Monday, June 24, 2013

Staying the Course (ouchy feet)

The past week has been filled with introspection fueled by some frustrations.  It's possible the the Big-Boot-Purchase-of-2013 was potentially driven by some desire to control some controllables (though seeing as how I still don't have a shipping confirmation I'm not sure how "in control" I am..).  I suppose that I'll take refuge in the fact that when I need to control something I buy pretty boots as opposed to something more self destructive.  (it's all relative right??)

Anyway, nothing is overly tragic but I was doing some soul searching after we got home from the show and was trying to recalibrate my compass in terms of goals, process, etc. 

The most tangible example of this is Prairie's feet.  I put shoes on her because she was foot sore and I didn't want foot sore to turn into body sore, or for foot sore to bring our training to a total halt.  Of course I left her hinds bare which was still strange enough that I heard multiple comments about it at the show.  Specifically people were concerned whether or not she had enough traction behind.  The big Hunter ring did get over watered and the sand turned into slick mud and Prair was not a fan.  I suppose shoes would have given her a bit more purchase on the sandy-mud-slime but I reacted negatively to the suggestion.  I don't think I said anything out loud but inside I was growling a bit. Especially as I watched other (fully shod) horses slip-sliding around as well.

Thinking about whether or not I was being responsible about Prairie's hind feet led me to thinking about what I wanted with her front feet and what was driving my horse management decisions.  Did I put shoes on so I didn't miss any shows? if that was the case what else would I be willing to comprimise on, pain killers to mask discomfort? sedatives if it would mean better scores? Kneecapping the competition?  I joke a little but I can often feel my primary goal of progression (both at home and at shows) cloud my judgement however minimally. 

It (should) all come back to my basic guiding principle that I want to do what's right by my horse and what gives them the best chance of long term soundness
When I put front shoes on Prair I justified it because I was worried she would negatively impact her body trying to protect her toes (a la the great rein lameness of 2012).  Also I blamed myself for not anticipating the soft squishy soles that tend to come with spring rain and lush grass.  Now that it's "summer" and at least less wet than it usually is, I have a chance to pull her shoes off and return her to her lovely nakedness. 

So I pulled the shoes...  And the mare is SORE. 

Shoes came off on Friday. She was a little footy over the gravel on Sat, but sound in the ring so I rode (and gave her some bute).  Sunday she was more sore so I only walked around in the arena, but even after hopping off she seemed uncomfortable standing in the sand/rubber and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.  I don't know how long I'll be able to stare at her standing uncomfortably before freaking out and calling my farrier.

I feel guilty that her once beautifully rock hard feet are now all ouchy and used to shoes.  I feel antsy that I look like a bad mother with a crippled horse which makes its even harder to defend my decision to those who are not used to seeing barefoot sporthorses.  And I'm having to think about where the line is between staying the course and working through the transition versus deciding that shoes are a better option for the current situation.

I know that the recent days of rain aren't helping toughen Prair's soles and neither is the gorgeous pasture that she just got moved to.  Thus far I've just been giving 1g of bute and applying Hoof Freeze once a day.  I'm totally willing to cancel our next two outings (schooling show this weekend, A show middle of July) if need be, but I don't want the mare to be uncomfortable or for us to be out of work any longer than that. 

The concern voiced by those around me definitely makes me feel a bit more stressed about the decision.  It's not that it's peer pressure per se, but it's hard to stand on a soapbox and tout my righteous decision when I'm secretly jogging the mare out behind the barn in hopes that no one else will see her mincing her steps...

It's not a tragic situation, but it really does highlight what my priorities are (or should be).  It's easy to skip a schooling show here or there, but at what point do I compromise on what I think of as a long term health decision so that I get to "use" my horse, versus letting showing/riding goals slide versus a legitimate argument that I might not have the right environment to support a transition right now.  In that case there is no glory in letting the mare be uncomfortable.. but where are the respective lines?

Argh.  Very stressful.  Hate hate hate. 

Would love that magic wand now so I can just hocus-pocus her feet back to where they were in January. 


  1. I really respect the amount of thought you're putting into this. Regardless of which way you end up choosing, it's obvious that it will be a well thought out conscious decision which is more than a good chunk of horse owners can say about these things. Transition times are always hard and especially with horses. Horse people can be terribly judgemental. It's a lot like parenting. We all think we KNOW the RIGHT way to do it. Good luck with your decision!

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  3. I wrote you a comment, but I think it was kind of annoying so I deleted it. These are your decisions to make and I want to respect that without my usual dose of sarcasm. Best to you both.

    1. You are funny. I read it anyway (HA!) and I take no offense to your usual tone of sarcasm. :)

  4. I know you'll make the right decision for your horse. I'm not pro or anti shoe - just go with what keeps my horse healthy and happy. For us, that's front shoes but no hinds. It really varies though - nothing is right for EVERY horse.

  5. Man, I have been there with Saga and am there now with Echo. Over my struggles to keep Saga barefoot, I came to have a great deal of understanding of how hard it is to keep a barefoot horse sound with current management practices. Eventually I ended up shoeing him in the front to keep him comfortable, but I also found out WHY he was so sore barefoot and tried multiple things to fix it. In his case it was paper-thin soles - and after 6 months of pouring boatloads of biotin in him (and keeping him on a dry lot with very low NSC feeds, and monitoring his digital pulse daily), he'd grown 10 mm of sole depth. Of course that's when he injured himself, and we all know how that story ends.

    Echo has the same problem, and his is compounded by a damaged RF hoof. I'm tackling it the same way - appropriate supplements and shoes until further notice. He's comfortable now, and in work, and I'm good with that. Now it's just a waiting game to see how he's most comfortable long-term.

    One thing would be to check her digital pulse - if it's pounding that's a warning sign. You can also try hoof boots to see if that will help her with the transition. They really help my guys after it's rained and their feet go from rock-crunching to kinda iffy.

    In the end, though, the decision is yours to make, and yours alone. It's so hard to see them hurting, and you want to do anything you can to make them better. I totally get it. Hugs.

  6. I'm sure you will figure out what's best for the mare. Houston's breeder was adamant that I keep him barefoot as long as possible/ if not forever. And I did keep him barefoot for a few months but as his workload increased and he continued to grow it seemed that shoes would be necessary. When my vet suggested trying shoes to offer some traction and support I went for it. The hind shoes have certainly made a world of difference for him.

    That said what works for one horse doesn't work for all. I personally think that what a horse needs has so many factors (build, footing, job, etc) that its hard to judge. I feel a lot more judgement coming from people that are hung ho barefoot for all horses in all situations than I do in the reverse situation with the barefoot horse being judged by the person that keeps their horse in shoes. But that's just been my experience.

    Hope prair gets to feeling right soon!

  7. Ok - bit of practical help here.

    My sister's mare gets footy when there is lush grass. I'm a professional trimmer and she has her feet done every 2-3 weeks. So we know it's not the trim.

    Then I found magnesium chloride.
    Let me link you to an article:

    This mare has been on the magnesium for 6 months now and has not been footy once. I honestly think it helps her process the sugars without affecting her feet. Worth a try, right?

    I am really glad you try to do what is best for your horse in an educated manner. Keeps me coming back to this blog. :)

  8. Of course keep in mind I'm in Oz and there may not be magnesium deficiency in your area.

  9. I went through this with Lucy. Ultimately I put the shoes back on, because what was the point, really? I gave it a good three month try and it was not working for anyone.

  10. Try what you can, do your best, and then go with what works for you. Her feet will toughen, but to what degree? Maybe not to a degree that will withstand her sporthorse life. Maybe only enough to be a pasture puff. Only time will tell. If it doesn't go at the rate in which you would like, put shoes back on her. As long as you trust your farrier, I don't think that shoes are going to kill a horse. Thats just my opinion. I forced Ella to be barefoot while she was pregnant. She had a good 14-18 months of being barefoot and her feet improved dramatically (sole thickness) but when she went back to work she had to have a full set put back on. She was so ouchy that is was painful to watch. That was 18 months after being barefoot. It just doesn't work for everyone and its nothing to feel guilty over! XOXO

  11. My first horse had very flat front feet and had to have shoes to stay comfortable. We never put shoes on his hind feet and I saw no difference between him and horses with a full set all around when it came to traction.

  12. THIS: "I came to have a great deal of understanding of how hard it is to keep a barefoot horse sound with current management practices." (JenJ)

    I know you will do whats right for you and your ponies!

  13. I think that this is of course a personal decision but also reflective of the environment and the work that a horse does. It has been my (limited) experience that a horse going barefoot after a long time shod will be ouchy for a while. Maybe she just needs the couple weeks you have allotted her. If she's not feeling better by then, it's possible that her feet can't handle the transition now. I think a farrier and vet should be able to help with that - either by offering helpful suggestions or simply telling you what you should do.

  14. So I am way behind on blog posts so I'm just reading this now and I don't know if you've set your mind on what to do, and I know others have said this too, but feet need transition time. They're like any other part of the body that has to be conditioned, so it may be a while until she's back in full work until her frog and heel bulk up so you might have to stick to hand or tack walking on softer surfaces and work your way up. Also, even if you don't think she has any, treat for thrush anyways and I would highly recommend Keratex to ease the transition, plus summer really is a good time to transition with it being drier weather. And with shoes and showing, most shoes don't typically provide more traction than barefoot unless they're studded in my experience... Regardless of what you decide, you're a good horse mom when you think this decision through so much.

  15. I'm way, way behind on reading blogs, but wanted to mention that the two biggest factors in keeping a horse sound barefoot is diet and exercise! Cut out as much sugar as possible and get as much exercise as possible as long as she is comfortable. You might need boots for a while until she's comfortable doing it completely bare. Good luck!!


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