Validating the natural path: Houston Mounted Patrol’s barefoot horses

| 22 June 2014 11:18 am

NHC-Mounted-Patrol3If there were one story, that to me “sealed the deal” on barefoot and its truth, it would have to be the story that Officer Greg Sokoloski shared about the Houston Mounted Patrol unit, which he has been a part of from its inception in 1984.

Officer Sokoloski came onto this patrol with zero horse experience. The patrol started with a very conventional and traditional way of managing their horses in small facilities. But a miraculous transformation took place following Officer Sokoloski’s first ride on his new barefoot horse, Shadow in 2004. With the myriad of classic illness and lameness issues plaguing this mounted patrol’s horses, he knew he needed to look deeper into his horse’s health.

Now all 33 horses on the Houston Mounted Patrol are barefoot and sound, and Officer Sokoloski owes it all to the Four Pillars of Natural Hoof Care.

In 2004 they started with one barefoot horse, and now all 33 horses are without metal shoes. But this is only one of the great things about this patrol’s barefoot journey. Almost all of the other ailments that their horses suffered disappeared as well.

As the Four Pillars of Natural Hoof Care are the champions that brought these horses into a natural equilibrium, we must examine what they are, and how the Houston Mounted Patrol applied them. The fact that they have 33 horses made up of 15 different breeds, ages three to 18, that work on hard ground for 5-6 hours a day, has profound implications in validating the natural path of horse management.

A shod horse would find it very difficult to climb these stairs.

A shod horse would find it very difficult to climb these stairs.

Natural Boarding

In the Great Basin, horses are never confined, but free to move, and they average 10-20 miles a day over very rugged terrain. The Houston Mounted Patrol was built in 2009 and was designed around the horse, creating the space to facilitate as much movement and space as possible.

Slow feeders are used in every extended stall and in the pasture where the horses are free to run, fight, and play with each other. Instead of treating colic and lameness issues, now they primarily treat bite and kick wounds from the healthy interaction of the horses just being themselves together. Before, they averaged 24 colic episodes a year, and now average only one.

Reasonably Natural Diet

Horses have evolved to eat all day long, grazing as they travel from place to place. Their digestive systems have evolved to require constant forage in small amounts. Their continuous production of hydrochloric acid is a reflection of this. The Houston Mounted Patrol provides 24/7 access to grass hay in slow feeders, catering to the equine digestive system that is very exact in what it needs. They feed very little grain which is a mix of oats and barley, just as a medium for giving some supplements.

Natural Horsemanship

All officers are taught how to ride and to relate to the horses through more natural means, which is a shift from their traditional cavalry horse training method. Although I do not condone Parelli horsemanship for reasons outside the scope of this writing, I am glad it is a step in the right direction.

A barefoot and bitless Houston Mounted Patrol horse.

A barefoot and bitless Houston Mounted Patrol horse.

Natural Trim

The Houston Mounted Patrol have four officers that conduct the natural trim. Officer Sokoloski visited Jaime Jackson and Jill Willis and their AANHCP*  Paddock Paradise in 2012 in Lompoc, California to see the profound potential for horses living the Four Pillars. He saw firsthand Jaime trim his horses, which had just received their first trim in first months. Jaime’s horses get trimmed on average three times a year, as their Paddock Paradise provides enough natural wear to keep their feet in optimal condition.

My feeling is that most people simply do not know about this mounted patrol of sound barefoot horses. The fact that a group of mixed bred horses of all ages can live totally sound on asphalt and pavement for five to six hours a day is remarkable. To those who practice Natural Hoof Care (NHC), however, it is not surprising at all.

It is an exciting landmark for the natural horse and for me, as it seems where we are headed is inevitable. If you’re interested in understanding the Four Pillars of NHC and wanted to learn how to apply them at home for your horses, take a look at Jaime’s newest book The Natural Trim: Principles and Practice.


Narayan Khalsa

Narayan Khalsa

* AANHCP – the Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices

Narayan Khalsa is a co-founder of Effective Pet Wellness, a company specializing in horse wellness and clearing infectious disease is equines, cats, and dogs.

Read more about Narayan


Category: Health

About the Author ()

Narayan Khalsa is a co-founder of Effective Pet Wellness, a company specializing in horse wellness and clearing infectious disease is equines, cats, and dogs.  - read more about Narayan

Comments (8)

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  1. MareCadTITANIC says:

    It IS about time, this should come to Chicago as well.
    GO EQUINES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Susan Boyd says:

    This is the best article I have ever read on horse care. There are many other good articles but this one has 33 examples to reference and support the information. Thank you so much to Narayan Khalsa for the article and to Greg Sokoloski for what he contributes to health of horses worldwide.

  3. Shari says:

    My horse is one of that 33, and I couldn’t be more pleased, with the awesome hoof care he gets there. He’s never had a bit in his mouth either, what a super program for a city !

  4. Paul Clark says:

    What is Natural or even healthy about those ridiculously massive saddles they are using. Don’t they consider for one minute how unnatural and unhealthy those contraptions are?? Ridiculous!! Natural horse my….

    • Robin McGee says:

      You want to talk “natural”? Getting on a horse’s back is not natural, silly! Working the horse on pavement all day is not natural. Approximating a horse’s natural, healthy lifestyle as much as possible while also using it to perform a job is what we’re talking about here.

      A western saddle distributes the rider’s weight across a much greater area than English or endurance or most of the other styles that are commonly used by mounted patrols and other riders who spend lots of hours mounted. This allows a horse to carry a rider for longer hours with less concentrated pressure points, compared to other styles of saddles. Even allowing for the greater weight of the saddle itself, there are fewer pounds per square inch on the weightbearing surface of the horse’s back.

      I’ve read quite a few silly, ill-informed comments on various horse topics, but this is right up there with the classics!

  5. Robin McGee says:

    This is great! I used to live in Houston and saw their police horses first hand. Now I live in New Mexico a ways down the road from Narayan Khalsa, and I get the news about one written by the other from an e-zine in New Zealand!

    Horseshoes cause more problems than they help. Thank you for publishing this article and spreading the word!

  6. Julie-Anne Gower says:

    I have 58 horses. All are barefoot.
    42 work full time on our trails and Safaris
    all live out 24/7

    Yes, it can be done :-)

  7. Darolyn Butler says:

    I had the opportunity to work with Greg and the police horses from the beginning. As pro-barefoot as Greg was from the beginning, It was not easy convincing the whole force this was the way to go. 10 years later its so rewarding to see their continued success from Barefooting to Natural Living. I also have 75 barefooted horses playing and working near Houston. Half of them are active Endurance competitors, and yes…. there are those that have done 100 miles totally barefooted.

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