Thursday, October 3, 2013

Correct hoof care — a book with seven seals? Interview

An interview with Natalija Aleksandrova, al Holistic Horse & Hoof Care 
by Nico Welp, Pferdehilfe Sonnenhof, Germany
(English edition courtesy Tamlyn Labuschagne Ennor)

First published by Pferdehilfe Pro Equine >

Foreword by Nico Welp
(translated by André Oude Wolbers)

Hoof Health — a book with seven seals? No! Not if one deals comprehensively with the horse and their peculiar hoof organs. We have seen any number of hoof professionals, farriers and experts coming and going, just as we’ve observed their methods and their implementation and with a few exceptions, often had to deal with real defeats for the horses.

Despite all it's hot discussions about the right way to treat a horse and their hoof organs in order to be sound — the topic ‘hoof care’ is still a subject that raises interest in the world of horse owners. Who doesn´t know of all these questions, uncertainties, the changes and problems? In the end, one should not lose perspective — nobody has invented the hoof anew, it is as it has always been — perfected from nature.

Unfortunately, nevertheless, most horses under our conventional horse management must still accept more or less treatment mistakes. Why does this happen? Treatment mistakes happen because even in our society the usage of horses and their continuous performance stands before their recovery and their health preservation. The horse has to function and in many cases nothing more is wished than to maintain superficial functionality by any means, at any cost. This is a main focus problem of our horse owners nowadays. This is a route of symptomatic treatment, masking real causes and sometimes, applying incredibly brutal methods of cutting and nailing that which would just naturally fall apart with pain. More and more horse owners who wish to free themselves and their horses from this vicious cycle quickly find themselves in a boiling pot of lobbyists, vets, farriers, hoof professionals, horse trainers and homeopaths — and some horse owners just give up disenchanted and unsure after being swamped by the plethora of conflicting advice.

But in the end it is a responsibility of every single horse owner to find a right way to protect the horse and their hooves, the unsoundness of the hoof — this their peculiar organ — causes suffering to the animal until a too early and painful death results. It is the responsibility of every horse owner to alleviate suffering where it exists and to prevent it from occurring where it does not yet exist. Prevention is always preferable to cure.

We therefore asked a lady, for an interview, who not only works responsibly in this very extensive area, but also spends a large part of her life exploring it, to learn and to teach. Her studies led her — to different countries, even to the wild relatives of our domestic horses to get a full understanding of horses and the nature of their hooves. Today she gives workshops on the topic ‘horse and hoof health’ for al Holistic Horse & Hoof Care and trims horses in different countries.

I personally heard about her and read a lot and from her in advance, and I was happy to listen to some of her thoughts on my horses here at my place. Natalija Aleksandrova — from Riga — took time to visit us here in Germany before she got on her plane again.

Photos: Natalija during her Holistic Horse & Hoof Care seminar.

In addition to her profound knowledge, her education and her own practical experience, I met a woman, who wanted with so much passion, boundless love and high concentration on her work to help horses of this world to step out on sound hooves. She appears reticent, unobtrusive, very attached emotionally to an animal, and pays attention to every detail, scanning the whole environment and the whole anatomy (remark: this is what is very close to my heart, because I know very poor examples of hoof professionals who are not able to do this). She also leads the conversation in a helpful direction, she offers solutions — step by step, she analyzes and explains, and she confronts people with truth about future opportunities. But at no time does she lose the view of the whole horse and their physical and mental needs. The gentle way to soundness is her highest aim.

Photos: With horses during her work.
(Author Ruth Roberts)

Frankly spoken, Natalija enlightened me with her personality with the horse much more than she did with every explanation she gave to me. I never before had the chance to participate at such a high level of knowledge at the same time that I created trust in her. Trust in the human that not only stands with sense and skills before my beloved horse but with the honest heart — she shines… into the horse’s soul. For this I would like to say “thank you!” in advance to Natalija because this makes the difference I personally need. Trust… in the human AND her work.

I decided to publish the interview and the talk in its full length.

Photo: At work.
(Author Krszysztof Jarczewski)

The Interview

Nico Welp ("Pferdehilfe") in conversation with Natalija Aleksandrova (N.A.)

Pferdehilfe: The hoof and its functions, what is important for maintaining the health of the hoof?

N.A.: The hoof is an important and complicated circulatory, metabolic and sensory organ of the horse body. All 4 hooves are closely linked into the entire organism in several ways:
mechanically via the skeleton;
via metabolism and the circulatory system;
through nerve pathways;
and via energy pathways (meridians).

As a circulatory organ, the hooves function individually and as a group performing auxiliary blood pumping mechanisms in the horse’s body — not all the blood is pumped by the heart in the horse's body, partially it is done by the hooves.

As a metabolic organ, the hooves are responsible for the work of excreting spent proteins from the blood, by using those spent proteins for producing hoof horn. Thus, we can imagine, how much the organism is affected when only these two functions (circulation and metabolism) of the hooves are impaired — the heart, the kidneys and the skin are the first to be damaged via overloading from excess waste proteins. These 3 organs are all organs of excretion. If the spent protein cannot be ejected safely via hoof horn the spent protein returns into the body cavity and over-loads the internal excretion organs.

Amongst their other important functions, the hooves are also responsible for the proper absorption of the impact of shock, which happens automatically as a horse moves over terrain. When this shock-absorbing function is blocked, the shock impact travels up the legs into the skeleton, damaging joints and tissues, resulting in such common problems as arthritis, for example.

These and other vitally important functions of the hooves become possible via the natural in-built mechanism of the hoof known as hoof mechanism. Hoof mechanism is the expansion of the hoof capsule and temporary deformation of its inner structures in a specific way under load. Shoeing and incorrect hoof form either fully block or impair hoof mechanism to a great extent, by not fully allowing the hoof capsule to expand and deform in the proper way. Additionally, shoes dramatically increase the impact of shock causing mechanical damage and wounds to the inner and outer hoof structures.

Photo: Natalija during her seminar.

Besides the damage a horse receives via the impaired functions of her hooves, when they are shod and/or have a physiologically incorrect shape they bring the horse discomfort and pain, which again affects the whole body. When hooves are shod and/or have an incorrect shape it is usual to find the heel area is painful. In trying to avoid pain, via putting less weight on the painful areas, the horse changes their whole body posture and begins using muscles which are not supposed to be used for certain actions as, for example, standing. The muscles quickly become fatigued and chronically cramped. To relieve these muscles, the horse starts over-straining the next set muscles, which also get chronically cramped with time, and so on. A chain reaction starts changing normal posture and normal weight distribution in the body, which results in pain and problems in the whole body such as back pain, muscle atrophy, etc.

Through the hoofs intimate connection into the body, the entire organism can be influenced by the state and condition of the hooves. And vice versa, the hooves can also be affected in their form and ability to function properly by the body. Thus, we cannot look only into the hooves without looking into the whole horse and her living conditions.

Correct hoof care isn’t only concerned with correct trimming. It is very important to understand that the correct hoof care starts from correct horse management, based on us ensuring living conditions are meeting this species’ essential needs as they were supposed to have by nature: herd life, unrestricted day/night movement, unrestricted day/night access to food. For example, you cannot lock a horse in a stable and expect she will have healthy hooves, because in this case one of the most important needs of horse’s is restricted — the need for the constant freedom of movement. Or, you cannot allow a horse to move freely day and night, but at the same time separate her from a herd, and expect the hooves to remain healthy, because you restrict another most important need of the horse — the need for equine companions. All horses are herd animals — their cerebral cortex only is able to function properly giving correct signals to the body, when a horse is in company with other horses.

Pferdehilfe: There're now a true 'war of experts' what leaves horse owners very insecure. Different camps have formed. Concerning the Strasser's knowledge: Your opinion, what is a difference between her and other methods?

N.A.: One fundamental difference between Dr Strasser’s Method and other techniques is that she demands from one an extensive knowledge of the whole horse’s body and the hoof as an organ of the body. Apart from having hoof knife skills, one has to be educated in equine biology, anatomy, physiology, and histology, along with knowing how to apply this knowledge in practice in order to be called a Strasser Hoofcare Professional (SHP). It is more than academic knowledge. At the moment there’s not a single veterinary school in the world, which would offer their students this extensive knowledge on the hoof as one of the horses body organs such as an SHP student receives during their 2 years long studying with Dr Strasser.

Photo: At work.
(Author Krszysztof Jarczewski)

Pferdehilfe: Why in your opinion the Strasser's method practice (not the theory) is criticized so much?

N.A.: First, Dr Strasser’s Knowledge challenges and goes against the old traditions, against the industry, against vets/farriers lobby. It states that hoof health is impossible without the natural keeping conditions, and it proves conclusively that domestic horses and their hooves can stay naturally healthy, if the horses are kept the species appropriate living conditions, when their essential biological needs are fulfilled. Moreover, the Knowledge proves that the traditional practices of horse care and hoof care are harmful for a horse’s health. The whole army of vets and farriers and horse keeping establishments find themselves in sudden danger of losing their income. The Knowledge is inconvenient for many horse owners because it doesn’t fix a horse quickly for being usable again, instead it follows the horse’s nature, allowing the body to heal and stay sound at its own natural pace.

Secondly, what makes the method so widely criticized, is the many insufficiently educated people who try to apply the method, and what severs it even more, is that they try to apply it to horses which are not kept natural living conditions, and when it fails these people blame the method rather than take ownership of their mistakes.

Then we often can see the result — badly lame horses. Dr Strasser herself doesn’t stop repeating: she only acknowledges a method as ‘hers’, if it is applied by a professional, who went through and passed the oral, theoretical and practical examinations of the 2 year long course in holistic hoof care and lameness rehabilitation; the method cannot in any circumstances be applied to stabled horses.

Photo: At work.

Pferdehilfe: Less is more? Some hoof care practices are very schematic, no individual approach, too much into getting perfect angles what causes problems to horses and their owners – sometimes even severe pathologically changes (in tendons, ligaments, joints and muscles). What should be paid attention to in general?

N.A.: First, it is important to know whether these dramatic changes were physiologically correct for the hoof or not. If they weren’t physiologically correct, there is nothing to speak about — damage was done to the horse’s body...

In order to not harm a horse, a hoof care professional has to be deeply educated about hoof anatomy, physiology and hoof functions, as well as on the whole horse anatomy and physiology and their biological requirements for living. Unfortunately very few professionals actually have such knowledge. Including veterinary professionals, who often have very little knowledge on the hoof as an organ of the body and its connection to the whole organism.

But sometimes, serious damage can be done when a professional tries to rehabilitate ill hooves after the horse was trimmed incorrectly or shod for many years — when the horse’s whole body (joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, bones) have long adapted to the incorrect hoof form. A process of re-adaptation to the physiologically correct hoof form is necessary in such cases and the horse can go through the discomfort and pain associated with rehabilitation, sometimes severe, in different parts of the body. Because, in all cases every change in tissues (bones, cartilages, muscles, tendons etc.), both correct and incorrect, goes through processes of inflammation. Inflammation, even when healing, is painful. The tissues and whole body also go through metabolic changes, which in some cases can cause serious toxicity in the organism. So, before starting a hoof rehabilitation case, it is extremely important for a hoof care professional to have a proper understanding how her every single manipulation with a hoof will affect the inner structure and consequently what effect it will have in the whole body. It is important to have knowledge on tissue behavior in the horse’s body (bones remodel faster, ligaments need longer times for healing, tissues remodel and heal at a higher rate in younger animals, etc. etc. etc.) Having all this fundamental knowledge and taking into consideration many individual details about a horse such as age, a degree of damage, etc., a professional has to be able to estimate abilities of healing of every individual animal and to find a suitable pace and extent of rehabilitation, which will not bring unnecessary pain to this animal. In general, we know, for example, young still growing, animals are more responsive to rehab and are faster to rehab. While for a 25 year old animal, who was shod or incorrectly trimmed her whole life, we have to consider if the rehab might lower her quality of life due to dramatic adaptive changes in her body.

This is where the controversy of even the physiologically correct trim may appear — a professional may be over-enthusiastic about helping a horse, not stopping and considering these individual details of how much change is enough correction.

Photo: From Natalija's practice — purebred arabian gelding's hoof health improvement over 2 years. The hooves healed on a comfortable for the horse pace, without the horse being lame or sensitive for a single day.

Pferdehilfe: Now to shoeing… From vets and farriers we learn there're many different reasons to shoe a horse. Mostly for sport purposes (usage of horses) or for health care (therapy). What is your opinion about horse shoes?

N.A.: There’s no way of usage of the horse which could justify shoeing. If a horse cannot perform what they are asked for without her feet being fixed by shoes, then this is pure animal abuse that she is asked to endure. Because it is the well known fact that shoeing damage horse’s health, making a horse just ‘usable’ via masking hoof pathologies.

The results of historical research over the last few decades have confirmed that the nailed-on horse-shoe first came into use in the early Middle Ages, while the history of domestication of the horse is 5000 years long. This means that the endless cavalry warfare of early history took place by riders on un-shod horses as did the huge migrations of tribes.

By the time that castles were being built on hilltops throughout Europe in the 6th Century, horses were required to live in small and enclosed spaces, standing in their own excrement. The hooves lacking proper circulation that forms a good quality horn, further weakened by ammonia, were no longer able to do their work when horses were used on rocky terrain. Thus, the metal shoe was invented then to fix the problem and make a horse usable again.

Shoeing blocks the hoof mechanism that makes possible the most vital functions of the hoof.

Hoof mechanism is the term given to the movement of the hoof capsule, when an expanded hoof form on weight-bearing alternates with a narrowed hoof form during the lifted flight phase of the foot and all the internal changes resulting from it.

When weight-bearing, the downward force of the skeleton on the front wall of the hoof capsule forces the coronary band at its highest point to sink downward and inward. On this movement of the coronary band, the lateral walls move outward, and this assisted by the concave sole drawing flat, allows room for the descending coffin bone which is suspended by the elastic laminar corium tissues between the walls and bone surface. Thus being allowed more space the capillaries between the sole and the coffin bone (in the solar corium), and between the wall and the coffin bone (in the laminar corium) are filled with arterial blood containing oxygen and nutrients. As the hoof lifts it narrows and this action results in the venous blood being very quickly ‘squeezed out’ of the corium and up the leg, as water is from a sponge.

Nailing a shoe to a hoof, fixes the hoof in its narrowest form (the shoe is applied, when the hoof is in the air and not bearing any weight), and results in not allowing the hoof to spread correctly while it is weight-bearing. It means the hoof mechanism is blocked or reduced considerably in the shod hoof.

So, reduced hoof mechanism means reduced blood circulation, and thus reduced horn production. As I explained in the beginning, being the metabolic organ, the hooves are responsible for the work of excreting waste proteins from the blood by using them for building hoof horn.

When the blood flow in the hoof is restricted — there’s less than normal (less than 1 cm) of wall horn production per month — less waste protein is excreted here, and too much remains in the bloodstream and the organism. This excess protein must then be excreted, along with the regular metabolic waste, by the kidneys and skin. For the kidneys, this extra work is a strain that negatively affects their normal functions. As a result, regular metabolic waste that should have been excreted by the kidneys now remains in the organism, putting stress on other organs. The liver, as a metabolic organ, is one of these, and is then no longer able to function properly. The entire metabolism is disrupted because of the resultant incorrect (un-physiological) blood chemistry. We see this the best in skin metabolism (mud fever, rain scald, problems with shedding and coat changes, eczema tendencies, even Cushing Syndrome-like symptoms). Aside from the outward appearance of the horse, the disruptions in the internal metabolic processes can also be proven with blood tests, bio-resonance, and other energy modalities.

Blood tests for horses that have been shod or have had contracted hooves for some time show abnormal values for liver and kidney functions. The reduced corium circulation in horses with long-term shoeing and contracted hooves thus also sets the stage for laminitis, which can then be triggered by even a slight change in blood composition, or metabolism — such as results from eating early spring grass, or a change in feeding, or deworming, or sudden change of outside temperature, or a vaccination (none of which are the cause of laminitis, only the trigger).

If the kidneys and liver, being overstressed, are working only poorly, it results in long-term, slow poisoning of the entire organism (especially the heart).

Photo: From Natalija's practice — hoof rehab over 9 months in a warmblood gelding, shoed previously for 15 years. The hooves have been improving on a comfortable for the horse pace, without making the horse lame or uncomfortable.

Also repeating my words in the beginning, through the hoof mechanism the auxiliary pump function — the most critical vital function of the hoof — is performed. The function supports the heart and circulatory system by pumping blood back up the leg through the veins, which don’t have musculature in their walls and can’t move blood without the support of surrounding skeletal musculature. As the lower leg in the horse doesn’t have musculature, the hoof mechanism becomes the only moving power for the venous blood out of the hoof back up to the upper leg. Blocking the hoof mechanism, the auxiliary pump function is also blocked.

Hoof mechanism constitutes another important function of the hoof, the absorption of shock, transforming 60-80% of impact forces via the reversing deformation of the hoof capsule, releasing heat as a by-product. This function is vital for maintaining health of joints, tendons, bones, and the whole organism. When the hoof mechanism is blocked, the impact shock cannot be dampened and is transferred up the leg to joints and the tissues, and the needed heat by-product is not delivered to the hoof tissues for metabolic processes to continue.

Moreover, metal shoes add more impact to the natural one experienced by the hoof. Vibration coming from the metal shoes is measured around 800 Hz or higher. The constant vibration causes changes in the structure of the laminar corium (comparable to Raynold’s syndrome in humans), resulting in damage to the capilliary suspension of the coffin bone in the hoof capsule. It also causes irritation to ligaments and tendons attachment points in the periosteum of bones and of joint cartilage, leading to abnormal ossifications.

And this only a part of the harm caused by shoeing, the list is much longer.

And the most important thing to understand is that it is nonsense to speak about any ‘therapeutic’ effect of the shoes. Any healing process is possible only though intensified metabolism, what means intensified blood circulation. The blood supplies ‘building blocks’ — proteins and other nutrients — for repairing damage, and the blood removes ‘wastes’ from damaged areas. But now we know, how shoeing blocks the normal blood circulation in hooves, don’t we? Therefore we must acknowledge in the face of this new knowledge that reducing circulation thus prevents healing.

Photo: From Natalija's practice — chronic quarter crack rehab over 9 months in a warmblood gelding, shoed previously for 15 years.  The hooves have been improving on a comfortable for the horse pace, without making the horse lame or uncomfortable.

Pferdehilfe: No horse is the same as another one — is this also true for the hooves?

N.A.: Every horse is individual. Yet, representing the same species, they all have the same anatomy, physiology, and biological requirements for living. The same is valid for their hooves — they are individual, but there are the same anatomical and physiological constants, which are unchangeable for every horse. Every hoof professional has to be well enough educated in the anatomy, physiology and functions of the hoof to know these constants.

Pferdehilfe: Pressure on the frog. Concerning the newest scientific research it is not true that pressure on the frog is necessary for the hoof mechanism. Till now it was common opinion that hoof mechanism was working by movement and its pressure on the frog which is squeezing the frog like a sponge and by this the circulation will happen. Now it seems that it is more the case that compressive forces coming from the ground which will have an effect on all lower parts of the hoof and from the inside the body weight of the horse will push down the coffin bone a bit. And if now the frog won´t touch the ground, so the wall ground-contact edge, the sole and eventually the bars will direct the compressive force into the inside. Now, what is right?

N.A.: It was known for some time that the frog isn’t the only factor or even a main factor in hoof mechanism. The correct hoof mechanism I described in answering the previous question.

However, it is incorrect to say now that there’s no need for the frog to touch the ground. Ground contact of the frog is a part of the physiologically correct functioning of the hooves especially so in cold-blood horses. The frog participates in hoof mechanism, acting like a piece of folding and unfolding rubber, helping the hoof capsule to expand on weightbearing and to get back to its narrower form when the hoof is not loaded. For horses living in soft pastures, the importance of the frog and its ground contact increases dramatically in providing the correct hoof mechanism. As there’s insufficient resistance from the soft ground to expand the harder hoof capsule, this is when the frog which, unfolding its central and lateral sulci on contacting the ground, helps the hoof capsule to expand, and to return to its narrower form at the non weightbearing phase, acting like a piece of rubber.

If there’s no ground contact of the frog in hooves bearing weight it is a sure way for you to actually judge conclusively that the hoof shape is not physiologically correct, and such hooves are more likely to not be sound. Lack of frog to ground contact we most often see in contracted hooves with too long heels.

Regarding the belief that the frog is there only for shock absorption, this was never correct. The horse achieves shock absorption through several mechanisms based on the principle of energy transformation (since energy cannot be destroyed, but can only change forms) — the impact energy transforms into the energy of reversible deformation of the hoof capsule and the inner foot structures, with heat released as a by-product, through friction, thus not allowing the impact of shock to travel up the leg to be transmitted to the skeleton.
The four major forms of shock absorption working in the horse’s foot are:
stretching ligaments and tendons;
the reversible expansion of the hoof capsule (the hoof mechanism itself);
compression of the spiral wall horn tubules;
stretching of laminar horn and lamellae.

Pferdehilfe: Feral horses need no hoof trimming. Our efforts should be going in that direction — that we artificially simulate the natural wear. Domestic horses live on different grounds, eat in a different manner and don't move that much as the feral horses, or they move totally different. To which aspects does a good hoof care professional pay attention when they see a horse for the first time?

A good hoof care professional always pays attention to horse keeping conditions on the way to the horse. Whether the horse’s essential needs are met by the conditions they are kept in. We know that without correct living conditions it is impossible for a horse to have healthy hooves whatever perfect trimming it receives. First, a horse has to have a reason and a possibility to move freely 24 hours a day to provide healthy blood circulation in the hooves.

A good hoof care professional starts with an education for a horse owner on the biologically correct horse keeping conditions, how these affect hoof health and how living conditions affect the overall horse’s health.

Photos: At work.
(Author Krszysztof Jarczewski)

Pferdehilfe: In nature there were never "white" hooves. The lack of pigmentation was created – due to my knowledge only by breeding. Do white hooves actually have softer hoof horn or is this a myth?

N.A.: We can encounter white hooves in American wild mustangs, for example.

Softer horn in white hooves is an absolute myth.

If a horse is born with white hooves, it is a normal biological occurrence and cannot be called ‘lack’ of pigmentation. Then blond hair people also ‘lack’ pigmentation.

What is not normal, when we observe non-pigmented spots appear with time in dark hooves in areas where inner tissues experience damaging pressure from hard horn levers — due to incorrect hoof forms. Sometimes, for example, the whole wall can become lighter or almost white, or we can see white marks on a sole in areas where the solar corium was pinched between the horn and the coffin bone and damaged.

Pferdehilfe: American Ovnicek has witnessed in a herd of mustangs, that the horses were carrying their bodyweight on sole, bars and frog. The outside of the ground contact edge of the wall was completely worn. Other experts have the opinion, that the ground contact edge of the wall must stay in its full extent, not removed during trimming. In your opinion, what is right?

N.A.: Here we speak about the so called ‘mustang roll’ — when the outer ground contacting edge of the wall is beveled. Not only Ovnicek, but everyone can see this hoof shape in American mustangs, also in Australian brumby’s living in the desert areas, and in other wild and domestic horses living in hard rocky terrain. The ‘mustang roll’ is a consequence of mechanical abrasion and micro-chipping as the hoof makes contact with rocks and abrasive footing from all directions as the horse moves across the terrain. The terrain specific wear process adds to shock absorption mechanism of the hoof because part of the impact energy is dissipated through this micro-chipping with every step, not being transmitted to the skeleton. Also, removing the outside layer of the hoof wall, which is more rigid through the lower water content of it, and thus putting the inner most layer of the wall, which is higher in water content and thus more elastic, into a position of more direct weight bearing, provides additional dampening of shock mechanism to further reduce the impact of the forces transmitted to the skeleton.

If we look to hooves of wild and domestic horses living in soft pastures and on the soft-floored forests of Central Europe, we never see the mustang roll in them. The wall edge remains quite sharp. The softer footing doesn’t bring a wearing effect in a form of the outer roll to the hoof wall, and it also doesn’t require additional shock absorption mechanisms because softer terrain doesn’t provide as strong an impact from ground contact with it. Different terrain produces different wear patterns. Self-trimming of the hoof happens in different ways — on soft terrain it is achieved through wall flaring, cracking and chipping off in big pieces.

So, since nature itself doesn’t provide horses living on soft footing with this excessive rolling of the wall, it is logical that we don’t need to overdo bringing unwanted features to hooves of horses, living, for example, on soft grasslands terrain of Germany. Moreover, excessive rolling of the ground contact edge of the wall all the way round to the heels may be detrimental by promoting contraction in horses living on soft pastures, because it makes that kind of hoof form sink deeper into the soft ground creating an inwards force that in time will contract the hoof. So, if there are no pathological conditions that would require extensive removal of the ground contact edge of the wall, we don’t do it to healthy hooves.

Pferdehilfe: A brief intro of yourself, Natalija. How you started your path to your current occupation?

N.A.: I started my path to horses from a dream of becoming an Olympic show jumper. :)) After some time training and competing at hobby level show jumping, I came to realize that the idea about the ‘partnership between the human and the horse’ is only a beautiful fairy tale, which has nothing in common with the reality. What I found really existed was the use of the animal by the human through the animal’s pain and blood. Also I realized that most horse people had no idea about the horse’s essential needs for life, anthropomorphizing them and keeping in conditions, which makes it most convenient for the human to use them. I quitted riding and went deeper into studying wild horses, horse’s health and natural horse management. This led me also to begin studying professional hoof care. I finished 2 years Holistic Hoof Care and Lameness Rehabilitation Course by Dr Hiltrud Strasser, Germany. Now I teach, practice and continue my researches on holistic horse’s health and management as a leading member of the al Holistic Horse & Hoof Care team.

Photos: A workshop with Natalija.

Pferdehilfe: What kind of problems and diseases are you encountering most frequently?

N.A.: The biggest problem I encounter is incorrect hoof form — hooves that are shaped without knowledge of their biological function by so called hoof care professionals. As a consequence, hoof contraction is the most encountered disease with all the connected pathologies.

Pferdehilfe: Some experts always stress that every change in the horses posture has to be corrected and every horse has to stand flat on the ground. What´s your opinion?

N.A.: Abnormalities in the posture are usually only signs of pain. The abnormalities develop, when a horse tries to compensate for pain, shifting load from one body part to another. For example, the classical sign of heel pain in front feet, which we can recognize in horse’s posture, is when the horse puts her legs far under their body. Doing this allows the horse to avoid loading their front heels, by putting more weight on the front toes, and with hind legs placed further under her body, she shifts more weight off her front legs to her hind legs to relieve the fronts.

When we see abnormalities in posture, we search for a cause — for a source of the pain. As we free the horse from the pain, it also reflects in the horses posture — the ‘abnormalities’ or even ‘conformation faults’ simply disappear as the horse’s pain disappears.

A lot of abnormalities and ‘conformation faults’ such as ‘sickle-hock’, or ‘camped-out’ hind legs, or croup being higher than withers appear as a result of hoof pain.

Photo: At work.

Pferdehilfe: Have you ever had a horse, in which your trimming did not lead to improvement, or to some certain goals? A case that was very severe? With real big problems?

N.A.: Yes, initially when I didn’t have enough experience I have had such cases both of sever pathology and of not too bad hooves that didn’t get better. It was in the beginning when I was obsessed with getting the correct hoof form — without taking into consideration whether a horse was even happy about any positive changes in her hooves. Eventually the horse’s discomfort and even pain from the changes in the hooves would grow big enough that it delayed or even stopped the whole rehab process. With experience I have learned how to judge what degree of change a horse happily can cope with and to be happy when the horse shows they are happy, not trying to reach the ideal with every hoof.

Pferdehilfe:What are your wishes for the future concerning the world of hoofcare? What kind of message is carried by your daily work? What would you like to tell to people?

N.A.: My greatest wish is that that horses are always kept in conditions which take into consideration all the biological needs of this species, such as their need for a herd, their need for free movement day and night, their need for non-stop access to food. And NEVER kept in conditions which only makes it convenient for the human to use them.

My greatest wish is that all horse people learn what damage to the horse’s body is brought about by the pleasure that the human receives from using the horse.

When my wishes come true, there will not be much work left for hoof care professionals. :)

Photos: Natalija with her beloved mare Bagra.

Pferdehilfe: Thank you, Natalia, for this very detailed look at the horse's hoof and health ... Thank you for your time that you take for your continuous passion and respect of your equine clients.

Contact Natalija
Natalija on facebook al Holistic Horse & Hoof Care

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