Santo Rising

There were five vultures circling overhead as the new vet arrived to give us an opinion on Santo's situation. Santo was 7 years old at the time, a silver buckskin quarter horse. At least four different vets had diagnosed him with at least four different problems: Arthritis in his knees, bone spavins in his hocks, severe allergies to just about everything on the planet, late stages of navicular disease, and last, but not least, cushings disease. He was currently in Natural Balance shoes, accompanied by wedge pads and medium rails. When asked, the “natural balance vet” admitted that, optimistically, we might get two more years of usability out of him. Santo was on a drug called Pergolide for the Cushings Disease that gave him a distant, spaced-out look in his eyes. Also, I was giving him a monthly maintenance allergy shot. A dosage that formerly had been given daily, but was reduced after a year’s time. The shots gave him the symptoms as often as they disguised them. These symptoms included, loss of hair, itchiness, swelling, heat, and my personal favorite …a syrupy anal excretion that ran down the back of his legs. The skin became so sensitive and raw that any irritable swish of his tail would scald every piece of hide it touched. This was agonizing for him and he would try to relieve himself by rubbing his buttocks on the corral rails, leaving him with a bloody stump for a tail and open sores underneath. One Vet prescribed installing a “butt bar” to save our corral. At the time, salvaging the corral was at the bottom of our priorities.

The vultures were not helping our outlook. We simply could not accept two years of usability for our seven-year-old gelding. Besides, using him was the furthest thing from our minds in his current state. We only wanted his feet to be usable for him and to resume being a horse without so much discomfort and worry. I already felt guilty enough for having pushed him for the last two years, thinking he was lazy rather than in pain.

The new Vet was accepting of both western and alternative medicine, which was encouraging, and her assistant was a barefoot enthusiast.

“This horse is too young to have Cushings.” She exclaimed. I informed her that another Vet had sent blood to a lab in Kentucky and the results came back positive, twice. She scoffed, but suggested a product called ‘Carbo Combo’ for detoxification, soaking his Bermuda hay in water to take out a large percent of the sugar, and finally, pulling his shoes. She was speculating that he was insulin resistant and that reducing the sugars in his diet and increasing the circulation to his feet would give him the relief he desperately needed.

Santo was displaying all his regular symptoms on this day, plus the newest symptom…abscessing in both hind heel bulbs. I thought his hooves were going to peel off. This was the impetus for calling out the new Vet. I agreed to do everything but pull the front shoes. I’d learned to shoe him myself as well as our other four horses. I knew from first-hand experience that Santo could barely stand on a rubber mat for a few minutes without a shoe on. I took the responsibility of shoeing my horses very seriously and was in no way one of those guys who treated it like changing a tire. I had great respect for the trade. I was a mason for 15 years and had a good eye for plumb and level. I sought advice and criticism from every Farrier, Vet, and Trainer that I came in contact with. Santo’s previous owner had taught me his version of Natural Balance shoeing, and the current vet-recommended Farrier was letting me study his work. That same Vet that had prescribed the EDSS (Natural Balance) shoes didn’t think that my shoeing job was at fault. In fact, he believed Santo had probably been struggling with this since he was three or four years old, a couple of years previous to the time we had purchased him, “He just has bad confirmation”, pointing out his long cannon bones and broken back hoof-pastern axis. This was temporarily comforting, but the guilt crept back in. The new Vet’s assistant gave me Pete Ramey’s web address so I could make an informed decision on my own. I pulled Santo’s hind shoes right then and walked the two ladies to their truck. After saying goodbye I went back to check on Santo. I noticed that the swelling in his hinds had gone down considerably. I spent the next week reading everything I could find by Pete Ramey.

The following week I made an appointment with the same vet and asked if she would be there when I pulled Santo’s front shoes. It turned out to be a non-event. He walked right off. Theswelling in the hinds was completely gone and the abscesses were healing nicely. Unfortunately, pulling shoes wasn’t all there was to it. I had no idea what to do for his continued hoof care. I know that I bugged the heck out of that poor Vet assistant but her advice and approach was simply to wait. Whereas “What are we waiting for?” had always been my approach. I said, “I can’t stand looking at his feet!” Her reply- “Stop looking.”

I thanked her and said goodbye. I made much more eye contact with my horse in the days that followed that conversation. No matter how much I averted my eyes from his feet, they were still there…long and under-run. I shifted my attention to reading. I already had Gene Ovnicek’s, New Hope for Soundness and I ordered Pete Ramey’s book, Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You. In his introduction Ramey advises reading Jamie Jackson’s book, Horse Owner’s Guide to Natural Hoof Care, first.

I figured that if I was going to turn over a new leaf, I might as well do it right. I read them, in order, and signed myself up for a Pete Ramey/ Dr. Bowker clinic . In the meantime Santo’s feet were not improving. One evening my wife, my daughter and I were out to dinner with friends and the conversation turned to horses’ feet. A trimmer’s name was mentioned that was doing some good work at an eastside barn. I wrote down his name and number and called him the next day. He informed me that he wasn’t trimming professionally, only to pay the board for his 2 horses. He asked me about my horse. After explaining Santo’s situation, he asked for directions, complained about the driving distance, then offered to come out the next day. I was grateful. He arrived exactly on time in what looked like an unmarked police car wearing a cheap straw hat. I introduced him to Santo. He looked down and said, “His toes are too long”.

“Yes, but what can we do about it?”, was my reply.

“ Shorten them.” He said.

Realizing the simultaneous complexity and simplicity in his answer, he gave a brief explanation. He said that he had attended a Pete Ramey/ Dr Bowker clinic at which, his “mind had been blown”. After returning with the new insight he was faced with a situation where a Vet prescribed an “aggressive toe rocker” for a horse with Navicular Syndrome. He said that he never would have done it without the Vet’s orders, and that the horse’s condition improved significantly. He wasn’t sure if it complied with Pete’s teaching’s, but that he’d used the same measurements on every horse’s toes since. I asked him to show me on Santo. He put his thumb against the apex of the frog, put a mark about ¼’’ ahead of that and cut the rest off. I must admit I went weak in the knees. That was a large portion of his foot. To my amazement there was no blood and no bone sticking out. Santo seemed relieved too when he put his weight back on it. The trimmer offered me his nippers and asked if I wanted to do the other foot. I mustered up the courage and followed suit. Santo weighted his foot, licked and chewed ,and walked off with the longest stride I’d seen him take in a very long time. I asked the trimmer who the Vet was that showed him the “toe rocker” . I was stunned to find out that it was the same Vet that prescribed EDSS shoes for Santo. The same Vet that I bought Gene Ovnicek’s book from. I thanked the trimmer and asked him what his charge was. He extended his hand and said with a grin, “No charge, my barefoot brother”. After he left I couldn’t stop thinking of the holes in the information I was receiving. I reread Gene’s book and found the toe rocker measurements, right there in black and white, italicized, on p. 21. A week later Santo exfoliated his old flat soles and revealed beautiful concavity. I thought back on all the vets and a couple of farriers saying that his feet were just too flat, and therefore he would never be able to go barefoot. Six years later, Santo is in the best shape of his life. We still soak his Bermuda hay, but only in the summer. He enjoys an occasional windswept mesquite bean (we try very hard to keep him away from sugary mesquite beans), walks, trots, or canters to his choosing anywhere he wishes to go, and he enjoys a good trail ride. Going downhill is still a problem for him. I think that is hock related so I get off and walk. I use Easyboot Gloves when I ride, and where his feet are concerned he has no worries. I believe in using the  boots even if they’re sound barefoot; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Once I figured out what he needed … I became very disciplined. He’s been on a one week trim cycle for more than 3 years now. In the beginning I was afraid that was excessiveand only did it that often in order to maintain corrections, but his feet improved so much by doing so little each time that I was afraid to let them go longer than one week. Very soon I applied this same frequency to my other horses and corrected many of the hoof distortions that I had assumed were inherent. In the beginning for Santo there was always more toe to take. Gradually there was less and less, as the toe shortened the heels grew steeper. His pasterns have become much more upright, probably closer to his original angles. I have taken the same approach on many horses since, and try to encourage more frequent trimming. I also did some research on Native American animal symbolism. Vultures aren’t as grim as you’d think. Turns out they also symbolize rebirth, new vision, and purification.

Our Philosophy

Horses feet have evolved over millions of years to be a regenerative system. Constant movement over varied terrain maintains the balance of growth vs. wear, step for step. The result is an amazing hoof comprised of:

- super structures that thrive on use.
- Hoof function with an efficient break over
- and the ability to withstand and dissipate concussive forces with a heel first impact (this allows the horse to use his weight for him instead of against him. )

The current more traditional system for domestic horses is a degenerative system where there is minimal movement in a small damp stall, infrequent trimming schedules and/ or prosthetic devices nailed to their feet.

This results in the horse crushing his feet under his own weight. I believe horses were designed to have sustainable feet for their lifetime. I feel that we are responsible as the horse's caretakers to protect the natural wonder, the horse's hoof, that nature has provided for them.

Our Goal

To encourage the mustang foot on the domestic horse through proper trimming and care. The best foot your horse can have.


To teach you how to manage risk in your horse or herd through lameness prevention and sound management practices, specifically focusing on hooves, through movement, footing, balanced trimming and diet.

Services include:

- Assessment

- Consultation

- Trimming

- Booting

- Footing

- Clinics

- Personal Lessons

- Horsemanship Training

- Lameness Prevention

- Rehabilitation

- Facilities Design

and Development