So, I went to Sitia to meet Andrea and attend her workshop on natural hoofcare. It took me one hour to reach Sitia via a complex network of winding roads and small, picturesque villages. As I was driving along the coastline and later around the mountains, I admit that I struggled with focusing on the hundreds of dangerous turns with the breathtaking view of the sea which was shining under the morning sun.
I arrived at the place at around 10:15 a.m., a little dizzy but excited by the schedule of the day that I had ahead of me. My practical experience with natural horsemanship is none and I looked forward.
The yard is a lovely, clean and small place, with olive trees and spacious paddocks for the horses, which are decorated with stacks of old car tyres along the wiring. Andrea keeps six equines in this yard –mostly Cretan and Skyros breeds- and looks after them on her own, based on the principles of natural horsemanship. As anticipated, all six of them are barefoot and in excellent condition. I was impressed by the calmness of those horses, which one could characterize as “bombproof”. Stallions can peacefully coexist with mares and be led just by a rope halter. In Andrea’s place, time seems to stop both for humans and animals.
Andrea trains horses and holds lessons inside the paddocks. She is also a qualified instructor in equine therapy and cooperates with the special school of Sitia. Andrea is a friendly, calm woman in her mid-fourties. I’m not sure she chose this isolated place of Crete to set up an equestrian centre, given the limited means we have here.
The seminar was given by Stavros, a young man from Thessaloniki who has spent time learning natural horsemanship in Denmark. Stavros is quite experienced in hoofcare and is a warm supporter of keeping horses barefoot.
The workshop began with a detailed demonstration of the equine hoof; he showed us what each particular part does, how a healthy foot should look like and how we can tell that a horse has chronic laminitis. He showed the right way of trimming the complex equine lower foot and implemented his method on Iason, one of Andrea’s stallions. One thing that I kept was that diet plays a critical role in the maintenance of a healthy equine foot.
Stavros presented several arguments in favour of keeping one’s horse barefoot;
- Metal shoes do not follow the natural development of the hoof. Therefore, the shoe does not follow the nail as it grows, leading to balance problems and permanent cracks.
- Going barefoot ensures shock absorption by the natural organs of the hoof, while traditional shoes totally obscure shock absorption, leading to a number of problems, such as arthritis.
- Metal shoes rise the balance center by up to 2 cm and this has a long-term impact on the movement of the horse. Also, this add lifts the frog, which acts as a pump for blood circulation in the whole equine body.
- Going barefoot helps the hoof spread itself effectively and its particular parts to stimulate as it touches the ground.
- Horseshoes obscure the hardening of the hoof, which is necessary for keeping it solid and tight in the long term
- Horseshoes are only applied on the hoof wall, forcing the horse to put its whole weight on its nails, instead of distributing it to the whole foot.
At 18:00, my dad and some friends showed up to pick me up; dad’s hobby is mountaineering and, oh how lucky am I, he was participating in a mountaineering race organized by Sitia city council. It would be a two-day activity which included spending the night in the shelter of Karydi, a picturesque but almost abandoned village up in the mountain. This means that I would save on accommodation and this unexpected minus in the costs means that Canada would get his boredom breaker sooner than I thought, heheheh!
So, we spent half an hour climbing further by car till we reached the village and met our comrades. Mountaineering in Crete does not mean just building muscle to walk up and down the slopes; it also means feasting on traditional dishes, raki, and folk music until the early hours!