Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 27
Nature's wayPaddock Paradise in Lompoc stands as a model in natural hoof care methods
BY SHELLY CONE
In the deep recesses of Lompoc’s Miguelito Canyon, where the hills swallow the roads and the landscape begins to resemble the beautifully lonely terrain of the classic Old West, sits Paddock Paradise. Jaime Jackson uses the patch of land to educate people in natural horse care.
On a recent afternoon, the sun pressed down hard on the track four resident horses follow most of their days, and a slight rogue breeze whipped up small whirls of dust. The track winds up and down steep inclines and across gravelly terrain for half a mile.
Jackson—his long, white, braided hair shining in the sun—easily climbed the narrow path that leads to the top of the track. Soon, a herd of horses crested the top of the hill, stopping when they noticed they were being watched.
“When they see me, they know the alpha has arrived,” Jackson said.
When the animals sensed that everything was safe, Chakra, Chance, Apollo, and Lucky timidly approached, becoming curious and even playful.
At Paddock Paradise, the horses enjoy an existence close to one experienced by their wild counterparts.
Jackson wrote a book called Paddock Paradise about six years ago, outlining the theory that horses thrive better when they’re kept in a way that mimics what they’re used to in the wild. He aims to use Lompoc’s recently built Paddock Paradise as a model for this concept and for education. Jackson and his partner Jill Willis will travel to other horse owners and teach them—or else horse owners will bring their horses to Paddock Paradise to see how it all works.
“Forty years I’ve been doing this,” Jackson said. “I started off as a horseshoe farrier, and now I’ve transitioned into taking shoes off horses and developing a healthier horse and hoof.”
Through research, Jackson found that many problems and diseases common in domestic horses don’t plague wild horses—possibly because people have tried to change the way horses naturally live by putting shoes on them, keeping them alone in stables, and feeding them food they wouldn’t otherwise eat.
Jackson and Willis use their horses to show what’s possible in terms of domestic health. They also use the horses for students to practice on through the Natural Hoof Care Training and Education program.
In the last three years, they’ve seen numerous practitioners and students come from Scotland, Denmark, Holland, Italy, England, and all over the United States.
Most recently, a documentary filmmaker visited Paddock Paradise for Wild Horses and Renegades, which aired on the Documentary Channel in July.
From the ground up
Jackson picked up one of his horse’s feet and knocked on the bottom.
“Hard as a rock,” he said.
He designed the Paddock Paradise track to grind and shape hooves.
“They immediately start getting better as soon as they hit the ground,” he explained.
“It’s a concept that’s growing a lot, and increasingly more information and research has been done on the kinds of things really trying to educate people,” Willis said. “It’s really more about changing the way people think of horse keeping. The tricky part is it does affect an entire system that’s very much in place.”
But it’s a concept that’s winning over a lot of horse owners who are frustrated with the problems their horses face.
The Houston Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit, for example, removed the shoes from all 38 of its working horses over a four-year period—using the trimming methods developed by Jackson—and many horses that had been lame and semi-retired are now working full time and completely sound. Some wear “hoof boots,” and some are completely barefoot.
Willis said that before she began working with Jackson, she never gave much thought to whether the care she was giving horses could actually be harmful.
“I never thought about horses in their natural habitat; I had just adopted the theory that you put them in stalls at night because there’s where they aren’t going to get hurt, and send them out in the day,” she said.
Jackson said those methods are born out of convenience rather than what’s best for the animals.
“Conventionally, horses are put in flat grass pastures and kept in stalls,” he explained. “We do that mostly because it’s convenient for us to get them. This is another thing that flies in the face of what’s true in the natural world. If we can just rid ourselves of the convenience, then we can adopt a more natural method.”
Another aspect of horse behavior humans have tailored for convenience is tamping down the animals’ tendency to battle and bite each other. Jackson said humans teach horses—especially show horses—to settle down and behave, though that goes against their natural instincts.
Through such play, they establish dominance. They don’t just want to interact with each other in that way, they need to, Jackson said. As proof, the horses at Paddock Paradise bear bite scars and look a little wilder than stable horses.
“Everyone wants them to behave and look pretty,” Jackson said. “If I was a judge at a horse show and the horses didn’t have battle scars, I would actually judge them down.”
From the mouth in
Natural hoof care doesn’t solely involve hooves. Jackson said what horses eat contributes significantly to the health of their hooves.
Putting horses in grass pastures—especially spring grass—is harmful, he said, because the green grass, as well as most feeds, have sugars that disrupt digestion, get into the bloodstream, and affect healthy hooves in a bad way.
Equine veterinarians contacted for this story, in the hopes that they would weigh in on the efficacy of Jackson and Willis’ care—and talk about more mainstream care methods—did not return calls for comment.
At Paddock Paradise, the horses basically fend for themselves for days at a time, Jackson said. And by that he means they move about the track, feed, play, and sleep all on their own.
Several feed stations along the route hold nets full of hay, suspended at varying levels, which prompts the horses to graze at different heights and angles. Because they have prehensile lips, horses are able to pick what they need out of the netting. The nets also contain the hay, protecting it from being blown around and wasted in the wind.
Having the feed stations along the route encourages the horses to move, as do the narrow paths between the food sources.
“Something in their DNA tends to move them forward on a path,” Willis said. “When there is a large space, they tend to stand around. When they are on a natural path, they tend to move forward.”
She’s heard from several clients whose horses will clock about 15 to 18 miles per day, which means the animals naturally get the exercise they need between walking and playing with each other.
“It’s nicer for the horses,” Willis said. “They are social animals, so they do need each other to be happy.”
Jackson also advises others on how to build their own Paddock Paradises—even on land as small as half an acre. Jackson and Willis said it’s a relatively inexpensive process. Put simply, they marked off track for their horses with vinyl roping and inexpensive stakes. They don’t use fencing or stables, and the hay hangs from rope netting. The horses stay within the ropes and wear their narrow path along the track.
Jackson said that the natural hoof care method is less expensive to implement overall than it is to incorporate some of the more conventional methods of care.
“You can spend $200 and destroy your horses’ feet, or you can spend $200 and do something healthful for them,” he said.
Standing out in the middle of the Paddock Paradise he built, watching his horses wander the track, he reflected on what he enjoys the most about the work he’s doing.
“Their vitality,” Jackson said. “What could be more important than good health?”
Arts Editor Shelly Cone can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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