a relatively short time, you will see improvements.

I often hear that horses move more freely when their shoes are removed and even that it’s almost as if they take a sigh of relief to be rid of the restrictive metal. This can seem to be short lived when your horse then realises that he can feel every bump and tiny stone under his feet but think what it would be like for you if, after a long cold winter wearing boots and shoes you decide, at the first glimpse of spring, to go walking barefoot in the grass… How wonderful it feels to have that cool green softness under your feet! How amazing to feel this contact with the earth – until your sensitive skin hits a stone or thorn and -‘Ouch!’ But if you were to persevere, taking care where you place your feet and resorting to light footwear again, temporarily, for the rougher ground, you would find that your feet, too, would soon toughen up and you would be able to enjoy the benefits of walking more naturally.

As with all aspects of providing a more natural lifestyle for your horse (for further information see the whole blog series – links below) going barefoot helps to create a less stressful environment for your horse. This allows his para-sympathetic nervous system to operate more effectively, meaning that his body is able to rest and repair when necessary, enabling him to stay healthy. It will also mean that he is more content and relaxed and therefore happy, curious and open to exploring and learning new things. The transition to barefoot can be a challenge, but I believe that the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term issues. Your vet, being a medical professional who is trained to relieve suffering, might be focused on any discomfort that your horse is currently feeling but I hope that, armed with the information above, you will be able to show them the long term goal of a happier, healthier horse.

Remember that the horse is legally yours and therefore any decisions about its welfare are ultimately yours to make. A vet can only diagnose and advise. It is then up to you to decide what action you wish to take. If you disagree with their view – and it is only their opinion – you can always ask for another vet to take a look at your horse. If you are unhappy with your vet in any way, perhaps it is time to look for someone who you feel is more in line with what you believe to be best for your horse.


If you have any further questions about Track Systems, diet or the health of your horse, please feel free to contact me:


phone:             07980 669303



I also offer workshops exploring ways to keep your horse as happy and healthy as possible, and to deepen the connection between you. For more information click here.  The next workshop is on Saturday 24 September.  Places are limited so please book early to avoid disappointment.


Useful books and other publications:


Some Facebook groups to explore:

Ÿ         Barefoot Horse Info

Ÿ         Barefoot Horse Owners Group UK

Ÿ         The Barefoot Horse Magazine

Ÿ         The Barefoot Approach to Whole Horse Health

Ÿ         Horse Track System

The challenge of going barefoot with your horse – part 2

In Part 1 I looked at the various elements that need to be in place in order to maximise your horse’s chances of success when transitioning from shod to barefoot:

  1. lifestyle
  2. diet
  3. working with your horse
  4. trim

When points 1-3 are covered, and you’re ready take your horse’s shoes off, what happens next? Well, this will depend on the health of the horse and his feet. How long has he been wearing shoes and how much has this affected the various layers of tissue? If a horse has been shod for a long time this will probably have impaired his circulation and caused his frogs to atrophy. If this is the case then he will probably require a longer transition period.



This photograph shows a contracted heel with a deep cleft that can harbour bacteria leading to infection. It also indicates that the tissue is not as healthy as it could be meaning that the hoof might not be growing very well. A healthy hoof grows at about 1cm per month meaning that it can take about 9 months for new tissue to grow down from the coronet band to the ground. If the tissues have been compromised, this growth rate can slow down to almost nothing, however when the shoes are removed and the diet and lifestyle improved they can recover and in time proper growth should be re-established.

In the meantime the hoof might need to get rid of toxins that have been collecting. This can – and probably will – result in abscesses. These can be very painful while the pressure is building within the hoof however this quickly passes when the abscess bursts. This is a natural process and if possible should be left to do its own thing. Digging it out could actually introduce foreign matter leading to further complications. The body knows what it is doing and its aim is always to return to good health in order to survive, therefore it is best to allow the process to run its course as naturally as possible. Once the abscess has burst, keep the foot clean (using a simple salt or apple cider vinegar soak) and poultice to remove the infected material. The wound should then recover by itself.

If your horse has been suffering with laminitis he will probably be veryunhealthy-hoof-side footsore. Depending on the severity of the laminitis, and the length of time it has been present, there could be visible signs such as ‘rings’ on his hooves, lack of concavity of his soles and under-run heels / long toes, due to the distortion of the hoof capsule.

Taking the shoes off at this point will reveal the extent of the horse’s discomfort. Shoes can actually mask pain, in that they reduce the circulation to the foot, and therefore its sensitivity, however they will not help to heal the laminitis.

Your vet will probably prescribe pain killers at this point, and possibly even recommend re-shoeing your horse, however the final decision is yours. Using pain killers can mask symptoms and even contribute to the condition they are supposed to be helping, due to the effects they have on the horse’s metabolism. Of course you do not want your horse to suffer, nor do you wish him to go off his food, but this needs to be balanced against the detrimental effects of medications such as ‘bute’.

Jaime Jackson, in his book Founder Prevention and Cure the Natural Way recommends a 4-day cycle where you only medicate the horse, as necessary, for 3 days, then give him 1 day off to allow the medication to work out of his system and review how he is doing. Gradually reduce the medication until he no longer needs it. He also recommends allowing the horse to move around freely. At first your horse might need to be encouraged to move and might only be able to take a few short steps, but this should be done frequently throughout the day until he is more comfortable and able to move on his own. Box rest and confinement should be avoided where at all possible. If necessary put down mats or a softer surface for your horse to walk on initially until he is no longer in so much pain. Movement is an essential part of the healing process as it encourages good circulation which helps to remove toxins and bring much needed oxygen and nutrients to the tissues in order for them to heal.

Horses with painful feet often appear to get relief from standing in cold water. The cooling affect must be soothing to their inflamed tissues. Wild horses do this naturally as it is hydrating for their hooves and helps to keep them strong.

When your horse is comfortable walking on soft ground you can gradually introduce other surfaces. Initially he will probably show signs of ‘footiness’ on harder or rougher surfaces. Hoof boots can be a useful support here allowing time for the stronger hoof to grow down and his feet to toughen up. There are a wide range of boots available in a range of fittings. I recommend contacting Liz Hapgood of The Hoof Bootique. She stocks a wide variety of boots and is able to talk you through the measuring and selection process.

Something else that often worries horse owners is the shapes that a hoof-flaretransitioning hoof goes through as it gradually finds its way back to balance and health. Flares, cracks and flaking are common. This is another reason to use a qualified Barefoot Trimmer as they will be able to reassure you and advise you on any further ways to support your horse. They also have an in-depth understanding of hoof balance and so will be able to ensure that your horse is as comfortable as possible, no matter how strange his feet are looking!

As mentioned above, the hoof grows at about 1 cm per month so after a short while it is possible to see the new, healthy wall growing down. This can be at a very different angle from the old hoof and results in a ‘broken hoof-pastern axis’. It can look a little odd at first (see below) but it is a very encouraging sign that your horse’s hoofs are beginning to heal themselves. It is worth taking pictures at intervals so that you can track his progress and look back to see how far you have come. As the new hoof continues to grow down it can appear that the lower section might snap off, however this is unlikely to happen as the horse does not roll his foot forward over his ‘toe’ area as we do, but rather lifts his hoof straight off the ground.


In Part 3 I’ll be looking at what you can do if your vet insists on reshoeing your horse.

The challenge of going barefoot with your horse – part 1

In my work I often come across people who have made the choice to take the shoes off their horse, only to run into challenges.

Going barefoot is often not for the faint-hearted, but I do believe that it is the best choice for your horse. There are the odd exceptions to this (some horses’ feet have had such a poor start in life or have suffered from years of shoeing and inappropriate diet and lifestyle) but generally, if all the right conditions are in place, the majority of horses can make the transition. Of course this can take time, and the hooves might go through all sorts of weird shapes and variations in comfort levels, however with perseverance they will develop those ‘rock-crunching’ feet you dream of.

So what are those ‘right conditions’ I mentioned? As you can see from the diagram below, removing your horse’s shoes and getting his feet trimmed is only a small part of a holistic way of caring for your horse. Having said that, I would strongly advise using a qualified Barefoot Trimmer to do this job, as they will have been trained on how to achieve the proper balance in a horse’s hoof and how best to work with them through the transition from shod to barefoot. If you don’t know of a trimmer near you, contact Hoofing Marvellous. They have a list of trimmers covering a wide area and can probably point you in the direction of a good local trimmer.


You will see that the basis of this holistic way of keeping your horse is all about providing them with as natural a lifestyle as possible. For those who are not lucky enough to have their own land this will probably be some form of livery. There is a growing number of places that now offer a ‘Paddock Paradise’ or ‘Track System’ livery which seeks to recreate as natural a lifestyle for our horses as possible. (I highly recommend reading Jaime Jackson’s book Paddock Paradise, if you haven’t already, as it will help to explain this system of boarding and how it benefits the horses.)

Track Systems are just that: a track that allows for the continual movement that can be seen in wild horses as they walk around their territory in search of food. This promotes good circulation and digestion helping to keep the horse healthy and fit. Horses kept this way are normally on 24 hour turnout, with field shelters, trees and hedges providing places to seek refuge from sun, rain and wind. The idea is also to keep horses together in ‘herds’ so that they are able to socialise with each other.


The next layer of the pyramid is diet. Horses are designed to eat little and often. They have small stomachs and no gall bladder. They have evolved to extract nutrition from tough vegetation using bacterial fermentation. These symbiotic bacteria work best when the horse eats the right kind of food, ie plants and grasses that are high in fibre and low in sugars. They are very sensitive to changes in this balance which can lead to health issues in the horse.

The grass in many of our fields is high in sugar as it was designed to fatten cows or to achieve a high milk yield. It is actually unhealthy for our horses, especially our native breeds who have evolved to live on wild moorland. Added to this, many of the bagged feeds available for horses contain high levels of sugar, and chemicals such as mould inhibitors and pesticides. For this reason it is best to feed your horse as naturally as possible. Try to source hay made from old meadow grasses that have been grown on land that has not been fertilised or sprayed. It is worth having your hay analysed to see its energy and mineral content to ensure that you know what is lacking in order to provide a fully balanced diet for your horse.

You can also offer a wide range of other plants for horses to forage from. This will satisfy their natural instinct to browse for additional nutrients and can be a healthier way to offer these vitamins and minerals than some of the commercial supplements. (One of my other blog posts gives ideas on herbs and other plants to offer.) If it is necessary to use a supplement, try to find one that is as natural as possible and free from added sugar and chemicals. (If you are in any doubt about your horse’s diet, and whether or not it is fully meeting his nutritional needs, consult a qualified equine nutritionist.)

The third layer of the pyramid refers to training. This is not something that I will go into here other than to say that I recommend finding ways to work with your horse. Find what he enjoys and try to always keep the sessions light and fun. Doing this will mean that he looks forward to your time together and it will keep him curious and open to learning. Any signs of stress or fear mean that he is going into the ‘fight or flight’ response and is no longer open. He is now looking for ways to diffuse or escape a situation that has become uncomfortable to him. If this happens stop the activity that was causing stress and take a break or end the session. If you can, try to end on a positive and encouraging note. Both you and your horse will feel better and be more optimistic about future sessions.

In Part 2 I’ll be looking at what happens after your horse’s shoes come off.