City of Houston Police Horses Go Barefoot, part 2
Houston Police Department Mounted Unit—Barefoot Program
by Greg Sokoloski, Police Officer
City of Houston, Texas

Above, Officer Sokoloski and Shadow, a 4 yo Dutch Warmblood, at the convention center, wearing Marquis Hoof Boots.

The Houston Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit currently has 34 full time Police Horses, as well as 2 horses in training. Since the winter issue (18) of The Horses Hoof, we have gone from 11 barefoot horses to 21 barefoot horses. We will be adding an additional horse, now shod, to the barefoot program in August.

We have made great strides in not only adding more horses into the Barefoot Program, but have also sent two of the Units’ Officers to Martha Olivo’s Hoof Groom Course. Officer Danny Pryor attended the Hoof Groom Course held at Darolyn Butler’s Ranch in Humble Texas, in December, 2004. Officer Scott Berry just returned from the Hoof Groom Course held at Texas A&M’s Cavalry barn. The Texas A&M Parsons Mounted Cavalry Unit, under the direction of Bob Byrns, will now also transition their Unit’s horses from being shod to barefoot. The Houston Police Mounted Unit will now have 3 Hoof Grooms to continue the progress of the Unit’s barefoot horses.

We have now completed an Access Database, under the direction of Officer Leslie Wills, that will include vital information to track not only all the Department’s horses’ daily activity, but also all the vital information on the barefoot horses. We are able to track when we pull shoes, to the time the rider and horse are used downtown, along with all events our barefoot horses worked. We will be able to input pictures and measurements of before and after, the condition of the barefoot horses’ hooves, track each trim for the barefoot horses, track evaluations from the Officers on daily patrol days and special events, downtime a horse will have, and cost comparisons between shod and barefoot horses.

The current journey for the barefoot horses has not been without roadblocks. As we pulled shoes and began trimming some of the horses, we found very deformed and unbalanced hooves. The horses had compensated for these imbalances for years. The transformation for some begins with relief, and the ability to move without restriction.
Shortly after pulling the shoes, the healing process begins. The ability the horse has to heal and reshape its hooves into correct form is amazing. During the process of healing, enormous changes are occurring, not only outside, but also inside. The most important part of this process is to allow the horse to heal by keeping the hoof form correct and providing turnout, so that the horse can move as much as possible.

The healing time for the majority of our horses has been very short. We are now seeing that the badly deformed hooves of a few of our horses will take time. Both Lt. Randy Wallace and Captain Mary Lentschke, Commanders of the Mounted Unit, have sat down with Martha Olivo and viewed one of her dissections of a cadaver leg. They both have an understanding of the importance of a barefoot horse, and what to expect once shoes are pulled and the barefoot process begins. This in itself is instrumental, because we now have an understanding of barefoot horses from the Officers that trim, the Officers and Supervisors that ride barefoot horses, and the managers of the Mounted Unit.

After the healing has finished, the process of the barefoot horse adapting to his environment will take place. The Houston Police Horses will walk, trot and canter over varying types of terrain. In the Downtown area, we have asphalt, concrete, pavers, marble, construction areas, and other types of road and walkway surfaces. The one issue Officers first understand is how much better footing and traction the barefoot horses have. The Officers understand that barefoot horses have better feeling in their hooves, and have the ability to adjust immediately once the hoof is placed on the ground.

Another issue is how much softer the barefoot horse walks. We have a few horses we call “ground pounders,” who constantly slam their feet into the ground. Going barefoot has made these horses walk softer, slower, and much more comfortable in all their gaits. We have also found that horses thought to have “training” issues could have been that way due to pain and the constant pounding on hard surfaces with steel shoes.

During times of transition from shoes to barefoot, and in situations that dictate more protection, we will use hoof boots. We currently have in our supply the Marquis, Old Mac’s, and Easyboot Epics hoof boots. All have been effective, and offer protection to the unit’s barefoot horses. Some of the pictures demonstrate crowd control situations—we will use hoof boots to protect against any debris or projectiles thrown at us or encountered on the ground.

We have started the barefoot trim on one of our horses with navicular. Joey was donated to the unit in 1998. He first started with lameness in November of 2003. Treatments and stall rest continued until he was finally put back on the streets in January 2005. In April 2005, he was once again lame and unable to continue on the streets. I was given the go ahead by the Unit’s Vet and allowed to pull his shoes and trim his hooves.

Within 2 weeks, I was riding him in the arena, then out to the Bush Intercontinental Equestrian Trails, and finally Downtown Houston. I have been working him in the Marquis Hoof Boots downtown with no problems. We will continue with Joey being barefoot and allow more time until we see if he can consistently go downtown and do his job as a police horse.

As I mentioned previously, going barefoot is sometimes a long, tedious endeavor for some horses. Cadence has been one of these. Known for being lame off and on, Cadence was started in the barefoot program in March, 2005. He had seriously underrun heels, long toes, and a lot of sole and heel pressure. Cadence was removed from duty until approximately May. Finally the day to resume duty came, and he was assigned to Hermann Park. He seemed to be adjusting very well until June. It was noted by his Officer that he was becoming sorer every day until we finally removed him once again from duty. He is bruised and sore from trying to transition his body to the correct conformation to go with his more balanced trim. We will continue to allow the healing process to occur, and eventually allow him to return to his position within the Mounted Patrol.

In closing, I want to once again stress that the horse’s ability to adapt to the barefoot trim is amazing to witness. Humans must first and foremost remember not all horses are the same. If there are physical problems along with bad hoof conformation, the healing process can be lengthy, but you must not give up. The hoof is an amazing piece of equipment, and the horse’s well being—and sometimes their lives—depend on it. Our horses are so much healthier and happier. People have noticed not only better dispositions, but glossier coats, along with much less downtime.

If anyone ever comes to Houston, they are welcome to stop by and visit our facility, at 300 N. Post Oak Lane. You can also contact me, Officer Greg Sokoloski at (713) 812-5158. Come see for yourself what a wonder the barefoot program is.
Greg Sokoloski, Police Officer,
City of Houston, Texas
Phone: 713-812-5158

Click here to read Part 1 of this article.

Article published in The Horse's Hoof Magazine Issue 20, Summer 2005

Note: Photos are provided for reference and educational purposes only, and are not meant to indicate guidelines for trimming. Every horse should be trimmed as an individual. Opinions vary as to what constitutes "correct" but keep in mind - there are NO PERFECT FEET, not even in the wild. Owners are cautioned to seek professional help for the trimming of their own horse's feet. Owner trimming of pathological feet is not advised. Photos may not be reproduced, copied, or distributed in any way.

©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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