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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

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.

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Southern England, United Kingdom