BY April Bilodeau
We’ve all heard the saying “No hoof, no horse.” And while every animal’s feet are going to have their individual needs, without a healthy hoof, a horse cannot function at their whole capacity.
Alicia Harlov of The Humble Hoof is on a mission to take each individual horse’s needs into consideration for optimal health.
As a hoofcare provider certified with Progressive Hoofcare Practitioners, Harlov focuses on the whole horse, specializing in long-term hoof care plans for horses with injuries.
“There’s such a high rate of re-injury to soft tissue injuries because there isn’t enough focus on the long term support,” Harlov tells The Plaid Horse.
Harlov grew up as a dressage rider but never competed in the discipline. After college, she became a public school teacher in Amesbury, MA.
To continue her love of horses, she bought a BLM Mustang named Vinnie. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with navicular disease—consisting of bone changes, enthesiophytes or spurs, and soft tissue injury involving the tendon and ligaments within the hoof capsule.
“The advice I was given was to manage his hoof issues until I couldn’t manage them anymore and then retire him,” says Harlov.
She wasn’t satisfied with that advice, which led her to do extensive research on hoof rehabilitation, ultimately connecting with Nic Barker at Rockley Farm in Exmoor, England.
Barker’s farm is known to have an 85% success rate with horses who have soft tissue injuries. Those horses return to their activity at the same or higher level than prior to their injuries. After some conversation with Barker, Harlov got on a plane to England to learn the ins-and-outs of rehab so that she could apply them to Vinnie’s routine.
“The hypothesis that I adopted from Barker is that we look at soft tissue injuries in the wrong way,” says Harlov. “We need to look at it not as an acute injury, but a biomechanic issue. Over time we can develop the horse’s body to correctly handle loading and landing.”
Harlov learned that during recovery, rather than stopping all movement, the answer is to correct the movement.
After learning about what Barker did for horses in her program, including the farm’s track system and dietary requirements, she began thinking about how she could implement the experience for her own horse.
“My first thought was oh my goodness, I could totally do this at home…which was kind of ambitious,” says Harlov.
She applied what she learned to her own horse, and soon others were taking notice.
Friends began asking her to start trimming and rehabbing their horses, which turned into her traveling the world to became more educated on barefoot trimming and the benefits that it can have in rehabilitation to the hoof.
When it came time to decide between continuing her work as a school teacher or becoming a full time hoofcare provider, the choice seemed obvious. After trimming part time for a few years, Harlov stepped away from her teaching job of nine years and to go full time with The Humble Hoof in 2019.
The Dream Farm
In January 2023, Harlov and her husband purchased Harlov Farm, a 21-acre facility in Amesbury, MA.
She immediately began implementing her takeaways from her time in England, building two track systems, one known as the metabolic-friendly track due to its minimal grass as well as a retirement/grass track. Both paddocks are in the range of 1/3 of a mile and are corner free. The system guarantees movement as their shelter, feed, and water are all at different stations throughout the track, forcing horses to walk to what they need, when they need it.
The property also consists of a five-stall barn, and lit outdoor riding ring, a heated tack room with a full bathroom, and a hay loft that stores 750 bales at a time, with hay being tested regularly. Currently she has nine horses on the property.
Harlov’s long term goal is to extend the metabolic-friendly track and include a wooded part of the track. There is also a two-acre field on the property that Harlov plans to host events such as clinics on hoof care and soundness.
Harlov has many goals on her list that she plans to accomplish in both her hoof care and rehab businesses.
Her ultimate goal, however, is to send her rehab horses home, knowing that the owners have the tools and know the steps to keep their horses sound for the future.
“I want to educate owners so they’re able to do what needs to be done to keep their horses in work comfortably,” says Harlov. “I want people to be able to enjoy their horse and accomplish their riding goals, knowing their horses are moving in a way that will keep them sound.”
For more information on Alicia Harlov’s services and The Humble Hoof, visit thehumblehoof.com.