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Natural collection is the physical state of the equine body least likely to become lame over the course of a lifetime. In this section, we will begin to develop an eye for natural collection as well as focus on how various aspects of domestication, in particular hoof trimming, can both positively or negatively affect the state of the equine body. Further examples of naturally collected horses can be found in the "Wild Horse Gallery."
This first image (1) can be found at drderock.com under "How Horses Work."
At her site, she has a nice, brief overview of body pain created by the inverted horse (the opposite of naturally collected). Jamming the root of the neck, rotating the pelvis, and "breaking" a horse's back can be created by certain riding practices. She goes on in the overview to describe how she treats pain symptoms that arise from body inversion.
In addition to her observation that riding practices can negatively affect natural collection, it is also true that on-the-ground handling practices can create inversion in our domestic partners. Draw your eye to the broken back, rotated pelvis, jammed root of the neck, and broken diagonal/centralized weight bearing required to react to conventional in-hand practices (2).
It is important to assert early on that natural collection is not about positional information, ie the "where" of footfall, neck, poll, face or limb, as you can see from this magnificently naturally collected animal (2B - John Wheland, US Great Basin). Rather it is about the capacity of your horse, through balanced coordination, to access "every particle of his being" (Bill Dorrance) during movement (including the movement of being very still to the naked eye). Natural collection is destroyed during communication that is based on, however subtle, pushing, pulling and pressuring. Inspired movement is the basis of natural collection.
Equally important in creating or preserving natural collection in our domesticated partners is the extent that a horse can access his natural behaviors (species-appropriate, and hence health building, behaviors created by access to optimal natural lifestyle) (2A) and......
his hoof care (2C)!
Looking at my trimming case studies now, we can further our appreciation of how we can both see and create better energetic and physical connections in a horse's body.
Case study 1 (3).
This is an older roping horse coming out of shoes. In October of 2011, before the first trim, we have a typically, mildly inverted domesticated horse (3).
We have the impression of body parts stuck together, neck stuck to shoulder, shoulder stuck to barrel, barrel stuck to pelvis. There is inappropriate tension visible, as joints try to align in the absence of hoof capsule alignment with the skeleton.
We see a heavy, splayed forward front end, a long distended belly as a result of an energetically broken back, a rotated pelvis, a characteristic dip in front of his croup, a stiff "poker-straight" hind end and, in general, "broad base" energetics, meaning that the horse cannot fully collect himself due to his inversion.
In (4), I have overlayed his inverted body with "energetic impression lines."
After 10 weeks under my care (5 and 6), we see improved results.
Horses transitioning under my care often appear physically younger and more vital as a result of the trim. Note the overall relaxation of the entire body. Instead of a heavy front end, we see an upwelling of energetics here.
In (6) I have overlayed the same photo with "energy impression" lines.
We see that natural hoof alignment with the skeleton allows for enhanced body collection. Note the shortened belly, the beautiful connection from the loin through the hoof, the freed shoulder and root of the neck, and the back that is now more lifted and engaged (7) and able to support the weight of the rider.
Although all living beings are physically imperfect and have individual limitations, it is a great joy to so dramatically improve a horse's potential for well being. This horse moves now in ways that are beautiful for him (7) and to me.
As an example here in (8), it is definitely worth noting the degree in which a trim, in this case mine (right) versus the previous hoof care provider (left), can affect a horse. Sickle-hocked? I think not. The before and after picture are separated by 6 months. This Icelandic is middle-aged and has never been shod. She is also intermittantly laminitic.
I want you to take a moment to think about slide (8), the next case study and this article, which is a typical article on "conformation," www.thehorse.com/articles/10115/conformation-in-horses. Please then tell me what you think and I will post interesting comments on the site. For me, one of the great tragedies for the domesticated horse is our inability to WANT to shake off years of completely ineffective thinking, and to see, really see, the horse.
And now back to case studies. This is a middle-aged OTT thoroughbred (9). Here we see her in February of 2011. She looks old and beaten down, doesn't she? We see the same body inversion issues again for her from trim practices that unbalance the hoof.
She has a heavy, splayed forward front end with relatively overdeveloped cranial superficial pectoral muscles (9, arrow). These muscles are chronically engaged in an effort to brace the body backwards to compensate for the hoof being out of alignment with the skeleton. We have the impression of a ewe-neck, with the characteristic dip in front of the withers (9, arrow). We see the broken back. We have the dip in front of the croup. We have the stiff poker-straight hind end and rotated pelvis. We have the long belly. We see tension everywhere and have the impression of body pieces stuck together: neck stuck to shoulder, shoulder stuck to trunk, trunk stuck to hind end.
And now the same horse 6 months later (10). During the 6 month period, despite the stress of also developing severe UVitis and surgical removal of her eye, look what my trim was able to accomplish for her. This couldn't possibly be the same horse, could it? Where did all her "conformational flaws" go? How is it that she appears years younger and so much more comfortable and relaxed? What an amazing gift to give her body back to her, closer to the potential she was born with and closer to the potential we should be striving to produce in our own bodies and in our beloved animals.
We see gorgeous energetic connection of her whole body, so that every particle of her being is indeed more available to her for spontaneous redirection, without any particular heaviness or bias. Look at the energy arc connecting the loin to, and through, the hind hoof. Look at the beautiful and balanced front end, with the upwelling of the energy from the earth through the front limbs and spilling like a fountain down her back. Look at her gorgeous neck. Look at her lifted back.
While this section is not about trimming elements, I do have a close up of her front end, shoulder to ground for you to look at. Without continual video or photographic analysis (future directions!) I cannot prove the increase in stride length and greater degree of collection this horse experiences, but I can provide photos that represent an antectodotal visual average.
Before I started working on her, we see a common trimming practice: unbalancing the hoof by shortening the toe (horizontally, and thus also ultimately, vertically). There are several "ideas" behind this, but one is to facilitate "hoof breakover." The unfortunate reality is that many professionals and lay persons put an entirely inappropriate focus on the lower leg and hoof (essentially carpal joint and lower for soft tissues and fetlock joint and lower for hoof balance/bone ideas) and simultaneously use "intro-level physics" to both determine how to trim the hoof and judge the body.
An entirely more global and softer focus is required, one that understands biomechanics from a holistic, evolutionary and species perspective.
As owners, I challenge you to start comparing health care practices with the hoof and horse to any and all comparable health care practices we apply to any other species, most especially ourselves. For example, I don't know of any other animal (including us) that any health professional would, in any way shape or form, recommend shortening the foot and simultaneously assert that some type of biomechanical advantage has been gained. I have adult human friends with size 13 feet as well as 5. No one I know suggests that size 5 is better. Nor would they assert that the Achilles tendon needs altered by fixed unnatural structure or form, and most especially not because of a shoe size! (Hint: consider the location of the' heel" relative to a fixed point in the skeleton in the two species ... see further blog posts, especially regarding the detrimental focus we have on altering the tension in the deep digital flexor tendon and hence destroying our ability to create a well, biodynamically balanced hoof and body).
"Long toes" in horses are not long toes. The hoof is either functioning as a complete biomechanical and sensory organ balanced to the horse, by biodynamic growth-based equilibrium driven by the use of the entire body, or not.
Let's look at these ideas more closely.
In (12) we see the results of overtrimming the toe....on the left, the toe looks flipped up relative to the leg column and the heel is correspondingly underrun. This destroys the ability of the front leg to function in balance and drives base-wide energetics and body inversion. One way you could think about this is that the hoof has been trimmed to cause the hoof capsule to rotate away from the skeletal system of the leg as a whole. This essentially puts a kink in the leg. This, in turn, destroys the elastic potential energy (think of a kink in a spring) that is provided by the natural alignment of ligaments, tendon and muscle that the horse relies on to convert his weight into something that springs off the planet. This hoof cutting is often done with the thought that the cutter is improving or maintaining a straight, co-linear aspect between the coffin bone's anterior face and the anterior hoof wall. Unfortunately, that "thinking" destroys the alignment of the whole body. I would assert that patience and good natural trimming achieves more over time than any short term decision that forces the hoof to look different, or function differently, than its actual natural state. With our ability to record and analyze, we could look at this closely! and determine best practices for equine care, if we were to fund and execute the work.
On the right, after my care, a more balanced hoof, a more balanced body.
In (13), by dropping plumb lines, we see the toe relative to the shoulder, in terms of "average." You can appreciate the toe and heel coming back under the limb by judging the heel relative to a central position in the fetlock joint. On the left, before, on the right, after. This was a gift that resulted from giving this horse back her toes, or creating adequate, balanced vertical height beneath the coffin bone and the ground!
Conventional thinking often defines breakover as the "most forward point of weight bearing" of the hoof. I would assert that any relevancy this concept might have is in relation to the mass of the body, not the hoof per se (13) Further, horses grow their optimal breakover, whatever that might be, relative to the current state of their body so that the body as a unit, hurt or unhurt, functions as an effective biomechanical whole. Growth in biodynamic equilibrium with respectful, balanced trimming, not cutting, establishes the best hoof.
This is one of the beautiful aspects of the hoof, its ability to be in biodynamic equilibrium (ie meet the biomechanical survival potential of the animal and species as a whole) as it responds to the changes that occur in an individual’s body over time and the environment that body finds itself in. This natural and extremely effective adaptive process probably explains the ability of the laminae to be predisposed to remodeling. We are so busy assuming or creating diseased hooves in our minds, we seem to have no collective professional respect for the natural mechanisms at hand and their potential to positively affect the horse.
Briefly, we will continue to consider this mare's hooves and also the hooves of a retired eventer. Then we will go back to more whole body analysis.
We have a typical disturbed relationship between the hoof capsule and the skeleton in this mare before my work began (14). Overtrimming the toe (as per popular professional and lay person demand) necessitated that the previous trimmer left excess, unbalanced heel in order for the horse to function (the hoof first and foremost needs adequate mass to function….in order of preference: adequate balanced mass, adequate unbalanced mass, and finally too little total mass = functional disaster). These pictures nicely show how distorted the relationship between the heel bulb and heel are under these circumstances. Compare the distortion of the hoof before me to the smooth ergonomic continuum after 6 months (14A) under my care. Growth of the hoof capsule is essentially down and out from the coronary band. Thus, we can see a transitioning hoof at 3 months (14B) and better appreciate what is happening. The hoof is growing a better breakover as the heel migrates back under the leg column, and that is observable to the naked eye as a transitional divergence in the hoof wall (relative to the anterior facing of the coffin bone). Conventional thinking is that any divergence of the anterior hoof wall from the anterior facing of the coffin bone is bad (= rotation). Nothing could be further from the truth, as we can appreciate at 6 months (inset picture) after I have respectfully allowed the process of balanced growth continue (there are a lot of intellectual and literal limitations in the quality of what you can obtain over time by trimming to an X-Ray in the short term....trimming to an X-Ray usually just traps a hoof into a state of continual suboptimal form.....we can use X-Rays for good, though, by comparing my approach versus conventional approaches over time. Fund and execute the work!).
It is the ultimate irony that hooves grown in biodynamic equilibrium according to the principals of the Least Invasive Natural Trim Based on Optimal Feral Modeling (LINT OFM is the trim I practice with every horse under every condition) are considered, by conventional thinking, to have short heels. Growing breakover back with a "good natural trim" often builds mass in the back of the hoof in addition to balancing the hoof to the skeleton. Attempting to cut such a heel, as opposed to growing it, or leaving the heel unnaturally "long" in response to overshortening the toe are equally tragic, but in different ways. One immediately lames the horse, the other creates long term lameness (here we could verify the "added hoof health benefits" of the LINT OFM by using X-Rays in a recording, instead of diagnostic, mode, ie test the hypothesis that there is an increase in sole depth by measuring coffin bone to ground, and extensor process versus coronary band, over time in response to my trim). While we can appreciate the increase in mass at the back of the hoof by taking a close look here (13 and 14B), it is easier to see in our next case study, a retired eventer who has a pigment stripe in his hoof as a natural marker.
But before we do, let's appreciate the work in (15). Equally important to discussions of hooves and front end dynamics are the changes in her hind end (15) where we see photographs at 0, 3 and 6 months (left to right) after initiating my care. What hasn't improved here?
In 16 and 17 we now see the body of our retired eventer with the striped hoof on the day my work began. I love the image in 16. Even though his feet are technically close together, he is displaying classic base-wide energetics. By now you should be able to see the incredible cost of unbalanced hooves to the body and the effective "weight" the front end suffers. In 17, we see another classic stance this horse often adopts in response to his unbalanced hooves. His front end is "broken back" ( note hoof/pastern angles, a favorite thing for many horse/hoof professionals to "see") which creates a distortion in the suspensory system and negatively affects how this horse is both perceived and functions when his legs are technically underneath him. We also then see the hind end literally behind the animal, with rotated pelvis, hind end displacement, and negative palmar angles in the hind hooves.
Now compare 16 and 17 (pre me) and 18 (a few months in with me). Nice!
I can only imagine how much better his performance and longevity might have been if his hooves had been kept in biodynamic equilibrium with the rest of his body and his environment during his career. Combine that with optimizing other elements of his domesticated habitat and handling that preserve natural collection and the potential for performance and wellness over a lifetime radically increases.
Regardless, we have a beautiful photographic comparison in 19. You can easily appreciate, due to the pigment stripe, how we have built mass in the heel and balanced the hoof to the skeletal system. Despite the fact that we have many wonderful vets helping us with our animals, unfortunately for you and your interests in maximizing lifelong wellness and keeping your horse barefoot for life, conventional veterinary opinion has not historically been in alignment with this work. To date, healthy horses under my care, in homeostasis so to speak, and sound for year after year after year after year after year after year after year will receive the "too short, in pain, needs shoes, here's my bill" speech from vets and hoof care professionals alike if they, for any reason, have a body and /or hoof issue arise at some point in their lifespan (which is pretty much inevitable if you are 1) a horse and 2) alive). Ironically, the opposite horse population under my care, ie that which is not in homeostasis, for example horses in transition or suffering from laminitis, often elicit the opposite response. The norm under these circumstances, to date, is for the professional to actually advocate the removal of appropriate hoof mass to both overtrim and unbalance the hoof. It is a very dangerous and lazy habit that the equine culture has gotten into, ie, confusing the benefits of time (healing) and what their horse's body is achieving, with the success, or failure, of conventional practices.
Regardless, until we find a way to pay our equine professionals for well horses, and not lame horses, we will create a medical culture with an unconscious bias against wellness. Let's work on changing this!
Profit basis proportional to the degree of illness or lameness, ie the "horse needs me," thinking is a major reason why we have created just that: "a lame horse that needs medical care." No other species, for any reason, suffers from the intellectual joke that somehow placing a rim of metal at the end of the leg is the most desirable state for that animal. Imagine if you twisted your ankle and the suggested remedy was to glue a rim of metal at the end of your leg in replacement of your tennis shoes or bare feet. Really? How about for your doggie or kitty or cow or pig or elephant or chicken? Then we hear about the need for this metal due to the weight of the rider or for an athletic job, like jumping. So, I guess if you gain 50 lbs or do hurdles THEN you would really benefit from a metal rim. Really? Or how about if you gained 50 lbs, hurdled AND were kept in the closet whenever you weren't jumping (the physical equivalent of stalling for the horse)? Now we have maximized the most desirable possible physical state for you! How ironic that the horses that need the benefit of a good natural trim and access to their inherent vitality the most are the least likely to get it and the most likely to be considered under good care.
And now, back to body work. Just like with a human infomercial on Jenny Craig or some such, I need to point out that results with good natural trimming vary. I am a resource, just like an excellent diet program, but you must do your part and/or understand the limitations of reality and possible time and effort requirements that must be satisfied in order to maximize the benefits you, and your horse, might achieve from accessing good natural trimming.
Some horses' bodies change markedly immediately in response to trimming, often those with the most physical health, while others take time, for example if the hooves are extremely distorted or chronic health issues are present. Further, no amount of good trimming can counteract the obvious, ie true conformational limitations, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, disease, destructive handling and immersing hooves in filth can all block the power of a good natural trim to help your horse.
I often think of natural trimming along the lines of tooth brushing for humans. Amazing health benefits are achieved over time but if you drink 4 sugary sodas a day, those health benefits might be masked by your lifestyle choices.
Here is a case study example of a quick body change (20). This little athlete is a Section A Welsh that drives and rides. The trim before me is not bad. But the mm changes that individualize trimming have big ramifications.
Compare 20 and 21....These are same day average stance comparisons! 20 before I started work, 21 after.
I take 100s of photos over several hours (over years! sometimes), and try to capture the average differences I see. In this case, in the span of an hour or two, we don't look like we are even photographing the same breed.
There are always potentially misleading aspects of any one photo, which is why, with this type of data, the representative photography is only as good as the knowledge and intention and honesty of the photographer. Small things that most people don't even notice have profound effects on the body. Are you photographing the effects of immobilizing the head in cross ties? Or perhaps the effects of human intention and the proximity of said human? Regardless, I included two pre-me photos of this guy, 20 and 21A. 21A is the best photo pre-me that was taken on this day in terms of the continuum from "poor energetic connections >> naturally collected >> engaged and naturally collected".
Can you see energetic differences bewteen 21A (pre me) and 21 (post me)? Use your soft focus and ask yourself: Can you draw an arc of energetic connection through the quarters of both the front and back hooves that crests at the rectus abdominus (belly) or through the body, often through the point of the hip and the shoulder, or back, or not? Can you see an upwelling of energetics from the earth through the leg, the shoulder, the root of the neck and spilling like a fountain into the neck and back? Can you draw an energy arc from the loin through the hind hoof? Is the back elevated and connected to the rest of the body or is the trunk isolated, visually, stuck onto a shoulder and also stuck onto the hind end? No arcs or lines or connections or elevated back for 21A but lots of good stuff for 21. And then we progress over the months to 23. Nice again!
22 and 23 are two fun photos of our Welsh athlete "prancing around while tied." 22 is before I started work and 23 is a couple of months into our relationship. Again, it is important to note that movement or task photographic stills are very hard to use as average impressions since there is so very much going on, for example, in 22 he is possibly moving back, his legs in motion moving down while in 23 forward and to to the left with legs in motion moving up. And of course he may be in the process of changing his mind about how he is moving. However, the enhanced natural collection of 23 is noticeable in many ways. I want you to look at how little weight appears to be transmitted through the standing legs in 23. Compare that to how heavy the effective weight is in the standing legs in 22. A naturally collected body lifts off the planet or floats, a disjointed body, as a result here of trimming differences, is heavy to the earth, with all the ramifications to joint and soft tissue health as a result.
Horses can be quite extended and naturally collected, as demonstrated by this fellow (24), another wild horse in the Great Basin also photographed by John Wheland. If you have ever experienced the power of skating, for example playing hockey, you will understand both the degree of collection this horse is experiencing and the power he is creating. Pushing off with your skates or pushing off the land, as opposed to reaching up and under with the hind end, is a supremely wonderful way to go about moving, especially when quick responses are called for. We need to rethink how we think about how horses use their bodies and what builds health and what doesn't. Again, this photo is a reminder that natural collection has nothing to do with positional information and our common thoughts on riding collection. And this discrepancy is precisely why our domesticated equines are not doing well on lameness eval. We need to focus on natural collection and not on our artificial concepts of collection if we want improvements.
I was able to shoot a lot of photos of our Welsh athlete before and after the trim, ie my first day with him, in motion. The horse circled, in these photos, counterclockwise. 25 is pre me, 26 post me. I often ask non horse people to tell me what they see, since they often see the horse better than horse people. I had a 12 year old boy with no horse experience tell me that the horse in 25 had a "looser" belly, was more tense, especially his neck, and less comfortable than the horse in 26. In 26 there is evidence of improvement in utilization of the L-S joint, availability of the root of the neck and shoulder, and use of his back.
People who do good work to preserve natural collection through good riding and handling practices also talk about freeing the root of the neck and the L-S Joint (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9FelW0-slo). Rarely however, is it appreciated how natural alignment and balance of the naked hoof capsule frees not just those joints, so beautifully demonstrated even here at the beginning of my relationship with our Welsh fellow (21 versus 21A and 20), but also every other joint, ligament, tendon and muscle. We tend to not think broadly enough, as if some set of linear steps, no matter how big the vocabulary words, will create the symphony that is the potential of a living thing.
All right, back to case studies. Just as this Welsh had some quick changes (things will improve further with time for him too though, especially with hind end engagement), so too do we seem to have changes that take a long time. This is a second Welsh show horse, on hiatus, which the vets diagnosed as having stifle issues. He may or may not have stifle issues, but he most certainly has hoof issues that negatively affect his stifles. Coming out of shoes can be a long transition. This horse has been under my care for about 6 months and we have had many positive changes (compare 27 and 27A, in shoes, to 6 months after I began working 28). However, there is much more to go here for him.
As I mentioned in the beginning, just as hoof trimming can affect natural collection, so to does all of your interactions with your horse. In terms of riding and handling, it is helpful to learn to release the natural collection in a horse instead of attempting to cause it. Escalation of the information inherent in a standard "aid," whether traditional or "natural," is really often just an increase in pushing, pulling, or pressure, all three of which can destroy natural collection and the potential for artistry in communication.
Releasing movement (including what we perceive as a stop) in horses instead of causing it is an art the requires a type of physical IQ that most modern humans don't access well. It takes "feel," the ability to release your own movement, and the ability and humility required to truly see things as they are.
In terms of the "feel" between two physical entities that can exert influence on one another, you may want to watch this youtube video of Tom Dorrance talking about balancing a broom on the tip of the finger (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iisjlhCUXDM). That feel is similar to the feel that is the basis of excellent communication, or reciprocity, between horse and human. It is also a form of biodynamic equilibrium, much like the LINT-OFM.
The rope, reins and horse can be the broom and the fingertip your whole body.
I can currently recommend two people for help with understanding handling and riding with the specific intent of preserving natural collection, Leslie Desmond (www.lesliedesmond.com) and Karen Musson here local to the central Ohio area (www.theartofriding.com). It is important to note that there are people across all disciplines and interests who are able to preserve some degree of natural collection, often without ever developing any conscious thought on the subject. The key for the domestic equine's well being at this point in time, however, is teachability and awareness, which does require conscious thought.
Your gifts are only as good as your ability to give them.
What is really promising for horses and humans right now is this. There are multiple ways for you to enhance your horse's natural collection, including improving your own body's natural collection. Further, seeking natural collection is seeking the very best in the horse human connection, whether from a distance or close up. Whether you are talking about habitat (http://www.aanhcp.net/pages/welcome-to-paddock-paradise) or handling and riding, there are many many wondrous things to learn about how you can be what you and your horse are intended to be, magnificent!, through quality horsemanship.
Domestic hooves need our "soft focus," which in this context is just another phrase for accessing the most ancient and inclusive forms of awareness and intelligence that we offer as living, experiential beings.
In our effort to understand the world, modern humans engage in linear thinking, which is really just the process of putting blinders on so that only one relationship, and an artificial one at that, is considered at a time. Linear thinking promotes judgement. Judgment is often the loss of thought or the inability to improve self.
Biology and the extraordinary capacity of biological organization is not linear. Improving hoof outcome requires that we access nonlinear intelligence.
Just a few fun things, in no particular order, that might help you, as a horse owner, to develop your global, holistic, intelligence, your "soft focus," specifically as it relates to you and your horsemanship and then of course, extending to the hoof.
Sally Swift's Centered Riding
The Alexander Technique
Leslie Desmond and Bill Dorrance's True Horsemanship Through Feel and the study of "feel" in general
Single-family farming, especially organic farming
Living with horses and the study of species appropriate habitat and behaviors
Long rides, outside, with real destinations
Yoga, Tia Chi, martial arts
Meditation, science and spirituality
Building with your hands
Cooking healthy meals
Movement of all varieties and types
And now, back to the hoof! with slide (2) that introduces the concept that the hoof is an organ.
The hoof is also a complex ecosystem. It is in a state of biodynamic equilibrium that is both affected by and affects a multitude of physical variables that change over time. The image to the left in (3) is actually a photograph of the Barrier Islands off the coast of North Carolina taken from space. We can somehow understand that wave action, influenced by sun, moon, wind, and human development, seasonal weather, changes in the water shed and estuary structure and animal activity all affect the character of these islands. But we seem to not be able to appreciate that the hoof itself is undergoing the same types of relationships with its environment (both from a horse body-centric and planet-centric perspective). These relationships are constantly changing, thus this dynamic structure is constantly changing. To the naked eye in real time, however, much like for this glacier (4), we sometimes have a hard time appreciating it.
In (5) we have two photographs from studies done with B. Hampson/C. Pollit (Australian Brumby Research Unit). These photos are of feral horses that live in soft, sandy soil (left) and hard, rocky soil (right). What a beautiful example of the magnificence of the hoof. How does biological organization create a regenerative, biomechanically critical organ in contact with radically changing conditions that can allow a species to survive and thrive in diverse biological niches? What a tremendous competitive, evolutionary advantage to have such an amazing structure! This is one of the incredible features of epidermis produced by dermis: Proteinacious structure is, by its very nature, deformable. Thus, in hard rocky environments we can auto trim by having same meet same (hard meet hard) and in soft environments we can also auto trim by having same meet same (soft meet soft) and if the environments change for an individual, so does the organ, such that an individual horse can regenerate this biomechanical marvel anywhere he goes!
Although there is plenty of horse-to-horse variation, we often see these environmental affects during seasonal trending here in our domesticated populations of Ohio that reflects the "hard and rocky" versus "soft and sandy" phenotypes. In the winter, the frozen ground, ice and snow tends to cause us to trend slightly towards the hoof on the right, whereas in the summer, with our softer, richer pastures, we trend slightly towards the hoof on the left in terms of what is available, in hoof protein characteristics, to the trimmer for trimming.
So, let me reiterate. The horse has a hoof that constantly grows. This, combined with lameallar plasticity, allows for an amazing whole body support. The naked hoof, with these operating parameters, has the potential to be the "correct" (meaning best possible within the confines of reality) dynamic structure for any horse at any time. Plasticity allows the hoof to reflect and support the changing biomechanics of a horse (for example, as his degree of motion, his physical status (age) or his specific injury status changes) as well as allow for self trimming. This allows the animal and species to survive and potentially thrive, in a multitude of environments and under a multitude of conditions.
It is so interesting to me that instead of evoking respect, these characteristics (for example, chipping and cracking in response to living in contact with soft environments) evokes disrespect amongst humans. Case in point, while Hampson, who has performed mutiple interesting studies, eloquently speaks to the fact that every environment produces a unique hoof form, he also describes the hooves of feral horses as having abnormalities and extensive laminitis. Here we have a population of animals, sound and fit, showing no signs of the lameness common in our domesticated populations. Yet, he describes their hooves as "abnormal and laminitic." The presumption of pathology, instead of biology, is completely inappropriate (as are most presumptions).
Let me give you a human example. My dad hurt his knee and went in to get it scoped. The doctor went on and on about ossification and cartilage wear etc. etc. and then concluded that he is not certain what is causing the pain. (It turned out to probably be bleeding into the joint). The doctor knew that being alive and using your body creates ossification, cartilage wear and a multitude of other things, even in an optimal human life. He did not call these changes pathological but rather appropriate signs of use and aging of an active body. For the human, we assume BIOLOGY NOT PATHOLOGY, for the horse we assume PATHOLOGY NOT BIOLOGY. This presumption allows the human to "not do his part" to create sound horses. The simple question is: "What does this species need to survive and thrive in domestication?", not "How many times can you shake your head at how weak and pathological your horse's hooves and body are while he lives out his time in a box, overweight and in pain from sedentary confinement, except when he is lucky enough to have you pulling on his face and mouth?"
We need to presume function first, instead of weakness. We need to respect instead of disrespect. And we need more studies, so that we can understand the ramifications of our decision making with this animal.
So let me ask you this: would you rather have the hoof on the left or right (slide 6)? Let me pose some thoughts to you while you consider your options.
Take off your shoes (unless you are in heels, your shoes are the equivalent of hoof boots, ie deformable material designed to absorb impact).
Go ahead and walk across your gravel drive.
You look pretty funny don't you? What you are doing is weighting yourself so that you don't bruise yourself since you are not conditioned to walking on gravel (the beauty of a functioning foot : proprioception).
These people might be able to walk across gravel without much change in weight bearing (7), since they are conditioned to being barefoot on challenging terrain, but probably not you.
Are you lame?
How absurd! Of course not! Let's say we glue a rim of metal at the bottom of your leg, since we will be humane enough not to nail it on. You could now walk across the gravel without much re-weighting, but the long term consequences on your body caused by your new foot wear choice would not be good. No species of animal but the horse gets this "special" treatment. Why not? Because, especially in comparison to what we have currently available to us in choices, it is a whole body ergonomic nightmare. Having a rim of metal at the bottom of any leg of any animal, especially under conditions of high impact, is generally not advisable unless: you refuse to use hoof boots when 1) riding your horse on more challenging terrain than what he lives on or 2) use his body in a way that conflicts with his natural design.
For my part I would rather have the hoof on the left than the one on the right of slide 6 any day of the week. That is not to say that I think left is the goal. Rather, I 1) respect the hoof and 2) understand that there is a continuum of form that allows individuals and the species as a whole to survive over time, both in the wild and in domestication. Within this continuum is optimal: feral optimal and domesticated optimal. We are exploring domesticated optimal and as you can see from my photography in "Natural Collection" I am a keen advocate of adequate vertical height, adequate mass in general, and shaping/balancing the hoof to the skeleton all of which comes about from simply being inspired by what is possible to grow in optimal feral habitat. That does not mean that your hoof will necessarily "look perfect all the time" by conventional thinking (since ANY amount of real protein wear and tear in softer environments, ie real use, of adequate mass, is deemed unacceptable by conventional standards).
I would love to do the comparison, me versus conventional, that would show (or not) that the way I trim maximizes a horse's physical abilities.
Can I do my part to compliment the intelligence of millions of years of design by mimicking the very best wear that Mother Nature could provide? Further, balance is inherent to the balance of use. If you use your body in a biased fashion, it will reflect that asymmetry. That is 100% perfect in design meets function. Can I support whole body biomechanics? The answer to both those questions appears to be "yes." Why would you settle for anything less for your horse?
Let's get back to (7) briefly. The center image is from a LIFE magazine article on indigenous Australians populations. In response to disastrous health metrics, some portion of this population decided to live more in tune with how they lived prior to European influx (ie in more collaboration with their own inherent natural design). They "went barefoot," among other things. All health metrics improved. Why don't you spend some time thinking about why that would be, and the limitations and benefits of that decision from a modern perspective and get back to me. I will post comments on the site. Oh, and by the way, do you think their feet look "pretty?" Are they neat and tidy?
Who is responsible for what your horse's hooves look like and how they perform? You and biological reality are.
Can you imagine if you had a human doc stitch a boo-boo on your arm, you then went home an put that arm in a bucket of feces for the next 6 weeks, and then claimed it was the doc's fault that the boo-boo got infected and didn't heal well and didn't look "good?" Or, how about this, do you get sick and then blame the doc for your illness? Hooves, like all body parts, are amazing. But they are only going to be as good as the lifestyle and knowledge that supports them. Further, they are subject to biological reality. They may have gotten the short end of some genetic stick, or have to suffer from the fall out from a lack of endocrine system health, for example if your horse is on the spectrum for Equine Metabolic Syndrome, or maybe they just plain got over-used relative to their condition level etc. etc.. That doesn't mean that you need to stick a rim of metal on them, in fact quite the contrary response is in order, any more than you would put a rim of metal at the bottom of your leg for any reason.
Take personal responsibility for your horse's hooves and work with him, not against him.
Just hooves! Before trims, after trims, early in my trimming career, later in my trimming career, spring, summer, winter and fall, "tall ones, skinny ones, fat ones, thin ones, young ones, old ones, hurt ones, healthy ones." Just hooves! ... I have 100s of stories and 1,000s upon 1,000s of pictures to share ... hopefully someday they will reach you!
Please acquaint yourself fully with my "Natural Collection" gallery, text and photos, prior to viewing and reading this "Wild Horses" presentation to fully understand this content.
Developing an eye for natural collection, or the physical state of the equine body most likely to remain sound through out the course of a horse's lifetime, can occur simply by looking at wild horses in optimal feral habitat. These horses's needs are not just met but exceeded, so these environments are an excellent place to study movement that isn't limited by various health restrictions, for example, not having adequate food, or the negative effects of domestication, like extreme sedentary lifestyles, that bias our visual notion of what is physically appropriate for these animals.
I see 3 general things with feral horses moving in optimal species-appropriate environments in comparison to domesticated equines. Floating versus landing (or effective weight), coordination of every bit of the body through centralized weight bearing, and the absence of inappropriate tension (or tension that is not specific to the task at hand).
These first three photos (1,2,3) by Bob Schiller (1) and John Wheland (2,3), we really see the total state of relaxation that is required for body-building, as opposed to body-destructive, extreme athletecism. The only tension visible is that of specific muscle contraction to perform directed movement.
We see this with human athletes too, ie total energetic coordination and relaxation of the body, as exemplified by these girls playing soccer (left).
In contrast, I have included three riding pictures (5,6,7). Here we see the inappropriate, or body-destructive, tension required to use the body in the absence of natural collection, which is probably a major source of our lameness issues with our domesticated partners. Imagine if you were hiking in varying terrain, over rocks, up and down hills....now imagine doing that holding someone's hand. How long until your body is sore in specific places from trying to contend with this other being's balance? How long until you are irritated by holding hands, until an injury or misstep occurs? Now imagine how much worse things would be for your body if, while attempting to perform the physical endeavor of your hike, your hand-holding partner pushed, pulled or pressured you. Is your riding like holding hands wherein each of you is trying to deal with the environment as linked physical individuals having different physical experiences, or is your riding like RIDING, ie enjoying what is underneath you by simply getting out of the way and supporting the horse's physical choices in response to the feel you provide?
In 5, 6 and 7 there is so much broken angulation in energetic form! We see the jammed root of the neck, extraordinary tension in the neck, completely inappropriate to the task at hand, the absence of total body relaxation, the rotated pelvis, the heaviness of landing instead of floating, blocked shoulders, body parts stuck together.
Can you ride to preserve natural collection? You bet. And in fact, there are riders in every discipline who do this very thing. It is a matter of: do you constrain to cause change or do you inspire, or release, to cause change? Do you judge the horse as being right or wrong, or do you simply enjoy the feeling of "balancing a broomstick above the earth" (Tom Dorrance, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iisjlhCUXDM). People who are very good at preserving natural collection are simply not offended if the horse does not do want they want, they are able to ride without micromangement or agenda and create an unfettered and relaxed forward motion first and foremost in their riding practices. Unfortunately, very few people try to teach "feel," period, but especially as it relates to preservation of natural collection (as opposed to "getting a job done, including the job of good human and horse relations" or as an extension of the human ego, ie "I am good with horses") That is why Desmond (www.lesliedesmond.com) and Musson (www.theartofriding.com) are somewhat unique, as far as I know.
What I would like to see is an umbrella or organization in horsemanship wherein the human mind was directed first towards the study of unleashing the amazing physiological potential of this animal in domestication and second, the details of any particular "discipline."
Here are some more wild horse photos for you to enjoy. Thank you so much to the artists who have provided these images for us to consider.