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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.

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Southern England, United Kingdom