Holistic Hoof Care for a Lifetime of Soundness

How I became empowered to keep my horses in optimal health

By Penny Gifford, Holistic Hoof Care Professional

Penny's herd at her holistic horse facility at Kumeu, Auckland.

Horses have been my passion for almost 50 years, but it wasn’t until a special horse named Zachary entered our lives about 20 years ago, that I become acutely aware of the pain horses were suffering due to inadequate hoof care.

I had bought Zachary – a lovely-natured 3 year old 17.2 hh Clydesdale cross – for my husband to ride. He was already shod, but his hooves didn't look quite right to me. The seller said as long as I got a good farrier, he would be fine.

After we took him home, he kept losing his shoes: not many farriers wanted to shoe a big horse like that and getting someone out to our property repeatedly on short notice was a hassle. Zachary regularly developed abscesses, and the vet would have to come out and remove the shoe to dig them out. Then we’d have to wait a couple of weeks for the foot to heal in order to reapply the shoe, which often he would lose again.

The last straw was when he ripped off a large chunk of hoof when a shoe came off. Someone suggested that we have the vet sedate him, get the hoof bogged with a filler, and have the shoe reapplied. Imagine my frustration when, after having spent so much money and energy on the procedure, the shoe came off again a week later.

After three years, Zachary's hoof problems were only getting worse. After many years of trying everything the conventional world had to offer he developed a problem in the hind end where he could not hold his hind legs to be trimmed. I was all out of options to help him and it was an extremely difficult and traumatic decision to euthanase him.

I was all out of options to help Zachary and it was an extremely difficult and traumatic decision to euthanase him. I couldn't bear to lose another horse to something preventable again. 

There Must Be a Better Way!
Penny and her horse Jackpot.

It was Zachary's passing that helped me realize there had to be a better way. I couldn't bear to lose another horse to something preventable again. Soon after, I attended a Strasser method barefoot hoof care seminar with Todd Merrell in New Zealand. I learned so much about hoof care over the three days, but still it felt like I had just scratched the surface and needed to learn more. Plus I couldn’t find anyone locally qualified in functional hoof care to care for my horses and provide ongoing support. I decided get qualified myself and, somehow carving out the time and money, went to a certification course in Australia. Later I attended a course in New Zealand taught by Dr. Hildred Strasser DVM herself and became fully accredited.

There was a lot more to becoming a hoof care professional than I realised and there were times when I almost gave up. But I stuck to it for my horses’ sake. There was no way I was going to shoe my horses again. I wanted to know how to keep them sound and happy. I also wanted to prevent any of the so-called incurable diseases related to hooves that were becoming common, resulting in pain and eventually euthanasia. I wanted ‘A Lifetime of Soundness’ for my horses, like Dr. Strasser describes in her book.

From a Death Sentence to Soundness 

In time people began to approach me to help them turn around their horses’ health. Too often, I ended up taking on tough cases, as desperate horse owners had tried everything traditional medicine offered and had nowhere else to turn.

Newport - aka Dodge - back on his feet.

One such case involved an advanced eventing horse schooled by some of New Zealand’s best riders named Newport. Newport, whose paddock name is Dodge, was diagnosed with navicular disease and, after years of unsuccessful corrective shoeing, the vet recommended that he be put to sleep – in his prime! – as the only humane option.

I began trimming Dodge 11 years ago and, within three months, he was sound again. I continue to give him a maintenance trim every for weeks. This horse dodged death if you ask me: today he is sound at 20 and still competing.

Holistic hoof care is individualised hoof care; it is preventative, precise, and progressive. It is hard to put into words how much I have learned about horses over the last 20 years. There is so much information to take on and put into practice for each horse to be healthy, sound, and happy. It can be complex weaving through the layers of each horse, which is why I prefer an individual approach.

Holistic hoof care is individualised hoof care. It is preventative, precise, and progressive.

It can be complex weaving through the layers of each horse.

Now that I have been practicing Holistic Hoof Care professionally for over a decade, I enjoy sharing the knowledge and experience I have accumulated. Yet every year I continue to grow, benefitting from the experience of people around the world: there is always more to learn. The more we learn, the more we are empowered to help our horses achieve optimal health.

Horses have an amazing capacity to heal themselves when their environment, movement, herd life, and hoof care is well set up in a domestic situation. I am convinced that with proper support and information, everyone can gain the confidence and competence needed to keep their horses healthy.

We can empower and re-educate ourselves away from fear of disease and lameness right back up the curve to optimal health. With this knowledge we can change the health and soundness of horses for the better.

Penny with her young horse Rafferty.

Penny Gifford is a certified Strasser Hoof Care Professional whose focus is on happy, healthy horses.

At the Spirit Horse Festival she will be hosting a session on A Natural and Holistic Approach to Caring for Your Horse, which will cover the requirements for healthy and happy horses in a domestic situation including movement, hoof care, nutrition, herd life, shelter, and comfortable equipment as pillars of holistic horse care. 

Find out more about our presenters and what's in store for the 2020 festival program

  • November 14, 2017