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Fw: Text of Dr. Cook's open letter

> =============================================
> EDUCATED OWNERS AND BAREFOOT HORSES: An open letter to veterinarians
> August 2001
> Dear Colleagues,
> Dr. Hiltrud Strasser of Tuebingen, Germany has studied the horse's hoof
> the last twenty years. Through her clinical work and publications she has
> demonstrated that the horseshoe is an unnecessary evil. Prior to July of
this year, I had known of this research through her two remarkable books,
published in English (Strasser and Kells, 1998, Strasser, 1999). These alone
were sufficient to convince me that her work represented a major
contribution to equine welfare and veterinary medicine. Accordingly, I had
no hesitation in nominating her, last year, to the American Farrier's
Journal, 'International Veterinarian's Hall of Fame.'
> However, as Ernst Mach observed in 1897, "no one disturbs his fellow men
with a new view unpunished." By and large, the veterinary profession appears
not to have noticed her work, judging by the lack of citations in podiatric
papers. Nevertheless, this very paucity of comment actually tells us
something important. Had her revolutionary findings been false, there is
little doubt that one or more authors would by now have published a
refutation. Yet no such publication has appeared. An inability to falsify a
hypothesis constitutes powerful evidence in favor of its validity.
> During July 2001, Strasser gave a series of seminars in North America, at
> sites from Ontario to Florida. Having now had an opportunity to meet
> Strasser and audit one day of her three-day seminar in Pennsylvania, I am
> more convinced than ever that her outstanding research merits the most
> careful attention by all equine veterinarians. As there is considerable
> misunderstanding of her work and objectives, I would like to provide a
> description of the seminar I witnessed.
> The seminar was fully subscribed and attended by one veterinarian, several
> farriers and about 30 horse owners. The participants were well-informed,
intelligent, caring people and their open-mindedness was refreshing. The
first day of the three-day seminar comprised a lecture format. In this time,
Strasser covered the anatomical fundamentals and physiological requirements
of the horse's hoof. She also explained why these requirements were
transgressed by shoeing and by traditional styles of horse management. I did
not hear these lectures but, having studied her books, I am sure that she
emphasized the needs of a horse for the herd, and the needs of its feet for
movement, moisture and a terrain appropriate to the breed.
> The second day, which was the day I audited, consisted of lectures,
demonstrations and a practical session. The morning session was a lecture
format, in which Strasser covered the basics of a physiological hoof trim.
Her approach followed an anatomical progression and differed from that which
is taught in conventional farrier's courses. In addition she outlined what
occurs during the transitional and rehabilitation period of the lame or shod
horse that is to become a high-performance barefoot horse. The lectures were
followed, after a short lunch break, by a commentary on some videotapes.
> Using a cadaver specimen, Strasser then gave a practical demonstration of
> trimming. Her preference during these introductory-level seminars is to
> demonstrate on a normal hoof. However, this was not possible and the
> provided a stark reminder of the currently unacceptable standard of hoof
care. In preparation for the course, 140 cadaver legs (from 35 horses) had
been collected from a slaughterhouse. From this extensive collection,
Strasser was unable to find a normal hoof! As a result she had to start by
giving a critique of the deformed hoof she was about to work on. I found
this to be quite fascinating and, for me, a particularly interesting part of
the demonstration. Finally, the participants gained hands-on practice,
> trimming cadaver hooves under supervision.
> The third day consisted of continued practice in the trimming of cadaver
hooves, together with a trimming demonstration on a live horse (the horse
> was owned by the attending veterinarian and volunteered by her for this
> purpose). It was explained in the course brochure "Horse owners who have
> made the necessary prior arrangements may trim their own horses in the
> afternoon under the supervision of a Certified Strasser Hoof Care
> Specialist." However, Strasser did not undertake to diagnose or treat lame
> horses and, throughout the clinic, she constantly referred participants to
> their veterinarians over such matters.
> In spite of some unfamiliarity with the language, Strasser was an
effective, credible, and confident lecturer. She spoke quietly and handled
probing questions with ease and pleasantness. There was no defensiveness in
her answers. She simply explained the basic science that supported her
reasoning and drew effectively on her extensive knowledge and practical
> I came away with a much better understanding of Strasser's logical
> to trimming and of the sound criteria on which this approach was based. It
> was a red-letter day for me and I only wished that I had had access to
this information 50 years ago. The spirit of Bracy Clark, a veterinarian who
had tried to tell his colleagues some of these same truths 200 years ago,
was alive and well in Hiltrud Strasser! I was proud to claim Clark as an
alumnus of my own school, the Royal Veterinary College, London. But I was
also rather ashamed that my school had failed to give him the support he
deserved and had even tried to suppress his findings. As human nature has
not changed in the last two centuries, I fear that the veterinary profession
may fail, once again, to take advantage of the second chance that Strasser
is now offering. In fact, her work does not threaten anyone. It provides
equine practitioners with valuable solutions to previously intractable
problems and it actually increases the amount of work for farriers.
> Strasser's message, in essence, is disarmingly simple. First, keep the
horse in an environment that bears a similarity to its natural
environment(something that is within the capability of most horse keepers
today and should be as obligatory as the provision of food and water).
Secondly, allow the foot to be the shape and consistency that nature
intended. The first requirement means that a horse must not be confined to a
stall for 23 hours out of 24 each day. The second requires that millions of
years of hoof evolution should be allowed to do the job it has evolved to
do. At the risk of oversimplification, the message is "no shoe, no stall,
and no stagnation."
> Currently, horse owners are showing a greater readiness to study and adopt
> Strasser's recommendations on hoof care than either veterinarians or
farriers. Because of this, both veterinarians and farriers may soon find
themselves in the embarrassing situation of being faced with owners who have
a better understanding of the truth about the hoof than they do.
Unfortunately, this could lead to veterinarians becoming increasingly
sidelined on the topic of hoof care. Nevertheless, the present position is
that most owners would still much prefer that veterinarians advised them on
the Strasser principles relating, for example, to the treatment of navicular
disease and laminitis. But if they are unable to find veterinarians who have
made themselves familiar with these principles, they will undoubtedly seek
advice from the increasing numbers of Strasser certified hoof care
> Similarly, most owners of young, unshod horses with healthy hooves would
also much prefer that farriers carried out the Strasser trim for them. But
if they are unable to locate a farrier who has studied this work and can
apply its principles, responsible owners are sufficiently motivated to seek
the help of Strasser-certified hoof care specialists or even to learn how to
do it for themselves.
> For the good of the horse it is vital that members of faculty at
> schools worldwide should become familiar with this evolution of knowledge.
If veterinary students currently being trained are not introduced to these
new concepts they will, in my opinion, have legitimate reasons for
complaining about the quality of their instruction in this section of the
curriculum. Further information about Strasser's work and the barefoot
movement in general is now available on an increasing number of websites.
Before long there will be an official Strasser website at
"" and also a comprehensive veterinary
textbook authored by Hiltrud Strasser and Sabine Kells. In the meantime,
websites that present and discuss her work include but are not limited to:
"", "",
> "", "",
> "", "".
> If one considers the history of the horse since its domestication about
five or six thousand years ago, the horseshoe can be classified as a
relatively recent invention. It is only within the last 1000 years that it
has come to be believed that shoes are necessary 'to protect the hoof.' Yet,
the horses of the Greek and Roman armies were barefoot, as were the cavalry
of the Mongolian horsemen and all domestic horses since the 4th Century BC.
Strasser has shown us that shoes do not protect the hoof. On the contrary,
their effect is quite the reverse. Shoes are a primary cause of reduced
performance, much incurable lameness and a shortened lifespan. It is a
matter for rejoicing that we can at last correct this long-standing error in
horse management and eliminate the suffering and wastage we have caused by
nailing iron clamps on the toenails of our one-toed grazers.
> A good hypothesis is a bold hypothesis, as the bolder it is the more
> vulnerable to falsification. Strasser's hypothesis that shoes are harmful
to the health of the horse is, undeniably, a bold hypothesis. She has had
the courage to question 1000 years of accepted methodology and put forward a
better alternative. Furthermore, as a scientist with integrity, having
advanced such a scandalous idea, she has been the first to try and validate
it. With this in mind, she has tested the hypothesis on many types of
horses, over a long period of years, and under a wide variety of conditions.
The hypothesis has withstood her own attempts to falsify it, for the results
have satisfied not only her but also countless numbers of horse owners. In
accordance with the rules of science she has also taken pains to publish the
protocols of her experiment and even to train others, so that they can
repeat the experiment and test it for themselves. Once again, when others
carry out the experiment based on her hypothesis it withstands the acid test
of repeatability, as similar results can be achieved. It is my belief that
Strasser's work has already met the most stringent criteria of science and
that the next step is up to us, her colleagues in the veterinary profession.
The least we can do is to study her work, to listen and learn. It is my
sincere hope that Dr. Hiltrud Strasser will
> soon be deluged with invitations to speak at equine veterinary conferences
> around the world.
> W.Robert Cook FRCVS., PhD.,
> Professor of Surgery Emeritus
> Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine
> 200, Westborough Road
> North Grafton, MA 01536
> [Contact address: 206, Birch Run Road, Chestertown, MD 21620 USA. Tel:
> (410) 778 9005 E-mail: drwrcook @]
> References
> STRASSER, H and KELLS, S (1998) A lifetime of soundness. Sabine Kells, PO
> Box 44, Qualicum Beach, BC Canada V9K 1S7
> STRASSER, H (1999) Shoeing: A necessary Evil? Ed S.Kells Sabine Kells, PO
> Box 44, Qualicum Beach, BC Canada V9K 1S7
> To purchase, contact
> "The Hoofcare Specialist's Handbook: Hoof Orthopedics and Holistic
> Lameness
> Rehabilitation."
> Curriculum vitae available at
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