When I first started trimming almost 10 years ago there were no fancy job titles like hoof care specialist or hoof care practitioner. There were farriers and barefoot trimmers. The former implied you were a blacksmith that could forge handcrafted shoes and the latter meant you were a horse obsessed hippie that thought all horses should should be barefoot in spite of their soundness. What I wanted to do didn't fit into either category so I decided to call myself a natural trimmer. Wild horses don't get their hooves trimmed every 6 weeks, they wear them off constantly because of their nomadic lifestyle. This is natures way of maintaining balance or what I would call "natural".
Barefoot trimmers back then (and lets be honest even some today) tend to come across as a little bit fanatical. There have been well known trimmers who believed in regular aggressive trimming that made hooves bleed, drastic immediate angle changes to the hoof that left horses sore or caused injury and/or permanent damage and so on. These trimmers also tend to be somewhat overzealous trying to impress their views upon every unsuspecting horse owner they come across. This cult like mentality led to a general resistance in the horse world to the barefoot movement and created a stigma of sorts that all barefoot trimmers must trim aggressively regardless of how it affects the horse.
I wanted to separate myself from that stigma and at the same time not confuse potential customers by calling myself a farrier. While it's true that farriers don't just forge metal shoes, but also trim hooves, I didn't want to have to explain over and over again that I was only a "barefoot" farrier.
There it is again, that "barefoot" word. Another reason I have an issue calling myself a barefoot trimmer is that I don't think all horses should be barefoot all of the time. Let me explain. While I do believe the hoof is meant to be bare to be healthy, there are situations where a horse's comfort level needs to be prioritized over these beliefs. And really sometimes a weak or distorted hoof requires some intervention/protection to become healthy again so that it can function as nature intended ---> bare. So in saying this there are cases in my business where I use composite shoes, hoof boots or hoof casts to help rehabilitate hoof issues and therefore I cannot say those horses are "barefoot".
What I believe is the difference between natural/barefoot trimmers and farriers is that farriers believe the hoof can function optimally with support when fixed with a metal shoe, and natural/barefoot trimmers believe the metal restricts the hoof function and circulation and compromises hoof health. Farriers that use metal shoes routinely restore usability to unsound horses via shoeing and horse owners appreciate this. My concern with is this: if a horse is unsound barefoot due to a weak or compromised hoof and you apply a shoe and the horse walks off sound, did you fix the weakness or just cover it up?
There will always be horse owners that prefer the ease of having their horse shod to maintain or "restore" soundness, and I have no issue with that. In this free world that we live in people are lucky enough to be able to choose what works for them and their horse. My approach to the same weak or compromised hoof might be to use a form of hoof protection when the horse needs it, but ultimately I want to restore hoof health and remove the weakness so that the horse doesn't require the shoe/boot/cast etc in order to be sound.
So ultimately I chose my own path, and called myself a natural trimmer in order to place myself in between what I saw back then as two camps divided. I like to think of myself as Pat Parelli would say as an "extreme middle of the roadist" in all aspects related to horses. And what that means to me is that I try to never become so overzealous in my views that I cannot appreciate another person's point of view, that I will not press my views upon others fanatically, but will share my knowledge openly when asked. I am also not afraid to continue learning and trying new methods and techniques. As Pete Ramey says, I try to "never say never or always" when it comes to trimming because as soon as you do you will encounter a situation where you end up doing something you never thought you would or straying from your usual tactics in the best interest of the horse.
10 years ago when I decided I wanted to learn to trim my horse there weren't many references or places to go to learn. There were of course traditional farrier programs, but I was looking for more a natural approach. I started with reading books by Pete Ramey, Dr. Stausser and other barefoot pioneers but there wasn't a lot available online. This was back before the evolution of Facebook how-to groups and online courses. I struggled my way through balancing what I was reading with my experiments in trimming my own horses and I found that it was an extreme learning curve. Eventually I sought out help and attended one of those traditional farrier courses. I learned a lot about what I wasn't really interested in at that course, but I also learned to use the tools and how to interact with the horses so it was definitely a valuable resource for me.
What I craved all those years ago was a course that would not only teach the theory and science behind barefoot trimming but would also have a hands on component that could help me to build my skill. After trimming for several years and with the encouragement of Cheryl Henderson of the Oregon School of Natural Hoof Care I was able to put together a program exactly as I had wished for back when I learned to trim in order to help others progress with a less steep learning curve then I had experienced. My ultimate goal has always been to help as many horses as I can in my lifetime and I quickly realized that teaching others how to help horses was the most advantageous way to do that.
The 6 day barefoot trimming course that I have developed as gone through much evolution since its initial inception. My first course in 2014 was a bit of trial and error. As I did more courses I was able to refine the process and figure out what parts needed more study time and hands on training by watching the rate at which the students progressed through the program. Now fast forward 5 years and that course is dramatically different then that first one. We have now developed an online course that covers that theory and knowledge base before students even arrive. This gives us more time hands on with the horses and more practice time for students while they can be directly supervised.
The hardest part about training people to trim is that I have no control over their practices or techniques once they leave my course. I believe that working with horses in any capacity but especially hoof care requires a constant desire to learn. You must become a perpetual student of the horse in order to continue to evolve your learning and not become overconfident or complacent. My all time favorite quote is "he who thinks he knows the most, has the most to learn" (author unknown). I can't stress enough to students when they leave here that my short introductory course to barefoot trimming is simply a starting point. They must continue to evolve their education and build their knowledge base in order to stay relevant and do their best work for horses. I also offer them access to a Facebook group where they can converse with their peers and reach out to me for support and guidance along the way. The 6 day course is not the end of the road, students can attend again in the future for no additional cost and I have seen this second week bring their skills from basic trimming to significantly more advanced.
As I am always learning and attending as many clinics and workshops as I can I am constantly adding new things into my course and changing up the content to reflect new research and theories surrounding the hoof. I make a point to attend as many clinics as possible and to study as many trimming styles as well as traditional farrier research because I believe that no time learning is wasted.
This journey to work for horses, as anyone that has horses will tell you, is not lucrative. We put our blood sweat and tears into these animals but the experience of watching them overcome lameness or to be able to rehabilitate them is what keeps me grounded and keeps me going.
Kristi Luehr is a Barefoot Trimmer, and founder of the Okanagan School of Natural Hoof Care. She is certified by the Canadian Farrier School as well as the Oregon School of Natural Hoof Care and is also trained in Equine Massage Therapy and Equine Dentistry. Her focus is to educate owners about hoof anatomy, function and proper barefoot trimming that supports and grows healthy and functional hooves specific to each horse's individual needs.