Saturday, December 29, 2012

Endurance rider gift guide?

I think that Christmas 2012 will be remembered as the year that my new family really started to figure me out.

My mother-in-law had called Brian to ask what kind of jewelry I liked. Since that was a bit of a non-starter, she ended up consulting cousin Amanda. ...which is why I am the proud owner of the fanciest body brush I have ever seen. The handle is real wood and leather and the bristles are actual horse hair. I never thought a grooming product for a horse could feel so sinful and luxurious.

Gifts from Brian included many of a girl's best friends: An elegant set of heavy duty floor mats for the truck, a sparkling Gerber multi-tool, and magnificent machine washable synthetic half chaps.

Of course, my parents have known me quite a bit longer than my in-laws. Because of this, they can be trusted to purchase the kind of horse-related gifts that really make endurance riding possible.




They sent me Anti-Monkey-Butt Powder and money. :)

Nice haul, eh?

*     *     *

In other news, earlier in the week, the last of the nail holes disappeared for good. Blue's feet looked a bit raggedy where the holes were meeting the ground, so I grabbed the hoofjack and the rasp. They already look approximately 26 billion times better than they did in November.

It's also helping that the landowner built a new pasture option. There is this long, narrow track that opens up into the Christmas trees, where the mud will be less intense than it is in the open field, but there will still be some enrichment.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ho Ho Ho




Ho ho



Ho, HO!

I said, HO, dammit!

"It's pronounced 'whoa,' Mom."
Happy holidays, everybody. I hope your kids sat nice and still for the Christmas card this year.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Four weeks, one day

It had only been four weeks and one day since we pulled the shoes, and my farrier was genuinely shocked at how much the toe shot out in that time. I called and had him come back earlier than we originally scheduled, because, well, LOOK.





The lighting was a bit different between the two, so it's a little hard to really compare side by side. I guess the easiest marker to work from is that front nail hole. Huge difference from before to after. He may not grow nice feet, but at least he grows crappy feet really fast.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Spooky coincidence... or fate?

I got my December issue of EN today.  


But I very easily could have.


Yep, sweetie. you just stay off those nasty ol' feet. Mama's gonna fix 'em.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

“Everybody in life makes choices.” (Part III)

Blue came to me from a neglect situation. The day I went to look at him in Terrebonne, he looked awful. I remember driving up to the arena and seeing two horses saddled and tied. One was a pretty little palomino, a little skinny but bright-eyed and shiny. The other was this mud-colored bag of bones with his head down and his coat falling out in patches. You have to be kidding me. I drove six hours for this? Maybe they listed the color wrong on the ad. Maybe the palomino is the one I’m here for.

It turned out I was there for the mud-colored horse. But I liked his attitude, so I bought him… dismal hooves, British teeth, skin diseases and all. I was told that he was on a natural barefoot regimen, which I guess was probably code for “he hasn’t been trimmed in years.” The day I first saw him, his hooves looked to have been very recently lopped back down into some semblance of the correct shape. You could see the individual “bites” from the nippers. Whether he had been allowed to get to the elf-shoe phase of overgrown hooves I’ll probably never know. But it wouldn’t shock me.
Even my old-school farrier in Washington could see Blue’s hooves would be a project. He continued with the lopping, but said it would be a long haul. For now, we would do the best we could with what we had.
And so Blue was shod nonstop from mid-June 2011 until late November 2012. He didn’t get a winter break in 2011 because we had excellent weather in Washington right up until the move to Oregon. The move itself delayed his next farrier visit MUCH longer than it should have. He went nearly three months in the same shoes without a trim or a reset while I settled into my new job. I recognize now how much damage that lapse did. I take full responsibility. His feet got very long and the shoe just kept going further and further forward on them... leaving us with the makings of where we are today.
I apologize for the gore, but these are the only hoof photos I have of him when my WA farrier was on the job. what I see from this is that his toe angle was pretty decent, if a bit long, but his heels are also too long and the shoe doesn't come back far enough to support them. This is late July 2011.
My Oregon farrier is younger and more open-minded about the barefoot thing, though it isn't his specialty. He and I have chatted about boots before just in the course of resetting shoes. He’s intrigued by the Gloves because they are much easier to apply than the old Easyboots, which he has always carried as spare tires when he goes elk hunting. I told him about my booting challenges with Otto, and he pointed out that it might be even harder where we are now because it is so wet 10 months a year and Blue spends so much time indoors besides. Still, it’s open for dialogue. I told him I just want my horse to be as sound and free-moving as we can make him, no questions asked.
So the shoes came off for the winter this year, and the farrier and I are both just waiting to see what Blue’s hooves tell us. So far, they are telling me a lot. Look at this angle on the left front foot (the same one as above). This has been his worst foot as long as I’ve known him… and I’m pretty sure right now is the worst it has ever looked.

Gah! Look away, look away! It's too horrible! (I took this photo earlier this week.) So here's the deal. Continuously shod without dropping and then supporting the heel, the toe and heel continued to slide forward. He has no frog and no heel to support the back of his foot, so he lands toe-first. His breakover is a mile out in front.
The short lines with the blue extensions show where the hoof probably wants to be, based on the first couple growth rings at the base. Pink and green show actual tubule angles where they sit right now.
Contracted heels, anyone? The frog on the other side is even worse, if you can imagine that. What is kind of hard to see here is that the white line is surprisingly tight all the way around the (thinnish) wall, which makes me nervous about rasping off an inch of toe all at once. What do you guys think?

Would you buy that foot? No you would not. And if I took video of it you’d see how it lands crooked and he toes in on that side and twists his leg and looks just…ugghhhh. 
I don't want to say that I've lost faith in my farrier. I like him, and he seems very competent and well-educated. But the pictures don't lie. We need to be super-aggressive with the next several trims if we're going to fix this foot for the long haul.
I want Blue’s feet to grow all winter. I want him to grow feet like that string of camp horses grew feet. Blue only gets four to eight hours of turnout every day depending on the weather. Because of his recent shenanigans involving fence-and-blanket destruction, he’s banned from the “interesting” pasture, which had rocks and stumps and water. Now he’s in the “special needs” pasture, which is the one with manicured grass, fancy board fencing and not much to do. (It's really one step up from a padded cell.) This pasture exists so that people who are coming to weddings on the other side of the property see something resembling the Kentucky Bluegrass instead of the mishmash of electric fence that surrounds most of the turnout areas. But being in there means Blue’s bare feet aren’t getting a ton of stimulation—stimulation that’s needed to activate hoof growth.
Watching him out there trotting with his buddies, a few things become obvious. Mainly, he short-strides and lands toe-first, even at liberty. You can see this in many of the photos I have on the blog too. It needs to change if he is going to be sound in the long run.
I’m pretty sure everyone at the barn thought I was nuts on Saturday afternoon. I was lunging my horse in the parking lot under a steady rain. Little did they know I did the same thing in the pitch black on Friday night. Both times, a perfectly lovely, well-lit indoor arena was available. But until the arena has decomposed granite footing, the parking lot is where I need to be for at least part of every ride. The uneven half-inch basalt will wake his feet right up. Nature will do the rest.
I mean, I hope it will.

Who doesn't enjoy night-lunging in the rain?
I’m not saying that we’re going to go barefoot in the coming season. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that we won’t. What I’m saying is that the next several months will give me my first chance to see Blue’s feet do whatever it is that they naturally want to do. Maybe they want to get better, maybe they don’t. But until May, barring catastrophic foot failure, shoes won’t be getting in the way anymore.
Everybody in life makes choices. Even hooves.

“Everybody in life makes choices.” (Part II)

When I moved to Washington, Rusty came with me. I had my first real job with a steady income, so when the farrier came, I asked for shoes. By then, I believed that wearing shoes (much like having a blanket and a warm stable) was a sign that horse was getting the best care. Shoes = owner’s love, or something. Look—everybody in life makes choices.
Rusty and baby Topper shortly after I moved to WA (2005)

At the same time, I acquired Topper, who was the horse I started with in endurance. His shoes did serve a practical purpose (beyond allowing me to feel like I was being a good horse mom). Heather and I were riding out on the road enough by then that Topper’s feet weren’t keeping up with the wear he was putting on them. I was literally riding his feet off. 
Topper at Mt. Adams (2008?)

I was really happy with Topper’s performance in shoes, and I didn’t feel any need to question it. But I was just getting into endurance, which means I was in the “information sponge” phase. One thing about sponges, they aren’t picky. They suck up grease and garbage water just as easily as wine and soap suds. So I read every opinion on Ridecamp as if it were gospel, with very little personal experience to act as a filter. I would try anything to get better at endurance, including purchasing the requisite gray Arabian.
Otto was also barefoot when I got him. He grew up in the bone-dry, volcanic hills outside of Prineville, Oregon, and had never needed shoes. He had these big, black feet that were tough as nails. By the time I got him, I was at the height of my online endurance obsession, so I had read all the pros and cons about barefoot versus shoeing. The more natural approach made a lot of sense to me, honestly. Moreover, my recently-acquired cousin-in-law was a vocal proponent of the barefoot/boot system. I thought Otto was a great candidate, being that he already had fantastic barefoot feet, but they were getting worn pretty heavily by all the road conditioning we were doing. My thought process went like this: Boots would solve the wear problem, and I’d be another Barefoot Success Story for the internet to crow about. This was going to be easy.
Completely bare (and bitless!) at HOTR 2010
But it didn’t work out that way, and the reason is laughable. Otto’s feet were too good for the boots available at the time. That is, a lifetime of being barefoot on rough ground with frequent trimming had left him with textbook front hooves—wide, round, ideally proportioned and angled. At the time, you couldn’t get boots for that kind of feet. Let me say it again: No one was making boots for the ideal hoof. I tried Easyboot Gloves, which were too long in the toe and too narrow side-to-side. I tried Renegade cutbacks, which solved the width problem but were bulky and made my fluid-moving horse clumsy and cranky. And let’s not forget that they were all a hassle to put on while my riding partner stood there waiting for me.
But look at that movement!
My farrier was also very anti-barefoot and anti-boot. I won’t badmouth him. He was an expert and an artist with shoes, but very, very, very old-school. (We’ve been shoeing horses for hundreds of years. Why change now?) He trimmed Otto because I asked him to, but he didn’t really approve of what I was trying to do.
Maybe, with a pro-barefoot farrier, a local booting mentor and access to Glove Wides (which came on the market after all of this happened), I would have stuck with barefoot. As it was, the whole thing became too much of a hassle. That year, we did HOTR totally bare without incident but had to RO from the Milwaukee ride for lameness, even after applying boots. After that, I gave in and had him shod. I didn’t want to waste my time and money figuring out barefooting anymore. I saw that there were plenty of good riders who still shod, and plenty of yahoos who didn’t. Really there were plenty of mentors and yahoos on both sides… so I made the choice. Otto did great in shoes (and got pulled for lameness one more time without them). His feet stayed nice, but his personality still left much to be desired.

Did I tell you about the time he tore my rotator cuff?

Monday, December 3, 2012

“Everybody in life makes choices.” (Part I)

Today’s subject line is a quote from a news story you’ve probably all long-since forgotten: Man Mauled At Bronx Zoo Wanted To ‘Be OneWith The Tiger’; Charged With Trespassing.
That statement has become something of a meme on the websites I frequent, since it is such a perfect answer to all questions. It works great in the horse world too.
Why don’t you ride in the rain? Everybody in life makes choices.
Why did you buy a truck that can’t tow a gooseneck? Everybody in life makes choices.
Why do you use a martingale? Everybody in life makes choices.
Why do you ride a mustang instead of an Arabian? Everybody in life makes choices.
See how easy it is?
But there is one question that relentlessly dogs the endurance world online. And this time of year, when it’s the off-season for the majority of us, and people are online instead of riding, it is virtually inescapable: Why do you/don’t you shoe your horse?
Elsewhere on the internet, we call that kind of question Troll Bait. You are asking for a war. People are oddly passionate on the topic. And if you’re a Midwesterner like me, all that conflict and raising of voices (even when they’re typed) makes you really uncomfortable. Anyone who has done endurance for a while and spends time online can spot the battle starting from miles away. We quietly step out of the line of fire and let the newbies and the loudmouths fight it out. (Admit it, the carnage was amusing the first time, but now it’s just sad.)
Anyway, I wanted to talk a little bit about hooves because Blue’s are terrible and have been since the day I got him. But first, a mountain of background about choices…
I have owned seven horses in my lifetime. The first three (Gazab, Jake and Jethro) were never shod—not once—in the time that I owned them. Living outdoors full-time in the flat, rock-free environment of central Nebraska, they didn’t really need shoes, especially for as little riding as I was doing. I might ride once a week in the summer and barely ever in the colder months, and most of my riding was in flat, grassy, rock-free pasture and the occasional dirt road. 

Gazab and Jake
 But even when I took Jake with me to work at a summer camp that had both hills and rocks, I didn’t bother with shoes. I didn’t want to try to find a farrier there (before the days of Google), and I didn’t have any money anyway. I brought along my rasp and nippers in case I needed to clean up any chipping, but otherwise, nature took its course.
The rented camp string horses were all barefoot, too. Their owner subscribed to the “crazy” notion that the hooves would take care of themselves, so these nags arrived at camp with overgrown, chipped, ugly-but-basically-functional feet. As head wrangler (OK, the only wrangler), I requested a morning off my other duties to do some very basic maintenance on the string and get them presentable for the campers. I knew nothing about barefoot trimming, mustang rolls, breakover or balance, but I trimmed seven horses that morning just to knock off the rough edges. Everybody stayed sound all summer, even on the gravel roads. 
Part of the camp string. (Casper, ????, Thunder, Jake)
Chief and Casper (camp horses)

Camp string butts. (Jake, Smoky, Thunder, Casper, Chief, Buck and ????) Look at all that grass!
I suppose if I had been a student of equine locomotion at the time, I might have gleaned some useful information about horses that got lots of work (a hilly, 40-acre pasture plus four hours of trail riding six days a week on varied surfaces). To wit: They were sound, moved nicely and grew TONS of hoof (I trimmed them all three times in three months) despite having no nutritional support beyond pasture grass and the oats required to catch and saddle them all.
But I was just a kid working at camp so I didn’t learn anything about anything.
My next horse, Rusty, stayed barefoot because he came that way and I was too poor to seriously consider other options. By then I was working at an AQHA breeder’s barn in exchange for board. The horses I was caring for were elite reiners (multiple world championship placings) and they were all shod with sliding plates and lived in stalls, under bright lights for 23 hours a day. This was all new to me, since none of my horses had ever lived indoors. The clean cement floors, hot-water wash racks, and groomed arenas were very appealing. The horses were just as immaculate as the setting. This seemed like it must be what was best for performance horses—to be safe and snug in their stalls. And so convenient!
Linus, the sweetest horse you ever met. I saw him out of the stall maybe twice in the year I worked there.

Sneakers, too stinkin' cute. (I only knew everybody's barn names, so I have no idea if he ended up being a big-name show horse...)

The Great Kid (TK for short), the first stallion I ever worked with.
Not being an elite reining horse, Rusty still lived outdoors. He shared a gravel drylot with the babies, who picked on him mercilessly, something he tolerated with characteristic grace.

Rusty, indoors for a much-needed bath.

Rusty's tormentors, Sunny and Shrimp. (Again, I wish I knew their registered names!)
A smarter rider, more interested in her horse’s welfare, might have noted some correlation between her horse being chased around a gravel pen by those babies and his ability to trot down a gravel road without flinching. But I was too dazzled by those fancy reiners to notice. 

Look at the reach!