Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tom's Barefoot Horse Account, Part Two

Part Two of Going Barefoot by Tom Muller

The horses’ hooves were trimmed regularly, usually every three to four weeks, depending on foot condition and growth. Tools in use were just a good knife, a rasp and an S-shaped finer rasp to contour the hooves edges. The wall was rasped down over the whole surface in a first step. As this was done quite often (not a lot of hoof material was lost from walking actually), it was not necessary to take off too much, just a few millimetres in most cases.

Then the sole was cut with a very sharp hoof knife. Here less was more as well. If you took off too much the foot became too sensitive and you could see small haemorrhages in the sole, which could easily bring your horse down for a couple of weeks. As a general rule you could say that we cut about two millimetres below the level of the hoof wall, cutting deeper towards the frog. The frog itself was never cut, unless some parts were hanging loose.

As a last step the wall was slightly rounded with the S-shaped rasp, then the hooves were oiled. Oiling was imperative, especially during the dry season. Hooves would become very brittle and small parts of the wall could break out/off, in which case this part was rounded with a knife immediately. I had to trim a few horses’ feet that were so hard I had to put them overnight in an improvised water basin. I could not get any horn off the sole with my knife. During the rainy season all this changed to the opposite, when the horses were sloshing through water all the time.

Now I am no farrier, nor a hoof specialist, I was just an old fashioned horse trooper who had to keep his mount in perfect condition for service. When I had been promoted to officer there were a few things that I would check all the time on inspections and during operations. Weapons you never had a problem with, because they were the life insurance of each trooper, but so was his mount. Especially troopers who passed selection and joined the unit because of the reputation but not because of the love for horses, had to be looked after. Points that needed regular controlling were the horse’s feet and the back (including the saddle, blankets or pads and the girth/cincha).

I can only put down my experiences over the years and how we kept our mounts operational. A few points should be mentioned because to me, they seem very important. The type of horse used for this kind of barefoot “work” is imperative. You need a good working type horse, not too big with a naturally good hoof. The material in the horses paddock should consist of the same material it walks regularly. Now this might be difficult, but what I mean is the following: we operated on sand, so half the paddock was filled with sand; we operated on rocky ground, so we used these rocks to fill the other half of the paddock with this material. It was funny how some horsey and very knowledgeable people from all over the world would be surprised to see our horses rest in the rocky part, three legging it under one of the big Acacia trees.

Regular light trimming, rather than doing things the hard way every eight weeks was the key to success, at least in our case.

There are so many things I could still talk about, not just going barefoot, maybe if you people are interested, I’ll write some more about my horse experiences.

Tom, thank you for sharing. This is great. Informative, interesting, and inspiring. I for one would like to hear more. Friends and readers, please write me at if you’d like to send a comment to Tom, or if you too would like to read more.

Thanks again,


Monday, December 6, 2010

Barefoot horses, a fascinating first hand account

Hello friends and readers.

I’m not “back.” In fact, I never left. But that’s another story I have no intention of boring you with at this point. What brought me out of my hibernation was a story I wanted to share with you coming from a new friend in Germany. Tom Muller and his wife live in the German Alps with their horses, hounds and goats in what seems like a place as remote and beautiful as where my family and I are living. Funny how something so far away can seem so close…

Anyway, Tom wrote recently and briefly shared with me his personal experiences working with barefoot horses. I was fascinated – and hooked – and asked him if he wouldn’t mind writing his story to share with you. I believe many of you (Rio in BC for starters!) will find his story as interesting – and informative – as I did.

The first part of his story follows. Thank you, Tom, for sharing this with us! We look forward to reading more.

Going Barefoot, by Tom Muller

Also noted as the use of unshod horses by the former Mounted Anti Poaching Unit in Namibia.

The Mounted Anti Poaching Unit of the Department of Nature Conservation in former South-West-Africa used the horses mobility and bush savvy of both horse and trooper to combat Elephant and Rhino poaching in the North of the war torn country in the 1980’s. Traditionally mounted patrols were always conducted by the game rangers of the Etosha National Park, the former Chief Ranger being the commanding officer of the South African Defense Forces Mounted Infantry Unit. A special unit was formed to combat organized poaching.

The terrain the unit operated in was mainly flat Savanna, with mountains in the West. Sandy plains often covered with lots of small rocks reached to the steep mountains. The rainy season (summer) was very hot and humid with temperatures above the 40°C mark, while during the dry season (winter) daytime temperatures would climb to a pleasant 30°C while the nights could bring frost and temperatures well below 0°C. The altitude was well over 1000 meters above sea level.

The duration of horse patrols could vary from one to six weeks. The longest patrol lasted 12 weeks. MAPU did control areas with high concentrations of game, would conduct follow up operations, control local villages, gather intelligence and conduct combined operations with the Army and Police. Depending on the type of ops conducted, the horses would be on the move for 6 to 12 hours a day, with troopers mounted and leading their horses alternately. Weight was kept at a minimum. The trooper, with a maximum of 15-20 kg’s of equipment including rifle, ammunition, rations, radio, water and pellets for the horse. Modified McClellan saddles were used and found very satisfactory. Snaffle bits and no curb bits were used.

Now comes the most important part. The mounts! Remounts were bought at farms from the Otjiwarongo region. They were mainly Boer horses with a certain amount of Arab blood (the higher the better). They stood about 14 ½ to 15 hands high and were raised on farms with a lot of mountains and rocky ground. When between 4 and 8 years old they came to MAPU and were trained by the unit. Mares and stallions were bought alike, stallions were castrated by the units vet. Horses that were raised like that had certain advantages that were invaluable. They had bush savvy and knew how to deal with predators, poisonous snakes, and changing weather. They knew how to move and negotiate rough country and flooded rivers. They were tough, hardy and reliable. Most important, they did have very tough hooves adapted to the country they were working in. Black hooves were tougher than white hooves, although a fair amount of horses did have white hooves and never went lame. Two horses shared a paddock of half sand and rocks. Keeping them on the same ground they were supposed to work on, was one of the essential things to keep their hooves tough but not brittle. Big Acacia trees gave the necessary shade and shelter. Feed troughs were put on a concrete slab under one of the trees.

That concludes Part 1. We look forward to Tom sharing his next installment with us!

Thank you, Tom.

Please send comments to All messages referring to this and related articles will be forwarded to Tom.