Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter Training Journal 3- Boots and Snow

Despite the weather, Saturday's condition ride was pretty uneventful. We didn't get to go as far as I wanted , mostly due to footing. We probably only did about 8 miles and mostly at a slow trot or walk. Still, it was nice to be in the saddle and out, despite the frozens nose and toes!
The ride made me realize something.

Mel, over at Boots and Saddles, recently did a 2 part series on the Iron free hoof and how it has improved her horses feet. Her post and my recent ride inspired this post.

I have had similar experiences. In late 2008, JB's first season of training of endurance (and mine!), he sustained a pretty bad bruise to his sole and heel, with an iron shoe, no less. Before that injury , JB never traveled in a way that I would have considered normal. While he wasn't lame,he was terribly slow and just had a funny way of going.

After his injury in August 2008, my vet insisted I have a farrier put him in therapeutic pads and EGSS shoes (Gene Ovnicek). So I did. There wasn't much of a choice. JB was so sore, he had to be kept comfortable enough to be able to move, in order to heal. After 8 weeks, the shoes and pads came off. his bruised heel and sole were about 75% better but he was not 100% sound. His xrays revealed the culprit, thin soles, which was a surprise, given his breeding. At that point , I had a choice. Keep him in pads and shoes for the remainder of the summer to protect him and hope for little long term health of his hoof or keep him barefoot and work on getting his long toe, low heel syndrome better sorted out, while improving the health of his hoof. Pretty simple decision. I had already done some reading up on the barefoot trend and now was as good a time as any to give it a go.
For the next several weeks, I went through the painful process of finding the right fitting boot. This was an education all by itelf. Turn out JB doesn't have typically shaped feet. or , atleast the typical shaped foot that the boots were based on. His are very round feet and not oblong at all. Unfortunately the easy boot glove didn't even come close to fitting. His hoof popped over the edge of the boot and he looked like the horse hoof version of the "muffin top" look. After a few phonecall, remeasuring a few times, and reordering, we finally got the Epics. They almost fit perfect... almost... JB has what I can best describe as short feet, meaning there is not much distance between his coronet band and the bottom of his hoof. The Epic was just a bit too deep for him and it sat dangerously close to hitting his coronet band. I finally ended up ordering the medium insert pads for the Epics, which I needed anyways to protect his sole. It added just enough of a lift for JB's foot. Additionally I cut away the tongue for added safety as his foot settled in the boot. As soon as those boots went on him, he literally jumped for joy, bucking and leaping on the end of the line like a trout. I knew I had made the right decision. It was a defining moment for JB, me and our future in endurance.

Here is a photo of one of his newer boots( we are on our second pair since March of 2008) Sorry or the blurriness but you can see that the tongue is cut so when this boot is buckled down there is just enough tongue to protect the foot from the wire digging in.

The only other trouble I ran into was that I could not use boots on JB's hind feet. He is so short coupled and overreaches so much, that he was busting the buckle on the back boots with the bottom of the front boots. I tried everything to remedy this until I just had to give up. As a result, JB was shod on the hinds all of the 2009 season. Even with the shoes on back, he still interfered and you can see in the photo below how he catches the left side of both front boots, to the left on each one... I consult with a natural balance farrier with JB and had him check everything out . It appears to be simply how JB travels and not something that trimming can necessarily correct. It jsut beats the hell out of the boots....

All in all, JB did well throughout all the miles of conditioning that we covered in the 2009 season with boots on. We crossed rocky river bottoms, sludged through mud, scrambled through shale and finished our summer out with a second place finish in volcanic rock footing... all with the boots. I also saw a tremendous improvement in the way JB traveled in general. he finally stated reaching and moving out. I have no reason not to believe it was strictly due to the boots. Barefoot has served JB well indeed. The only time I have had any trouble with the epics is that in one of my late fall rides about a month ago, the tongue of the boot dug into JB's hoof wall a little, leaving an indentation. Nothing major but I had never had this before. I can't figure out what was different that time, maybe I didn't have the boot tight enough or on his foot correctly.

Now as winter has begin to bear down her icy grip, Satuday's condition ride was a reminder that the Epics aren't for ice and snow. JB was losing traction and slipping on the 1/2 inch of snow we rode through. I absolutely cannot risk another issue by riding him without some type of hoof protection and even if I could, we get too much ice and snow that even barefoot would be hazardous. While I want his frog, digital cushion and lateral ligaments to be stimulated as they are while barefoot, I also have to be safe. If I have any chance of maintaining any level of fitness with JB between mid January and the end of March, I have to put borium shoes on , along with pads. I am not real excited about it but will 3 months of shoes and pads really ruin anything?

I would say probably not. His feet came out of pads in November looking very good and he had been in them since early spring with trims every 6 weeks.

While I really have embraced the barefoot trend and have seen my horse first hand experience the benefits from it, I also have to consider the climate I live in while trying to maintain a level of fitness for JB. More importantly, I have to take into account safety. Borium shoes offer that. Ofcourse, just because I have borium shoes doesn't guarantee I can ride all the time. Sometimes, the footing simply gets too bad, even with borium.

What's everyone elses take on borium's? Likes/dislikes? I'd like to hear about it.


zach_rabow said...

This is PERFECT timing for you to talk about this! My thoroughbred Bo has extremely thin soles, and we are now having to have pads put on him all the time. I have been toying with the idea that barefoot might help him, maybe he would even grow a foot :)

Was your guy sound without shoes/pads in the pasture?

All Who Wander said...

Several thoughts on your situation.

#1. You can get studs that screw into the bottom of your boots from Easycare which will give you the same bite that a borium shod shoe gives you. They aren't all that expensive, and you will find them under the boot accessories drop down link at Easycare.

#2. If you go back to a shod hoof, you will lose the ground you've gained on reshaping and repairing the hoof.

#3. The most likely reason that he would be forging with his hinds is that his toe is too long on the front and the front hooves don't break over quickly enough. When they do breakover they will be out of the way of the hinds. You can't do it all at once, but the toe can be gradually brought back.

Last but not least, Phebes did not fit the gloves when the gloves came out. If you recall I was seriously bummed. We started really evaluating her hoof, and Doug researched how to lower her heels as much as the hoof would allow, and BINGO! The boots were fitting within about sixty days.

Keep hanging with your boots :)


Jonna said...

zach- JB wasn't sound when the pads and shoes first went on. It took some time. His thin soles , I believe , were the result of less than ideal hay we ended up having to feed the year before. I have since chnaged hay suppliers and it has made all the difference. I also placed him on Farriers formula last Fall and he remains on it. I would suggest the product to anyone having hoof growth issues. More importantly, given your recent post on the trimming job your farrier did, I would wonder if your horses thin soles might be the result of his trimming methods??? TB's ofcourse are notorious for poor feet, but I would be willing to bet a barefoot trimmer would certainly help your situation.

E.G- Thanks for the infor. I had looked at the studs and considered them. I am just not sure about them. Have you had any experience using them yourself.I haven't been able to find much info or testimonials about them. #2- yes, that is a concern. #3-We looked at that forging issue because I suspected the same thing. With the natural balance trimming that he recieves and xrays, we can see that his toe is being brought back as far as we dare, without getting into the tip of the coffic bone. Ofcourse, with every touch up trim , he gets a little better each time but alot of what I am dealing with is his natural conformation. We have been successful in slowly bringing that toe back and the last time I guaged him, he was about a 50-51 angle.
I will look at the studs for the boots. said...

Hi Jonna -I wouldn't really recommend using studs on your boots. I've used them in the past. Took them off, none of my horses were comfortable with them. I think there is too much chance for other problems cropping up as a result.

It takes a long time for a horse to become coordinated in slippery footing. If the conditions are slick and slippery, then a horse will slip regardless of what is on their feet. They need to learn how to slip and handle those situations. It takes a lot of experience. I know that sounds corny, but I've ridden multiple horses on endurance rides in blizzsrd conditions up and down 9, 10, and 11,000' mountains with multiple types of hoof boots. It took some of my horses longer than others to be graceful at it.

As far as your horse interfering - don't be too concerned about that. Again, it takes some horses a lot longer to become coordinated and to be able to carry a rider on their backs. It took my horse Chief a good year plus to be able to move with hoof boots on without constantly clicking the hinds on the back of the fronts. Due in part I'm sure to his conformation (short back) but also because it just took him a long time to develop the strength to carry himself (and me) without interfering.

If you do end up shoeing for a couple of times during the winter it shouldn't be a big deal. If the hoof is still being balanced and trimmed well then it shouldn't be a setback. I've gone back and forth with shoes and barefoot for more than a dozen years BEFORE I went completely barefoot and it never was a big deal and in fact with one horse he did best with shoes in the winter because he ran around in the early morning on the hard ice and uneven beat up ground which caused bruising when he was barefoot. Shoes solved that, and it's something that boots wouldn't have worked for. Good luck with whatever you decide to do. Karen

Jonna said...

Hi Karen- thanks for your advice. I always love hearing your recommendations. Studs on boots do seemed a bit more dangerous to me because it seems like the horse would tend to be more unbalanced than with shoes and borium.Maybe it's just because it's unknown territory for me. I might try it to see how he does , but my gut tells me to go with borium shoes, to be honest. He would be getting trimmed and reset every 5-6 weeks. I agree on your point about a horse learning how to handle footing..just like people, some horses are more coordinated than others. JB has certainly improved over miles but he is extremely short backed so I imagine he may always have some overreacing. The good thing is that even though the boots get beat up as a result, it protects his bulbs.Thanks again for chiming in.

Catherine said...

Good post Jonna. I may try the Epics for my stallion next year--tried Old Macs in the past (on another horse) and didn't care for them. My horse has excellent feet but I want to put some serious miles on him and want some protection without getting shoes.

As to the short coupled dilemma...I had a very short backed Arab that never interfered but my stallion does and his back is longer. I have noticed it appears to be a matter of fitness, in my horse at least. Eli has a very long stride but when he is fresh and traveling collected he doesn't interfere. As a ride (or lesson, especially) progresses he sort of falls apart and then the forging starts. Good luck with your winter fitness--good for you. I'm riding some in the cold but not as much as I'd like.

All Who Wander said...


An interesting question to ask is, does the horse forge when booted without a rider. If he does, then the weight of the rider is not the issue. Does he forge when he is shod? With rider, without rider?
Last, does he forge bare with or without rider? The answers to these questions may direct you to the answer for your problem.

I in fact have not used the studs, just know that they are available. My horse does alright booted or bare in the winter so I've had no reason to use them, just wanted you to know the option is out there. My preference is for the hoof to move as naturally as I can (meaning nothing that grabs), but other people have their own preferences in that regard. People do go from shod, to barefoot, to shod, but there IS a transition process, especially if you plan on going from shod to bare vs. booted, more so if the farrier is not open to natural trimming methods vs. pasture trimming, though it sounds as though YOU know the difference :)

Jonna said...

Hi Catherine-Never tried the Old Macs but I have heard of people having a fair bit of trouble with them..I suppose it's like anything else, works for some, not for others. Thanks for the post. See me response below to EG on the forging.
EG- thank you for posing those questions. Those are good things to think about. I do know that he forges with boots with and without a rider. I can't honestly say if he forges barefoot since I never ride him anymore barefoot . I don't recall him ever having a problem with it. I might need to look at that closer. I know he forges more when he is tired.Thanks for the thought proking questions.