Friday, November 26, 2010

TACK Friday!

For me, the idea of waking up at 3am and spending the day at the mall, elbowing and shoving 5 thousand other half-crazed, jacked-up-on-caffeine-and-holiday-discounts shoppers is about as appealing as repeatedly stabbing myself in the eye. But I do love a good deal. Solution? Stay home and shop online -- lots of great deals, but with zero threat of bodily harm.

This weekend is VTO Saddlery's big sale. And since I need a new pair of paddock boots, I figured it was the perfect time to buy them. I found my Ariat paddock boots, selected my color and size..."Add To Cart" *click* "Aaaaaahhhh." It's like internet heroin.

But, of course, you can't just buy one horsey item, especially during a huge sale! My gloves seem to have wandered off into Lost Glove Land a few months ago, so I added a pair of MacWet Gloves to my cart. Then I browsed through the bit section; I've been lusting after the Herm Sprenger Duos and the Nathe mouth bits for the longest time, but I just cannot justify spending over $70 on a bit. And then I stumbled across this. It's a Korsteel Flexi Flavored Eggbutt Mullen Mouth bit and it's only $30 (pre-discount!). Yep, that got added to the cart, too.

By now, I had that blank, glazed-over look that one gets from repeated "Add to Cart" hits. And then I stumbled across the best deal yet -- a Soft Touch girth for only $20 (BEFORE the discount!)!! Eeeeeeeek! They are amazing girths and I've been wanting one for EVER!!  Deal of the century!

So, did any of you get some steals & deals on tack today? Or did you go the more traditional route and get into a knock-down drag-out brawl over a toaster oven?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Eight Month Curse

Uuugghhh. What is going on in our little horse blogging community? First it was bad news for Gogo, then even worse news for Denali. And today I received some sad news of my own.

The past three animals that I've taken in have all died within eight months -- first, my little Jack Russel mix (picked up off the streets) developed Acute Lymphatic Leukemia; then Mac suffered from a massive colic; and finally Zamboni the barn-cat had a seizure. So, I had my fingers and eyes crossed for Sasha girl; I kept saying, "Just make it through the end of November and you'll have broken the eight-month curse, girl."

Ever since I've had her, I noticed that her back left leg toes in, and she doesn't walk straight on it; she brings it more towards her midline. She's only appeared to be in pain from it once or twice when she overdid things physically; and I had my vet take a look at it the last time she had a routine exam. He said that it was probably an old ligament injury, and that I should keep an eye on it and bring her in to be X-rayed if it started bothering her.

Well, with the cooler weather, she's been more active, and has been a little bit NQR on it a few nights. So, today I took her in for X-rays.

Oh. my. Gawd. The second I looked at them, even my untrained eye knew that they were very wrong. Apparently, some time in the distant past, Sasha was hit by a car. And nobody took her to the vet. Of course not. Why would you take a dog to the vet if it had been hit by a car? (That was sarcasm, if you couldn't tell.) Her whole left hip is collapsed, and she has bone spurs everywhere. Her right side has hip dysplasia and more bone spurs.

So. Where do we go from here? She has to lose a lot of weight. She can't go for long walks, but I'm supposed to try and get her to swim as much as possible. She's on Rimadyl for pain. That's all we can do. If she had been surgically treated after the accident, she would have been fine. That's what kills me. But since she wasn't treated (and it's far too late for that now), she has a year, maybe two, before that hip just falls apart.

Of course, I will not let her suffer. The minute she's in pain that the Rimadyl can't help, I will do the kind thing and let her go. I'm just so tired of people not doing right by their animals. I'm tired of cleaning up other people's messes.

At least she's comfy in her 2-layers-of-memory-foam bed!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Moving On

Well, it certainly has been quite a while since I blogged about any of my own riding adventures. Things have definitely changed quite a bit for me. I was riding a Thoroughbred gelding named Fortune who does the 3'6" jumpers up in Wellington; but, unfortunately, I felt that I needed to move barns (don't you just hate barn drama?!), so I'm no longer riding Forty. Luckily, I am a resourceful girl with a lot of horsey connections, so I wasn't without a pony to ride for too long.

Since last weekend, I have been riding Certs, a lovely little Appaloosa gelding. He and I have a very special bond -- a few years ago, Certs came down with a serious case of enteritis. He was a very sick boy and required 24-hour care; he was on IV fluids, had a gastro-nasal tube that was literally stitched into his muzzle (I called it his "snorkel"), and had to have his front feet in buckets of ice water 24/7 to prevent laminitis because of a very high fever. I pretty much got a crash course in nursing care (learning to change IV bags, etc.) and stayed with Certs every night to oversee his care. Let me tell you, it was nerve-wracking; I had to keep an eagle eye on the line of IV bags, make Certs kept his feet in the buckets of ice water, give him medicine, make sure he didn't lie down, etc. The poor guy was so uncomfortable and constantly snorking up the most disgusting-smelling stomach juices. But the good news is that he pulled through it and is none the worse for the wear. Certs' owner Jeanette still calls me Night Nurse Meghann. :-)

You might not believe that Certs is an Appaloosa, as there
is nary a spot on his sorrel hide -- but I assure you, he is
a full-blooded, registered solid App

Doesn't he look laid-back and innocent? Well, I was certainly under that impression; so imagine my surprise when, yesterday, I walked Certs up to the mounting block and he threw a tiny tantrum. He kept wanting to walk forward, but when he felt some pressure on the bit, he did a half-rear/pull-back/run-backwards move (which, of course, ripped the reins out of my hands), and then high-tailed it back to the barn! Hhhhmmmph. How embarrassing! Well, that earned him one all-expenses-paid trip to the round pen. 

Luckily, a few minutes of round pen work and a five-minute session on standing still while being mounted were all Certs needed to remember that he does, indeed, have manners. He is such a trickster! Jeanette warned me that he can be quite the devious little devil at times. Actually, I kinda like that, as it will keep me on my toes. Thankfully, today Certs was much better and it only took a few gentle reminders to get him standing as still as a statue while I mounted.

It has been quite a while since Certs was ridden, but luckily he is a pretty straight-forward ride. His trot is bone-jarringly springy (like, if you try sitting to it, you can feel your brain sloshing around in your skull), but his canter is awesome! It's smooth, balanced, and sooooo comfy -- like Jeanette said, it just kinda sucks your butt into the saddle! I'm pretty excited because, once I get Certs into shape, I can start jumping him.

OK, so this picture is pretty crappy, but it's the best I've got. I look huge on Certs (he's only around 15.1 or 15.2), but thankfully he doesn't feel tiny.

Hopefully, I'll have some better pics soon. :-)

Friday, October 8, 2010


Some of you may have already seen this (I stole it off Eventing Nation), but it's just too good not to share! This is Exponential at the Head of the Lake on the WEG cross-country course.


No wonder eventers drink so much. ;-)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

En Fuego!!

Whhheeeeeeeeee!! I just spent the past several hours glued to the TV gobbling up every second of NBC's WEG coverage (as I'm sure most of you did, too!). I was thrilled to see so much Eventing coverage, and especially happy to see "The Woff" as commentator. Awesome! I do have to admit, though, that I completely zoned out for the Reining portion, which should be renamed Competition For Fat Guys. ;-) Yup, we English-riding girls can be total snots sometimes.

Unfortunately, the Dressage Freestyle ride that everyone is buzzing about was not shown on NBC's coverage. You have GOT to see this -- Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz and his Iberian horse Fuego XIII laid down an incredible, inspiring performance. They didn't medal, but they definitely captured the hearts of thousands.

One-handed one-tempis -- what?!! They more than deserved the thundering standing ovation they received. Brilliant!!!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Introducing Sasha Not-So-Fierce

I admit, today's post is a bit off-topic; however, as most of us horse-obsessed people are also suckers for smaller four-legged fur-balls, I'm sure you can relate! As some of you know, way back in late March when Salem was still with me, an underweight Husky stray meandered through our barn gate and trotted herself straight down to the stable. Sometimes I swear I emit some kind of high-pitched frequency that only animals in distress can hear, because they sure do have a way of finding me! Sasha worked her sad-eyes puppy voodoo magic on me, so of course I brought her home and she has been with me ever since.  

How could anyone resist that face?!

It constantly amazes me how many animals are on the street here in Miami. I grew up in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Illinois and I literally never saw strays. Down here, it is a daily occurrence. It's truly heart-breaking. I do what I can, but I certainly can't take in every stray that I see. The solution is for people to educate themselves about animal care and actually spay and neuter their pets -- unfortunately, there are a lot of people from third-world countries where such things don't exist, so it's going to take a while. I always joke that you don't need to buy a dog in Miami -- just go drive around for a while and you're sure to find one. Heck, I picked up a gorgeous, sweet, well-behaved 5-year-old pure-bred Siberian Husky for free!

Life on the street was obviously hard on Sasha -- she was underweight, dehydrated, infested with mange and hookworms, and had infections in both ears. I kind of wish I had some "before" photos to compare to the current ones, but the good news is that she is now perfectly healthy and happy and getting spoiled to her heart's content.

Check out those stunning eyes:

In these pics, Sasha is sporting her gorgeous new leather collar that I had custom-made made by LDS Leather. They did such an amazing job! Seriously, the leather is incredibly soft and supple, and the craftsmanship is absolutely top-notch. I just ordered a matching leash, so Sahsa will be quite the stylish puppy. The owners told me that they used to make Western saddles and are perfectly willing to make other horsey-related items, so I'm keeping them in mind (turquoise-lined havana halter, maybe? *drool*). If you order from them, note that the website says custom orders can sometimes take up to 120 days to complete, depending on the orders ahead of yours. My collar took around two months, but I see that the leash that I ordered a few weeks ago has already shipped.

It looks tight, but I promise that's just because Sasha
has a ton of very thick fur

I have to say, if it wasn't for Salem, I probably wouldn't have been out at the barn that day, which means I wouldn't have my little Sashi-girl. I swear, that horse has brought so many good things in to my life. Thank you, Salem!

(And since my other straight-off-the-streets-of-Miami rescue, Phoebe, would be quite miffed if she knew I posted pics of Sasha and none of her...)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Salem Update!!!


Yes. That is me doing my dolphin/pig Squeel of Delight. I've been dying to hear an update about Salem and see what's going on with the big goofball. Well, about two posts ago, I got a comment from a girl named Ami, telling me that Salem was doing well, jumping courses, and getting ready for a Frank Madden clinic in a little over a month. Of course, I immediately responded and pretty much shamelessly begged for more info.

Ami was kind enough to respond, and she even sent me a few pictures:

I'm trying to convince Ami to start her own blog so we can all see lots of pics and videos and hear what's going on in The World of Salem. She has been riding him and working with him for his owner and it seems like she's enjoying him (how could you not?!). I'm happy to see that he's working because, as Ami noted, he's really a horse who needs a job. He spent most of his life in a pasture, so he absolutely craves attention; he thrives on it.

So, another big "thank you" to Ami!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What The Flock?!

Saddle shopping: almost as much fun as throwing Drain-o into one's own eyes. Integrated or non-integrated panels? Medium, medium/wide, or wide tree? Jumping flap? Standard flap? Forward jumping flap? Monoflap? Foam or wool-flocked panels? Grain leather, calf skin, or buffalo? There are seemingly more options and combinations to choose from than there are stars in the galaxy. It is enough to make one's head spin! Add to that the fact that I do not currently own a horse, and it's even more of a crap shoot. But will that dissuade me? Surely not!

At the moment, I have two saddles; unfortunately both have such narrow gullets that there is no way I could use them on any horse that's wider than a wooden sawhorse. I spent over twenty years blissfully unaware of saddle fit, as I was raised in the school of "buy a saddle that fits you, throw a bunch of various and sundry foam/sheepskin/gel pads on the horse's back, slap the saddle on, and ride off into the sunset." Currently, I'm riding a Thoroughbred gelding and using the saddle that was custom-fitted to him; the fit for me is horrible, however, as the horse's owner is the size of an 8-year-old Asian gymnast. Seriously, I think I had the same sized saddle when I was a skinny little 5th-grader and, uh, let's just say that there is a whole lot more of me these days. So. Saddle Search on.

Issue #1: Integrated vs. Non-integrated panels. According to Patricia of Fine Used Saddles,"integrated panels are sewn directly into the sweat flap for close contact and a smooth transition between panel and flap." This supposedly puts the rider closer to the horse and gives you more of a "feel" for the horse's back. However, it also makes panel adjustments extremely difficult (maybe even impossible).

Issue #2: wool-flocked vs. foam panels. This one is a big debate! Both have advantages and disadvantages, of course, so it's a matter of taking your individual situation into account. Let's examine the evidence.

Wool Flocking

- Can be adjusted to create a custom fit for the horse's back. As your horse gains/loses muscle in the topline, your saddle can be adjusted accordingly

- Panels with wool flocking have rounded edges, which are easier on the horse's back

- Wool (especially lower-quality wool) can bunch up into balls, which is why some saddle makers either use a combination of pure wool & synthetic, or line the panels with canvas

- Wool flocked saddles gradually "pack down" and conform to the shape of the horse's back

- The wool will eventually harden, so you will have to periodically have your saddle completely re-flocked. How often you need to have this done varies greatly according to how often you ride, the climate you live in, etc. Of course, you might need minor flocking adjustments along the way to accommodate your horse's changing back. But most saddlers recommend having the saddle completely re-flocked at least every 8 to 10 years, sometimes more often

- It is getting hard to find wool-flocked saddles! Here are the brands that I know of that offer wool-flocked options: Stubben, Amerigo, Arc de Triomphe, Collegiate, Henri de Rivel, Stackhouse, possibly Frank Baines (?), County, Black Country, & Wintec

Wool Flocking

I have to admit, I am a bit of a purist about certain things; in my opinion, sports cars should be stick-shift, wine should be corked, and saddles should be wool-flocked. But that's just me. :-)


- Can not be adjusted the way that wool can

- Some foam panels can be cut thinner, so they offer more of a close contact feel than wool panels

- Can somewhat mold to match the shape of the horse's back. For this reason, some people believe that foam is superior for those who ride multiple horses, as the foam can self-adjust (up to a point, of course) to fit each horse's back. Patricia says, "The benefit to foam is that it holds its shape rather than molding to a particular horse and hardening up the way wool does. It is softer and molds temporarily when in use and bounces back to its original shape. This helps them fit more horses."

- Foam can last a lot longer than wool; however, replacing foam panels is much more expensive than having a saddle reflocked. "Devoucoux and Antares regularly do refit the foam panels on their own saddles, but it is not a cheap thing. It's about $500." (Patricia)

- Foam panels tend to have "square-ish" edges, which can cause discomfort to the horse

- Most of today's high-end saddles have foam panels, including Devoucoux, Beval/Butet, Delgrange, Antares, CWD, Tad Coffin, Hermes, Arc de Triomphe (although they also have the option of wool), Prestige, Lauriche, Luc Childeric (I believe), etc. There are a lot of saddles that do not specifically state whether or not they have foam or wool panels, but I'm guessing that most of them are foam

- Foam does eventually break down and get lumpy, especially under pressure points, just like wool-flocked saddles

Lumpy foam panels

Issue #3: Leather type. Most saddles have "grain" cow leather, while some saddles are covered in calfskin. The more expensive brands usually offer you the choice of which you prefer, and many of them also offer the option of buffalo hide. Personally, I'm morally opposed to calfskin, so that isn't even a consideration for me; plus, while it's soft, it's also much less durable. Out of the three choices, buffalo is supposed to be the toughest and longest-wearing, which of course makes it more expensive. This one is easy for me: grain leather it is!

Issue # 4: Flaps. Some saddles have only two flap options: Medium or Long. However, most of the more expensive saddles have myriad choices. There are multiple lengths, choice of forward or regular, jumping or standard, etc. I'm still figuring out exactly which option is best for me.

Issue #5: Tree width. Usually, you only have the option of Medium or Wide. Some manufacturers are offering the in-between choice of Medium-Wide, while other companies offer interchangeable gullets so you can create more of a custom fit for your horse (not sure if this is specifically gullet or also tree-related -- ??). I'm still a bit up in the air about which tree width to choose, although I tend to be more drawn towards wide/bulky horses...

So, now that I've rambled on, I'm sure that you are all on the edge of your seats to find out which saddle I plan to buy. ;-) The winner is a wool-flocked Arc de Triomphe (well...I'm fairly sure, still not 100%). I've ridden in Heather's and really loved it, plus the brand has a lot of different options. For now, I'll try some demos, plus keep an eye on e-bay for a used one (although I doubt the exact saddle I need will magically pop up for sale!).

Arc de Triomphe Classique

I'm sure many of you have been on this same quest. What advice can you offer? Thoughts, opinions, and additional info are all appreciated!

Used saddle resources:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In what world...

is this:

(3 year old 16.2 hand OTTB gelding named Omega Cipher)

$1,389.000 cheaper than this:

(17.5" two-year-old used CWD saddle)

Inquiring minds want to know! Part of me thinks I should just skip the saddle and buy the horse (although at least the saddle would not require several hundred dollars a month in upkeep...).

And, yes, I am currently used-saddle-shopping...and am getting a bit frustrated, as you can see. ;-)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Helmet Funk No More

You all know the feeling -- you grab your helmet and slip it on only to find it wet and clammy from your previous ride. It's definitely discouraging for those of us who are safety-obsessed, and it's one of the excuses of the anti-helmet set. Not only did I have this problem with my previous helmet, but I also broke out in a big angry rash every time I wore it; in fact, I am ashamed to admit that I used to occasionally ride Mac sans helmet because I was sick of walking around with a huge red rash smack in the middle of my forehead. So, lately it has been my mission to banish Icky Wet Funky Helmet once and for all. My plan of attack is as follows:

#1: I bought a new helmet. My previous helmet was a Charles Owen Hampton and was a nice helmet, but it had zero ventilation. I also acted very unwisely when I first purchased it -- after riding, I would put my still-damp helmet in my lovely monogrammed nylon helmet bag and store it in my tack trunk in the completely unventilated tack room. Definitely not a wise idea (especially down here in the swamp!). The new helmet that I purchased is the Charles Owen AYR8, which has 12 ventilation slits plus a silver ion-infused interior which is naturally antimicrobial. If the CO isn't for you, there are plenty of other ventilated helmets out there: International, Tipperary, GPA, and Troxel all make nice options.

#2: I let my helmet air-dry. As much as I love my monogrammed helmet bag, it is only suitable for storing a dry helmet. Now, in addition to hanging my helmet in the breezy barn aisle while I'm grooming and cleaning tack, I store it on a bridle hook in the tack room (in this barn, the tack room has a window & the door is always open, so it's much less funk-friendly).

#3: I actually bought helmet cleaner. Yes, this is kind of a no-brainer. With my last helmet, I tried every product but helmet cleaner (alcohol, Lysol, etc.) and yet nothing ever killed whatever microscopic creature was inducing my rash. This time, I'm not taking any chances! I purchased the Charles Owen foaming helmet cleaner, which does a very nice job. I plan on using it every so often just to make sure my helmet always stays fresh and clean.

#4: I bought a Fresh Helmet Sack. I saved the best for last because this is such a good idea! The Fresh Helmet Sack contains activated carbon to neutralize odors, plus a desiccant that helps your helmet dry faster. You just place it in your helmet after your ride, and you'll never be greeted by a musty, sweaty helmet ever again! And if it ever needs to be reactivated, you can either pop it in the microwave or set it out in the sun for a few hours. So simple! I saw this on Smartpak, where it received glowing reviews from the Smartpak staff, and pretty much immediately clicked "Add to cart."

It also comes in a blue bandanna print

Finally, I am free of the funk! I hope these tips help those of you currently suffering from the funk. And if I can convince an anti-helmet person that there are steps you can take to make helmet-wearing comfortable, so much the better!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Slick, Glistening, & Gleaming

We all know the basics to a shiny horse -- good nutrition, extra fat, regular de-worming/tooth care, and lots of elbow grease. Recently, I've come up with my own "recipe" for a glistening coat and thought I'd share; it includes a few of the tried-and-true methods as well as some of my recently-discovered secret weapons. It took Salem from this:

to this:

Granted, Salem doesn't look too shabby in the first pic, but he is positively glowing in the second one. They were taken approximately four months apart. Interestingly enough, before the first pic was taken, he had just had a bath and been sprayed with Show Sheen (two things I hardly ever do) in preparation for a body clip. In the second pic, he had only had a quick brush-down before he got on the trailer.

As it's usually best to start with the insides and move out, I switched Salem to a diet that was low in non-structural carbohydrates, and high in fiber and fat. Personally, I have found that the combination of Uckele's Cocosoya Oil and whole flax seeds does an incredible job of improving coat and hoof quality, so I supplemented his diet with both. The Cocosoya is high in natural tocopherols (vitamin E) and Omega fatty acids, while the flax is a good source of thiamine, B6, folate, magnesium, zinc, copper, and Omega fatty acids. (Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to grind flax seed before feeding -- the whole seeds are perfectly safe and the horse will still reap all of the nutritional benefits.)

As previously noted, I am a bit curry-comb-obsessed, so Salem was thoroughly curried from head to toe on a daily basis. One thing that can make a big difference in how shiny it makes your horse's coat is when you curry -- if you start rubbing and scrubbing while your horse is still slightly warm from a workout, it will greatly increase the effectiveness. This is because your horse's pores are still open, so your efforts will really bring out the coat's natural oils. Even if you are planning on hosing your horse off, a quick once-over with the curry or even a thorough rub-down with a rag will help improve his coat. And your horse will appreciate the mini-massage, as well!

And now on to Secret Weapon #1: Hot toweling. Apparently, this method has been around for ages, but I have only learned of it recently. While it may not be the best time of year to implement this particular method, I highly recommend including it in your regular routine once the weather cools off a bit. It made a huge improvement in Salem's coat in a very short time.

Here's how: start with a reasonably clean horse. Get a small (8-quart works well) bucket and fill it with the hottest water you can comfortably stand (keep in mind that it will cool off quickly -- I always use the hottest water I can get from the tap). You can add a few drops of  scented oil (I always use either Calm Coat or DermaCalm) just to make the water smell nice & to add a tiny bit of extra oil to the coat, but this step is not necessary. If you do add some oil, remember to use only a small amount, as you do not want to coat the hair with an oil slick. Next, grab a small rag, dunk it into the water, and wring out as much water as you can. You do not want to get the horse very wet -- the goal here is to steam-cleaning the horse, not to actually bathe it. Starting up by the horse's ears, work your rub-rag in small circles, making sure to put a little muscle into it. The heat will open the horse's pores, and the scrubbing will distribute the natural oils that are released. As soon as your rag gets cool, dunk it back in the water and repeat, working steadily over the horse's whole body. Work quickly, as your water will cool rapidly! I find that, after I have finished one side, the water has cooled down significantly so I dump the water and get a fresh batch for the other side. After you have finished hot-toweling the horse's whole body, grab your soft brush and give your horse a quick once-over to get the hair lying in the proper direction. I now swear by this method, as it truly transformed Salem's coat after only a few quick sessions.

Secret Weapon #2:

You can find this Olive Oil Sheen Spray in the ethnic hair-care section of your local grocery store. It is awesome! I'm not a big fan of using ShowSheen or other silicone products (except for at shows or to detangle a dreadlocked mane or tail), but I do like using moisturizing and conditioning sprays. I particularly like EQyss Rehydrant Spray, but it's a bit pricey so I went hunting for a good alternative. I had read on COTH that many people use Pink Oil for growing out tails, so I gave that a shot; I wasn't too thrilled, as it made Salem's tail a tangled, dirty mess. It would probably work well if the tail was bagged, although I have not tried it. Well, since I had just discovered that the ethnic hair section was a good choice for horsey haircare products, I went back in and found the Olive Oil Sheen Spray. It's light, smells nice, does not attract dirt, and leaves the coat nicely moisturized and shiny. It definitely meets my approval! (ETA: Please note that this is an aerosol spray, so you will have to slowly introduce it to your horse if he/she is not already familiar with aerosols; it took Salem quite some time and quite a few peppermints before he could fully relax while being sprayed with this product.)

I hope this has given you an idea or two on how to improve your own horse's coat. Does anyone have additional tips or methods? Please share. :-) In the meantime, get out to the barn and curry that pony!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Barefoot I: The Case Against Peripheral Loading

Barefoot. This one little world has caused quite a stir in the equestrian world. To some, it conjures up images of die-hard barefoot zealots who preach against the evil torture of horseshoes. To others, it represents hope, and is used as a desperate last-ditch effort to save the life of a beloved equine. The range of emotions this word inspires runs the gamut; a quick read-through of COTH barefoot forum posts contains everything from glowing praise to vitriolic criticism. Unfortunately, barefoot remains a widely misunderstood and complex subject, one that many horse owners dismiss simply because of the deeply-ingrained  tradition of horseshoes.

As most of you know, Salem came to me barefoot; in fact, he had been barefoot his whole life, except for a short stint in shoes during track training. However, he did not have a true "barefoot" trim. Instead, he had what is called a "pasture trim" -- essentially, the farrier trims the hoof exactly as s/he would before applying a shoe, and then leaves the foot bare. This trim removes much sole and frog material -- and since the hoof is not then propped up on shoes, it usually leads to tender-footedness. The trim also loads the hoof peripherally, meaning that the majority of the horse's weight is placed on the hoof walls. While the walls are indeed meant to support a small portion of the horse's weight, they were not designed to carry the majority of the load. Forcing them to do so leads to flaring, cracking, chipping, and increasingly flat feet. Exhibit A:

Salem's left front hoof, 4 weeks post-pasture trim

Also note the under-run heel

Right front hoof, 4 weeks post-pasture trim

Dr. Robert Bowker DVM PhD is one of the leading voices in the pro-barefoot movement. He is a professor at Michigan State University, and he studies horse hooves exclusively. The following is an excerpt from an article about one of Dr. Bowker's clinics, and it further explains the negative affects of peripheral loading:

Peripheral loading occurs when the edge of the hoof (hoof wall) bears more of the weight load. Peripheral loading always occurs with shoes, since they focus the weight upon the hoof wall. A shoe can therefore be called a peripheral loading device. However, peripheral loading can also occur with barefoot trimming, if the trim places more of the weight upon the wall. Over-trimming hoof structures such as the frog, sole and bars, so they have no possibility of sharing in the weight-bearing load, will tend to create more peripheral loading. Allowing the hoof wall to grow too long will create more peripheral loading. Anytime the frog is not in contact with the ground, peripheral loading takes place. To make things more complicated, peripheral loading is completely dependent upon the hoof’s surface—a hard surface increases peripheral loading, while a softer surface decreases it. A solar plug (material packed into the hoof’s concavity) minimizes peripheral loading.

Peripheral loading is a negative situation for the hoof, because it severely interferes with blood flow inside the hoof. Bowker conducted experiments in velocity of blood flow in the hoof using Doppler Ultrasound. What he discovered is that harder surfaces made the blood flow faster, and when it did that, it never “perfused” the tissues. It was just like a rainstorm in the desert (and I’ve seen plenty of those!)—water gushes down in a flood, but never sinks into the ground. The faster the blood flow, the less blood made it to the tissues!

On softer surfaces (pea rock, sand or foam pads) blood flow will slow down and trickle through small vessels—microvenous vessels. On hard surfaces (cement or wood blocks), tissue perfusion dramatically decreases, so blood moves faster through foot—it must stay in the large vessels. Different surfaces will change tissue perfusion, with softer, more forgiving surfaces having the greatest tissue perfusion.

He also documented the effects of more extreme peripheral loading. With a shod hoof, blood flow actually came to a halt for a split second with every heartbeat, at the level of the horse’s fetlock. In a computer model that he developed with some engineers, he measured stresses on the coffin bone, and discovered that a peripheral load encouraged bone to be removed. A solar load encouraged bone to be laid down, or at least not removed.

Many horse owners give barefoot a try, but it oftentimes does not work because the horse is given a pasture trim, which leads to tenderfootedness, flares, chips, and cracks. Of course, the shoes are then put back on, as the owner believes that the horse simply "doesn't have the hooves to go barefoot."  It's a shame, because many (maybe not all) of those horses could most likely remain barefoot if they had been trimmed and transitioned properly.

So, how does a "natural" barefoot trim differ from a pasture trim? Well, I'm certainly no expert, but I have studied the subject enough to have cracked the tip of the information iceberg. Here are the basics:

- During a set-up trim (and possibly for a few trims afterward), some sole might need to be gradually trimmed back in order to remove "false sole" and get down to the live sole plane. After this, the sole will most likely not be trimmed, but allowed to form a thick, tough callus (usually develops to a thickness of 1/2 inch to 5/8 inch)

- The frog, except in rare cases, is not trimmed. The flaps that form might need to be cut back for sanitary purposes, but the rest of the frog is allowed to form a tough callus, like the sole

- The hoof walls are rounded in order to distribute weight correctly and to help with breakover. In the States, we call this a "bevel" or "mustang roll." In England, it is called "dressing" the hoof

- The hoof walls are not allowed to overgrow -- they are kept at or below 1/4 inch above the live sole plane

- The bars should not be removed; rather, they should be trimmed so they are slightly shorter than the hoof wall

- The toes are gradually shortened so that 1/3 of the hoof is in front of the apex of the  frog and 2/3 is behind it

- The weight of the horse is distributed over the wall, frog, bars, and sole, eliminating peripheral loading

These are just the very fundamental points to a natural barefoot trim, and I recommend that anyone seriously interested in the subject does further research. I will admit that keeping a horse barefoot takes a lot of time, effort, and knowledge, but I do believe that it's better for the horse. Here are some photographs of the same hooves shown earlier, after 3 "natural" barefoot trims:

Salem's left front hoof, 4 weeks post-"natural" barefoot trim
(3rd NBT, still not at his "ideal" hoof, but getting there)

Note the rounded edge of the hoof wall,
called a "bevel" or "mustang roll"

Right front hoof, 4 weeks post-natural barefoot trim


Note the elimination of all chips, cracks, and flares, plus the tight connection all the way around the hoof. Candy, Salem's trimmer, noted that he had the healthiest hooves of any horse she trims. This was due to 24/7 turn-out, a low-NSC diet, daily spraying with apple cider vinegar/water to eliminate fungus etc., weekly rasping to maintain the mustang roll, and trimming every 4-5 weeks. Of course, the biggest change was the type of trim he received -- as soon as he was switched from a trim that loaded his hooves peripherally to one that distributed his weight properly, his hooves showed immediate improvement.

For more information on barefoot, I highly recommend the following links: (links to two of Dr. Bowker's scientific papers, as well as his press release "Physiological Trimming for a Healthy Equine Foot," can be found at the bottom of the page) (the How-To Article section is quite informative) 

(ETA: I am not a proponent of the Strasser trim, as I feel it is far too aggressive and can do a great deal of damage to the horse. The Strasser method promotes carving concavity into the hoof, while the methods of The Oregon School of Natural Hoofcare, Pete Ramey, Jaime Jackson, etc. believe in allowing concavity to naturally develop.)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

*grabby hands* Want!!

Rugby's Tuff Stuff, 4 year old 17 hand gelding, $3,999. What a stone-cold fox!
(I seriously need to stop browsing the CANTER website!!)