Saturday, July 21, 2007

No Hoof, No Horse

Brego has great feet. I've been lucky. When I first got him, his feet were very long and neglected (pictured right), but they were not contracted. To people who love natural barefoot trims, no contraction is a very good thing. He had severe flaring however, and that is a battle I wage even still.

It was my goal to keep Brego barefoot throughout his eventing career. I don't plan on him ever competing above Novice, so the course should not be so difficult that he will require studs. If the terrain is slippery and I get tired of scratching the events, I will likely invest in custom boots with studs. His feet are just too good to put shoes on just for traction. I have taken him through some very rocky terrain in the Texas Hill Country and he does just fine. I was pretty proud of myself, living the barefoot dream, working him over rocks to keep his feet in good condition, watching his gaits improve as his flares came under control.

All hubris.

This year has taught me that the great undoing of barefoot horses is mud. I am not so insensitive to the terrible drought in other parts of the country to outright curse the amount of rain central Texas has received, but I am darn close. Enough with the rain already. Two plus years of drought has tempered my anti-rain sentiments so I bit my tongue and was thrilled to have whatever moisture we could get. Until now.

The rain is destroying my horses' feet (among other terrible things, like ruining hay crops, but I will try to stay on topic). We've had 8 inches of rain in July alone. We are +17 inches of rain for the year. That is, we have had a whole year's worth of extra rain by mid July. Not only does it cut into my training and riding time, but it is undoing all the hard work of the "barefoot" protocol.

Brego is currently boarded at a barn with sensitive pastures. The Hill Country of Texas is not a prairie grassland. It is a rocky and arid and scrubby place. The owners of the barn have wisely decided that in this year of plenty they will rebuild the pastures they have lovingly cultivated by seeding and fertilizing. That means when the pastures are wet, the horses need to stay off. And it rains inches every three days. So, this year, Brego is spending the majority of his time in a 2-acre denuded paddock, up to his ankles in this black mud. His feet are so soft and sensitive, that when he does get to come out of the paddock, I can't take him on the usual rock trails that last year he trotted down with pleasure.

I am moving Brego to a new facility in August where he will be turned out on grass. Even if it rains, he will be wet, but he will be standing on wet grass instead of in mud. I expect it will help some, but his feet will be sensitive until we get an extended dry spell. His sole has lost some of the concavity we have built because his soft feet just "splat" under his weight as he stands in water. Thrush is also a major concern, with monthly treatments trying to undo the bacteria and fungus living in the manure-mud slushy he calls home (Did I mention the mud paddock is not picked?)

So last year when I was bragging about my horse's great feet and how he could do anything, I have now learned just how dumb I was. Horses will do that. Horses love exposing stupid.

I am hoping that by this fall, Brego will be able to compete barefoot. But if not, I need to order those custom boots very soon. Of course, he won't be able to wear them during the dressage phase. But if the courses are as sloppy as most of the pastures and trails I have seen this summer, he is going to need some help.

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