Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Boys and Their Antics

I've been having a lot of fun with the boys lately, partly because they're spending a good part of the day in paddocks close to the barn due to Pie needed to be off grass for the month of June.  Pie's now up to 30 minutes of grazing and Red did almost 2 and 1/2 hours today, so they're starting to get some herd time.  Red is much happier - Pie isn't yet as he's not getting enough but he's a pretty laid-back guy so it's not too much of an issue for him.

My routine right now is to go to the barn in the early morning - the boys are already in their paddocks - and turn them out for their grazing time with the herd.  The grazing pastures are probably at least a quarter mile away, so off they go - lately at a fairly sedate canter.  Then I bring in Pie after his short time out - he's been a very good boy, coming with me immediately without complaint - and ride him and put him back in his paddock.  Then I bring Red in and ride him later.

Red's very funny when I bring him in - he wants to graze with the herd but he's also really concerned about Pie.  The minute I halter him in the pasture and start to lead him in, he's totally focussed on getting back to the barn and Pie.  He'd like to go there as fast as possible but leads nicely for me, calling for Pie the whole way - and sometimes he does these "half whinneys" - strangled little calls - very funny.

Earlier this week, on the first days Pie was getting out a little, the boys did some mad running at racehorse speeds - the pair of them running flat out from one end of the pasture and back again several times before they settled down to graze.

And one day last week - after a rain when the ground was pretty muddy - I committed the error of wearing (decent, clean, not stained) "real people" clothes to the barn to turn Red out - in fact my husband and I were planning to go out to lunch.  As I let Red go at the gate, he bolted off, throwing huge gobs of mud into the air with each stride - and a lot of that mud landed in my hair, on my glasses, in my teeth - I had to floss to get the grit out - and all over my front - I was plastered.  There went the lunch plans - and the clothes went into the wash.

In the p.m., when I'm not riding, I sometimes take Red on a "walk around" to satisfy his need to get out and around.  I lead him up and down the barn aisles, allowing him to touch noses with all his herdmates.

One benefit of our current schedule is that the boys are getting used to coming in and being ridden at all times of the day and now find this perfectly normal.  I'm currently not riding Pie on the trail - I want to see what the eye specialist has to say first.  I've had a couple more instances indicating that Pie's eyesight may not be all right.  One day, we were riding in the arena and water buckets were being cleaned in the wash stall next to the arena - oddly, the entrance to the little barn (where we live) to the arena is through a small wash stall.  There is a drain in the floor of the wash stall that is covered by a large shiny, silver aluminum plate, and this was removed and resting against the wall of the wash stall.  Now Pie walks willingly across this plate every day coming and going from turnout, but it was vertical and very shiny and reflective.  He saw it as we came around the arena, stopped suddenly and then did the skittering sideways/backwards thing until he got to a safe distance - I was prepared and in a defensive position with a hand on the horn so I didn't come off.  Once he'd looked, I asked him to slowly approach, which he did willingly, snorting the whole way.  Once he'd approached, he was fine with it and we went on with our ride and he ignored it.

Then a couple of days later, I was bringing Red and Pie in together.  When I do that, the door to the washstall into our barn is too narrow for both horses, so I send Pie ahead - he walks through and into his stall.  When we do this, the lights in the back barn - which is otherwise quite dark - and washstall are normally on.  That day, the lights were off.  Pie went through willingly ahead of Red and me, but once he got into the dark barn aisle he got confused and couldn't find his stall and ended up down the aisle by the door to the tackroom - luckily he didn't go in.  When I went to retreive him, he was startled by my approach.  Poor fellow - I hope the eye doctor has some answers.  The good news is that he navigates fine and seems to see OK except in very bright or very dim light or when there are reflective surfaces.

And today, I got to ride Dawn for the first time in two weeks.  The cuts on the right hind from the kick seem to be healing just fine, and the swelling on the inner upper side of the lower left hind, while still there to some degree, is no longer sensitive or soft.  Since she's been off for two weeks, I'd take two weeks anyway to bring her back into full work even if she's 100% sound, and today we just walked under saddle for 15 minutes.  I didn't ask her to do too much, just relaxed walking in straight lines and on large turns.  She was a peach - completely relaxed and willing - sweet Dawn mare.

First Principles

I had a discussion with another boarder at the barn yesterday where I was trying to briefly summarize how I approach working with my horses.  This prompted me to try to briefly put in writing my "first principles" of horsemanship - I didn't invent any of this, but try to follow these principles.

Here goes - I could say a lot more (and often do) - but it's a good exercise to try to boil it down:

Always ask: what does the horse feel/understand about this?

Give the horse the opportunity to choose, and reward each small step towards the choice I want.  Set things up so the horse can succeed - each time the horse succeeds and is rewarded, this builds trust.  The reward is the consistent soft place I provide for the horse to find and stay in.

Provide leadership and direction.  Dominance and coercion are not leadership.  Do I want a horse that is a slave, or a horse that is a willing partner?

Be clear and precise about exactly what it is I want - build the chain by shaping/directing behavior in small steps.  Expect to make progress in small increments and be delighted with that.

Pay attention to what I do want and ignore what I don't want - just keep asking for what I do want.  Even "wrong" behavior can be directed and shaped towards what I want.

Horses always have reasons for their behaviors. Horses aren't devious or out to get us: they act out their feelings/emotions/reactions with their bodies.  Horses with learned “bad” behaviors have almost always been taught those behaviors by people, and they can learn new behaviors to replace them.



Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blogger Problems - Anyone Else Having These - May Move to Wordpress . . .

I wanted to check if anyone else is having issues with Blogger recently.

The two issues I'm having are, first, huge amounts of referrer spam.  This is showing up in stats and causing my page views to go way up.  There are a lot of questionable links in the log, and most of the servers appear to be in Germany, although that doesn't mean a lot as the spammers could be anywhere. This problem, while annoying, doesn't bother me that much, since I don't care about the stats and never click on the links so the spammers are wasting their time.

But there's a second problem that's worse.  Recently, I've started getting a huge amount of spam email to the email address I use for Blogger.  I know it's a Blogger issue because I only use this email address for Blogger.  I've posted on the help forum to see if anyone has a solution - there used to be an option in the profile setting to remove your email address from public view, but that option doesn't seem to be there anymore - more Google/Blogger stuff I expect.

Anyone else?  I could take the blog private, but I expect that wouldn't solve the email issue.

Also, I'd be interested in people's experiences switching to a different blogging platform that doesn't have the Google issues, including privacy issues.  I'd be interested in what platform you use, how you like it, and how the export process went.

Please post replies here in the comments - I bet there are more than a few of us who'd be interested in the answers.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Peaceful in Red: Grazing Photos

For a Sunday, here are a couple of peaceful grazing photos of Red.  I like this one because of the contrast between him and the Clydesdale behind him:

And I love how he gleams in the sun:

Have a wonderful Sunday, and with some luck maybe it'll include horses!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fire-Breathing Dragon to Pussycat

It's supposed to get pretty hot this afternoon, so I went to the barn early this morning to ride Red and Pie.  Dawn's still on break until her leg heals.  It had rained hard all morning, so both boys were pretty wet in their pens, huddled up and not too reluctant to come into their stalls.  Pie just needed to be toweled down, but Red had rolled and needed a rinse off first.  Red stood nicely in the wash stall for me on a loose lead - he seems happiest when I don't put him on crossties to rinse him.

Red was up first.  I could tell he was pretty amped up.  Both he and Pie get ridden almost every day, and both are very fit, but being in the pens is harder mentally on Red than on Pie - Pie's pretty happy so long as he's got something to eat, and he's basically a lower-energy guy.  This week I'll be lengthening Red's turnout time gradually - Pie will still be limited to a shorter time in the afternoon until July.

Red could barely contain himself as I mounted up.  We were by ourselves at the barn, and had a freshly dragged arena, which was very nice. It was also still fairly cool, which felt good to us. I could have done some groundwork first to settle him down, but neither he nor I enjoy groundwork very much so we just went for it.  His walk warmup was very energetic - I tried to let him move while giving him some figure work to keep his mind busy.  He did a good first walk/trot transition without springing into canter.  He shook his head vigorously a couple of times to show me his energy level, and he felt at first as if he were on springs, but he was otherwise very, very good.  We worked continuously at a forward trot for about 20 minutes before he began to relax a bit and settle down, but he stayed soft and responsive throughout.  The fact that his work ethic is so good and he's able to hold himself together so well, despite having excess energy, is a great tribute to what a willing horse he is.  I've found that one important thing with a horse like him when he's full of beans is to let him move and not try to constrain him too much, but continue to ask for what I want in terms of quality of gaits - trot work like this tends to settle him down mentally.

After Red settled down and relaxed, we went on to do some more really nice trot work, including some very good shortening and lengthening.

Then Pie and I had a very nice ride, too - there was still no one at the barn so we had the arena to ourselves.  His trot just gets better and better in terms of its quality - he's round, and soft and carrying himself very well from behind, and his ability to lengthen his stride is improving.  Yesterday afternoon when I was riding him, we tried something different at the canter and repeated it this morning.  We did our canter work on a loose rein.  This wouldn't have been possible until recently, in terms of his ability to carry himself well at the canter instead of falling on the forehand and in on the turns - he now stays pretty round even on a loose rein and easily goes deep into the corners without "motorcycling". I pretty much don't have to do anything now but sit there quietly and keep my eyes and focus up on where we're going.  It was just plain wonderful - lovely, rhythmic, forward but not rushed canter on both leads, with deep corners just off my steering with my core.  We went around and around and it was hard to stop, it felt so good.

Now that's what I call a good Saturday morning!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pie's Eye: Spookiness Explained, Dawn's Leg and Red Runs Me into the Wall

If you're interested in my initial thoughts on horses #1 through #4, see the comments on the prior post.

Mammoth vet visit today.  First I sat through another owner's multi-hour visit, involving nerve blocks, x-rays, etc. - horse has ringbone and some other issues and the options are somewhat limited.

Then Dawn got a look-see - she'd been kicked in the inner upper thigh about a week ago - not too bad and seems to be healing well.  Her left hind came up swollen at about the same time - hard to tell if it's related or something else - swelling is below the hock on the inner side.  Some sensitivity and she's slightly off - looks to be a not too serious suspensory strain.  She'll stay in turnout and heal as fast as she heals.  She's happy to walk on it and doesn't rest it, so that's good.  Could be weeks, or months, until she's rideable again.

Then the vet took a look at Pie's eyes.  He appears to have healthy retinas and optic nerves, which is always good news in a horse that's had Lyme.  His left eye, however, as I'd already noticed, has a good sized cyst growing from the posterior margin of his iris.  The vet said that, even in shaded light, the cyst was shading/blocking a good portion of his retina, which meant his vision in bright light was probably severely limited - he can detect motion but not much else, which explains the recent spookiness, and perhaps even our big accident back in 2011 - he can detect a moving object to his left but can't really figure out what it is.  The next step is a consultation with the eye specialist, and then perhaps we'll take action to have the cyst deflated by laser surgery (which can now be done with standing sedation).  The take away from this is that any horse with unusual spookiness, particularly if it comes on suddenly or is out of character for the horse, should be evaluated for vision issues.  Just think about how hard Pie has tried to always be a good horse for me, and take care of me, and how hard this must be when his vision is compromised - think about how many good horses there are out there that always try their best.

After all this, I had good rides on Pie and Red.  Red was pretty distracted by all the commotion at the barn today - vets, and lessons and other things - and at one point when he was distracted he actually ran my leg into the wall at the walk.  It was rider error - his front and hind end became disconnected and I didn't ride him "through" and didn't use appropriate aids when his head started coming in and shoulder out.  We ended up having a pretty decent ride after all, and then after my ride on Pie, I got Red out again and rode him bareback to recheck our forward and throughness - bareback would allow me to easily get my leg out of the way if we had a steering/throughness issue.  No problems, and he seemed happy to get out again.

Pie was excellent in our ride, although it was hot and buggy.  Excellent trot work, including some nice lengthenings, and his canter work was very good - we did a number of sets of loose rein canter - he rode into the corners beautifully and his canter was very relaxed and engaged, even on a loose rein.

Good horses all . . .

More Fun with Horses for Sale . . .

Now for some fun . . .

Based on what you can see in these sale ads - none of them really have enough info - which horse would be your preference?  Which horse do you think would be my preference? - they're all horses I'd consider worth an email or a phone call to start, although I've already got my biases based on what's in the ads.

New truck and horse trailer arriving in July . . . (just saying) . . .

Horse #1

Horse #2

Horse #3

and you may remember this guy, Horse #4.

Have fun!  I'll give you my thoughts/questions on these horses in the comments when we're done.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Dawn Acts Weird, and the Boys Are Marvelous

This morning, Dawn was acting a bit odd.  She came in willingly from the pasture and we did our regular grooming.  But then she did something odd when I was picking her feet - when I picked up the right hind, she snatched it way up high and then slewed around on her left hind.  Hmm . . .  When I was leading her to the mounting block, she bit at me, not connecting but just "telling" - this is Dawn's way of saying something's not OK - she's very specific in her messages. And then when we rode, we trotted around just fine when tracking left (so I was posting on the right front/left hind pair of legs), but as soon as I started tracking right, she wanted to halt.  She wasn't refusing to trot or balking, she was just telling me that there was something wrong with trotting on that diagonal (where I was posting on the left front/right hind pair of legs).  So I stopped riding and got off and turned her back out - I'm learning to listen to my horses.

It took me until this evening to figure out what was wrong.  She had a kick wound, and quite a bit of swelling, high up on the inside of her right thigh - I didn't see it when grooming this morning or picking her feet this evening (bad horse mom!) and only noticed the dark marks of the cuts at the last minute just before I left the barn as I was topping up her water buckets.  I pulled her out of the stall and cold hosed it for a few minutes, then used some wound cleaning spray.  Tomorrow if the wounds are dry, I'll put on some antibiotic cream and put some arnica on the swollen areas.  Poor girl . . .

I had absolutely marvelous rides on both boys today.  They're both still stuck in pens, rather than out with the herd, since Pie can't go out on the grass yet and Red's stuck with him for now - I'm out of town from Sunday through Tuesday and will start putting Red out for some time with the herd in the afternoon when I get back.  I'm planning on holding Pie out from grazing until July, and then introduce him slowly and see how his feet do.  The nice thing is that with rationed hay, and Pie's new Busy Horse hay bags, both boys are close to an ideal weight - Pie could still do with losing a few pounds, but he's looking better.  There are a large number of fat, even obese horses, at our barn, and I'm not interested in having any of my horses join that company - it's hard on horses both metabolically and for joint soundness to be overweight.  One of my vets commented recently that most of the horses she sees now are overweight and many are obese.

What was marvelous about my rides on the boys?  They were just about perfect - both were instantly and consistently forward, both were soft, soft, soft - there was just a whisper of pressure on the reins and they were round and lifting themselves from behind and using their cores - both boys were just dancing at the trot and canter.  They turned and did figures on just a thought. Just plain wonderful!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Temptation . . .

I occasionally take a look at horses for sale on line - if I can ride three horses most every day, I should be able to ride four, right?  Anyhow, if I were in the market for a horse, I'd be very interested in this guy:

Horse ad and pedigree.

In doing some searching on line, I found out that he passed through a ranch horse sale (lot 37) in Nebraska (still as a stud who was probably at least three years old), and I also found his breeder's site and this (blurry) picture of his sire:

Just the sort of conformation and pedigree I like - solid, athletic, well put together and bred to be an all round using horse with a good mind.

I'm without a truck and trailer right now, which makes resisting temptation easier - for now.

Just saying . . .

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Corpora Nigra Cyst?

Last Saturday, when I went on a (mostly) very nice trail ride with Pie, there was one odd incident - Pie caught sight of a group of people walking, about 75 yards away, and was very worried about them - I actually thought he might spin and bolt (even though we were with another, calm, horse) - he clearly was having trouble seeing them well enough to know what they were.  Once they got closer, he was fine.  It was a very bright, sunny day, and they were to his left - this is relevant information.  Then later this week, when I was riding him in the indoor arena, he was very nervous and spooky about an area where there was high contrast between dark and light.  Pie'd had some spooky moments in the past - we think mostly attributable to Lyme disease - but they'd stopped being a problem a while ago - and all of a sudden the problems - which seem to be visual - are back.  Pie is not normally a spooky, nervous or reactive horse - his idea of a good time is to stand still and chill out.

I took a good look at his left eye - his spookiness is usually on the left side - and saw something that concerned me enough that I made an appointment for our vet to come out next week.  We'll have them look at his right eye too, but that appears to be less of an issue.

All horses have what is called corpora nigra in their eyes - they're sort of ruffled curtains that extend from the iris and are supposed to provide extra eye protection in bright light.  Some horses, however, develop cysts - round growths - either attached to the corpora nigra or free floating.  Sometimes these don't cause vision problems, but sometimes they do - if they're large enough, they block all or part of the horse's vision, particularly in bright sunlight.

This site has a lot of gruesome eye photos, but if you scroll down, you'll see several corpora nigra cysts - the one in Pie's left eye is larger than any of the ones pictured.

This site also has some good information about various eye ailments, including cystic corpora nigra.

And here are a pair of photos (found on a forum site) showing a cyst in lower light and then in bright light.  The larger cyst is on the front end of the eye (to the right in the pictures) - Pie's is on the back end of the eye:

Pie's pupil does not appear as obstructed as that in the photos in bright light, although his single cyst is even larger than the one pictured - I think it has gotten much larger over the last year.

Dawn has what appear to be several small cysts, but they've never caused her a problem, and Red's vet check noted that he had very large corpora nigra - but no cysts.

We'll see what the vet has to say - the good news is that, if this is the problem, treatment with laser surgery is often very effective in resolving the issue - the surgery deflates the cyst, resulting in much improved vision.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dawn: Sweet Sixteen

Today is Dawn's 16th birthday - happy birthday to a wonderful mare!  Here's a selection of my favorite photos of her.  We've had Dawn since she was 4 and just off the racetrack.  She's the plainest of plain packages - all bay with no markings at all - all of her bling is due to her personality!  She's been my teacher now for 4 years, and the experience has been invaluable for my horsemanship.

Dawn was (and still is) my younger daughter's horse - she's accepted me as her person too and will even do her nose rests with me now, but this photo shows how close she and my daughter are:

This photo shows how alert she can be:

She has a wonderful black velvet nose:

This photo gives an impression of what a wise mare she is:

Here's looking at you!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Long But Very Good Day, Involving Leading Work and Four Rides

Usually I've not been around on Saturdays much due to music lessons, but the schedule is shifting for the summer, so there I was Saturday morning at the barn.  Once I checked on the boys in their paddocks, I went out and retrieved Dawn.  We had a fairly short ride - much walking and a little trot but she really wasn't happy trotting - she doesn't feel off but rather a bit weird, particularly tracking right.  I'd describe her gaits as a bit "shuffly". Something's going on - although she tested 2-2-2 for EPM (essentially zero), her C reactive protein levels were higher than normal, which means there's something going on.  As soon as her meds come, she'll be starting on some levamisole for 14 days (with a blood test at day 7 and 14 to see if anything's changing) and we'll also test for Lyme.  The good news is that she's eating well and is starting to gain a little weight.

After I was done with Dawn, I went and got Red out of his paddock.  He frequently tells me that he doesn't like being in the paddock, although it's a good sized one.  We started out by ground tying to groom - it took a bit for him to stand, but he made it.  Then we worked for about 15 minutes on his leading and his staying outside my personal space.  His depo provera has long ago worn off, and he's extra feisty from being confined in the paddock, so I needed to reinforce some of our leading/personal space rules that I'd been letting slip a bit.  Some horses, if you let things slip, it doesn't really matter - with Red, it matters.  I reinforced that an arm's length was the correct distance, and that he was to follow and not attempt to pass me.  When I stopped, he was to stop, and when I turned, he was to maintain an arm's length as he turned and followed me, not turn into me - turns to the left are a particular issue for him.  We ended up with some really excellent leading work - now I just need to maintain my consistency so there's no "creep up".

Red and I had a very nice ride - he was extremely forward and engaged.  It took a while for him to settle, but when he did his trot work was really excellent, with very good softness.  I think he was happy to move out.

Another boarder I like to ride with arrived, and invited Pie and me to go on a trail ride - I said yes.  This was Pie's first trail excursion of the year, and we were out for about two hours.  It was a beautiful day - mid 70s, a little wind, sunny and just plain lovely.  Pie was pretty interested in going out, and we ended up having a really nice ride.  There were some good stretches of trotting side by side with the other horse - Pie's trot is so much improved from last year, soft, engaged and forward.  Pie also showed no signs of fatigue - it used to be that he would lag on the way home, but this time he marched right along all the way out and back with no trouble.  We saw lots of sights, equipment for the road project, people walking and running, bicycles and a whole bunch of people doing a workday on the natural area we ride through.  Pie was very good - there was only one point where he became overwhelmed and froze up and got scared - just too much visual stimulation - I felt a spin and bolt was about to happen, so I dismounted and led him for a bit until we passed the scary stuff, and then remounted using a ditch.  He led the way across the wooden bridge with no concern.  On the way home, we encountered several more people and bikes, and Pie was able to tuck in next to the other horse for some reassurance.  I do wonder about his eyesight, particularly in bright light - he may be having some difficulty seeing moving objects clearly, perhaps due to his Lyme infection (Lyme can cause permanent eye damage).  I was very proud of him for doing so well on his first outing this year.

More miles will make a big difference for Pie's confidence.  There are lots of great forest preserves very close to us with good horse trails, and there are a few people at our barn that I like (and trust) to ride with.  My new truck (Ford F150 with the maximum towing package) and trailer (2-horse Hawk) have been ordered and should be here by the end of July, and I hope we'll be on the trails a lot this year.  Red isn't quite ready for the trails yet, but we'll be doing a lot of pasture and close-in trail riding this year to get him ready.

This afternoon, Red and I had another ride - just a short pasture jaunt and some arena walking and trotting.  He's brimming with energy and seemed to enjoy the outing.

Now that's what I call a great day with horses!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Monitoring Digital Pulses, with Some Thoughts on Hoof Health

Sunny asked if I would talk more about how I check digital pulses in my horses - how I do it, how often and what I make of what I find.  First, a caveat - I am not a vet, and this is just my best layperson's description of what I do and what I believe it means.  Everything in this post is based on my own research, practice and opinions.  And since we're talking about digital pulses, I'll bring up some of the hoof health issues that are raised - digital pulses are (to use an odd metaphor) just the tip of the iceberg . . .

First, where and what are the digitial pulses (or lack of digital pulses)?  Here are two links that explain what they are and where to find them.  I like the detail in the first link (which includes some cadaver dissections that show the structures of the horse's legs), and in the second link, the illustration is how I check for digital pulses - I place my hand over the front of the fetlock and place my thumb (on one side) and two fingers (on the other side) just below the sesamoid bones and behind the suspensory ligament ligaments - as in the picture in link 2.  I don't usually check digital pulses every day, although I do check them every day during introduction of a horse to grass pasture or any other significant dietary change.  (But then again, it's so easy to check them in just a second or two, I may just make it a regular part of my grooming routine.)

Checking digital pulses: Link 1 and Link 2.

I believe that there are lots, and lots, and lots of horses out there with low-grade chronic inflammation in their feet that isn't so severe that their owners have noticed.  And a lot of this low-grade inflammation leads horses to carry themselves incorrectly, resulting in low-grade or even more dramatic lamenesses. A lot of low-grade inflammation is also concealed by shoes and pads - it isn't necessarily better, just made less visible since the horse can appear sound.  You don't get to full-blown inflammation - acute laminitis - without having less severe inflammation first.  (A side note on terminology - I am using the term "laminitis" to refer to any inflammation in the hoof.  The term "founder" should be used for laminitis that has progressed to rotation of the coffin bone.  Horses can have varying degrees of laminitis without foundering, but founder cannot occur without laminitis.) All three of my horses have no detectable digital pulse in any of their four feet - and check all four, not just the fronts - when things are OK. With my horses, particularly with Pie who has had an episode of laminitis, progression from no pulse to a detectable pulse, even a small one, is a red flag.  Some authorities say some digital pulse, although not a "bounding" one, is OK - I'm not so sure about that.  Many horses can have a slight digital pulse and still be apparently sound, but that doesn't necessarily mean things are OK - things may be on the way to not OK, or there may be chronic low-grade inflammation.  As with all horse health issues and vital signs, knowing your own horse's normal is very important.

Also, I believe that hoof health - soundness on a variety of surfaces, and good shape, working structure and the absence of abnormalities like abscesses - is primarily due to a combination of nutrition, exercise with a bit of genetics thrown in.  Frequent abscesses are a sign that something isn't right, and it often isn't really about concussion or bruising, it's about total hoof health, and the related metabolic issues that are reflected in hoof health.

A few comments on those thoughts.  I am far from a barefoot fanatic - although all three of my horses are barefoot - and shoes and/or boots may be required for certain horses in certain working conditions and boots may be required as a horse that is shod transitions to barefoot - no horse should ever be made to be uncomfortable or forced to work on surfaces where the horse is uncomfortable in the service of barefoot - despite what some schools of barefoot trimming may say.  I do believe that horses didn't evolve to wear shoes, and that a healthy hoof only develops when it can work, particularly when it can work in the heel and sole areas.  Also, healthy hooves grow from the top, they don't get produced by trims from the bottom, although a good trim can help (to a fairly minor degree) and a bad trim can certainly cause problems.  A red flag for me is if your horse is barefoot and is sore after a trim - this means your trimmer is doing something wrong - likely being too aggressive with the trim.  A lot of poor quality hooves - poor shape, poor hoof material, thin soles, propensity to abscesses - are actually caused by the hoof not being able to load, and thus develop, properly. Horse's hooves are dymanic structures, and are growing and changing every day. Here is a video (using a cadaver hoof) showing the way the horse's unshod hoof flexes under loading, and the way the internal structures move to support this.

There is a book that I've recommended before and continue to recommend - despite the title, it's really about hoof structure and function and what influences that - it's a very good resource whether your horse is barefoot or shod:  Feet First: Barefoot Performance and Hoof Rehabilitation.

Exercise is critical to hoof health - and to the horse's metabolic health which is closely tied to hoof health.  It is exercise, where the horse uses the various structures of its foot in the manner intended, that leads to the growth of healthy feet - but this takes time, a lot of time - in some cases until the entire hoof capsule has grown out.  (If you want to see some interesting hoof transformations, visit the Rockley Farm blog - the same people who wrote the Feet First book cited above.)  Exercise, together with nutrition, can contribute to a healthy weight and metabolism, which is necessary for healthy feet.

Nutrition is about what you feed your horse, but also about what you don't feed your horse.  An obese horse isn't a healthy horse.  A lot of people think their horses look just fine when in fact they're overweight or even heading for obese. Here is a very good article about scoring your horse's body weight.  I pay more attention to the feel of the horse's body and the shape and size of various fat deposits than I do to the overall appearance of the horse.  I'd like my horses to be in the range of 5 and never more than a low 6 in scoring.  Dawn is currently a 4+ and needs a lot of supplemental calories just to stay there, Red is a 5 and needs some extra calories from time to time to maintain his weight and Pie is a 6+ (and he's always working hard at getting fatter!) and could probably live on air alone. I want my horses to be leaner not just because a less fat horse puts less strain on its legs and joints, it's also because an overweight horse will be more prone to metabolic issues that can lead to poor hoof health.

An appropriate level of vitamins and minerals can be very helpful, as can the appropriate ratios of omegas.  Some horses may need thyroid supplementation. Forages should always come first, and concentrated feeds should be used with caution and feeds with high levels of sugars should be avoided.  One of the biggest issues for our horses is profuse, rich grass pastures.  Another big issue is the nutritional profile of many commercial horse feeds - many of them are too high in sugars  (one measure of this is NSC levels) - and they're often fed as a matter of tradition and convenience for the horse (or barn) owner.  Every horse owner should understand the nutritional content of what they are feeding their horse - and often some of the most important data isn't on the feed label - but you can find it if you do a little searching.  Many horses who get supplemental grain really don't need it at all, and would be better off with a small amount of a low sugar grain or a vitamin/mineral supplement instead.  But simply throwing supplements at your horse can be a waste of money - I believe a lot of supplements are at worse useless and at best unproven, and in certain cases supplementing can actually be harmful - if you supplement, make sure you know what your horse is getting from his total diet.

There is an excellent web site - - with lots of information on horses and grass.  There is a lot to learn about grass - and much of what people think they know may be incorrect. Grass is dymanic, and the sugar content varies by type, time of day, weather, length of the grass and time of year.  Some horses with metabolic issues cannot tolerate any grass, while others can if things are carefully managed - Pie is one of those.  The plan for him at the moment is to keep him off the grass until July, when some of the lushness should have faded, and then slowly reintroduce him while keeping a very close eye on things.  He is also now using a Busy Horse hay bag in both his stall and his paddock, to slow down his (otherwise prodigious) rate of eating.

That's a brief and oversimplified summary of a complicated topic - every horse owner should get out there and learn as much as they can about horse health issues, including those affecting the feet.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pulses in the Feet

Pie has extraordinarily fine feet - large, well-shaped, with thick hoof walls and good growth.  But Pie is also apparently metabolically sensitive to grass - perhaps, having grown up on a ranch in Montana, with sparser forage, he finds our grass a bit too much.  Two years ago - the spring of 2011 - he had a laminitis (inflamation) episode, thankfully with no rotation.  We attributed that, with the benefit of hindsight, to his infection with Lyme, which often has laminitis as a symptom.  In the spring of 2012, we'd been having very hot, dry weather for a while, and he had no trouble with the grass.

I've been hand grazing my horses for a while to prepare them for being turned out in the grass pastures. Red's been doing fine, but last Friday Pie had fairly strong digital pulses in both front feet - not the backs - after hand grazing for 30 minutes.  He was not otherwise noticeably sore on any of his feet.  Since our barn does the first turnout on grass for 45 minutes or an hour, and the grass is profuse right now, that was clearly a no go for Pie.  I stopped hand grazing him and gave him a 500-lb. dose of banamine on that one day - I didn't want to give him any more as it could conceal the symptoms of grass sensitivity.  By the next day the pulses were back to normal - that is, not detectable, and they've stayed that way since.

But the result is that Pie is now in a paddock with hay - no grass - with Red as a companion in the next paddock.  They're neither of them thrilled with this arrangement, but for now it'll have to do.  Red may be able to go out and do some grazing with the herd later this week, but I'll be carefully testing Pie with a bit of hand grazing again, and unless he can tolerate almost an hour of that there's no point in turning him out on the pasture.  Our pastures typically dry up and turn down the sugars in July, so evey if Pie's penned up right now, he should be able to go out later this summer.  Dawn's pasture is occupied by the mares year-round, so it never gets lush and profuse - the geldings are in dry lot for the winter and in large grass pastures in the summer.

I've been taught by my vets that any detectable digital pulse is cause for concern, and I pay close attention to this.  A lot of lameness and foot soreness in horses is due to metabolic issue and reaction to feed and/or grass - much more than is generally realized. For more information about grass and its possible effects on horses, see