"He's a very happy horse; he's fit, agile and "healthy throughout" and he's not showing his age. (I've finally realised that a horse with truly healthy feet is healthy "all through" and you can't have one without the other); we are competing and performing better than we ever did before his "navicular"; he's got feet that haven't seen a farrier in years; and finally (and I know this is the bit you like best!) – some proper heel first landings!"
I was also talking to an owner whose horse is going home today. We were out hacking at the time and her horse was looking confident, forward going and sound. The same horse which was given a "guarded" prognosis by an eminent referral vet who thought the horse unlikely to return to work.
Its such a common story among the horses who come here. We always ask for the vet's consent before a horse arrives at Rockley but that consent is often given grudgingly, even if the only alternative being offered is de-nerving or putting the horse down.
By contrast, if you take to the internet searching for information once your horse has been diagnosed with navicular or significant soft tissue damage within the hoof you will (nowadays) find a host of helpful owners willingly and enthusiastically sharing their experiences and expertise and only too happy to suggest barefoot as a therapeutic tool in the fight against lameness.
Of course, this is a relatively new development. Certainly when we first took our horses barefoot in 2004 it was unheard of for horses to work hard in the UK without shoes and good advice on nutrition or biomechanics was vanishingly rare. If you mentioned barefoot on social media you would (at best) be laughed off the forum and at worst would be the target of aggressive abuse.
So what is the missing link? Its the vets, of course. Many improvements in horse health and welfare have come from the top down - following veterinary research - but barefoot is the exception. Most vets are still woefully unaware of the difference between a healthy and unhealthy hoof. Its not taught to veterinary students and their practical experience usually fails to bridge this gap. Why? Simply because a horse like Alfie not only won't see a farrier but won't see a vet (certainly not for his feet) either, because his feet are now so much better than they were.
My own vet has never even taken a look at our horses' hooves - which is a shame because he is missing out on a chance to see hooves at their best - because their feet don't give them problems. Equally once a horse has left here, most owners are keen to engage with their vet and update them about the changes in the horse's feet but the vets are, more often than not, uninterested.
You might assume that the answer is to provide evidence and research to the veterinary community but on the 3 occasions I have tried to do just that - with submissions of our data to BEVA (twice) and Liverpool University - its been either ignored or dismissed as implausible. Of course there are some individual vets who become passionate about barefoot once they have seen it in action but they tend to be horse owners first and foremost, who "see the light" once their own horse's hooves improve.
While owners' knowledge about hooves has increased exponentially in the last few years the vets are being left behind. This is one revolution that will be reverse-engineered from the bottom up!
It reminds me of nothing so much as that great quote:
"Remember, amateurs built the Ark; professionals built the Titanic."