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Leading by example

My name is Christine Tomlin, and together with my close friend and business partner, Francine Labossière, we own and operate Hoof Geeks Barefoot Hoof Care. Francine and I travel Western Canada teaching and empowering horse owners in remote locations to take control of their horses’ hooves and bring their horses back to soundness.We are often asked why we are just teaching horse owners. We have found that there is a lack of certified barefoot hoof care practitioners in many areas of Canada. Until recently, the only options many horse owners had was to take control of their horse’s soundness for themselves.

In January of 2021 a few of Canada’s leading and highly trained barefoot practitioners came together to form the Canadian Equine Hoof Care Association. We saw the need to set a standard of practice and code of ethics in this industry. We differ greatly from the farriers who have their own practices and guidelines to follow, as do we.

Francine and I live in Manitoba, the central heartland of Canada, just east of Winnipeg. Much like the owners we train and empower, we, too, were once struggling to find barefoot hoof practitioners that would be able to keep our horses sound and functioning at their best. When the conventional system failed to provide us with answers and hope for some of our horses, we ventured out and learned to trim and care for our own horse’s feet. Broadening our scope of knowledge, we attended a 2-1/2 year long certification in Equine Podiatry and Soundness in Charlotte, South Carolina. This knowledge brought awareness of the complexities of successfully keeping horses barefoot. It was through advanced trimming practices, equine podiatry education, sourcing proper diet and dedication to providing a fulfilling lifestyle that we were able to find success in barefooting our horses.

The barefoot approach is not for the faint of heart. Barefooting a horse requires a lifestyle change – mostly for the owner. Many horse owners are at the mercy of boarding barns and feel they have no say as to how their horses are being kept. Horse owners should have the knowledge-based requirements to be able to pick the best environment for their barefoot horses. Our jobs as barefoot hoof care providers is to advocate for the horse through the owner, and help to ensure the horses are given the best opportunity for a sound, fulfilling and joyful existence.

My 30-year journey through maintaining my herd barefoot has gone through some changes. As I look back I am grateful for the opportunity to lead by example. I moved my small herd of horses from 140 acres of varying terrain to a small 15-acre farm. Keeping my horses active and sound in an environment much smaller than they were used to was a great challenge for me. However, I was armed with the knowledge of what my herd required in order to maintain their unique needs and sound lifestyle. You see, barefoot is much more than just having a steel-free hoof.

Armed with a blank slate and an old, abandoned farm, I accepted the challenge full-on and started to create an environment that would provide my horses with the challenges they will require in order to continue to build a healthy body, mind and hooves.

I constructed a 3,681-foot track system with three pastures that can be opened or closed off from the main track. I installed water hydrants in various places around the track. The area where I feed hay is at one end of the track and the water source is at the other end. This requires the horses to walk over a mile for water many times a day all year long. Spreading the hay along the track in various places encourages constant movement. I am fortunate to have hills along the river that my herd has to navigate and this helps them develop strong front and hind ends and use their bodies more effectively.

During the cold November days and nights, their winter coats continue to thicken to provide ample winter protection. They have a run-in shelter and also natural trees to shelter them from the cold, north winter winds. No blankets required.

Hay is nutritionally tested every time I buy it. I choose to have a custom blend of minerals made in order to provide the horses with optimal nutrition which is balanced to their forage.

Movement – Balanced Nutrition – Podiatry Knowledge – Trimming (15-day rotation) – Supportive Care (chiropractor, dental, massage, herbal, homeopathic, vet)

As basic as this sounds, setting my horses up for success came from years of study of science-based knowledge, experience, and a lot of hard work and dedication. In the end my horses thrive! Shiny coats, strong bodies, sound hooves and the ability to recover quickly from injuries that could have become life threatening are just a few of the advantages of the barefoot lifestyle. At present I live with four horses and one mini-donkey.

Raising the standards of horse care and husbandry in Canada has become an animal ethics issue, and has been for quite some time. It is important to bring the awareness that barefooting horses is much, much more than the trimming of hooves. There is a difference in a barefoot trim and a traditional pasture trim, indeed, but without the sound environment and nutrition we will not see optimal results. It is understanding this fact that we as barefoot hoof care practitioners are raising the bar for everyone! Trimmers, farriers, veterinarians, and owners!

As a hoof care provider, I believe it is vitally important to set an example and I strive to create an environment in which my horses will thrive and continue to improve in their soundness.

Going forward from this point, the closing of 2021, is a very exciting time for the horse! New professional training institutes are being developed. Those already in existence in Canada are continuing to grow. The leaders within this industry now have a strong association to call home. It is with our leadership that we now welcome and encourage barefoot trimmers to join the CEHCA. Together we will reap the benefits of strength, empowerment and recognition in the industry. It is time that we, as barefoot hoof care practitioners, are acknowledged for the years of experience, study and investment we have made over the past two to three decades, and our dedication to improving the lives of horses and empowering the owners who have chosen the natural path, the soundness path, the healthy path for their horses.

This association is a flagstone for all the horses that have come into our lives, present and in spirit. They are our teachers and it is to them that I bow my head and say thank you for always asking us to do better!