Monday, June 16, 2014

A nod is as good as a wink

I went to the barn yesterday intending to do a little light arena riding. Blue has had two weeks off since Klickitat to do basically nothing but hang out in the pasture with his buddies.

I decided to lunge him in the arena first to make sure he was sound. Last weekend, when I lunged him in the field (new arena fencing was being installed), he was very mildly off on the bad front foot still. But the ground in the field is fairly hard now that it is dry, and fairly uneven because of us riding on it when it was wet. I considered Blue to be nearly normal and well on his way to recovery already, though I didn't ride him. Another week of R&R would set him right.

Nevertheless, as Blue was circling around me yesterday on the smooth, forgiving sand of the arena, something still seemed not quite right. It was puzzling. The rhythm seemed even. The stride length was normal. There might have been an occasional head bob, but it was hard to tell if that was lameness or just high spirits. And yet, something was definitely telling me he wasn't ready to ride yet again.

What was it? I was puzzled. There was...something. I sent him off circling the other way (bad foot on the outside) for a while as I took stock, front-to-back from the ground up. Normal stride length. Normal landing. No stiffness. One ear forward, one ear on me. Willing attitude. Good footing. And yet...

I turned him around again, so the bad white foot was on the inside where I could see it hitting the ground in my peripheral vision as I watched the rest of him.

And that's when I saw the thing that had been tickling my subconscious: Every time the bad foot hit the ground, he blinked.

Such a subtle thing. Too subtle for video, I'm sorry to say. (I tried!)

Horses are always so quiet when they communicate. Blink- blink- blink is horse for ouch- ouch- ouch.

So my saddle will be gathering dust for another week. Luckily, I've got nothing but time! :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Upside of Quitting

Do you guys like public radio and podcasts? I do. Maybe to an unhealthy degree.

Anyway, this is one of my favorites: Freakonomics: The Upside of Quitting (Part 2: Failure Is Your Friend)

At my office, we have this list of official department agreements (rules) that we came up with in a team-building exercise. They're posted in the conference room and we have all agreed to abide by them. Most of them have to do with communicating better and never assuming the worst about each other's intentions. But one of the rules is a little different from the others. This is the full text: The Past Is the Past.

As a group, we had gotten into a bad habit of blaming our problems on things that happened years ago, people who weren't in the department anymore, policies that were created before our mission changed, "the way we had always done it," etc, etc, etc. What it meant in practice was that every failure or conflict became this stupid contest to see who had known it was going to fail first:

Oh, you pointed out that the presentation would be a disaster a week before you made it? Well, I knew it was a mess all the way back when I wrote it.  -- Oh yeah? Well, I knew it was a bad idea as soon as [manager who is no longer on the team] proposed it last year. -- Wasn't she awful? No wonder people hated it. -- Yep, but she promised [bigwig] we'd show it at least once a month, so it's here to stay.

See what happened there? We all got to feel smug and self-righteous and none of us had to take responsibility or fix the problem. We were living in the past.

The rule has changed the game. We might still discuss the history of a problem, but only so we can give context to the solution. It does not matter how much time or money or resources we have put in to something. If it doesn't work, we stop doing it.

I know that seems obvious, but in the corporate world, this is a major breakthrough.

Cutting your losses can be a smart move; it's not always a sign of weakness.

This ant is lying to you.
And I have to tell you, people are a lot happier with the rule in place. It is gradually killing off all of the "but we've always done that!" activities that waste time and money. It leaves more room for creativity and problem-solving. It forces us to be objective about what's working and what isn't—and to justify our decisions with actual data.

In short, looking forward instead of back is super great for morale. And if that means quitting something when the whole world is just one big "Never Give Up" meme? Well, so be it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Let’s talk about Easyshoes, the government and the nature of addiction! (Klickitat ride report)

It all goes back to this injury
Although it healed, the hair never grew back. Blue has naked pink heels on his left front. As it happens, that is the same foot pictured here, looking like a remedial trimmer’s worst nightmare

It’s the same foot that has the worst thrush, the most mud fever, the thinnest sole, the wonkiest frog. It is The Weakest Link. Goodbye.
And, of course, because this foot is The Problem Child, it is obviously the only one that gets boot rubs, too. With no hair to protect that naked heel, raw spots are almost inevitable in wet, gritty conditions. (I call those conditions “The Northwest.”) It takes 20 or 30 miles for it to happen, but after that, “raw and bleeding” is not all that unusual for the left front.
The Easyshoe seemed like a solution. No messing with getting boots on and off. No gaiter to cause rubs. It combined all the convenience of steel with the traction and flexibility of the boots.
Well, all those things are probably true, but they still aren’t working for us.
Some of the blame certainly goes to my trimmer. The first time he came to apply the Easyshoe Performance, he forgot to bring the heat gun to dry the hooves before application. The front left came off within 48 hours. The others developed gaps at the toe and heel. Moisture is the mortal enemy of Vettec Adhere.
That first shoe came off the night before I was leaving for Mt. Adams. My trimmer wasn’t available to come fix the problem, so I booted that foot and took Blue to ridecamp, where Sue Summers was nice enough to pop off the other front shoe so Blue would at least be symmetrical.
Symmetrical failure.

We did Gloves on fronts and Performance on backs. After 45 miles, Blue’s front left heel was bleeding under the gaiter. I did my best with the vetwrap and Desitin I had on board, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the rubs. I REALLY wanted those shoes. (I eventually found the one he lost in the pasture, too, which I never expected to be able to do.)
When we got back from our Mt. Adams pull, the trimmer came to put new shoes on the fronts. He said the old ones could not be reused, so I just kept them for fun. This time he brought the heat gun and seemed to do everything right, except maybe not globbing the glue on quite as thickly as I would have in my own paranoia. The result was a very neat-looking pair of front feet, ready for action. He also didn’t charge me for the new set, so at least there’s that.
I showed him the gapping in the hind feet, but he said his son’s roping horse (who is also in the Performances) developed those gaps too, and kept the shoes on for seven weeks with no problem.
I came out the next day to find the fronts still tightly adhered. And one of those gappy hinds—the left—was missing. I indulged in a moment of frustrated rage-swearing, then calmly emailed my trimmer to let him know. He was going to be out of town for the entire week, so I had a choice to make. Either I could pop off the other hind and do boots on the back (where I most frequently lose them) or try to reuse the hind shoe even though the trimmer said they weren’t reuseable.
I was born obstinate, so, of course, I decided to reuse the shoe.
I’m guessing that the reason they say you can’t reuse them is that under normal conditions, where they actually stay on, you have to rasp them to get them off. Since mine were coming right off the hoof and taking the glue with them, I chose to just Dremel the old glue out of the inside, replace the little foam glue barrier with some craft foam I had, and start fresh. It is just a lucky coincidence that my model horse hobby means I own a heat gun, too. I even sent my husband to the farrier supply store in Beavercreek to get Adhere for me since it was too late to get it online before K-tat. 
The shoe, thoroughly cleaned but still lots of old glue.

Showing what's left of the glue barrier that was in there.

Templating a new glue barrier.

Template next to the old one on top of the sheet of craft foam I just happened to have.

Dremeling out the old glue.

Heat gun to thoroughly dry the shoe after cleaning and before applying the new glue barrier.

This was my first gluing experience. At first the Adhere would barely come out of the tube at all, and I needed both hands to force the plunger. Then it started flowing faster than I could aim it. I slapped the shoe on the foot as straight as I was able. And it was a good thing I got it pretty close, because the Adhere took basically two seconds to cure. I globbed extra glue under the flap and along the toe. I cared a lot more about that sucker staying on that I cared about how it would look. That bias showed in the final, lumpy result. There is more glue than hoof.
I must admit, I was feeling pretty smug as we headed off to Glenwood two days later. “My” shoe was still tight on the foot. No gaps. Rock solid.
Smug turned to angry disbelief when we got to camp and I found the shoe on The Problem Child, the left front, was no longer fully attached. The flap on the side was no longer stuck to the hoof, and everything from the heel on that side to the flap (basically 1/3 of the shoe surface) was the same. Again, I was faced with the catch-22. If I pulled the shoe all the way off (assuming that was even possible with the tools I had with me), I’d have to boot the one foot that gets boot rubs. If I tried to re-glue the part that was detached—sans heat gun—I would be risking the glue failing again.
It was hot and dry. It had been hot and dry at home too. Blue’s foot seemed dry. The weather report said it would stay dry in Glenwood for the whole weekend. Surely with all that dry, the shoe could stay on for another 24 hours. That’s all I was asking for. I decided to chance it and inject some more Adhere into the gaps.
The thing felt rock solid after that. I took Blue out for a warm-up ride without incident. We came back and vetted in without incident. I put him to bed without incident. And then, at some point in the night, I woke up to the sound of thunder. And then rain. Lots of rain. I could practically hear Blue’s feet soaking up the moisture.
And yet, in the morning, as I was tacking up, the shoe was still firmly attached.
Warming up in camp, Blue was feisty but not out of control. He felt very, very good, and I was wondering if I should have signed up for the 50 instead of the LD after all.
We started behind the racers. We moseyed. We stopped to help a green rider in distress. And then I let Blue go and we flew past a bunch of people in quick succession. 
Perhaps three-quarters of the way through the loop I heard it: flap, flap, flap, like my horse was wearing flip-flops. We stopped, and it was of course the part that I had glued the day before that had come undone. Unfortunately, that was the only part that was undone, and I could not get the rest off. I was carrying boots, but the shoe was still too firmly attached on one side for me to tear it off and use a boot. So, knowing we were getting close to the outcheck, I continued. I reasoned that someone there would have something I could use to pry it off. I looked down to check pretty often. I checked before and after the water crossing. I checked after each downhill. The shoe was still attached.
And yet, somewhere between me checking the shoe for the last time and arriving at the outcheck, he lost it. Truly, it couldn’t have been more than a mile at the absolute outside. We got into the check, I dismounted and saw right away that the hoof and the shoe had finally parted company, and I booted him right up. At most, a mile of barefoot. No more. I can’t over-emphasize the shortness of time and distance here.
He passed the vet with all A’s looking like a champ.
He was a little doggy leaving the vet check, but that might have been because we were in a bubble of solitude and going away from camp. He soon found a buddy going the same speed to keep him motivated, and we cruised through 10 miles without incident.
And then, not more than a mile or two from camp, on soft, level footing, Blue’s head began to bob. I pulled him up and checked all four feet. Three shoes still solidly attached with nothing inside. The booted foot looked fine, not even a rub on the heel. We walked most of the way back in. He was sound at the walk and intermittent at the jog.
And we were 8th place! Blue’s first top 10! His best finish ever. 25 miles in just over 3 hours of moving time. Absolutely unbelievable. All A’s down the card.
Except that he was absolutely three-legged dead lame—so lame that he trotted about two steps before Dr. Foss stopped us.
I had told Dr. Foss, of course, that he’d lost a shoe so was booted on one foot. I expected he might have some intermittent gait weirdness just from having different tread on one foot. And the head bobbing on the trail… well, I was really just hoping that it had resolved itself as we walked into camp. We had 30 minutes to try to make it passable, but there was really no way he was going to trot out sound without a nerve block.
My theory is that he bruised the Problem Child's thin sole during his brief shoeless period, and it just hadn’t started hurting yet when we came into the outcheck. An hour later, after continued use, it began to sting.
Regardless of the when or how of it, we went home with nothing. Blue and I are 0 for 2 on Klickitat, both times for lameness. 
When we got home I added a comfort pad to the boot, so he was in three shoes and padded boot until tonight. He spent 12 hours in a stall but was going bonkers in confinement so we let him out today. He's still lame, but much happier. 
Tonight I pried off the other front shoe again so he could be completely bare part of the time while he recuperates from what is probably  a nasty stone bruise. I just hope it doesn’t abscess. The sole is so thin on The Problem Child that I fear things could get ugly. 
Of course, the shoe I pulled off tonight was already half detached. Prying it off was still a battle on the side that was solid, but with a rasp, a hammer and a screwdriver, I managed it in a couple minutes. The hinds are both still on as of tonight, but they have big gaps where the glue isn't gripping anymore. I give them a week, tops. Well, maybe not the one I put on. There's more glue than hoof there. That one might be permanent.
I’m done with my Easyshoe experiment for the time being. Here is my scorecard:
Things that were good
Things that were less good
No boot rubs.
Too expensive to use year-round. (For your edification, it was $180 to get them put on. That is not a lot more than steel cost, but steel can be reset a couple times, and these really shouldn’t be.)
It’s much cheaper to do it yourself, but still not a “budget” hoof care option.
Assuming the glue sticks, they are less fussy than taking boots on and off.
The recommended glue is sensitive to moisture. This would be fine in Arizona. It was a problem in western Oregon. I could try other glues, but why bother at this point? Gloves were fine for us, except the rubs. I’m going to put more energy into rub prevention.
They are super durable. The ones that have stayed on show very little wear after a month of use and 70 miles of competition.
They wouldn’t stay on but they were hard to get off. If I had been able to pull off the half-glued shoe along the trail as soon as I noticed it, I might have completed the ride. Of course, I will be beating myself up about not pulling it in camp and taking my chances with a boot from the very beginning.

They trap dirt and rocks. The shoes have a very wide web that covers the wall, the white line and part of the sole. The Performances also have a triangle to provide frog pressure. There has been dirt, manure and gravel packed into them every time I pick his feet, even dry days.

They might trap microbes too. The shoes that have come off, and the feet they have come off of, smell absolutely disgusting.

 Shoes are still shoes. You can't get in with a rasp or a knife and make adjustments until they come off. In my case, since they came off in hours or days, this wasn't an issue. If you left them on six weeks, you'd be back to your old shoe cycle in no time.

Now that you know my current feelings on the Easyshoes, it is time to talk about the government. For the most part, I have tried to keep my personal life and politics out of the blog, because this is a blog about HORSES first and foremost. But I need to take this little detour into my personal life so that you, dear reader, understand the decision I have made.
You may have heard on the news that the senate gave bipartisan approval to extending unemployment payments an additional five months, retroactive to December 2013, when benefits abruptly ended for about 3 million of your fellow voters.
One of those voters is my husband. One of the people directly affected is me.
Well, the senate approved it and sent it on the house, where speaker Boehner, who is not my favorite person to begin with, is not going to let it pass.
Here’s what it means to me: My wonderful, hard-working, creative, responsible, mature husband has not had full-time work for almost a year. When he was still getting unemployment, we felt optimistic. Our income was stable. He was (and still is) applying for tons of jobs. We both waited for the offers to come rolling in. They didn’t come. The unemployment ran out. He has hustled to scrape together enough freelance and part-time work to keep us on our feet, but things have not been easy since that happened.
And here I have these luxury items. Not just Blue and his upkeep, but the truck and trailer. The shoes. The expense of going to rides, entering. The gas and food. The time off work. These are all luxuries that I have been taking for granted because I had a little cushion of money. The cushion is now exhausted... and I have very little to show for it.
If you add up what I have spent in my effort to complete these last two ultimately unsuccessful rides, it comes out to an amount that would buy us a nice vacation together. It’s almost enough to pay off one of my credit cards.  It's a couple of car payments or three months of HOA dues.
My bumper sticker says endurance riding is not a hobby, it’s an addiction. You’re addicted to something when you desperately seek out the reward it gives you in spite of what it does to the rest of your life.
See where I’m going with this?
Take away the reward, and suddenly the addict has sufficient perspective to see what the drug is costing. Two pulls in a row. No rewards since Grizzly. I'm at a crossroads. Keep chasing the dragon or go to rehab for awhile.
I'm choosing rehab. No more rides until August, at the soonest. Maybe September.
I realize this post is very long and kind of a bummer. And I want to make it absolutely clear, these two pulls have not been the only cause of this hiatus. There are so many other things going on in my life that are invisible to my horse friends. The financial pressures I mentioned are just one facet. The lameness and subsequent pulls are another. And there are more. There always are.
I know you guys through our shared interest in horses, but I also know there are things in your lives that you can’t share with me any more than I can share my issues with you. We all make our choices and live with them. Horses are just a slice of a much bigger pie.
In conclusion, right now, for the health of Blue’s feet and the sake of my marriage, I need to take a little step back. Hopefully it will only be season-limiting and not season-ending, but time will tell. Ask me in August.
In the meantime, I will regale you with more hoof updates, model horse ridiculousness and maybe the occasional glimpse into what I’m doing the rest of the time. Won’t that be a fun change of pace?
And so, I propose a toast: To healthier feet and a healthier relationship with money. May we all do what needs to get done this summer.