Friday, September 30, 2011

A minor setback as the Pacific Northwest welcomes in winter.

Our plan had been to sign up for our first ride in August. It was a ride just next door, which I thought would be a good experience for both Deli and I since we could (assuming we could find a ride) go to the ride and then home again when finished. No overnight stay – which neither Deli or I have done yet – required.

I’m sure she would have been ready to do the limited distance (25 miles) at that ride. I was more worried about my own physical ability, but was pretty sure I could pull it off and suffer for it in the week following. She had been doing great on our trail rides, and recovering quickly after doing frequent 8 mile rides that included a decent amount of trotting and 12-13 mile rides at the walk. Our trails behind our barn are extremely hilly and rocky, which limits what we can do. If anything has been an issue, it has been her lack of enthusiasm with moving forward into a trot when we were out by ourselves. This has made it difficult to do proper conditioning. I attributed this to laziness or her normal tendency to be a worrier and didn’t push her much. Since I spent a lot of time walking her in-hand (which I always did for the last big hill up and down) I also trotted her in hand a little.

So for two months we were in trail-heaven. Then I had my masseuse come by to adjust and work on Deli, because I had noticed the inevitable buildup of muscle tension in her hamstrings and pectorals. My masseuse, as I have mentioned before, has this excellent thermography camera. We were both ecstatic to see that Deli’s primary injury of concern – her groin and hamstring tear – was completely gone. As in, the heat signatures matched in all her legs. Unfortunately, the backs of her pasterns on all four feet were inflamed. This was a surprise, because Deli has great leg conformation that includes great medium-length pasterns. She is a smidgen toed out, but it’s barely noticeable unless you know you are looking for it or you have owned her as long as I have. My masseuse wanted me to consider that her workload was too heavy, but that didn’t sit right. Her back and other soft tissue all looked great, with the exception of a rib being slightly out on her right side (and no surprise that this is right under the spot where my bad hip is).

Then it occurred to me – her boots!

The BLM roads are tough on a bare foot.
I’d been riding her with Cavallo Simple Boots for her front feet and Cavallo Sport Boots for her hind feet exclusively almost every time we went out on the trails. The long stretches of harsh gravel BLM roads necessitate the foot protection we had, and I refuse to put shoes on Deli unless she has some traumatic reason for their need. However, the Cavallo boots have a pretty hard leather “lip” in the back. When I considered it more closely, this lip would press into the back of her pastern at some point in her natural footfall, but particularly when she trotted or cantered and picked up her feet more. My masseuse agreed that this interference could definitely be the cause of the inflammation we were seeing on the thermography camera – particularly since every foot had such a freakishly identical pattern.

I’m extremely thankful for the thermography camera spotting this issue before it became serious. For one, you couldn’t feel any heat in her pasterns. Because the inflammation was equal on all four legs, she also wasn’t moving lame at all. Now I believe some of her hesitation to move forward and trot on the trail to be because it was painful, to some degree, to have the boot jabbing into the back of her pasterns.

So our tentative plans to try for our first endurance ride were shelved. My masseuses recommended three weeks of light work, with cold hosing 3x a week, so that’s what we did. And then I started work at a new job while retaining my summer job, meaning my time to ride or do anything other than sit in front of my computer working has evaporated, so she has gotten more like six or seven weeks of light work. The muscle from our summer work is fading from both of us, and I feel somewhat discouraged that things worked out as they did. Particularly since my own fitness and weight is a serious problem going forward with our competitive trail-riding dreams.

On the other hand, the EasybootGlove Wides are finally out, and we have been experimenting with them. It seems they will work well for Deli eventually (when the size we need actually comes into stock!) and I believe they are the better option for trail riding because they do not have any hard “lip” or anything hard at all above the hair line. I feel some wariness that the gaiter (which is completely soft and shouldn’t cause any pressure points) will be a problem because of heat buildup on her pasterns, but hopefully that won’t be a serious problem. We have done some test-rides and I have found Deli is much happier to move forward in the Gloves, so I am hopeful we will be successful using them. If and when we do compete I plan on doing Glove Glue-Ons, if I can.

Front hoof in progress!
In the meantime I have given up completely on farriers after going through seven individuals since moving up to Portland two years ago. Deli has good feet, but they like to flare and my most recent farrier was not taking off enough toe despite my encouragement. She has some white-line separation as a result. Having taking farrier science classes at UC Davis, I’m somewhat handy with a rasp and hoof knife and decided that I need to brush the dust off my old farrier science books and attempt to do her feet myself. In the past I have been worried about hurting Deli or worried about hurting myself, since I have a bad back. After obsessively reading everything I could find about barefoot trimming, I started work.

So far, the results of my work on her feet have been noticeably good. She moves out more comfortably on gravel now, where she would mince before. I’m taking it very slowly for my own comfort and mental health, meaning I trim her a little more each week. It’s more enjoyable than I thought it would be, although all my study has made me realize how many horses are improperly shod! It’s become somewhat of an obsession – I now see a horse’s feet before I take in anything else about the animal.

The Gloves for Deli don’t fit quite like they should because of her toe flare, but they don’t move at all when we walk or trot on rough ground, so I’m going to stick with them. If we have issues, a little “bootlegging” with sport tape should do the trick. The boots are difficult to get on and off, so I'm not anticipating a need for a powerstrap.

Deli finishing up lunch in her shelter.
Also, with my busy schedule I have decided that doing in-hand hikes with Deli is a more productive use of our time. I need the mental break after my long days at the office and the exercise, and she loves being out and about in the forest rather than confined to the arena. I also caved and bought a fancy (and expensive) Skito bareback pad so that we can focus on MY fitness this winter when we do arena work. The pad is made of foam specifically designed to carry the heavier rider because I am constantly conscious that my weight gain since my accident has put me above what Deli is mathematically designed to carry. Again, I keep a sharp eye on her back health and have seen no adverse effects, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.

Overall, things continue to move along. We have had setbacks, but Deli is otherwise healthy and I have a plan for my own fitness needs.

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