If there were one story, that to me “sealed the deal” on barefoot and its truth, it would have to be the story that Officer Greg Sokoloski shared about the Houston Mounted Patrol unit, which he has been a part of from its inception in 1984.
Officer Sokoloski came onto this patrol with zero horse experience. The patrol started with a very conventional and traditional way of managing their horses in small facilities. But a miraculous transformation took place following Officer Sokoloski’s first ride on his new barefoot horse, Shadow in 2004. With the myriad of classic illness and lameness issues plaguing this mounted patrol’s horses, he knew he needed to look deeper into his horse’s health.
Now all 33 horses on the Houston Mounted Patrol are barefoot and sound, and Officer Sokoloski owes it all to the Four Pillars of Natural Hoof Care.
In 2004 they started with one barefoot horse, and now all 33 horses are without metal shoes. But this is only one of the great things about this patrol’s barefoot journey. Almost all of the other ailments that their horses suffered disappeared as well.
As the Four Pillars of Natural Hoof Care are the champions that brought these horses into a natural equilibrium, we must examine what they are, and how the Houston Mounted Patrol applied them. The fact that they have 33 horses made up of 15 different breeds, ages three to 18, that work on hard ground for 5-6 hours a day, has profound implications in validating the natural path of horse management.
In the Great Basin, horses are never confined, but free to move, and they average 10-20 miles a day over very rugged terrain. The Houston Mounted Patrol was built in 2009 and was designed around the horse, creating the space to facilitate as much movement and space as possible.
Slow feeders are used in every extended stall and in the pasture where the horses are free to run, fight, and play with each other. Instead of treating colic and lameness issues, now they primarily treat bite and kick wounds from the healthy interaction of the horses just being themselves together. Before, they averaged 24 colic episodes a year, and now average only one.
Reasonably Natural Diet
Horses have evolved to eat all day long, grazing as they travel from place to place. Their digestive systems have evolved to require constant forage in small amounts. Their continuous production of hydrochloric acid is a reflection of this. The Houston Mounted Patrol provides 24/7 access to grass hay in slow feeders, catering to the equine digestive system that is very exact in what it needs. They feed very little grain which is a mix of oats and barley, just as a medium for giving some supplements.
All officers are taught how to ride and to relate to the horses through more natural means, which is a shift from their traditional cavalry horse training method. Although I do not condone Parelli horsemanship for reasons outside the scope of this writing, I am glad it is a step in the right direction.
The Houston Mounted Patrol have four officers that conduct the natural trim. Officer Sokoloski visited Jaime Jackson and Jill Willis and their AANHCP* Paddock Paradise in 2012 in Lompoc, California to see the profound potential for horses living the Four Pillars. He saw firsthand Jaime trim his horses, which had just received their first trim in first months. Jaime’s horses get trimmed on average three times a year, as their Paddock Paradise provides enough natural wear to keep their feet in optimal condition.
My feeling is that most people simply do not know about this mounted patrol of sound barefoot horses. The fact that a group of mixed bred horses of all ages can live totally sound on asphalt and pavement for five to six hours a day is remarkable. To those who practice Natural Hoof Care (NHC), however, it is not surprising at all.
It is an exciting landmark for the natural horse and for me, as it seems where we are headed is inevitable. If you’re interested in understanding the Four Pillars of NHC and wanted to learn how to apply them at home for your horses, take a look at Jaime’s newest book The Natural Trim: Principles and Practice.
* AANHCP – the Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices
Narayan Khalsa is a co-founder of Effective Pet Wellness, a company specializing in horse wellness and clearing infectious disease is equines, cats, and dogs.