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.


  1. I'd try to find a real barefoot/ natural horse practitioner. Someone who can really rework those angles and get Blue running sound. That hoof has been mismanaged by your farrier if it went from looking like it did, to looking like it does. Easycare has a list of natural hoof trimmers on their website, you may be able to find and/or network to find someone there. It will likely take a very diligent trim schedule to get him turned around. Maybe every 4 weeks. Keep him off the chip gravel until the hoof is right. If he has no heel support or breakover that may be way ouchy. ~ E.G.

  2. Have you considered picking up the rasp yourself to keep things from going so wonky between trims? Especially if you are going to boot... it's easier to keep a good fit. It doesn't have to be a "fire your farrier" situation - in fact, you'll want other eyes on the hoof, especially at first. Since most barefoot trimmers advocate a 4 week trim cycle, you are just doing the in-betweens. I started out with a little timid toe rolling (the "mustang" roll). Now I even dare to use the hoof knife on the bars! Doing a little bit at a time, once a week is not only easier (takes me less than ten minutes, it is less stress on the horse than having dramatic changes in their feet, and although saying this is tempting fate, armed only with a rasp, you are much more likely to underdo it than overdo it, a safer choice at first. It also made picking up feet much more interesting than just picking them - I hadn't calculated on the entertainment value. PS: Thrush can also be a contributing factor in those contracted heels here in our "special" climate.