Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Your Mileage May Vary: Thoughts on Hoof Boots

You can say this about most topics in endurance: Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV). But there are some people in this sport (as in all great passions) for whom the answer is My Way or the Highway (MWOTH). 

There is no single right answer for electrolytes, conditioning schedules, nutritional supplements or behavioral training. With any method, YMMV.

He's gotten a bit pudgy over the winter. We are two of a kind.

So you gotta feel bad for the newbies. Some poor 19-year-old posts to your Facebook group “Which is better, hoof boots or shoes?” and the entire board braces for impact as the MWOTHers come out to play.

When I read the passionate responses, nay, declarations, of the MWOTHers, I can’t help but think how lucky they have been to find a solution that works so well for them they are willing to pretend it’s the only possible one. Because I will tell you something about my experience with horses: They are all really different. 

Blue is in boots because shoes didn’t work for him. That is the only reason. If I thought I could put him in shoes tomorrow and not immediately have problems, I would sooo do it. Why? Because boots are a  &^$&@#$-ing hassle, pure and simple. They are fussy and inconvenient—just one more thing to worry about on the trail… where I have enough to worry about already, thanks very much.

My conditioning ride this weekend was a perfect example of why boots might not work for some people. All I can say is thank goodness I was riding alone.

Every little thing he does is tragic. Oh, horses. Do they ever stop hurting themselves? 


Had Blue been in shoes, this little scrape (looks much worse than it is—it was basically a glorified rug burn) would have required nothing more than a smudge of Neosporin. Because he is in boots, and the boots have a gaiter, and the gaiter sits exactly on top of this scrape, a bit more elaborate booting protocol was needed.

That’s athletic tape on top of vetwrap on top of gauze on top of desitin on top of Neosporin. No big deal. And PS: It barely budged through our whole ride, including through miles of fetlock-high mud and two trips though a stirrup-high water crossing.

The aftermath: filthy, but still quite functional.

Trial and (plenty of) error. As part of the ongoing thrush drama, I decided to try padding Blue’s front boots to give him a little more cushion and support. I am not convinced they make a significant difference in his comfort level or his way of moving, but I will tell you one thing. They sure change the way the boots fit.

Or don't.

You wouldn’t think that 6mm of soft padding would cause such a fuss. At least, you wouldn’t if you were me. And then you would be surprised by just how much fuss it was as you kept having to dismount to put the boot back on.

Are they still on? 1-2-3-4 GO! Something that I never did in my shoe days was stop and check that all four shoes were still nailed on after a tricky obstacle. Now I do it every time. And when I say “stop and check” I mean STOP and check. I don’t know how else to confirm the boots are there than to stop the freight train, lean over in the saddle and count to four.

Steady-state riding. What’s that? In his book 4th Gear Endurance, Dennis talks about steady-state riding, which basically means asking the horse to go at a consistent pace that is right on the threshold of his ability. For Blue that is a sustained 10mph trot. And we might have been able to do that this weekend if his footwear had been nailed on. That same front boot kept popping off, so finally I took it all the way off to get a closer look. As is turns out, it wasn’t a problem with the pad at all. The heel hardware on the gaiter had pulled through the rubber part of the boot and was basically just flopping around.

I wasn’t carrying a spare, so it was time to improvise. I washed the boot off in a large, deep puddle. (Plenty of those around.) I had my truck key tucked into my shirt, so I used it as a screwdriver to take the whole thing apart, realign the pieces and tighten it back down. 

All told, this probably took 5 minutes to fix, but it was long enough for me to feel the chill wind and decide it was time to stop bushwhacking head back to the trailer. 

I guess the moral of the story is this: Boots are not for you if frequent stops drive you crazy. You need some flexibility in your conditioning plans to allow for boot malfunction under normal circumstances. And during the transition/learning curve period, you might as well plan on not having a plan. 

We still did 13 miles of worthwhile riding on Saturday, but they were not the 13 miles that I had planned. If you have a plan and a schedule you really must keep, the boots will derail you every time.

So which is better: Boots or shoes?

Eh… no comment.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Seven Dwarves of Thrush

We’ve had a very busy few weeks between work and weather and houseguests, so I hadn’t ridden my horse in a while. How long? Your guess is as good as mine. I’m not one of those overachievers who keeps a conditioning journal. 

One of the upsides of the new barn is that everyone is in love with my horse. This means they want to ride him just for the fun of it. This means I am getting free exercise/training from people who know what they’re doing. This is very good when I wake up one weekend and realize we haven’t done a real conditioning ride since early January. 

What is not good is (are?) Blue’s feet. Those twin abscess holes, still very visible, are pretty much old news. That damage is done. What worries me now is what you see when you pick those nasty feet up off the ground. All of his frogs (except, possibly, one of the hind ones) bear more than a passing resemblance to a fine gruyere—spongy, crumbly, stinky, tender, rubbery, slimy and moist. On second thought, I won’t besmirch the good name of a tasty dairy product. Let’s call these the Seven Dwarves of Thrush.  

In the mud pits of February, these little guys always show their ugly faces. And fighting them is a constant, exhausting battle in Blue’s case. For some reason, things are especially bad this year. It might be the new environment and whatever microbial life is in the mud here that wasn’t at the last place. It might be that a very dry fall and early winter gave way to a snowstorm, followed by a deluge, followed by above-average temperatures. Could be that I’m still trying to adjust Blue’s diet to work in a place where I don’t have as tight control over what he’s getting as I used to. Many possibilities.

Regardless of the cause, the result has been multiple frog blowouts and great flaps of rotten tissue to carve out of his already not-so-great feet. I shudder to think what it will look like when those wall abscesses grow down to the sole too. GAH. GAAAAAAAAAHHHH.

But even this year’s megathrush seems fairly run of the mill compared to Blue’s poor, flinchy back. Boy does not want me to put the saddle on him. He also would prefer not to be brushed with anything firmer than a feather duster. 

Coming down the long hill at Hardy Creek on Sunday, he was pretty much unwilling to go faster than a mincing trudge. Tiny, slow steps, the very opposite of his attitude going upwards an hour before or his usual downhill scramble back toward the trailer. I have suspected for a while that the Specialized was starting to dig him just below the point of the shoulder on the left side, and this increasing sourness at saddling (imperceptibly gradual, but after a few weeks away from him to gain sufficient perspective, the tail wringing and outright avoidance this weekend was very obvious) and wincing down the hill pretty much proves it as far as I’m concerned. Time to get out the shims again. Probably it was time to do that a long time ago, but it is so hard for me to tell if the saddle is doing what it’s supposed to or not. 

When the sweat marks all look great, but your horse is doing his best Bartleby the Scrivener impression, what does that mean?

I feel like the icing on the cake was a few nights ago when I went out to do a serious thrush treatment. I was planning a wash/soak with antibacterial Dawn dishsoap (thanks for the tip!) followed by betadine. They say you have to be careful with betadine because it can dry out the hooves. I can't imagine ANYTHING  drying them out right now. Hair dryer? Heat gun? Nuclear blast?

So anyway, I got out there all excited to do something productive on the thrush front, and I find my horse has one eye swollen shut. If you're a Facebook friend of mine, you've probably seen the photo of the abrasion on his eye. Happy to report that he's back to his normal appearance now, thanks to just under a week of atropine, antibiotics and banamine. Only time will tell if there has been lasting damage to his vision. :(

I feel like if Blue was a human, CPS would have taken him away a long time ago. “Your child has hoof rot and a sore back and the same time... and now you've been poking him in the eye with a stick? Ma’am, please step away from the animal.”

Seriously, please don’t report me. I’m working on this.