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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Friday, 26 December 2008

George takes a lorry in his stride

A while back I wrote about George's trailer training. For various complicated reasons I found myself faced with loading him into a lorry at 5am on Christmas Eve. I never believed we'd do it. I'd even pre-briefed the vet about coming to sedate him if necessary. Having assisted with a previous loading the vet didn't reckon we could do it either. But there he is, the big lad on the left in the CCTV picture.

For the trailer training, in the intial stages we had used a natural, no drugs, no drama, sedation technique. My first step for this natural sedation was to put a roller on him - comfy fit, not tight. This I think became a 'cue' because it now makes him calm even without the rest of the technique being invoked (long may this last).

Loading Madam, his best friend, into the lorry first was a huge mistake - she loaded beautifully, but in her excitement she made the lorry shake so much it wasn't safe to load anything else, let alone George.

So we unload Madam, I put George's roller on, and he walks straight in. I've never seen anything like it - not with a horse that has such a history of loading problems. I hope the 'cue' doesn't wear off while he is away. George is currently at Rockley Farm for some specialist foot rehabiliation.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Trailer training

Well after yesterday's dramatic breakthrough with George we thought we'd better follow it up today. Bless him, he walked onto the trailer like an old pro. Still shook a bit when he was actually in it, but he did stand still and when asked unloaded quietly. Rinse and repeat x3 lets hope we can do it again tomorrow!

We walked The Grey through, just to keep her tuned up. As she doesn't do a huge amount of work her regular trailering is limited. So we load her every now and again just to remind everyone of the drill. We didn't bother with Madam - she goes in a trailer regularly and is very chilled about the whole thing.

Many thanks to LOC Trailer Hire which supplied the trailer at very reasonable rates.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Georgeous George takes a dramatic step

It can be somewhat frustrating trying to train horses (in this case to load) with less than perfect facilities. But Gorgeous George has proved that even with limitations it is possible to train a nervous (terrified?) traveller to load. It took several weeks of on/off work. Off when the weather was bad, the ground too muddy, no helpers or just the 9-5 grind getting in the way.

Today George took a deep breath, and with much shaking and trepidation entered the horse eating trailer. There was the minimum of fuss, no fancy headcollars, bridles, bits, parelli carrot sticks, lunge lines, ropes or other devices. We did take measures to stop him leaping off the sides of the ramp (brave helpers) and we did use a natural sedation technique to take the sting out of his fear.

The first time he stood in the trailer today he shook so hard he made the trailer wobble. But he stood, no stomping or thrashing around. The second and third times he shook a little less. The fourth time he dared take a bit of hay (but was too nervous to chew it). By the tenth time he was standing quietly munching.

Many many thanks to my magnificent OH, Madam's owner and Endospinks Half Tap. Not entirely convinced Madam's shrieking from the other part of the field really helped though....

Monday, 15 December 2008


The Grey has a built in 'sugometer'. The first picture is a reasonably normal off fore, the second is a picture of the inside of her off fore after too much grass after several days of frost. You can see it is completely filled in, there is no definition at all at the top.

This used to be written off as a minor sprain which I accepted for years. The mare has bench knees and it is not unreasonable to intuit that with her intense joie de vivre she had a habit of inflicting minor injuries on herself. After all she acquired enough major ones.

But slow that I am, I eventually twigged that this swelling would pop up in the most unlikely situations. And in almost every circumstance. Whether stabled, in the field, at the vets, she could get this 'fat leg'. The only time she didn't seem to get it was after a hack. Eventually the penny dropped - but even then it was pure chance that I noticed.

Anyway to cut a long story short, the reason she gets 'fat leg' is sugar (or simple starches). It is easy and quick to induce. Take one grey arab with nice tight, well defined legs. Feed her a starch based feed, or one with even a small hint of molasses, or give her a sugary treat or sugary grass and pow, within a couple of hours you get this (see picture).

To get rid of it is almost as quick, depending on how much sugar/simple starch she has eaten. Remove the source of the sugar and take her out for a walk. The longer the walk the better. I haven't done that yet this morning, because it is dark and we all have our limits. But come lunchtime I will check the leg again. If it is still fat I will stable her and 'Madam' until early evening. If I have time I will also take her for a walk.

I have never come across another horse that has such a handy way of monitoring the sugar washing round its system and I value how much this one has taught me. It really does show that even in the worst of winter conditions, freezing temperatures, high winds and rain, there can still be sugar in grass.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Living out 24/7

The Grey lived out 24/7 until she was 19 months old. From then until September this year she has been at least partly stabled and at times, when injured, fully stabled. It is not particularly common for riding horses to be out 24/7 these days and especially so in the area where we are.
So naturally when starting this Paddock Paradise experiment I was concerned about how she would cope. Would she be miserable, get thin or ragged looking?
This picture shows her this morning. We have had several days of below freezing temperatures, and they were preceded by 10 days of horrendous rain. As an added concern she is at the bottom of the heap, social dominance wise, so always gets the rough end of the stick when it comes to hay, grass or shelter.
She is rather unfit, and as always a bit muddy, but I don't think she is fading away just yet. I keep taking photos so I can mull over them and compare/contrast them with pictures from previous days/weeks and even years.
I am particularly relieved to find that she is actually looking better than she ever did at this time of year when she was at full livery.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

What is it about 'men' and caves?

We have had several nights of -3C (27f) and tonight it is forecast to be
-4C (25f). This picture shows George tucked under an enormous conifer. The branches reach to the ground so it makes a little cave. I think this confirms his status as the big cheese in the herd. Madam has to make do with tucking herself in the 'cave' mouth and The Grey is the gooseberry on the outside. But don't worry none of them are really feeling the cold. Ears and armpits are still toasty warm - so long as I keep parceling out more grass and hay.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Heart break but more miracles

We rehabbed and rehomed this mare earlier this year. Super person took her on and everyone was thrilled, not least the mare. Now tragedy and financial difficulties have struck and she has had to be rehomed again. I'm devastated, as is her owner.
Fortunately I know where she has gone and I understand that it will be a home for life. And it is just up the road from my Mum, who as an ex secondary school teacher is a small, perfectly formed, tornado on legs. So this little girl has at least three people keeping tabs on her.
You will notice the huge clipped area on the underside of her neck. Victim of a freak accident, a needle broke off in her leg when she was being injected. We had to whizz her up to Cambridge in the middle of the night for emergency keyhole surgery. The patch was clipped for the intravenous drip and the various monitors she had pre, during and post surgery.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Sometimes miracles do happen

The Grey has had more injuries in her 15 years than many horse owners experience in a lifetime of horse ownership. None of them have been acquired in competition, or when doing anything particularly out of the ordinary.

Twice a year (at least) we haul her to the vets for a general 'which bits hurt today' assessment. We took her for a check up today.
There is good news and bad news as always. Good news, she is doing well soundness wise, within her own context. The bad news is that her sarcoids are getting out of hand.
Her digital cushions in front are not good, and this contributes to not good frogs. I think the problems started with some of her front leg injuries and we are now in a vicious circle. So next week she is off to Rockley Farm for some digital cushion therapy (pea shingle). If you are interested in the role of the digital cushion and frog and want to get to grips with barefoot thinking about these try Pete Ramey's site. This link takes you directly to a great article.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Foot trim before and after photos - Madam

The first photo is Madam's left fore in April 2008. The second photo is December 2008. In the interim period she had 3 months of box rest for a sacro illiac injury.

Her foot used to be permanently bruised in one place or another, even without any work. Now she does lots of work on a variety of surfaces including the road and on gravel and as you can see there is not a bruise in sight.

What is harder to see is how the sole has thickened as the toe has shortened. You may be able to see how the bulbs of her heel have plumped out as her digital cushion has gained strength and form from regular appropriate exercise.

The back of the foot and the frog still have some way to go. They are still showing the effects of being under additional strain when she had an abcess in the other fore.

These are April and December pictures of Madam's left hind. The sole, frog and wall used to be completely flush, with a glass like surface - and of course the apparently obligatory bruising. Now she is gaining concavity, a bit of toe callous and much better traction.

Consistent, fair, reasonable boundaries

Ok, maybe slightly off topic, but the planets have all aligned again.... it's just that there have been several programmes on the TV lately about child rearing and dog training that seem to have a passing resemblance to horse management too.

We had the farrier today - the old one that we like so much. He trimmed all three of the posse. George, being George gave him a bit of a hard time. George has a tendancy to do this, its almost a reflex reaction he has in any situation he is not certain of.

The farrier was excellent, he gave George the chance to sort himself out and get comfy. When he continued to act up, the farrier firmly, but kindly set the boundaries. It didn't take long before George got the message. No shouting, no rough handling, no hysterics, but no namby pamby fluffliness either.

Now I know the drill, train your horse before the farrier visits. Well that's the thing. I/we do, but horses, same as kids and dogs react to the person and situation too. George will happily stand quietly while I fuss over his feet for an age, including when I dig into his painful frogs. But he knows me, he knows the set up and he feels safe. Other people fussing with his feet are something else entirely.

But back to the kids and dogs. Having cleaned and disinfected three sets of feet, and packed two sets of front frogs, my back needs a bit of a rest. So I have lunch on the sofa, warm up a bit and watch 'Supernanny'. Many of the principles are the same as for good horsemanship. Ok I'd never recommend a 'naughty corner' for a horse. But the principles of rewarding good behaviour, putting the horse/child in a position to do the correct thing and not escalating inappropriate behaviour are the same. These principles are also echoed in 'Dog Borstal', which happens to be our dog Sophie's favourite programme.

I'll post pictures of the trimmed feet in my next update.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Jack Frost

We had a severe frost last night. Caught me unawares and I didn't leave enough hay out for the posse. So when I turned up this morning I was met with an eager line of four legged, hungry 'penguins'. They were slightly less warm than usual, but after 15 minutes or so of stuffing hay they were back to their usual mobile boiler status.

We have the big bale hay. Each flake weighs about 24 pounds. I left them two flakes this morning, about 16 pounds each and there was still some left when I pitched up this afternoon. I have left them another two flakes for overnight. Plus I have sectioned out a bit more grass which, even though it was still frosted, they found more interesting than the hay.

During the day they have drunk about 5 gallons of water each. Currently I have to cart it about 120ft from the water trough, so I take a keen interest in how much they drink - every gallon burns off a few more calories and builds my biceps.

I would normally scatter the hay around the circuit to encourage more movement, but as the ground is so wet I am leaving it in piles to reduce poaching. So the posse stand and stuff instead of mooching. It takes about 45 minutes for them to reach capacity and then they stand around dozing, looking slightly sick, until they have digested enough to make room for more.

I was meant to exercise them all this afternoon and it was a brilliant, bright winter day, so it would have been ideal. But MOH has helped out a lot in the past week so as a treat we went out for the afternoon to see a castle (his favourite thing) instead.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Perpetual motion

With the all the restrictions that go with rented grazing and our fierce planning laws and fiercer neighbours, creating a Paddock Paradise is something akin to chasing fools gold. But we continue to experiment with what can be done rather than fret too hard about what can't.

The drainage (if there ever was any) on the land has failed, big time. Now every time it rains a a continuous sheet of water blankets about a third of the field. Naturally this portion includes our hay storage area, the stable, the field shelter and the thick hedge. The average monthly rainfall is 2.75 inches, but the last three months have average over 4. So with the lack of sun, falling temperatures and dodgy drains, the water that falls is taking much longer to clear.

So we/the horses have a dilemma, either the 'bodies' have shelter, but the feet dissolve in the liquid mud, or we can have dry feet, but the 'bodies' have to withstand torrential rain/howling gale.

So far we have managed to keep the actual stable floor dry, but to get to it involves a long trek through quite treacherous conditions (for me anyway). The field shelter, newly roofed by the magnificent MOH, seems to have developed a spring in the middle. So we are rather short of suitable dry standing, especially as the two QH have big personal space requirements.

In the short term the posse are being decamped to Rockley Farm. Both for some intensive foot tending and to give us some breathing space in which to decide how to deal with our watery dilemma.

Our landlord is very tolerant and quite obliging, but I don't think there is a lot of scope for serious field renovation. Partly because of the expense, partly because of the short term mess, but mostly because of fear of hassle from the neighbours.

The 'circuit' we have is mobile. That is we can move both the inner and the outer perimeter fencing. Next year I shall make better use of this flexibility to avoid grazing the horses on the wetter areas in the winter. Provision of shelter will be more challenging as the stable and field shelter positions are not negotiable. Ideally I would like to drain these areas and lay pea shingle. It all depends on how far the landlord will bend and of course finances.

But for today I have moved one of the perimeter fences to cut off the worst of the mud. Unfortunately it has also cut off the best hedge, but I am hoping that the weather will stay dry and the wind will stay away at at least for a couple of days.

I did dig a trench in front of the field shelter, which helped stop water flooding in, but it didn't cure the spring and it did break my very expensive spade.

But tomorrow is another day. I will go and buy another, cheaper spade (maybe it will last longer) and try and put in some interim drainage ditches. I need to dry out the access to the sheltered areas to give the posse somewhere to go when the weather gets rough.

The field guard mats have long ago given up the struggle. I wish I had spent the money on pea shingle instead, it would have been a better investment.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Hands together for the support team!

MOH quite rightly has demanded a post of his own. And oh boy does he deserve it. Much of the work we do with the horses wouldn't be possible without his almost* freely given support.

I thought I was pushing the limits when I asked him to fix the roof of the field shelter, but even though it was tipping down he soldiered on for two days until it was done. And he dug a ditch to keep runoff from flooding the stable.

On days when work means I can't make a feed time he is happy to stand in. He has even been known to poo pick (although I did get way too much feedback on that one.)

He has learnt how to lead a horse safely down a road and is brilliant at the quiet, gentle handling they all need and benefit so much from. To the extent that our vet rates him as good for a horseman, let alone a horse novice.

And lately he has been helping with George's trailer training. MOH's patience is the stuff of legend. OK I admit, he is helped along with copious fags, but George seems almost as addicted to nicotine as MOH. So the death sticks help twice over in this circumstance.

MOH has also adopted '4 wheel drive' and heaved the trailer about bodily when it has been blocked in both ends by inconsiderate parking. (Urbanites, don't you just love them....)

So let's here it for the support team - most of us have them and we all need them. God bless them all!

*Payment terms do not form part of the public record and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. However a bacon buttie and strong coffee are included in the package.

To rug or not to rug that is the question

As a kid I never played with soft toys. Dressing up, dolls houses, all that stuff just left me cold. Instead I'd spend hours creating 'paddocks' with hearth rugs and buckets from toothpaste lids for my herd of tuppennybit plastic steeds.

Same thing for the real horses. I am not really into playing 'dress up' with them. But until recently I've always rugged. In fact two of my girls were regularly 'double' rugged because they always seemed to be cold. I don't have as many rugs as some people, but I have my fair share.

But 1st September this year I embraced the barefoot movement even more whole heartedly than before by renting some private grazing. The sole purpose being to attempt a circuit or poor man's Paddock Paradise for the benefit of the horses. I did a fair amount of research and a fair few people were advocating leaving rugs off too.

I admit I was a bit wary, if not completely horrified. In the past I have been one of those people that tut at 'naked' horses out in the rain and cold. To be honest I could still be persuaded to tut - because as well as being an ardent barefooter I am also a hypocrite!

My girls and boy are 'naked'! And have been all winter. I do however continue to reserve the right to fold under pressure and put rugs on them if I think they are required, or if I get too nervous of my very posh neighbours. Who can all tut much more loudly and effectively than me.

But I have learnt a lot - (please note all these 'learnings' apply to fully furred, perfectly healthy and not unduly old, unclipped horses).
  1. Horses do not dissolve in the rain - they don't even go a bit soft round the edges
  2. Horses are smart enough to seek suitable shelter if they want/need it (we just need to make it available)
  3. Horses that move stay warmer than those trapped in a small area like a stable
  4. Horses with a continuous supply of suitable long forage (hay, haylage or grass) tend to stay warm even in quite miserable conditions (so long as they can continue to move)
  5. Thick hedge + good supply of suitable long forage + movement = warm horse
  6. Add a rug to this equation and you can end up with a cold horse (or one that is too hot)
  7. Rugs really do destroy the horse's ability to maintain a suitable body temperature
  8. It can take a previously rugged horse a while to adjust to being unrugged, but it can literally be just a few days
  9. A cold, rugged horse can be toasty warm in less than 15 minutes (even in frost) if you take his rug off, turn him out and give him a big pile of nice hay (thank you George)

I have clipped my horses out for winter in the past. My reasoning being they were working hard, would get sweaty and then get chilled. I have changed my mind.

All of our lot regularly get very sweaty - because they charge up and down the hill enmasse, or (George) chase cyclists along the fence line (cows in the summer), chase the errant dogs that enter the property unbidden (Madam) or just scoot about because they can (The Grey). And so far they have been just fine. Even when soaked they don't take long to dry themselves off, although they do tend to stink of old carpet or wet dog at times.

So I think I will live with the wet carpet pong rather than subject them to the inexpert science of clipping and rugging or even just rugging. At least until I change my mind again.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

George grows wings........

Sorry no pictures today. George went to the vets to have his dodgy feet x-rayed. He has had trailer trauma in the past and at some stage rather rough handling, so is not keen on the wheels. We have been practising for a while, letting him get familiar with the trailer, leading his girl friends through etc.

Until Monday the training was not moving along terribly quickly. We found he would rather starve than step into the trailer for food/water/hay. We also found that his passion for his girlfriends doesn't extend to following their cute little behinds through the trailer.

Then out of the blue on Monday he takes a deep breath and steps in - and at the exact same moment a lorry goes past and lets off its air brakes, not once but about a dozen times. So of course he backs out in a blind panic and all his fears about trailers eating horses are confirmed.

So as the visit to the vet couldn't be delayed any longer we decided to have him sedated. We had tried Sedalin, but it doesn't have any impact on him. The vet found that he had to max out the dose on the injectable stuff too.

Anyway, drugged to the eyeballs and one hoof at a time we got him loaded. Previous training had shown that no partition was best for George, so he travelled cross tied.

We repeated the process for the trip home and I drove very slowly. So slowly that the mug which I hadn't realised was on the running board of the trailer stayed there without falling off for the whole 45 minute journey. I'll take it back to the vets the next time we visit.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


George has become a project. He was supposed to be a companion to the two mares and an alternative riding horse for myself and family. But a sore back and terrible feet have put any riding plans on hold.

His feet are really long, they have grown as 'cylinders' rather than 'turkish slippers'. His heels are underslung and have curled in, crushing the frogs, which have all but disappeared in the heel area. What is left of his frogs is skinny, full of holes, ragged and a bit squishy. They are too sensitive to pick out properly, so we flush them with dilute hibiscrub.
The horn quality is surprisingly good and although on arrival he was so toe first he looked like a ballerina on pointe, he has always been able to move over any surface.
Lame more or less alround and moving like a plank he has a long way to go. It can take 9-12 months to grow a new foot. 24/7 turnout on the circuit has helped. His movement is now more fluid and he can take canter on both leads. His frogs have improved enough to allow me to pick them out if I am careful. He is getting marginally less toe first landing.
In the interim we are working on helping to get over his fear of loading in a trailer and teaching him some more verbal cues.

The Grey - Princess Pickles

So named because she is outwardly glamorous, but as a youngster was famous for getting herself into trouble.

PP is sugar sensitive, but we keep her on a no sugar diet. Her feet have been barefoot for years and she has always done well. In the past some experts have suggested that she would go better in shoes, but this has proven not to be the case.

PP's feet are a reflection of the 'Exercise' and 'Environment' elements of DEET. Because of her lifetime of injuries (see bottom of post) she has not used the back of her feet for years. This has caused her heels to contract and her frogs to become skinny with a very deep central sulcus. Despite lots of traditional exercise we have not been able to improve this.

We are hoping that by improving her environment we can stimulate the back of the foot to encourage decontraction of the heel and stimulation of the frog. PP has been on a circuit system for turnout since 1st September 2008. This has helped a little. Her feet have hardened and are growing faster than ever. But the heels have stayed contracted. So now we have put large chopped bark in the field shelter in the hope that this will provide more stimulation.

PP will be 16 in May 2009. Despite her multiple, serious injuries, she is still with us and in her own way is still sound. I say in her own way because she moves like a hyper active spider on speed and is not brilliant at circles in front, but is ok in a straight line. The physio says this is not because she is lame as such but because she has learned compensatory behaviours for all her old injuries. Her suspensory injuries are also on the inside branches so they are under greater strain on a circle.

Each leg has had at least one major trauma, the fronts have had several. Her hips suffered when she had an altercation with a car. She damaged her neck when she landed on her head (brake failure when in the field). She has a broken tooth thanks to an unpleasant vet and once completely skinned the underside of her tail.

Despite many long and painful treatments she has remained a doddle to handle and a real joy to ride. She is a beta horse, prone to being bullied by the other horses she nevertheless manages to stay cheerful.

PP has one major vice - sweets or edible treats of any kind. Even one will turn her into a brat, in the same way one drop of water turned Gizmo from a fluffy adorable creature into a toothy scaled monster.

The more serious injuries include:

  1. Tearing of all major muscles for left fore limb including upper arm, chest and shoulder (brake malfunction in field) this limb is now slightly shorter than it should be
  2. Cut through to both hock capsules and badly skinned tail - backing through a post and rail fence to get at a 3 month old colt. Hocks now a bit clicky at times
  3. Damaged neck when landed on head (brake malfunction again)
  4. 3 serious sets of suspensory ligament damage to both fore legs (one leg lost 50%)
  5. Damaged pelvis during some sort of incident with car (not sure what happened as I was knocked out briefly and they drove off)
  6. Damaged left hind leg (and back) when hung upside down by polo fencing (didn't quite clear the top strand and being elastic it snared her foot)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Sweet dreams

Getting fit is hard work. The horses like to remind me that an important part of any fitness regime is getting enough rest.

Synchronised swimming is one thing, but I watched the girls for several minutes and they seemed to have been sharing their dreams, when one twitched so did the other. I never realised that horses run in their sleep. The grey, in sleep as in the waking world, is the most active.

George likes to sleep too, so long as his girls are around to watch over him. He tends to prefer post lunch naps.

Monday, 10 November 2008

No foot no horse no George

George is an ocean going liner. Or maybe a caterpillar driven tank, or an articulated lorry that has lost its kink. Whatever, he is great at going in a straight line. Takes his time to come to a stop and is reasonably rubbish at turns, especially considering he is supposed to be a cow horse.

Unfortunately we are in a bit of a spiral and I don't think it is going the right way. His feet are terrible, which makes his back, shoulders, loin and butt sore. So he finds it hard to hold himself together, which makes it hard to do any work with him. But we need to do the work with him to make him easier to handle so we can do more work with him to help him mend.

So we have decided if we can to take him to Rockley Farm, which is a specialist rehab centre. They will be in a better position to give him an environment which will help his feet. When his feet are better then we can work on the rest.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Confused and bemused

Our normal barefoot trimmer is great. We love him to bits and he has been doing our horses for years. But sometimes it is good to get a second opinion, especially as it is so easy to get wrapped up in the way you have always done things and then you stand to miss new and possibly better ways.

So we had a specialist barefoot trimmer out, recommended by a vet and a member of a professional barefoot association.

We were promised before and after photos of the trimming which I would have loved to share. But unfortunately these never arrived. Neither did a few other promises but never mind.

It was an experience. No one was hurt and the horses quite liked the person. But I don't think I will be inviting them back. My priority is always the horses welfare and part of that is having suppliers that are not only good at their job, but can also be relied upon. I run my own business and this experience has taught me very plainly that it doesn't matter how good you are at your speciality, it is still important to get the hygiene factors right.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Barefoot trimming

Madam arrived in April. We knew in advance we would have to do quite a bit of work on her feet. This is how they were then. The first picture shows her left fore. You can see the holes from her last set of shoes. Harder to see, but you might be able to make them out are the bruises on the hoof wall - from the laminae being torn as she moves. You can also see the underslung heel.

The next picture shows the underside of a front foot. This shows the underslung heel more clearly. There is a flare to the left - hence the torn laminae and as you can see the foot is really flat. There may be some bruising around the apex of the frog. A vet saw her in regard to a later abscess and declared that as her feet were so flat she would have to wear shoes.
The final picture shows the underside of a hind foot. The hinds were particularly long - not yet turkish slippers, but on their way. You may be able to see the sole is completely flat and it was actually 'polished' to the texture of glass - which was to prove a slippery prob
lem later. The frog is completely flush with the sole.

See tomorrow's post for pictures of how Madam's feet look now.

Sunday, 2 November 2008


Little bit of this, little bit of that. Isn't that how many horse owners feed? I know I used to, still do, but not quite so much.

We are moving onto a 'self-service' system. The horses will have access to a variety of block supplements which they can help themselves to as they wish.

Some people favour feeding the same type of 'freeserve' supplements, but in a loose form in some type of lidded feeder with holes. I have decided against any type of bucket or feeder. The two QH, George in particular can be rather klutzy and I have visions of finding them wearing the bucket or worse.

Madam loves licking things, water troughs, gates, trees, you name it, if it stands still it will get the once over. Here she is trying out the Himalayan salt lick. The frisbee originally made a roof to keep it dry, but as you can see, that worked for all of five minutes. Now it helps stop the salt leaching into the wooden post. Probably just as well because Madam eats enough wood as it is.

Oh and in the background you can see George sneaking under the electric fence.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Time heals?

Had a long chat about George with our physio Jackie Grant. He has chronic muscle soreness and I really needed her view.

Without a detailed examination the general consensus of vet, farrier and physio is that his back/hip pain is very possibly linked to his poor foot form.

But until his feet are sorted out we won't know for sure - unless I guess we go for the whole nerve block routine, but we'd have to do that for four legs... as there is only one leg he isn't lame on and that's not much use for walking on.
He has had one corrective trim so far and with 24/7 mooching on the circuit over the past 3 weeks this does seem to have led to some improvement. However it is obviously going to be a long process, possibly as long as a year.

Logic and my purse dictates that I should return him to his owners to sort out. But my heart says otherwise - what would you do?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Softly softly catch me a Madam

Our rented land has lots of barbed wire. To stop the horses running into it we have taped it off with an inner fence of electric tape. But as the field is quite big, not all of it is electrified. It is also set a bit high...
Today Madam found the section without the zap. Then she persuaded George to lift the tape and she wiggled under.
Fortunately we managed to extract her without anyone coming to any harm. Thank you again Princess for being calm, well behaved and fabulous 'bait'.
Obviously we are going to have to put another strand of tape up and electrify it. I should have bought shares in a fencing company. Or given the current state of the stock market maybe not...

Monday, 27 October 2008

Remember the hay diet?

It just makes my girls fat. All the hay grown locally is from pasture originally intended for dairy cows. So the grass types are high in sugar and the hay tends to be cut when the sugar levels are peaking.

So I am going to have to start soaking the hay in order to leach out some of the sugar. It is messy and inconvenient, but if it staves off laminitis it is worth it.

The foot treatment seems to be going well, although it is too early to say if it is working. Princess is flinching less when I wash out her frogs. This is either because her feet feel better, or because she is getting used to it. If only they could talk.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Madam - 3 miles and counting

We managed to find a three mile bridleway circuit of mostly fields. We wanted a soft surface because Madam is transitioning to barefoot and her boots are on order.

Before launching this adventure we checked the route. I always used to do this using ordance survey maps, but they don't show if your bridleway has been concreted over or worse. So now I find the bridleways using the paper maps and then use Mapmyrun to scout the surfaces and parking.

Madam is on the slow road of recovery following a nasty sacro illiac ligament injury. The circuit is helping a lot in maintaining a base level of fitness, but we need to get and then keep her very fit in order to help prevent the injury recurring.

We are building up her mileage slowly and mixing in long slow rides with shorter faster rides that include interval training.

Sunday was a big pschological milestone for Madam's owner because they got to canter in an open field. Madam offered and when accepted was perfect, steady, calm, willing and stopped as soon as she was asked.

It was only 3.1 miles and Madam was a bit tired afterwards, but so far she is improving each week.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Madam takes the high jump

We have decided to part-stable the horses until we have managed to clear the thrush. As Madam is getting too much sugar from the grass we will keep them in during the day and turn them out overnight.

Madam has other ideas though and clears her stable door in one easy bound. We always knew she was a good jumper but this was quite exceptional as the height, angle and lack of any run up make it a tricky leap. We put her in a stable with a higher door and this keeps her in.

Neither of the girls is happy about being confined and they make their feelings quite plain. Madam kicks the walls regularly and Princess does her very best Ginger Rogers impersonation.

It is a pity to have to keep them in at all, because thrush aside both have benefited and really enjoyed being out 24/7.

We start thinking about getting some field mats.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Thrush treatment and preventation

We are battling thrush and to help with this the horses feet need to be kept drier. Not easy when they are out 24/7. But I wonder if they read my mind or if they are instinctively helping themselves? After breakfast they all took a turn hanging out in the field shelter which has a dry floor.

Ideally I'd like to create an area of pea gravel or at worst road scalpings where I could keep them for a couple of hours at least every day. I will have to negotiate with the landlord and see what can be done.

In the meantime we may have to keep the horses in the field shelter/stable overnight which is not ideal as it goes against the principal of allowing them free movement 24/7.

Each horse is having its feet picked and treated twice daily. The US preferred treatment of Lysol is not available in the UK. We are starting out with a salt water wash and packing the feet with cotton wool mashed in heel to hoof. If this doesn't provide quick relief we will try something else.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Herd dynamics

George and Madam were snugged so close this morning it is hard to believe they spend so much time bickering. Princess was on the far fringe - the gooseberry in this receipe.

They seem to have sorted themselves out. No whizzing round as I caught them for their breakfasts. Just patient waiting for their turn. When they had all eaten and I turned them loose George led the way to the hay store, with Madam on his heels and Princess riding rear guard.

They learn so fast. I gave them hay after breakfast yesterday - they obviously approve of this. So with it being so frosty I had to comply and give them hay today too.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Multi-tasking or skivving?

Ok, this is not strictly about barefoot horse management. But I run my own business and tend to work slightly strange hours. So I often find myself replying to emails, writing this blog or doing my accounts whilst the TV chatters in the background.

Tonight it is 'Dog Borstal' which reminds me how lucky we are with our rescue dog Sophie, who was found roming the streets of Brighton as a puppy.

With two Quarter Horses, one of whom is very 'cowy' she often finds herself being rounded up, prodded and generally given a hard time. Despite being terrified not once has she tried to retaliate.
Now if only I could teach George and Madam the same kind of manners...

Barefoot is not an easy option

I had a horrible shock this evening. Princess has thrush and it has gone from an ongoing 'mild' problem to an aggressive foot eater apparently overnight.

The good/bad thing with barefoot horse management is that as an owner you are obliged to take a more active role in and responsibility for the health of your horses' feet.

So naturally I feel terrible! But before I beat myself up too badly I have to remember that Thrush infection is actually much more complicated than most advice columns would have you believe.

Tomorrow is a new day and we will start it with Aggressive Thrush Therapy! I will let you know how we get on.

Old married couple

George and Madam can sometimes bicker during the day. In fact the 'double barrel' matches they have can be quite alarming. But so far none of the horses has acquired even a tooth mark let alone a kick while they have been on the circuit. Long may this last.

Despite their battle for leadership, Madam and George always seem to make up before lights out. In the mornings I often find them snugged up together - they just need pyjamas and a hairnet to complete the picture of an old married couple.

Its been raining heavily in the last 24 hours and I've put out some hay - the grass seems to be less desirable when its sodden. To keep the horses moving I spread the hay out in 'handfuls' around at least half of the circuit so the horses have to continue to travel to get it.

Despite the cold and wet they were all very warm and cosy this morning.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Rosehips, training and trust

Today was the first day of Madam's career as an Endurance horse. Just seven weeks ago she emerged from three months of box rest, fragile, frustrated and fat.

Today she slogged from Ditchling Beacon to Black Cap on the South Downs. Although only 3 miles on the map it was a tough ride for her, what with the unfamilar sights and sounds, the lazy wind and tricky surfaces.

At the end, before we trailered her home, we fed her handfuls of the plentiful rosehips to be found locally. My first Endurance horse taught me what a good restorative rose petals and hips are by gorging on them whenever she was tired.

To the best of our knowledge Madam has never been in this type of environment before and it is testimony to the trust that her owner has built up with her that this little horse was able to take it all in her stride.

Friday, 17 October 2008

No foot no horse

Our long standing barefoot convert/farrier came today. He is quite a controversial figure because he 'says it as he sees it'. It's a quality I admire because if more people spoke up there would be less animal cruelty, genocide and so forth. I can't help but feel that acquiescence or 'keeping the peace' is tantamount to tacit approval. But a few horsey professionals dislike him, maybe they are not confident of their ability or know he is right but don't like to be told? Me? I like someone who does their research, who is open to new ideas and who is willing to challenge and be challenged.

It is not necessary to always agree with someone's point of view, but if we can agree to debate, even if sometimes it is uncomfortable, then we all stand to learn something.

But off my soap box - how are the horses' feet?

Well if you read my earlier post you are probably expecting the following news:-

George's front feet are terrible! His heels are long, underrun, contracted and have folded over onto his sole. His frogs are a decaying mess and have a thrush infection. From what I have read these conditions appear to be linked - but the debate rages about which is causal and which is symptomatic.

I can not get a definite time line for rehabilitation - 'quicker than you think' was the best I was offered. But he didn't know how long I was thinking........... (6-9 months if you are interested)

Madam probably has the best feet of the group now. At the beginning of April she had very long toes, completely flat feet, underslung heels and some bruising.

At the beginning of June we were told by a vet who was X-raying her feet that they would never be suitable for barefoot because they were so flat. (This vet hates our farrier by the way.)

Today Madam has good concavity and is sound on road and pavements. She still has some flare to grow out and needs to develop a more substantial toe callous, but she is well on the way to becoming a 'textbook' barefoot.

Princess has struggled with her heels ever since busting her front suspensory ligaments (50% loss). I am concerned though because we seem to be going backwards and her moderate thrush is getting worse. But why should I worry - the 'groin strain' vet pronounced her to have 'textbook' classic barefeet..... He didn't know his practice partner had declared her as unsuitable for barefoot just a few months ago.

Anyway I know what the symptoms are - poor heels and thrush - the fixing them is causing some concern though.

Monday, 13 October 2008

One good leg, three more to go

We have had George just one week. I decided to get my own vet to assess him, having had so many bad experiences of vettings. I was aware before he arrived that there were some issues, but I decided that I liked him enough to see if these were 'easy' fixes or something more serious. He is on trial, so theoretically I don't have to keep him.

So today was the initial assessment. I had noticed that while he was a keen feeder, he ate very cautiously, so no surprise to find he needed his teeth done. Unfortunately they were quite bad, he had several ulcers and it took so long to rasp off the sharp points on his teeth the vet was only able to complete the upper set. The lower jaw will need to be dealt with very soon.

George has an extreme toe first landing in front. The vet's opinion was that the feet had not been trimmed for a 'considerable' time. I think in truth the owner has been doing their very best to do the right thing. They have had the farrier out to trim roughly every six weeks. Unfortunately the farrier doesn't appear to have done a very good job. More about this when our own trimmer has paid a visit.

George stands with all four feet camped under his body and his off fore has a consistently bent or 'over at the knee' stance. I don't think he is sound in front - his stride is very short. He could be bilaterly lame, but the vet wants to do further assessment under more rigorous circumstances before he will commit himself. To top it off, the vet also thinks he could be lame left hind.

Oh and he confirmed that George is very sore in his back, especially the loin area - and in the sacro illiac region. So now we are preparing ourselves to find an old sacro illiac injury.

Well we have one good leg - what more could anyone ask...........

PS The vet was both pleased and I think pleasantly surprised to find Princess doing so well.

I'm sorry I laughed

Madam's owner came to ride her on Friday. It was so satisfying to see Madam back in work after such a serious injury. We also took George out for his first view of the common. He is not ready for riding yet, so we led him in hand.

We got bold and took him to see a main road. He has never experienced traffic before, but he took to it like an old hand. Sure he was a little unsettled, but to be honest, on reflection I think he was more worried about the pain in his feet than the noise of the buses.

It was all going so well, we were having a great day, it was sunny and the horses' exercise had been successful, then disaster struck.

Princess has always come to call, and on more than one occasion her enthusiasm has been her undoing. This time as she came belting up the hill she slowed and went dead lame behind.

We scooted to the vets who after much head scratching tentatively diagnosed groin strain. I'm sorry but I couldn't help laughing. Princess is so named because if she could talk she'd have a plum in her mouth. And she is 15 - far too old and dignified for such an undignified injury.

Anyhow the vet wanted to prescribe box rest, but as we had locked horns several days earlier he knew it wasn't really an option. Besides which Princess has so many old injuries that if she stops moving she falls apart altogether. So we reached a sort of compromise which I am ashamed to say I didn't really stick to.

After a night in the nursery being hassled constantly by Madam, Princess went back out on the circuit. By Monday, in the vet's opinion she was back to over 85% sound. Which satisfied me because since being hit by a car she has never been 100% behind anyhow. I remain convinced that if we had box rested her she would have seized up completely and made a much slower recovery.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Go it alone George

At the end of August a near neighbour had several horses stolen. This morning I went to give the horses their breakfast only to find George was gone. Only he wasn't - he had just wandered right to the other end of the circuit, completely out of sight of the girls (and me).

I figure that makes him fairly brave.

He is also very inquisitive and rather like a baby he likes to put new things in his mouth. Really bad when that includes acorns, not much better when it also includes the dog. 'Fortunately her response is always flight not fight.

Speaking of which George had a minor squabble with Madam over the wheelbarrow. In the end they shared, he nibbled the wheel while she had a go at the handles.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Gorgeous George

We have a new arrival. The girls have been joined by 'George'. An 11 year old American Quarter Horse gelding.

We thought long and hard about mare/gelding for our next horse. I like the deep bonds I have formed with the girls, but felt that the 'herd' would be better for a mix of sexes, so long as the individuals were carefully matched and introduced.

I would normally spend several weeks introducing a new horse to the group, but an advantage of the circuit is the ease with which horses can manage their 'personal space'. So we quite quickly turned George and the girls out onto the circuit as a group.

There was a bit of squealing, but really very little drama. George has joined the 'honorary girls' club.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


Madam is a pint size American Quarter Horse. A carbon copy of her Daddy, Snippers Heirogance, what she lacks in size she makes up for in attitude and intelligence.

Previously she was shown in Western halter classes. A role less fitting for this little horse is hard to imagine. Doing the same thing is so 'duh, booooring' yawn yawn. And she likes to move, really move. Brakes are great, corners are great, speed is better and jumping is 'Yahoo.... just the best!'
Now she is in training to do whatever she can turn her pretty little hooves to. We know she loves to jump, we know she loves to run and she is very competitive. So we figure, with her intelligence and love of variety she will probably enjoy a variety of events, so long as she doesn't do the same thing twice in a row.
There are a couple of rules we must stick to in order to keep her on the road. Due to a previous sacro illiac injury we have to keep her fit, so that the muscles can hold the compromised area together. Rule 2 is no sugar, which means managing her diet very carefully. We are careful to graze her only when grass sugars are low and molasses, sugars and easily digested starches are all excluded from her bucket feeds. Plus she lives on a 'circuit' rather than in a conventional paddock as this encourages more active movement. And yes, strange as it seems this really really works.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Sugar sugar everywhere and its all in the grass

Much of the grazing in the UK has been 'improved' for the benefit of the dairy industry. The leys have been selected to be high in sugar. This is not good news for horses and it is particularly bad news for horses that are insulin resistant.

The girls do suffer a bit from insulin resistance, although neither have ever had full blown laminitis. There is a huge amount of high sugar grass and plantain on the new large circuit, so my plan is to graze the horses on it overnight to about 10am. They will be on the old 'nursery' circuit with hay until late evening.

I will monitor them for signs of too much sugar and if necessary restrict their intake of grass even further.

I do give them two additional meals a day so that I can give them some supplements. At the moment they have Alfa A Oil, Epsom Salts (for the magnesium) and a general supplement. They also have a salt lick in the field.

I plan to move them onto free choice supplements as soon as I can find a supplier.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Hard days night

One month in and Madam is finding the 'circuit' training is hard work. Shetakes a much needed rest with Princess standing guard. I have yet to see Madam return the favour.

The work is paying off though - Madam's fat pads are disappearing and we are seeing muscles!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Paddock Paradise goes large

Madam suffers from sweet itch on her belly and groin. She is particularly sensitive to poo flies, so we poo pick the circuit twice a day. She went through a phase of creating poo towers a bit like a stallion which made it easy. Now, she tends to hide her droppings by the electric fence. If she were human I'd say she was trying to get me electrocuted. Madam finds most human activities intensely annoying, unless of course they are to her direct benefit.

An upside to all this labour has been improved, longer lasting grazing. The little half acre circuit has lasted for four weeks, but now it is time to move to the big time.

Our Paddock Paradise is going large and we are moving the girls onto their new circuit which is approximately 0.5km long.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Paddock Paradise UK style

My grazing is rented and the landlord wants it kept 'pretty' and 'no mud'. It is also in a conservation area, so overall I can forget about trying to change the basic nature of the grazing or introducing any pebble track areas.

But I am keen to find out what can be done and what will work within these strictures. We have started out with a 'nursery' circuit in roughly 1/2 an acre. Partly because my first circuit blew away - (lesson - long lines of tape between plastic posts do not work well on a windy hill) and partly because Madam has just finished 8 weeks of box rest and is still relatively fragile.

I have had to compromise between supplying a wide enough track to be safe and yet not providing so much grazing that the girls stop moving round the circuit. I have been careful to ensure no 'corners' which might stop movement or allow a horse to be trapped.

I have read some advice to put down hay, even when there is grass. I try this and find it works. The horses seem to like the change and it stops them getting upset stomachs (and maybe laminitis?) from gorging on too much grass.

The first day in paradise passes without incident.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Two horses, one trailer, four people and a Freelander

There was no way the Freelander was going to shift all our gear, the girls and four adults all in one go. Even if I'd been tempted to try, one of the helpers is a very tough copper who would probably have booked me on the spot.

So we moved each of the girls in turn. My other half (MOH) who is fantastic, but not horsey 'volunteered' to play anchor to the first horse we moved (Princess) whilst Madam was in transit.

This is not something I would recommend, but if you knew how well Princess and MOH get on you might worry a little less. I didn't, but then I worry about everything anyway.

Our biggest concern was the sheer foolhardiness of taking two horses out of 24/7 stabling and then moving them onto 24/7 grazing. We had done lots of preparation by introducing hand picked grass in increasing quantities into their diets, walking in hand and trial turn outs, but it was still risky.

At the new place we grazed the horses in hand for about 4 hours, it was hot and sunny and we were all dozing off. We had some Sedalin (sedative) for the release in case the horses were wound up, but we didn't think they would need it because they were so chilled.

Madam of course proved us wrong. She belted round the circuit 5 times squealing and bucking before settling to graze, definitely rather more lame than when she started - but not hopping lame. Princess kept up, but more in the spirit of companionship than any real desire to hurtle round.

And that was it. After 20 minutes you'd think they had spent their whole lives there. We had brought sandwiches, tea, blankets, torches - enough kit to camp out for a week if we needed. But we didn't need to. So far they seem fine. I ended up checking them a couple of times in the night and discovered Madam really dislikes head torches, but apart from that all is well.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Tomorrow we move to paradise

Have you ever noticed that sometimes random events connect and take you on a journey you had previously only dreamed of? Tomorrow I move my horses to 'paradise' and this is our story.

'Madam' is a half pint American Quarter Horse. What she lacks in stature she makes up for in attitude! On 31st May she suffered a serious, career threatening injury while walking on a flat, safe surface. At the end of July she was still on box rest, depressed and making very slow progress. I was exhausted from keeping her and her stable companion exercised and entertained. Then I spotted a tiny ad for grazing very close to where I live.

I have spent all my spare time for the last four weeks setting up a very basic circuit in honour of Jamie Jackson's Paddock Paradise. Then I spent most of the last 48 hours redoing it because the first one blew away in a storm... You can see a larger version of the plan for the Nursery Circuit at the bottom of this page.

But we are as ready as we can be - tomorrow 'the girls' move to paradise!

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Southern England, United Kingdom