Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New shoes, obscure guilt

So I've been wanting to try the "barefoot" shoes for a while now. The stereotype is probably Vibram Five Fingers, those goofy looking toe shoes, but there are a lot of other minimalist shoes out there now.

I've tried to run/jog before, many times. No matter how carefully and slowly I start, no matter how modest my goals, no matter what surface I slap my poor tired dogs down upon, I always get shin splints. I think the last time I tried was in 2009, with brand-new fitted-at-a-running-store-running-shoes, and I made it to Week 4 of Couch to 5k and all of a sudden I could hardly climb out of bed, so I decided then and there that I was through with running, forever.

But man, it's so nice to hop off and briskly lead my horse down steep hills, and it's even easier to jog down those steep hills and let her running walk after me, and I've actually been running down hills for about two weeks now and nothing is sore. My calves and my core muscles feel like I did something, but not in a debilitating way. So maybe that means it's time for my bidecennial jogging experiment! And it's 2012, so that means I should try the "barefoot" running thing!

But I woke up to an inch of totally unexpected snow, so I wasn't quite ready to go with crazy no-socks-allowed toe shoes. I headed to my STP Outlet Store to see what I could find with a minimal sole and room for socks. I ended up with some shockingly ugly Vivo Barefoots for only $70. We'll see how they do!

(PS I know I need to run differently and not heel-strike)

* * *

So Aarene's got a(nother) article in Endurance News. I should really encourage yall to join AERC and receive Endurance News for free as part of your membership, but since it's too late for you to get the January issue I'll just say the article is based on this post.

I'd like to direct your attention to #2: Loyalty to a person or an ideal (barefoot? bitless? treeless?) is important, but there's no need to be stupidly loyal. I'm pretty devoted to ~science~ and evidence-based endurance riding and "n=1 is useful if you are the 1", but even I have trouble letting go of my core beliefs sometimes. When I first got a horse (RIP Champ) I decided that Natural Horsekeeping was the only possible ethically correct course of action. One should leave all hair in place, because Evolution/God put it there for a reason, and Natural Wild Horses wouldn't be blanketed or locked in stalls or fed grain (especially ground heat-treated pelleted feed!) or shod or anything else!

I pretty quickly decided that riding horses with bits and saddles, while unnatural, was just the price they had to pay to receive an endless buffet of species-appropriate grass hay and regular barefoot hoof care from me. I also decided that a little pelleted hard feed was ok, as a ration balancer, and whacking off a couple inches of mane to make it easier to put my Instrument of Oppression bridle on her head wouldn't negatively affect my horse's ability to survive the cruel Mississippi winters.

Things went on a predictable slippery downhill slide from there. I "met" people in really wet climates who quite rationally rain-sheet their horses. I met people who have made reasonable accommodations to attempt to transition their horses to barefoot yet ended up going with good steel shoes. I met people who, given the choice between leaving their horses in a small paddock and riding 5x a week or pasture boarding and only riding once a week, chose to stall the horse and actually enjoy ownership. It's not black and white, and anybody who's owned a horse for very long must realize that, even if you're just realizing it subconsciously.

But for some reason, last fall I took my stand against Cruelly Stripping Dixie's Natural Protections from her and I didn't clip her. I think I even said "nah I'll pass" when ~C asked if I wanted her to clip Dixie's neck. (In my defense, she was only a couple months into her layoff/rehab at that point.) In December, Dixie came off official layup and I started to bring her back. Even though she's a wooly mammoth, even though we had an exceptionally mild winter, she tried for me.

Eventually, for whatever reason I decided that she was hot, ordered clippers, and clipped her. Her relief was so obvious and so immediate that it just totally threw me for a tizzy. I am in the middle of a huge existential crisis (again) about ideals versus reality, principles versus results, belief versus evidence, etc.

Anyway, this could probably pass unnoticed by most of you ("hey I thought Funder didn't ~do~ clips") except that I'm pointing it out, over and over again. Don't come pat me on the shoulder, please - think about what you're doing because it's Something you Believe, and think about what the evidence is really telling you. Should you keep doing that? Should you try something else? I'm not gonna lie, it's hard, and it's like three times as hard if you're wrong... but better to keep evaluating things than to do it "like we've always done it."


  1. I've never clipped my horse, but we live at 8500 feet, and it gets darn cold and VERY windy here. But when I saw Dixie's Christmas picture, I thought "Day-um, THAT'S a hairy horse!"

    So glad she is more comfortable. I'm sure she says thanks.


  2. Congrats on running--I hope the new shoes work well for you. As I've said elsewhere, I used to hop off and run/walk beside my horse on downhills...when I rode a (significantly) shorter horse. But it really does feel good to hop off and use my own feet and knees sometimes, as long as I know there's something down the trail that will lie down and boost my butt back up on the dragon.

    And y'all really SHOULD join AERC, if only to get your own copy of the highly-edifying, inspiring as often amusing Endurance News magazine! >g<

    Thanks for the shout-out! I look forward to more of your musings....

  3. Truly outstanding post. In fact it is so good I may have to write something similar myself!!

  4. I've been working up the courage to try barefoot shoes myself. I've been wondering what it would be like to ride in them...
    But it's hard to make a change when I've been running for 20 years now with regular shoes.
    Thanks for the comments about using what works! I've had similar struggles wanting to use treeless/bitless/barefoot and go all natural. What works for one horse doesn't always work for another.

  5. Hey Funder...

    Great post... (my experience also says that) it's hard to let go of something when you think you're doing it for the right reasons. Is it better to do the right thing (for you/your horse/the situation/etc) for the wrong reasons, than the wrong thing for the right reasons? Hmmmm... Or the right thing (all the while thinking 'I never thought I'd do this') than the wrong thing with the best of intentions? lol... been there!

    I read Aarene's (awesome!!!) post, but noticed that you said your advice would be 'electrolytes'? What have you learned about electrolytes? (Sorry if I missed that one)


  6. great thought-provoking post.

    this is the second time i've heard of barefoot human shoes. i have to ask: why not just wear converse? there's nothing there!

    please enlighten me about this movement. i honestly don't know anything about it. i know that i can walk much further if i'm wearing shoes with arch support than without.

  7. I couldn't agree more. I tend to be a "do what works" kind of a gal. My horses are barefoot unless they need shoes--then they get shoes. I would clip if they needed it. And my boarder definitely needs it--see my post today on Equestrian Ink for proof. But that's not my call--though I have mentioned it. I am always disconcerted by the zealots who stick to their "belief" (of whatever sort), in the face of obvious evidence that something else is called for under the circumstances--whether that be senior feed for an old horse, shoes and pads for a sore footed horse or whatever. Great post.

  8. I'm not budging on my opinion on horse shoes, there's too much evidence for that, and my guy happens to work well without a bit and is so hard to fit for a saddle that I gave up trees. *shrug*

    But you use your horse a hell of a lot more than I use mine, plus have goals that need to be met in a certain time, and no matter how hard I'd want to ride in my once-a-week jaunts I can't justify leaving him with cold bits for the other 99% of his life. So, I alter my activity to match his state of fuzziness. If she approves, and it works for the rest of the time, then so be it in my rabid, natural horsekeeping opinion. :)

  9. Yep, horsecare - or just about anything in life - is all about balance and what works for you in a particular situation. You learn one thing, you experience life, you research, you change your opinion and your way of doing things. WAY better than sticking doggedly to your beliefs no matter what experience says!

  10. I could never use the barefoot shoes to run...I have EXTREMELY high arches and must have that arch support or I'm in intense pain very quickly.

    As for Natural Horsekeeping...it's like an onion, there are layers (hehehe!!!). I like to keep mine naturally...to an extent. I don't blanket then UNLESS it's so freakin' cold out that to NOT blanket them would be ignorant and cruel. And usually, it has to be wet, extremely cold and windy before I'll blanket. You can have a cold horse, you can have a wet horse, but you cannot have a cold, wet horse. And the old guy, if he shows ANY indication of being chilly, he's got his blanket. Have you ever seen a herd of mustangs come out of a nasty winter? Yeah. They don't look good at all and many of them didn't make it through the winter. Just because it's natural doesn't always mean it's the best route. Some All Natural All the Way horse owners don't believe in chemical wormer either. I've seen what a bad parasite load can do to a horse and it's not pleasant and can be fatal or permanently damaging. I choose to de-worm with chemicals. My horses live on pasture, with access to run-ins should they choose, and guess where those morons are during the sleet, rain, wind and snow? Not in the run-ins. But, they have the option if they so choose to take it.

    All my horses are currently barefoot and two of them have not worn shoes since I've had them. BUT it's not because I'm an adamant barefoot-er...it's because they do just fine barefoot and I see no point of "fixing" it if it ain't broke. If they show me signs that they aren't doing well barefoot, they'll get shoes. If I can make it better or more comfortable for them, why wouldn't I?
    Whew! I need to shut up! I've met those extreme natural horsekeepers and some of them are kind of scary and dangerous in their methods.

  11. OHR - I think I was just starting to get a handle on electrolytes for endurance then! Everybody says not to electrolyte a horse until it drinks, but my horse has proven several times to me that she just won't ever drink if I don't e-lyte her first.

    lytha - I think the soles of the barefoot running shoes are tougher than Converse. I'm not sure? These things are so ugly I shoulda just bought Converse ;)

    The barefoot running thing is kind of analogous to barefoot horses. A properly moving barefoot runner lands totally different from a normal-shoes runner (like how shod horses often pound down toe-first?) and it's supposed to reduce concussion. A lot of people swear that if you can learn to run correctly "barefoot" you won't get shin splints.

    Glad yall agree about trying to do the right thing and how it changes over time. :)

  12. I`m intrigued! Never heard of this before! I always get splints running, wonder where I could get these bits of kit?
    Thanks Funder!

  13. I hear you! I'm constantly comparing my beliefs and ideals and weighing that against reality, what's REALLY my priorities etc. And constantly evaluating what I believe, why I believe it and whether I'm doing somethign that contridicts those values. The most relevant one I'm struggling with now is pasture versus grass hay versus being able to ride. When my parents move and I have to start boarding my horse again, I won't be able to have it all. Where will I compromise? Would I rather have her out in pasture, or having her closer so I can ride? Is it a make or break deal to swtich her off of the grass hay onto alfalfa? (almost no one feeds grass here because of the cost).

    Re the barefoot shoes: Glad you are taking the plunge! Have you gotten over the whole dirt thing yet :)? I'm trying to figure out how to ride in mine.

    And YES! Aarene's article was AWESOME. You'all should join so you get the opportunity to read articles like hers....

  14. oh yes, the guilt! I drove up to my stable yesterday and my horse had a blanket on...and I don't usually blanket (it was mild and just rainy yesterday). The ranch owner thought he looked cold...sigh...it didn't kill him, and I can adjust, though it goes against my "beliefs." Great post. Something to always keep in mind.

    Now the shoes: yes, those things are ugly! But I'd like to try some barefoot shoes too, I'd been eying some Merrells. I'm all for the socks too. But do they have enough grip for trail running? Can't wait for an extended review...

  15. Shoes, no shoes, blanket, no blanket, to me it totally depends on the individual horse. All four of ours have different needs, and we treat them accordingly.

  16. I think horse ownership is, within reason, about putting the horse first. It is selfish and unfair to the horse to do something simply because of a "belief" that is not in fact in the horse's best interest.

    Your post sifts through this concept perfectly. =)

  17. Flexibility - be it human feet, or in equine pursuits seems to be my course of choice. I've learned over our years of horse ownership that what I learned then, may be totally different now! I listen to people who are successful with their horses & gutsy enough to try new things! Way to walk/run Funder! :-)

    Nice article Aarene & LOVE that butt shot!

  18. Thanks Funder! My horse can be a poor drinker, so always good to get another insight ;)

  19. I just saw this on your site and had to respond- I am in barefoot hell right now.I have a story to come clean with....you have inspired me and now I am going to post about it on my blog- stay tuned.. I will link back to you .


Feel free to comment!