Monday, October 4, 2010

No hoof, no horse.

My horse is barefoot.

In simplest terms that means she does not wear shoes. We once experimented with shoes to see if they made any difference in her way of going and had our farrier-of-the-time hot shoe her. 

It didn’t work out.

For one, Deli has incredibly fast growing feet. I think this relates to the fact that before I owned her she basically had free run of a large acreage and for the most part wore her feet down naturally. This means that I would have to re-shoe her every four weeks if I didn’t want her tripping on her face because her natural movement would not wear down the horn of her walls. As it is, if I’m working her on mostly soft surfaces I still have to get her trimmed every four-to-five weeks during the summer (when her feet grow the fastest) to keep them from getting too long.

For another, shoeing contributes to the contraction of the heel and such contraction prevents proper blood exchange up and down the leg. Not to mention the fact that nailing on a shoe weakens the hoof wall. At any rate, we experimented with shoes for two months and haven’t considered them as a viable option since.

Plus, Deli is one of those horses who is lucky to have straight legs and large feet, both of which contribute to her having good feet overall. She is a great candidate for being barefoot the rest of her life.

However, with new goals in our sights I recognized that Deli was going to need some additional protection for her feet. Some of the trails we have access to now are rocky or have a mixed gravel surface; particularly the narrow logging roads that are the trails that will stay nice and ride-able throughout the winter.  Deli has let me know that walking on gravel is uncomfortable – she has yet to get bruised from it, but she picks her way very carefully across any rocky surfaces. Any serious work on these surfaces would also wear her feet down too quickly, resulting in tenderness for her.

The clear solution was to find a boot that fit Deli well and could be used when we worked on rough ground. After much research I bought a pair of Cavallo Simple Boots. They came with good recommendations, were in the right price range (read: cheap), and my research suggested that they would work well for Deli’s rounder hoof shape. They still seem a little bulky in my eye, but the industrial Velcro rather than wires (that can snap) design seemed simpler and more idiot-proof than other brands. 

So far so good. Our first use of the boots was on a 30 minute hike in-hand through the woods. She didn’t seem bothered by them and she had no rubs or indications that they were too tight or too loose. What I did notice is that she is going to have to adapt to having a “larger” foot – places where she could normally step easily became a bit awkward for her. You could tell it was giving her a brain-funk to have her feet be larger than she was used to. 

The next day we did a somewhat longer hike in-hand with similar results, though Deli was less clumsy overall when navigating uneven footing. The third day I put them on her in the arena so I could see what she was like under-saddle (even though she hardly needed them in the soft footing). She had a bit of a mental breakdown when someone decided to use a weed-whacker, so our ride ended up being longer than planned. However the boots did stay put and did not seem to impede her ability to trot sideways, spin, or shy as only an anxious Arabian can. And no, she wasn't particularly interested in my monotone reminders that she was supposed to be too weak for such athletic maneuvers.

After that we hit the trails in a dripping Oregon mist to cool off her brain and steaming body. In the process we discovered a delightful little trail loop instead of getting lost (as has happened earlier). Overall she had her boots on for about an hour of work. We checked them before heading out on the trails and they seemed to have stayed put remarkably well throughout Deli’s pronking in the arena. And upon removing them at the end of our ride there were no rubs or other indications that they were not fitting. Her feet looked great, and it was clear they had suffered no ill effects from either her arena antics or riding on uneven rough surfaces out on the trails. Success!

And Deli is adapting quickly. She is normally very sure footed, and her adjustment to being with her Cavallo Simple Boots have been impressive. She is happy to move forward on ground that would otherwise make her step more comfortably, which is the whole point behind the boots.

Right now Ms. Deli is due for a trim at the end of this week, so the fact that the boots seem very snug is probably appropriate. The Velcro construction seems pretty solid and easier to clean than I would have thought. I’m planning on getting her rear boots as well if she seems to want them, but so far she is moving quite easily on rough ground without them.

This is probably the first time in the history of Deli and my relationship that something has fit her the first time. She has always been a bit hard to fit for every conceivable piece of horse equipment (blankets, fly masks, saddles…) because apparently thick-bodied Arabians with wide foreheads are not a common horse body type. That and I was in denial for a long time that my 15.2 hand horse would ever need an extra-wide saddle tree (which she does).

Hopefully the Cavallo Simple Boots will continue to impress us with their usefulness for many years to come.

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