I am excited to share with you the interview I had with Kristin Thornberry. Kristin is a barefoot trimmer in NW Arkansas. To say she is well versed in the horse world is an understatement. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science with a minor in Equine Science and trained by a AFA certified farrier. Kristin has over 15 years of experience and specializes in rehabbing hoof pathologies such as thin soles, laminitis/founder, and navicular. Besides trimming, she also offers casting, polyurethane and acrylic glue-on shoes, formahoof, surefoot pad sessions, and PEMF. On top of all that she is also a horse trainer!
I thoroughly enjoyed this interview. Kristin is extremely knowledgeable about horses and their hooves, but is also so very humble, too. Kristin’s love for horses and willingness to work and listen to the horse’s needs shines through. I hope you enjoy!
What are the major differences between a barefoot trim and a regular trim, if any?
There shouldn’t be any difference between a trim done by a barefoot trimmer or a farrier. I have seen poor trims done by both and excellent trims done by both. The trim should take into account each specific horse’s movement, resting stance, comfort level, and existing pathologies. The title next to the name should have nothing to do with the quality of the trim.
That said, what I have seen is that sometimes farriers maybe get in the habit of trimming a hoof for a shoe that isn’t going to have one applied. In this case, the hoof is trimmed flat instead of following the peripheral edge of the sole, especially through the quarters.
Sometimes the sole gets pared out which you would need to do if a steel shoe was going to be applied to remove sole pressure, but if the horse is going to remain barefoot that sole in general needs to be left alone because it does act as a layer of protection for the hoof and the sensitive live structures that are very close to the ground surface. Barefoot trimmers also generally don’t “dress” the hoof wall. We remove flare and dishing from the bottom as it grows out and comes in contact with the ground.
When I was shoeing, I was taught that new growth follows old growth and was supposed to remove it by top dressing. Over time, in the environment I trim in and the horses I work on, I have found that top dressing a barefoot hoof just thins the hoof wall and makes it even more susceptible to dishing and flaring because it now lacks strength and integrity.
Plus, when you top dress you remove the horses own water proof protective layer called the periople. Nothing we paint on the wall can protect it, as well as what the horse can grow itself. How much a trimmer vs. a farrier removes of the frog and bars is variable based on the school of thought they follow.
But regardless of what we think we know, the horse is our most important critic. If the horse is sore after our trim, we either did something wrong or uncovered an undiagnosed issue or pathology.
What are some of the main reasons you’ve seen horse owners switching to barefoot?
I think I have seen horse owners switching to barefoot for a wide variety of reasons. The one I probably see the most in my practice are rehab cases where nothing else has previously worked. They have tried a variety of special shoes, wedges, pads, etc. and the horse is still sore. So when they have exhausted other more traditional rehab methods, the owner may decide to try barefoot.
Another reason is over the last 15 years, Hoof Boots have advanced tremendously and give owners another option of protection for their horses’ hooves while they are being ridden besides using steel. I would say about 95% of the horses on my books can live comfortably in their environment without hoof protection. On average, hoof boots cost around $200/pair and last for around 500 miles of use. When you compare that to the cost of a traditional set of shoes every 6 weeks, riding a horse in hoof boots is much more cost effective. There are also hoof boots designed for turnout for horses that need them.
I am not anti-protection by any means, and a small percentage of horses cannot live in their environment barefoot without some type of protection. But the majority of horses can live barefoot and for these horses, living without steel shoes on 24/7 is much healthier for their hooves and their bodies. Most owners, me included, want what is best for their horses and are starting to research and consider other options besides steel. And thankfully we live in a time where we now have many other viable alternatives like composite shoes, casting, glue-on shoes, and formahoof.
How do you build a foundation with a new client horse?
Building a relationship with a client’s horse(s) can occur very quickly, or take some time. I take a whole horse approach to hoof care and training. I try to be mindful and aware of the feedback the horse is giving me. Usually, if that horse feels that I am calm and mentally present and responding consistently to how they are trying to communicate with me, I can build some trust with them. I give client horses a lot of micro releases with my energy and physical touch when I approach them and when I handle them. Over time the horse will usually start to recognize that I am trying to work with them, not against them, and they will try to work with me as well. It’s always a team effort!
What do you wish every horse owner knew before you showed up to trim their horse?
I wish most owners knew a little bit more about equine nutrition and how it directly effects the horses’ hooves. Good nutrition or poor nutrition will make or break the quality of the horses’ hooves regardless of how talented your hoof care provider is. The trim alone can only improve the hoof to a certain point. Without the care and cooperation of my amazing human clients when it comes to nutrition, environment, and movement, I could not successfully help many of the horses I am privileged to work on and with.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The most challenging aspect of my job would probably have to be scheduling. (Which is saying something when you are a barefoot trimmer 🤪.) Getting horses scheduled in the same areas on the same days with dates and times that work for everyone involved is extremely difficult! Then if somebody ends up getting sick, somebody has a doctor’s appointment they can’t reschedule, or throw in a random ice storm and it becomes nearly impossible to avoid bouncing around the county like a ping-pong ball between appointments.
What would you say about the following statement? You don’t need previous horse experience to become a farrier or Hoof Care Provider.
You don’t need previous horse experience to be any type of hoof care provider in the United States. But I would highly recommend someone interested in entering into this field have some horse handling experience before doing so. It can be a very dangerous profession and to keep yourself, the horse, and their owner safe, it’s important to understand how horses communicate with each other and then use that knowledge to communicate with them as well.
I think a lot of the best hoof care providers take a whole horse approach to hoof care and have at least a basic understanding of biomechanics. If you don’t know how the anatomy is supposed to function correctly, how can you recognize pathology and attempt to improve it?
How vital is it that there be honest communication between Hoof Care Provider and client?
I think communication between the owner and their hoof care provider is extremely important. I know hoof care providers get a bad rap about being poor communicators and that needs to change. Most horse owners see their horses daily and we only see them every 4-6 weeks. With a lot of cases, the devil is in the details, and hearing about those details and listening to owners is extremely important when it comes to providing quality hoof care.
If you could change one thing in the Hoof Care industry, what would it be?
I wish we had more camaraderie and teamwork between hoof care providers. We are not in competition with one another. We all do this because we love horses and want to help them. I think if we could communicate and help one another, we would be able to improve the quality of care for even more horses. A rising tide raises all ships.
What is the most important lesson horses have taught you?
Everything. Horses have taught me everything, especially how to listen. I’m sure they will continue to teach me new lessons as long as I am open-minded and mentally present enough to learn them.
If you could give only one piece of advice regarding horsemanship or hoof care, what would it be?
Never stop learning! Horsemanship and hoof care are lifelong pursuits that really have no end. In the book Outsiders by Malcolm Gladwell, he says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in something. The only thing I have learned since becoming an “expert” in hoof care is how much I actually don’t know and how much there still is to learn.
A huge thank you to Kristin Thornberry for agreeing to this interview! If you would like to learn more about Kristin or reach out to her directly, then please follow the links below. All photos featured on this post are credited to Kristin Thornberry.
Kristin’s Business Website: https://kristinthornberry.com/
Kristin’s Business Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/OutrunAcres
Kristin’s Email: [email protected]
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