We are experiencing some beautiful advances in human wellness. In terms of body and foot function, we are humming along the spectrum between unfixed deformable orthotics (deformable shoes (no metal please!) and inserts) - near barefoot - and barefoot! now.
An absolutely delicious place to be: one that takes advantage of natural design as well as the wonders of modern civilization to both "have our cake and eat it too."
I had my first barefoot run on pavement the other day. I have always been a jogger, but Nike (similar to hoof boots) has always been my go to choice, unless I was goofing around playing soccer on grass (I do love barefoot! soccer).
What an interesting experience! Sensations causing depth in motion! By the end of the run, I had achieved some kind of bounce that was literally refreshing (not my usual, pant! pant! experience). It probably related to my ability to access elastic potential energy and depth in movement. Using the body over and over again in exactly the same way breaks it down. Diversity builds it up. See my previous posts to access some awesome research on the topic.
How deep and rich is your horses' physical experience? If we imagine our life as a stretchable canvas, how much depth, how much symphony, how much value can we create? Here are just a few thoughts:
"I see these barefoot horses on gravel and they "stumble" if they hit a high rock! Thus, they need a metal rim on the bottom of their limb because they are lame without it." ...
Our feet, like the horses hoof, (in fact our, the horse's and all animal's whole elastic body design), is engineered to attenuate physical impact. When the human (who has been running barefoot for approximately 2 million years) hits in a running shoe (our equivalent of a hoof boot), we strike heel first and have an abrupt impact as a result.
Our nervous system is "protected" from sensation when we wear shoes, and we erroneously think this is the absence of lameness.
But actually, the whole barefoot! running movement we are seeing is arising from the fact that this type of runing shoe impact takes a toll on the body and induces injury.
We land, when barefooted! generally completely differently (more on the balls of our feet). We, and the horse, use our whole body differently when barefooted! in ways that promote energy absorption that absolutely requires the neural feedback that barefooted! produces.
And yes, you humans can also become hurt from barefoot! running ... a mix of the 2 is probably best unless you are dealing with a specific physical limitation that would suggest using one or the other exclusively. Better yet, combine the two with the pursuit of all variations in movement ..( try some trail running! yoga! weight lifting!) if you really want to invoke common sense and maximize the wellness that relates to depth of physical richness in our lives.
The sense that "comfort" and lack of lameness is one and the same thing is erroneous. If our goal is comfort, we are seeking an absence of neural input, which is the absence of life. (Life on a couch eating Cheetos is comfortable .. exercise invokes nervous system function so that you can engage in the physical symphony of life which is not "comfortable" but instead has a whole suite of sensations associated with it.)
So, if you were to take off your soft shoes and walk on gravel, you would look pretty funny, and might even appear to stumble. Are you lame? LOL of course not! You are using your nervous system's inherent design to protect you from BECOMING lame. If you were forced across this surface, or spent too much time here all-at-once- then yes, you would become lame. Never, however, would human medicine suggest a fixed unnatural orthotic to protect you from gravel. Instead, currently, we might recommend 1) barefoot conditioning and 2) the use of unfixed orthotics, if we have no interest or time for conditioning, to protect against lameness. Let's start giving the horse the same medical benefits we give ourselves!
It is fascinating to me that so many riders seek physical depth in their life to achieve superior fitness, vitality, and living! and yet they take the opposite approach with their horse: excessively unnatural, calorie-rich, and sedentary lives with no color or experience. Sometimes proprioception in domestication might be the only interesting feature of a domesticated equine's day, and yet we fear anything but the most bland for our horsey friends. How do we feel about ourselves when we get hurt? Compare that with our emotional response to the horse if he gets hurt ... We all have a right to a rich life. So let's go about identifying intelligent and thoughtful ways of achieving that.
Horses will always get hurt, just like people, if they are alive. But are our current care practices just one big fat way (no pun intended) of lowering the bar for when horses will get hurt?
Proprioception, the functioning of the nervous system, is not lameness. It's absence, however, is guaranteed to promote lameness.