Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sympathy pains (AKA: A-lame again, naturally)

I think I would be very pleased with the new barn, had Blue not gone lame virtually the moment we arrived.

That’s not to say that the lameness is the barn’s fault. If anything, the new place is the most foot-friendly yet.

Earlier this summer I began having mild symptoms of plantar fasciitis. This is not terribly shocking given that I work at a standing desk, I’m overweight, and I tend to stand with my weight in my heels. What was shocking was the day the symptoms went from mild to major—the morning that I woke up, stepped out of bed, and nearly fell over because my right foot couldn’t support my weight. A few limping steps, a few minutes in the shower, and all was well again. That’s been my pattern since July.

I did a mountain of reading on the subject, which more or less confirmed my suspicion: Seeing a doctor probably wouldn’t help much. (I say that even as a hospital employee with access to hundreds of doctors and above-average faith in modern medicine.) What the reading did tell me was to get arch supports for all of my shoes and to stop standing so much until things had a chance to heal.

So I write this from a sitting position, my feet ensconced in orthopedic luxury.

Blue, meantime, can’t seem to catch a break. I took him out for one short ride around a nearby hay field, where he was a tense, high-headed idiot. At the time I attributed this to stress from switching barns, but not I think it might have been that… plus pain. 

The day after the hay field ride I thought I would work him in the arena a bit to calm him down, then do the same trail as the day before again, hopefully minus the idiocy. Instead, he was head-bobbing lame—even on soft bark-dust arena footing.

I took him out to the round pen (hurray, I have access to a round pen again!) to see what I could see. He wasn’t too bad going to the right, but to the left he was pretty lame. Not three-legged or anything, but definitely bobbing. You know what that means! 

Oh, you don’t? I don’t blame you. Neither do I. He’s lame on The Weakest Link again, and I couldn’t begin to tell you why. The only thing that looked even mildly suspicious was a laid-over (layed-over?) bar that appeared from nowhere. I swear to you, the overgrown bar wasn’t there on our civilian camping trip.

With the help of my handy-dandy hoof knives, I cut away the portion of bar that was covering the sole and exposed some black thrushy gunk.

Yes, thrushy gunk. In September. The ground doesn’t get any drier than this, folks. And yet, we continue to fight this battle. So I scraped away the black gunk. And kept scraping, and scraping… and scraping at the gunk. Once I made a divot a quarter-inch deep, I felt like I didn’t dare go any deeper. At least I had gotten *most* of the muck that had been hidden under that chunk of bar. What remained was a little black line at the bottom of the divot I just dug, pretty much right where the bar meets the sole.

I took him back outside and trotted him in the round pen to see if the pressure from the hunk of bar had been the problem.

Still lame.

I brought him back inside and put Gloves with comfort pads on him.

Repeated the trotting. Still lame.

One interesting thing. When I popped the gloves off and looked into the divot, it looked like maybe some gunk had extruded through the little black line. It couldn’t really have come from anywhere else, but a part of me is so tired of fighting this hoof battle that the thought of facing another abscess is almost unthinkable.

So last night after work I gave the foot a good soak to soften it, then went over the whole thing again with the knife and the rasp, removing any and all suspicious areas. Then I packed the divot with medicated gauze and left him booted. Hopefully that will encourage any additional phantom goop to find its way out and give my poor horse some relief.

So I’ve had plenty of time to think these last several days, as I stand there over a steaming bucket of hoof-soak. I hate to even bring this up. You guys know I love and adore this horse. He’s one in a million. …But I’m beginning to wonder if the problem is beyond what I can fix. Blue is a desert horse who comes from a long line of desert horses. 12 of his 14 years were lived in arid conditions. He was immunocompromised when I got him. What if he just can’t make a comfortable transition to swamp living? (or at least not on terms that I can afford?)

Am I being overly dramatic here? Probably. But it just feels SO UNFAIR that there are horses all over this valley who never have thrush or abscesses and who don’t get anything like the thoughtful nutrition and physical babying that Blue gets. There are people who literally never give hoof health a second thought because they don’t have to. And here I am soaking and sanitizing and padding like a crazy person.

As a boarder, I have such limited control. I can try and try to make it VERY CLEAR how I want my horse cared for, but I can't be there every minute to supervise. I don't think I ever mentioned it here, but I found out shortly after Klickitat that the barn I just left had been giving Blue molasses in his feed. And not in small amounts, either. On days when I rode him hard, they might give him a quarter-cup or more "to make up for all the energy he burned." Here I am slaving away to make baggies of a nutritionally balanced daily ration with virtually no starch and they are undoing that work without even asking. And I never would have known if I hadn't caught someone dumping the molasses into the bucket on an evening when I arrived early.

For all I know, this latest problem could be fallout from bad feeding four months ago. That's the thing with hooves. You rarely see the problem until weeks or months later, when it starts to grow out.

I’m holding out hope that I will see improvement tonight. If we're talking about an abscess, maybe a night in the boot will have blown out. If it was a bruise, maybe it will be visible.
We’re still far enough out that I am holding out hope for a miracle recovery in time for OR100. If not, I will go sans-horse and be full-time crew for Heather. Now we just wait and see.

On a happier note, here a a few pics of the new place.

He's in the second-to-last stall on the right.
Blue's stall from the outside. He has a stall-sized matted run on a mild slope.

Turnout on sand/gravel

And a small indoor arena


  1. Molasses: ack. When I boarded my horses, I was constantly battling a barn manager who "knew better" than me about horse nutrition and training. Fee's "monstrous" behavior improved drastically when I moved her to my place...and she gained weight, too. The boarding barn called her a hard keeper, but that is not my experience at all--I manage her much differently, and end up feeding a lot less to mail rain a good weight.

    Frustrating re: the feet things. I wouldn't hasten to toss out the baby with the water, but there are some desert-bred/raised horses who have foot problems in the Swamp. Blue might OR MIGHT NOT BE one of those. What does your vet say?

  2. Damn. Just when your own foot problems are better (I've dealt with that too. Don't blame your size or standing or heels. It can be so many things, I'm active and just got it from too much walking hiking with the incorrect support, getting older sucks, though it's beer than the alternative!)

    The adding of molasses, oh my! That would make me livid! I think the molasses could be a culprit, and I hope you figure it out soon. I know that I had to increase Major's copper, zinc and vitamin E (over the recommended amount, by using an extra trace mineral supplement) or he would also get thrush at random times. I know hooves are frustrating things. I'll be sending you good hoof thoughts...