Wednesday, December 5, 2012

“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?


  1. Loving this series, gal--hurry up and write more!!!

  2. Thanks for sharing your story! Keep them coming!