The Changing Face of Hoofcare in the United States (May 2003)

by Yvonne Welz ©2006

May 2003: These past 5 years have seen a revolution in horse care and hoof care in the United States. At times, this revolution has seemed quiet, and at other times explosive. Probably the biggest single catalyst in this revolution was the American release of Dr. Strasser’s book, A Lifetime of Soundness in 1998. So many horseowners describe reading this book for the first time as “life-changing.”

A new world opened up for many horseowners, who had no previous knowledge of the hoof, and had paid little attention to that part of their horse’s anatomy. Owners of lame horses became empowered by the idea that they could actually play a part in healing their horses. Owners of sound horses wanted to keep them that way, and decided that the shoes must be removed - before it was too late. “Barefooters” were hungry for information and assistance in any form.

Dr. Hiltrud Strasser visited the United States for the first time in a series of clinics in April/May 2000, accompanied by Sabine Kells, CSHS from British Columbia, Canada. Clinic attendees enthusiastically shared with other horseowners the knowledge they had learned thus far, so initially, learning to trim was really a “grass-roots” movement! Information was even published in “step-by-step” format on the internet (not condoned, of course). This is what helped create the “do-it-yourself” image of the Strasser method, which is so far from truth! Due to the fact that so many horse’s hooves are in such terrible condition (even if “sound” in shoes), there were indeed many problems that happened from owners trying to rehabilitate hooves without help. The barefoot movement had to go through lots of growing pains! Despite the difficulties, there are too many stories of success - even with owners who had no idea what to do - but the choice was pick up a knife or put the horse down! With the right person and the right horse, anything was possible, and miracles did happen. These miracle stories continued to create a demand for more information about Dr. Strasser’s work.

Gretchen Fathauer’s website “Treating Chronic Laminitis Without Shoes” (www.naturalhorsetrim.com) helped to spread the shoeless idea and inform the public about the work of Dr. Strasser. In June 2000, the popular barefoot mailing group, naturalhorsetrim@yahoogroups.com was founded by Gretchen and myself. (Membership is now over 1700.) In August 2000, The Horse’s Hoof company was born, first as a website offering Strasser books and trimming supplies, and then with the release of Issue 1, Fall 2000 of “The Horse’s Hoof, News for Natural Hoofcare,” a newsletter style quarterly publication that covers all aspects of barefoot horse care. This publication is produced independently from Dr. Strasser, however she acts as Technical Advisor, along with Sabine Kells.

September 2000 also marked the beginning of the first Strasser Hoofcare Specialist Course for North American students, conducted largely through correspondence, and overseen by Sabine Kells. Ten student from North Am. enrolled in the year long course, and graduated after a trip to Germany in May 2001 - one of them was my own husband, James Welz. The second course class had 16 North Am. graduates in 2002, and the third class has 24 North Am. students working towards graduation in 2003.

During 2000 and 2001, several clinicians began to tour the United States, promoting barefoot, some with techniques that were complementary, and others that were drastically different from Dr. Strasser’s. Nonetheless, they all helped to promote the message that horses are better off without shoes. The public was desperate for any help they could find, and most of these clinics would fill to overflowing. Dr. Strasser continued to visit the U.S. in clinic tours in 2001 and 2002. As time went by, some of the new Hoofcare Specialists became approved for giving Seminars, and soon there were frequent Strasser seminars all over the U.S.

In May, 2002, Dr. Strasser was invited to present a conference at Tuft’s University in Massachusetts, U.S. This groundbreaking conference was titled “Hoofcare for the New Millennium, Exploring the Strasser Method.” This important event brought her methods into the academic limelight, and caused many experts to begin serious consideration of her work. It did not put an end to the controversy, of course! The traditional farrier community has a hard time accepting the non-shoe approach. Many barefoot proponents, who owe their initial discovery of barefoot to reading Dr. Strasser’s books, now disagree with her trimming methods, which they describe as too severe. In all fairness, most of these people have not, however, worked with experienced CSHS. Over the past 5 years, so many horses lives have been improved by the removal of shoes, and a return to a more natural lifestyle, that the details become far less important than the big picture.

In 2002, Strasser’s official English language website was launched at www.strasserhoofcare.org. CSHS Todd Merrell’s Canadian company, Zen Equine, overseas Dr. Strasser’s North American operations. This includes the website (featuring books, videos, and trimming products) as well as the schedule of North American Strasser seminars and the production of Strasser training videos and DVDs. The first Strasser video was released in summer, 2002, “Optimum Hoof Form - The Basic Trim.”

The CSHS (Certified Strasser Hoofcare Specialists) have been hard at work in America for just a short time now (the most experienced just graduated 2 years ago) in the diverse terrain of our very large country. They have been doing an excellent job, and are such a talented group of people. There are so many challenges here: from extreme temperatures (such as the 120 degree heat of Arizona to the freezing sub-zero of Alaska) to the extreme terrain which can vary from sugar sand in Florida to hard, frozen mud in the northeast. There are many areas that are extremely hard and rocky, which can lead to a difficult situation for rehabilitation of tender hooves. All these challenges shape the decisions these hoofcare specialists make on a daily basis. Despite the difficulties of rehabilitation in the field, the CSHS are finding that Dr. Strasser’s trimming parameters are so flexible, they can be adapted to any situation. No matter what, if the basics are followed, the hooves always do improve! The keys are: knowledge, experience, and educaton of the client. Several of the American CSHS are also in the process of setting up Hoof Clinics with rubber floor matting, which will provide greater potential for the rehabilitation of serious cases. Todd Merrell had the first rubber floor set up in North America, at his facility in Vancouver, British Columbia.

As we look ahead to the future, many CSHS, students and barefoot supporters are planning to attend the Strasser World Conference in Germany, November 2003. The American CSHS are an enthusiastic group of positive people, hard-working, dedicated, and interested in learning as much as they can. We hope to continue to learn and share with barefoot enthusiasts around the world.

©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.


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