Interview with Susan Tomlin and Dancealong, Grand Prix Dressage Rider in Scoot Boots. New Zealand, December 2019

You have a 12 year old Grand Prix Dressage horse. Can you tell us a little bit more about him? 

His paddock name is Christmas as he was born just before Christmas. He is now 12 years old. I was given him as a two year old. He was the last horse bred by Pat Dalrymple who was a real stalwart of NZ dressage. She was part of the syndicate who brought the hanoverian stallion, Anamour into NZ. She is also the mother of top dressage rider Kathryn Gorringe and eventing olympian Sally Clark. Pat (who was 88 years old at the time) rang me up completely out of the blue one day, introduced herself and she said she had watched me ride over the years, liked the way I trained and looked after my horses and that she had a 2yr old she wanted to give me.

Well, people don't really just give you horses so it turned out that the horse had an OCD lesion of the stifle that was operated on by the equine vets at Massey University. Unfortunately something went wrong under the anaesthetic and the horse developed a heart arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) which never went away. The veterinary team were not able to give Pat a prognosis for future athletic performance. He was an unbroken 2yr old so it was not possible to exercise test him. It meant that she could not sell the horse but she thought him to be too nice a horse to sit wasting in a paddock. Pat thought I would be the ideal person because I lived reasonably locally and being a veterinarian, I would be perfect for keeping an eye on him. So that is how I obtained him and I have to say his heart condition has never caused him any problems. It was lovely because Pat took an active interest in her horse until she died at the age of 95 years old. She would come and watch him work at home or at shows. Unfortunately she did not live to see him get to the very top level of Grand Prix dressage but she would have been very proud of him. I like to think she is still watching from above and following his progress.

What is his breeding?

His breeding is By Dream Boy, out of Waltzingtanz who was by Wolkentanz 11. So he is a Hanoverian 17.1 hh gelding(?)

You have recently taken Christmas barefoot and he is no longer being shod. What made you decide to take a horse that is already performing at a high level (Grand Prix) barefoot? 

Shoes were not really working for Dancealong. Despite being on high quality hoof supplements and balanced nutrition he has a slow rate of hoof growth. The hooves would crack up to the nail holes and the shoe would fall off taking out a big chunk of wall in the process. Then there would be nothing left to nail into and he would get pricked. This scenario had happened multiple times. I tried the glue on shoes but found them to be very expensive, technically difficult and I also was not convinced the glue was good for his feet. Barefoot seemed like my only option left.

As most riders are concerned with making large program changes once a horse is already performing at a high level, were you afraid that going barefoot could affect performance?

Yes, I had heard that it can take up to a year or more for the horse to transition to being barefoot so I was certainly concerned that his ability to perform as a competition horse could suffer. I started at the beginning of winter by taking his front shoes off but he had actually not had shoes nailed on the hind feet since the previous spring because I had been experimenting with the glue on shoes for the hind feet. I gave him several months off work and hoped he would adjust to being barefoot himself in the paddock. In the spring I started bringing him back into work. It was hard going because he really did not feel comfortable on my sand arena. In the previous late summer I had been using another brand of hoof boots on the hind feet whilst he was still shod in front, but when I purchased the same brand for his front feet, they did not work. He is not straight in the front leg action and the boots spun around on his feet as a consequence. In fact I tried a second brand as well that also spun on his feet so was getting quite dispirited thinking I was not going to be able to fit boots to his front feet. So you see finding that the Scoot boots stay securely in place was a huge relief for me. 

What type of assistance/support is your barefoot trimmer/farrier giving you throughout this process?

I was grateful to receive some advice regarding trimming from a barefoot expert who viewed photos of my horses feet but it was really a good friend of mine Barbara Clarke who has had barefoot horses for years that has set me up on the right track by giving him his first barefoot trim. I now plan to enlist the services of a specialist barefoot trimmer in my area who has a good reputation.

Can you comment about whether Scoot Boots or your horse being barefoot assists when loading the hind feet/legs in movements like the piaffe and pirouettes? 

I have not noticed any difference regarding loading the hind legs for piaffe or pirouettes since being barefoot or wearing boots. It has taken a few months since I started riding him in the spring to become more comfortable but he now is just getting better and better. I use the boots mostly to stop excessive wear from riding on an abrasive sand arena and also to enable me to go out hacking and road riding with him.

Have you noticed any change in your horse's expression since using Scoot Boots? For example, did Christmas react when you first started using Scoots and pick up his feet more, or is there just more overall fluidity?

He is definitely more comfortable with the Scoot boots on when riding over uneven or stoney surfaces.

Do you think your horse notices his Scoot Boots when doing lateral work? 

Horses are very sensitive creatures so I assume he senses the presence of the boots but I don't notice them causing any issues during lateral work, extended walk or extended trot. I do find the Scoot boots better on the hind feet than the previous brand I used because they are slimmer fitting. 

Have you had any issues with overreaching in your extended walk? Or any movement in your extended trots?

He used to brush slightly behind with the other brand and so cut into the webbing straps. I found I was putting tape on the straps daily to avoid them being damaged. 

How do you find the boots respond to footing?

So far I have ridden on grass, sand, sand/fibre arenas and roads in the Scoots and the horse has never slipped or tripped.

Have you noticed any changes in your horse's body soreness or suppleness since going barefoot?

I think he is just starting to feel good now which is 7-8 months since going barefoot.

Does he stay in his Scoot Boots 24-7 or only when you are riding? 

He only has boots on when being ridden.

Did Christmas take time to adjust to wearing hoof boots? 

I eased him into the Scoot boots slowly by only having them on for 10-15mins at a time to start with for a few weeks to accustom him to them.

Do you notice any other subtle differences now that Christmas is barefoot? Are his feet expanding?

You can definitely see a change in the quality of his hoof wall that has grown down from the coronet since going barefoot. The shape of his feet I am still working on to minimise long toes and eliminate flare.

We have many riders asking whether you can wear Scoot Boots in dressage arenas. How do you find them on this surface?

Absolutely fine on sand arenas. Any sand that gets into the boot just falls out the drainage holes. I just hose the boots off after each ride.

As most dressage riders at elite level shoe their horses, have they been supportive with your barefoot movement? Are they interested in finding out more?

There are a few higher level dressage riders that choose to have their horses barefoot and they have all been really supportive. Other riders look at me like I have gone slightly crazy. Some suggested that in those first few months when the horse was not 100% happy that I should just put shoes back on. I could have done that but I was determined to not give up too soon. I knew it would take time and I wanted to give the barefoot thing a proper try.

What advice would you give to other dressage riders at your level who are thinking about taking their horses barefoot?

I would certainly recommend it. Maybe it is not the solution for every horse but I certainly have been happy so far with my decision for Dancealong. You need to obtain advice from specialist barefoot trimmers though because they may have some different ideas to your traditional farrier.


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