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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The start of my own barefoot adventure.

The Eventing-A-Gogo blog has reached 150 official followers! That is mind-boggling. Thank you, all of you, for supporting this great journey. I've said it many times, I really can't tell you how much it means to me.

Gogo is getting the rest of this week off, for a few reasons really. First of all, my boss is coming home next Monday for a brief stint, so I need to fully focus my energies on working her five horses that she left behind and making sure they are all looking their very best for her return. Secondly, I scheduled Gogo's next ultrasound with Dr. C for next Tuesday in the morning. It's a week earlier than I had originally planned (I was shooting for more like the 10th, because we were set to start cantering on the 11th), but I always start to get exceptionally antsy around the time of an approaching vet appointment. I start to get paranoid - is there more fill in the leg today? Is it warmer than it was? Did she just take a funny step getting on the treadmill or did I make that up? Am I seeing things? Am I not? - so I figured I needed to just stop everything and wait until the ultrasound. She'll be treadmilled and turnout out until next Tuesday, where we hopefully will be getting more good news. I just always start to seriously imagine the worst whenever a vet appointment approaches, so I'm just going to stop worrying about it and just continue with the daily routine until then. I will be seriously glad when this daily paranoia is over. (Even though, at this point, it will never really be over for the rest of her life!)

In the meantime, I am beginning my own version of the barefoot adventure. I've been researching more about the human foot and its mechanism, and the parallels I've found to the equine barefoot movement have been mind-boggling. It's seriously a nearly identical process with nearly identical motives behind it. And now that I've discovered the human barefoot movement, I get to relive the entire process by which I found the equine movement - only this time it's a little different. When I found the equine barefoot movement, I was more ready to jump in wholeheartedly because of the way shoeing had crippled and, crudely put, killed my last horse. There's no way around it, he's quite dead now in large part because of some cocky choices my farriers had made with him, and because of that I was ready to try something new. With my own bare feet, I was much more skeptical to start, with a lot of the same criticisms that the anti-bare hooves people have.

For instance, I thought people that went without shoes were nuts. (People say that barefoot-only people are nuts.)
I thought that humans needed shoes given our lifestyles and the stresses we put on ourselves and our feet. (People say the modern sport horse needs shoes because of their lifestyles and stresses we put on them and their feet.)
I thought my soles would be too tender to ever try this because I've been wearing shoes for as long as I can remember. (People say their horses can't go barefoot because they get too tender and have been wearing shoes forever.)
I thought that everybody wears shoes, that's just what we do as people. (People shoe their horses sometimes because well, that's what everybody else does too, so who would think otherwise?)
I thought that human athletes needed footwear to give them a competitive edge. (People think horses need footwear to give them a competitive edge.)
I thought people with flat feet needed the support of a shoe. (People think horses with flat feet need the support of a shoe.)

Sound familiar?

(Daun sent me a link today, by the way, about a new study out concerning the way running shoes have changed the way we run, and Nicole called me pretty much simultaneously to tell me she was listening to the same story on the radio. Go read the study. It's really, really interesting.)

What have I found in my research and personal experience with the barefoot movement, human and horse? More parallels!

Many people and horses may need a little help transitioning from shoes to bare - there is a steadily growing market for hoof boots and transitional human footwear, both of which are designed to give tender feet a chance to start moving naturally without being in pain.
Feet change in response to bad footwear, good footwear, environmental stresses, and movement.
High heels = pain, in both humans and horses.
Flat feet, heel pain, and tender soles often rapidly and beautifully resolve when taken properly bare.
A very large majority of foot issues in both species stem from improper footwear.
If feet are being inefficiently used due to pain or improper footwear, it can lead to injuries higher up in the body. Mother Nature designed feet to do their job perfectly just the way they are, so anything we add to that proportionally decreases efficiency, and increases the possibility of issues.
Once feet are being efficiently used, the entire body's efficiency improves. A pain-free body is healthy body.

The one REALLY big difference? A healthy bare foot is supposed to land heel first - a toe first landing is indicative of a problem. A bare human foot, on the other hand, is supposed to land ball or midfoot first, and a heel first landing is painful and jarring. Our modern day running shoes are very heavily padded around the heel area, which encourages a heel-first landing. I myself am guilty of running heel-first, probably because I assumed that it worked for my horse, so it should work for me too. Wrong! I was plagued with eternal issues, from sore feet to shin splints to unbearable hip socket pain on my right side. Which, of course, is what led me here. If going barefoot worked so well for my horse, then why not try it myself? If I can simultaneously increase my efficiency and decrease my pain, then I've done exactly the same thing for myself as I've done for my horse.

My own barefoot experience began today. I finally had a chance to get out and get my pair of Vibram Five Fingers, a piece of minimalist transitional footwear designed to mimic the bare foot. Not quite ready to take the fully barefoot plunge (or sure that I ever actually want to go fully barefoot), I wanted the benefits with a little added protection to allow me to walk on difficult surfaces without being crippled or injured.

These, my friends, are my new favorite shoes:

Now for those of you that don't know, this is how my feet often look in the winter:

Obviously, this is a huge transition for me.

I tried on a few pairs before choosing the right one. And of course, I picked the blue ones ;) I have to say, it's VASTLY different from anything I've ever had on my feet before and I LOVE IT. They're going to take some getting used to, but they're really comfortable, although I can see how for a more squashed foot they would be uncomfortable because of how they spread the toes. My pinky toe felt a little pulled away from my other toes, but not uncomfortably so. I broke in the shoes on a quick trip to a very rocky Connecticut beach down the road from the shoe store, and got some awesome pictures while I was at it:

By the way, let's state this one for the records: wearing skinny jeans and VFF shoes is insufferably tacky and makes you look like THE dumbest person around. Won't be doing THAT one again!

But by far the most awesome pictures I got were when I befriended a very crazy old man with a loaf of stale bread who was feeding the seagulls. I stood there and snapped away while he cackled and held out the bread for them to take right from his outstretched hand. Boy I love making friends.

Walking 'bare' immediately showed me that the way I normally walk is WRONG! I found after a very short time that landing on your heels sends a very uncomfortable shockwave up your entire leg column into your spine. When I walk in regular shoes, I tend to slouch along, landing on my heels and dragging forward. Yea... that's quite painful in minimalist footwear! So, I thought long and hard about everything I have thus far studied on the efficient foot biomechanics, and changed to landing more midfoot. WOW. That was eye-opening! Suddenly, the pressure I was absorbing all the way up into my spine dissapeared. Everything dissipated in my foot. And not only that, suddenly I was using an entirely new group of muscles. I had to engage my abs while walking. I've never felt that before.

All in all it was very humbling and exciting. I intend on just walking for probably the rest of January and a good part of February, and then we'll think about running once I am comfortable. Then, we can lay out a plan for what I'd like to accomplish.

Until then, walk on!


Albigears said...

Those are a step beyond Birkenstocks. Which I love. When do you think you will wear them?
Love the seagull pics!!

dp said...

Interesting. I see lots of people going about life barefoot in Australia, which is weird by Canadian standards. It completely makes sense to me that there are parallels between barefoot humans and barefoot horses, but can a human foot ruined by shoes ever really recuperate? What happens when you barefoot a foot like that shoe-shaped one in your pictures a few days ago? Unlike the horse hoof, they are not continuously growing.

Brittany said...

Those are great shoes! I am super curious about them, and may go try on a pair myself!

Andrea said...

DP, I had added this in to my last post later on that you may have missed:

"EDIT: I forgot to add in one more thing, and it's very important, maybe the most important part of the whole post. It is quite clear to me that if you were to take the unhealthy "shod" foot in that picture and set it to walking around barefoot, aside from the obvious pain factor from those weak, uncalloused soles, that foot will never turn into the big wide one pictured. Why? Because more likely than not, that unhealthy foot has been crammed into shoes ever since it was young. It's similar to the very outdated foot binding custom: a young, growing foot will become permanently deformed if forced into something unnatural. Countless doctors agree that improper footwear for children can be exceptionally damaging and unhealthy. And now here's a thought: what about that idea of the tiny, boxy Quarter Horse foot? The eternally crappy Thoroughbred foot? Quite obviously, genetics DOES play a part in this, but you don't see crappy feet in ALL QHs or TBs. You DO see a lot of crappy feet in OTTBs and QHs who come from young sport backgrounds. Those TBs get shod for the track when they are long yearlings. Those halter, western pleasure and other young western sport type QHs get shod when they are weanlings, and I've heard it's desirable to encourage a horse to put out the tiny, upright boxes that seem to plague our QHs today. I certainly hope that's not the real case. Regardless, those young feet are not done growing, and do they get the chance to develop a thick digital cushion, a dinosaur hide frog, thick walls, and a tough sole callous? No they do not. If you have a completely outstanding farrier, the damage probably won't be huge. But unless your farrier is God, it's quite possible that the fast growth of young hooves will quickly outgrow their shoes - but be unable to adjust for their size. They'll be stuck the way they are. Actually, Bowker did a study on this, dissecting hooves that had been kept bare and hooves that had been shod at a young age, and he found that the internal structures of the feet shod at a young age were essentially "frozen" in a state of immaturity - they were permanently stunted. This is why I think a lot of people won't - or even just can't - take their horses barefoot and expect them to be able to perform. Those feet were deformed when they were still growing, and never had the chance to develop what they needed to make it in the natural world. A majorly "deformed" foot taken bare will change for the better if given the opportunity, I assure you. But will it ever really be fully barefoot and sound and comfortable on all types of terrain in all situations? Maybe! But, maybe not. I wish we could take two cloned TBs, put them in the exact same diet, exercise, and turnout program, and shoe the one and leave the second barefoot, just to see what would happen. THAT would be an interesting study."

In short, no, that human would would probably have permanent bony damage, same as a hoof would. That being said, I do know from experience that if you wear cramped winter muck boots allllll winter long, then wear jandals alllll summer long, your feet spread quite a lot and suddenly you can't fit them into your winter boots anymore! So maybe!

Heather (hpalmete) said...

Ok, so here's my overly simplistic question to this incredibly complicated (and massively interesting) subject. How warm are they? My feet get COLD! And I live way up at the top of New York state where it gets really cold. The temperatures have negative signs in front of them (boo!). I love trying new things on a bit of a whim (it makes me feel spontaneous), especially ones that could have all of the benefits you describe. Even more especially if I "know" someone trying it out at the same time who might commiserate with me, but I'm wondering if it may just be a spring\summer thing for me?

On a side note, I am REALLY enjoying your blog!

B said...

I've actually been following this movement for the last couple of years, but I haven't had the balls to go for it yet. However I have figured out something interesting about my own way of moving.

When I'm wearing "fashion sneakers", you know, the ones that look adorable, but have no support anywhere, I'm much more comfortable running than in my "designed for running" shoes. I notice in the flimsy footwear, I run on the balls of my feet, which saves me a lot of jarring, and is less uncomfortable than my running shoes. When I try to run on the balls of my feet in my running shoes, I end up rolling my ankles and making myself extraordinarily uncomfortable. The design of these shoes creates an unnatural way of going. It's terrible for my body, which is the main reason I gave up trying to run.

I started to look at those five fingers shoes a few weeks ago. I'd love to know how they continue to treat you since I've thought about investing in some myself.

Good luck, I can't wait to see what happens with Gogo and you, all barefoot and glorious.

borellana said...

Please, I beg of ye, don't turn this into a barefoot blog. I follow this for your great posts on your horse and your life in the equestrian world. :)

borellana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea said...

Heather, one of the most interesting things I've found is that you can really feel the temperature of the ground through the shoes... meaning yesterday in January, DAMN COLD! I dunno how this will translate in the summer months when it's a zillion degrees on hot pavement, we will see. I won't be running around in them today, it's snowing like crazy here.

Borellana, this IS a barefoot blog already XD It just so now happens to also include my own bare feet as well as my horse's bare feet. I feel quite certain that I'll never be as interested in my own feet as I will my horse's feet, so you likely have little to worry about.

Checkmark115 said...

I have unlike many people, gone more barefoot than "shod" and I LOVE it. Most really look at me with a 'WTF' look or a questioning look but I really don't care. Those close to me know I really HATE shoes and consequentially my feet are very used to stepping on the bare ground. I can step on rocks and even snow with no issue. I always feel so much better wearing no shoes and you do tend to land on the balls and midfoot. I feel its very RIGHT! The only time I wear shoes are when I have to, like in public (schools, etc), but otherwise I go bare! I suggest it for everyone! I even ride bare sometimes.

Nicku said...

Update your tetnus shot my dear and walk on! Good for you trying something so adventurous :) I love my high heels way too much to let my tootsies go nekkid but you rocked it even with your skinny jeans on.

Nicku said...

One more comment :)
Went to the site, these things are a hoot! They look like Avatar feet...I want a pair just for the sheer fact of the funness of the colors. Are they REALLY made from Kangaroo or am I having a blonde moment????

Golden the Pony Girl said...

For those interested in the Radio short on barefoot research

Andrea rock on! It reminds me of the times as a little kid barefoot trying to run silently through the woods. There is not a better feeling then when you hit a groove running barefoot. It feels life you are truly light and floating on air.

Andrea said...

Yea Nicku, I loooooove me some high heels but thankfully I appear gay and indie enough to get away with whatever totally bizarre footwear that I please XD

Abby said...

another article in the boston globe today:

ruh roh, barefoot = trendy? ;D

heater a. said...

I never had any idea that people could go barefoot! That's awesome! But my feet would be SO cold.

My husband and I started running a few years ago. I was having a horrid time keeping up with him. He took one look at me and told me I was landing heel first. He told me to run on the balls of my feet. And lo... I could run. I wondered how I made it through all those PE classes in school and no one EVER taught me to run properly. A few months later and I ran my first continuous mile in my life. Crazy!

manymisadventures said...

I'm curious to see where this goes for you! It's really interesting.

Just as long as you don't try to wear them around the horses ;) Eek, the broken toes that would abound...

Frizzle said...

Hey, I'm not sure if you saw it, but I left the link to the Bowker study on good hooves vs bad hooves in the comments of your last blog.
It's something that I have been researching a lot lately, so I actually have the link in my Favorites section.
Good luck with your new barefoot adventures!

Nicole Redman said...

I'm kind of curious about how the new "fitness" sneakers like MBTs fit into this whole thing...the shape looks like it would certainly encourage you to land midfoot. I've been thinking about wearing these at work instead of hiking boots or regular sneakers, if they will help my feet, back, legs, etc (all the marketing claims, basically). Have you seen anything about that in your research?

FD said...

Oh wow this is interesting. I´ve not done any reading on the human barefoot movement but bells started ringing there in my own anecdotal fashion.

I run in order to be fit enough to ride, to keep my mood stable, and now that I have a desk job, in order to not have to buy more clothes.

Initially I started running in a cheap, lightweight pair of stripped down nikes, with thin soles, which left plenty of room around my ankles, which I bought because they were the most comfortable and least restrictive. Other than sore muscles when I failed to warm down properly or pushed it a bit too far, I never had any joint pain, shin splints, black toenails, nothing. Nada.
When my original pair of shoes died a death, I went to buy a new pair, but decided as I was upping the distance and considering some races, that I would buy a proper pair of running shoes.

So I laid out mega bucks on a professional fitting (where they were horrified, said the shoes I had been wearing were all wrong, didn´t offer ankle support for my admittedly dicky ankles. They used one of those fancy schmancy gait analysis machines and everything.
I ended up with a pair that weighed twice as much as my previous shoes (and incidentally, cost three times as much) and felt like I was wearing a cross between an ankle cast and steelshanked wellies with half a ton of mud on them.

But hey, they were the professionals, perhaps I just had to get used to running in them?

First run out I had aching shins maybe 4 km in.
Two weeks in I went back to the shop and mentioned that I was having problems. I was told (somewhat patronizingly) that my muscles and joints just needed to adjust to running ´properly´.
By the end of a month, I had heel pain, crippling shin pain and sciatica beginning. Also my knees were beginning to bitch on landing from every stride. At that point, I decided screw acclimation, even if it was like riding where adjustments to long held position flaws feel ´wrong´ at first, the fact was that it was getting worse not better, and it wasn´t paying off in performance improvements.

I chucked the offending waste of money shoes in the back of the hall cupboard and went out and bought my own shoes from a retailer and politely but firmly refused fitting advice.

The discomfort persisted for a while, the shins taking longest to calm down, but within a few weeks I was back to normal. I´ve never asked for fitting advice again - that was five years ago.
So there you go, anecdata.
I shall watch you experiment with interest, but I doubt I´ll follow - I run in urban areas and dog mess and broken glass are constant hazards!

Meghan said...

Very interesting. I don't tend to go barefoot at all, but I do wear comfortable shoes. I bought a couple pairs of high heels a while back, and while they looked fantastic, they hurt. So I sent them on their foot-hurting way.

borellana said...


Ha, well I meant the whole human barefoot movement/rabid following. I enjoy your commentary on your horse's barefoot adventure and everything associated directly with that and your horse and all your equestrian related adventures. It's why I follow you! I would be sad to see the blog morph into something else.

Paigeley said...

i saw those for the first time today, coincedence?? i think not!!
but about going barefoot i exercise completly barefoot. i run around my block with my dog barefoot on concrete all the time, and i know exactly what you mean about landing heel first it really does go all the way up your spine, and i feel like my heel bone is being crushed.
be careful about going completly barefoot on concrete though it can actually burn your foot if your not used to it.

Dressager said...

Skinny jeans make everything look cool.

I am in love with the Sprint models in that pink/lavender color. I'd wear those to school! I'd wear those anywhere and everywhere! They look so comfy! They look like they'd be so much fun to take my dog a run in.

Looks like I'll be making a trip to the local REI store soon. Andrea, these shoes are genius. This expenditure of yours will be soooo good in the long run! You have inspired me!

Mel said...

What a funny coicidence! I was just looking at these!

Tamara of In the Night Farm said...

Cool! I've been wanting to try VFF's, too, but I'm afraid they won't fit right due to my bunions. Dang it!